Finding good reference points for Jessica Jones outside of the obvious is a bit tricky. Yes, the show has very clear noir roots (or neo-noir, for all the pedants out there); sure, Krysten Ritter’s role suggests shades of Veronica Mars. There are even a few brushstrokes of Demme and Fincher in here, too, exhibited in Kilgrave’s crafty sadism. But it’s South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook whose macabre stylings exert the most influence on the series’ halfway point, “AKA Top Shelf Perverts.” From the final sequence, to Kilgrave’s “gift” to Jessica, to the man’s preferred color palette, to poor Ruben’s untimely demise, “AKA Top Shelf Perverts” has the The Vengeance Trilogy’s fingerprints all over it, particularly Oldboy’s.
Farewell, Ruben. We hardly knew ye, beyond the fact that you loved Jessica, you baked a mean banana bread, and you had a fondness for giraffes (which, by the measure of Ritter’s long, slender neck, shines some light upon his infatuation with our grouchy superheroine). There’s a casual cruelty to his passing that shakes Jessica Jones of its Marvel associations more than any number of bedroom scenes with Jessica and Luke Cage ever could, though per the climax to “AKA You’re a Winner!” it seems like we’re passed those for the time being. With sex no longer a prominent part of the picture, grisly violence takes its place as the key feature that distinguishes Jessica Jones from its MCU kin, and boy does “AKA Top Shelf Perverts” accomplish that. And you thought The Godfather’s horse-head scene was shocking.
So here’s where we are: Jessica is on a major bender after Luke, speaking of casual cruelty, rejects and berates her for killing Reva. When you have super strength and a bleak outlook on life, getting stinko and trying to carry out favors to your allies is a terrible idea, which makes Jessica’s approach to convincing Wendy to sign the Jeri’s divorce papers ill-advised at best. And thanks to Kilgrave, Jessica doesn’t even have a warm, clean bed to go sleep it off in, because, of course, her bed is the best place to stash Ruben’s corpse post-forced suicide. Lying down next to Ruben’s bloodied body would be awful at any time in Jessica’s life, but after her encounter with Luke, finding Ruben is the ultimate spinal camel straw. Enough is enough; whatever the cost, Kilgrave has to be stopped, and so Jessica plans through her grief to end him once and for all.
But Jessica royally sucks at planning. Her plan—to get herself thrown in supermax and bait Kilgrave into coming for her personally—is so remarkably shortsighted that in any other Marvel series, audiences would buck the writing (here provided by Jenna Reback and Micah Schraft) faster than a horse bucks a hesitant jockey. But Jessica Jones has the good grace to point out how bad Jessica’s plan is. She knows it sucks. She just doesn’t have a better alternative, and neither does anyone else. (As Jon Snow might say: “You’re right. It’s a bad plan. What’s your plan?”) It’s the fact that the supermax plan is Jessica’s first and only plan that makes her a hero, though, and a big part of Jessica Jones’ arc is proving to Jessica that she is every bit the hero that people expect her, need her, to be. Trish says it herself, and without any knowledge of the visit Jessica pays to Trish’s awful mother (the great Rebecca De Mornay).
There are, however, roadblocks to the fruition of Jessica’s plan. First, she’s a godawful actress, which just reminds us of how good Ritter is, because when you’re a good actress, giving a bad performance on purpose is probably a lot like ice skating uphill. Second, there’s the matter of Kilgrave. Turns out Jessica didn’t need to go to prison to get his attention. She just needed to go to the cops with a severed head. (We say again: Poor Ruben.) We can chalk up Kilgrave’s intervention to male dominance; he’s in control of just about everything in her life, and if that wasn’t already clear, then seeing him brainwash an entire precinct to secure her freedom should drive the point home with authority. Like Woo-jin, the refined and dapper villain of Oldboy, Kilgrave has godlike power over the people around him, a fixation on the past, and a meticulous fashion sense. He’s also obsessed with his nemesis, albeit for different reasons.
?And to draw Jessica into his obsession, he’s trying to take her back to her childhood in as near-literal a sense as possible. Jessica Jones has always walked on the darker side of Marvel’s canon, all while wearing a smirk and trading in sardonic humor. (When Jessica unloads on Trish her fear of seeing Trish bludgeoned to death with a vacuum cleaner courtesy of Kilgrave, Trish replies, “We both know you don’t own a vacuum cleaner.” It’s one of the show’s best zingers yet.) In “AKA Top Shelf Perverts,” that line is fully crossed, and now we’re in grimmer territory than Marvel has ever dared to tread.
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.