Here’s a conundrum for your average building-vaulting, wall-punching superhero: How do you stop a dude who can monopolize your will from turning you into his own personal arm candy, or enslaving entire families to act as his beaming servants? In “AKA Ladies Night,” Jessica Jones did the bare minimum necessary to establish our leading lady’s nemesis as a threat, but only because the bare minimum is enough. Kilgrave is no joke. We knew that before the episode’s final, horrific moments, and we damn sure knew after. So, without wasting any time, “AKA Crush Syndrome” dives in and starts digging for a counter to Kilgrave’s abilities.
The benefits of Jessica’s search for her tormentor’s weakness are multiple. Sleuthing and fact-finding is the series’ bread and butter; unlike the considerably more action-oriented Daredevil, Jessica Jones is about the patience of discovery, layered with an inward exploration of human misery. A lot of hay has been made about the show’s clear neo-noir roots, so perhaps the talkier bent it’s taken thus far comes as no surprise. Still, it’s a thrill to see Jessica Jones embrace those roots, instead of using its genre influences as a veneer. As Ant-Man is to heist films, Jessica Jones is to crime dramas. Jessica isn’t spoiling for a brawl with Kilgrave—she’s following the trajectory of his numerous victims in hopes of building a case against him and taking him down.
It’s worth noting that the latter involves her getting close enough to Kilgrave to knock him out with a syringe of sufentanil, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. In the meantime, she’s collecting a running tally of people whose lives have been ruined by the son of a bitch. Jessica isn’t alone. Hope is in jail after gunning down her parents under the effects of Kilgrave’s power, for one thing; for another, now we’ve met Jack Denton (Ben Kahre) and Dr. Kurata (Thom Sesma), two poor saps tangentially involved with the bus crash referenced in “AKA Ladies Night,” which extends Jessica Jones’ rape metaphor to include men alongside women.
We actually get to see the crash itself in full, and for a brief second we suck in our breaths as we watch Kilgrave swatted off the streets with the vehicle’s rear end. Somehow, he survived the blow, and went on to first control Jack, one of the EMT drivers responding to the scene, and then Kurata, the surgeon who wound up saving Kilgrave’s life. The good news is that Jack and Kurata are bread crumbs on the trail to figuring out how to best Kilgrave, but in the scope of the show, they’re just fresh brushstrokes on the ugly portrait of his crimes. Maybe, in a way, that’s kind of an emotional boon for Jessica. She knows she isn’t the only person Kilgrave has exploited, of course, but there must be some measure of catharsis in meeting others afflicted by his brainwashing talents.
Equally cathartic for Jessica, though, is the knowledge that there’s someone else out there like her. If you’ve read the comics, you knew Mike Colter’s identity from his first scene in “AKA Ladies Night.” If you haven’t, watching him bust a power saw on his abs is pretty damn cool. “AKA Crush Syndrome” refers to the renal failure and shock that characterize crushing injuries to skeletal muscles, but it just as naturally refers to Jessica’s fascination with Luke, which is best described, not as a “crush” or even as “infatuation,” but rather as “fixated heartache.” Jessica’s recent rapprochement with Trish means she has her old friend back, but that brawl in Luke’s bar means that Jessica has finally found another superhuman, or metahuman, or whatever appellation you care to file them under. That’s a good cure for alienation.
But Jessica Jones isn’t a happy, feely type of show, so the revelation is treated as a shock rather than as salvation. Case in point: “AKA Crush Syndrome” lets Jessica address her biggest weakness, which is that she occasionally gives a damn. (That’s a lame weakness, Jessica. That’s like saying “I work too hard” on your employee self-evaluation. C’mon.) The characters here are slow to trust, and slower to believe in others—just look at Jeri, who practically guffaws at Jessica’s account of Hope’s story—but deep down all they want is to be able to do both. How can they, though, when there’s a maniac on the loose who can make anyone do anything he wants? Now, at least, Jessica knows how to beat the bad guy, and she even has a few allies in her corner who can help her out. But Luke’s brute demonstration of his strength drives home an essential point. On Jessica Jones, nobody, not even the good guys, are what they seem to be at first blush.
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing online about film since 2009, and has contributed to Paste Magazine since 2013. He also writes for Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine, and Birth.Movies.Death. You can follow him on Twitter. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.