Marvel’s Jessica Jones “AKA Crush Syndrome” Review (Episode 2) – The Dangers of Occasionally Giving a Damn

Marvel's Jessica Jones Episode 2 - David Tennant

In the aftermath of “AKA Ladies Night”’s shocking conclusion, Jessica begins her investigation into the sadistic mind controller known as Kilgrave, hoping to prove the innocence of his most recent victim… a girl named Hope. (IRONY) Meanwhile, the house of cards that is her investigation into the mysterious bar owner Luke falls apart faster than she can keep it stacked and we get more clues into why she’s following him in the first place, along with another major (not really a) revelation.

Keeping with the previous episode’s formula, this one starts sort of slow, picks up momentum around the middle, and ends strong (though not as strong as episode 1). I’m not sure I’d call that a perfect formula as both episodes feel like a slog for the first 15 or so minutes, but I do give it credit for taking its time and telling the story.

(and yet, I’m also baffled by how much ground we’ve covered in only two hours — more on that later)

On the surface, this episode feels like a lot of clean-up and set-up; moving the characters around the board, introducing a few new ones, but not really making any strong discoveries or revelations. Yes, there are two revelations this episode, and they should be major ones, but they’re so non sequitur to everything surrounding them that the payoff feels minor.

Still, the episode sports what at least SEEMS like a very clever thematic through-line (or it could be me reading waaaaayy too much into things, as I am wont to do). The name of the episode refers to a medical condition in which multiple bodily systems shut down as a result of crushing trauma to the musculature (thank you, Wikipedia). Crush Syndrome is what we learn Kilgrave suffered from as a result of the accident that nearly killed him one year ago. But… it’s also what he inflicts on his victims.

Wikipedia, come here, I want you!

“A syndrome is a set of medical signs and symptoms that are correlated with each other and, often, with a specific disease.”

Well done, Wikipedia. Knew you could do it.

SO… a set of symptoms which correlate with one another in relation to a specific disease.

Interesting.

Kilgrave Syndrome
 

Marvel's Jessica Jones Episode 2 - Krysten Ritter

In this episode, Jessica visits three people, each of whom had close encounters with Kilgrave following his near-fatal accident, and each of whom represents a different aspect of Jessica’s personality.

First, there’s the cynical and withdrawn Hope, who Jessica is determined to see cleared of all charges for the murders she committed at Kilgrave’s command. Jessica tries to get any kind of information out of Hope that could help her find Kilgrave, but Hope isn’t budging. All she can focus on are the things that were done to her, the things he made her do, and the shambles her life has become as a result of it. She’s uncooperative and caustic toward Jessica, who she blames for her predicament.

In one particularly dark moment, she seems to reach a moment of clarity, only to then tell Jessica she should consider killing herself to avoid Kilgrave ever getting ahold of her again. This hardens Jessica to her client, not enough to drop the case, but enough to remind Hope of the harsh reality that if Jessica kills herself, there will be no one left who knows she is innocent. Jessica leaves Hope to ponder this in despair.

There’s something in Krysten Ritter‘s performance here. As with last episode, her strongest character moments seem to come quietly, in how she reacts to the people around her. Here, you can tell that Hope hasn’t just said something generally offensive, she’s hit a nerve. Touched on an urge Jessica herself probably had to suppress in the aftermath of her own Kilgrave ordeal.

This is further implied when we visit the ambulance driver who retrieved Kilgrave from the scene of the accident. Kilgrave’s kidneys were failing at the time (good ol’ crush syndrome), so he made the driver donate both to save his life — in turn leaving the driver kidneyless and near death. Now, after suffering a stroke, he’s hooked up to a dialysis machine at home, looked after by an overbearingly religious mother (who it’s strongly implied he left home to get away from). His revelatory moment comes when he tries to write Jessica a message on a pad of paper. At first we (and Jessica) think he’s writing the name “Kilgrave” when it turns out he was actually writing “Kill me.”

Jessica can’t bring herself to do it, and so she leaves him in tears; a broken, miserable man who has lost his will to live.

Finally, we go in search of the doctor who performed the emergency transplant and leased the dialysis machine for the driver (whether at Kilgrave’s behest or out of his own guilt, we don’t yet know — what other plans could Kilgrave have for the driver? What other organs will he need donated in the future?). That surgeon, Dr Kurata, is now a professor teaching biology at a local college, and as soon as he sees Jessica enter his classroom, he bolts for the door. When Jess finally catches up with him, she finds a man in self-imposed exile, willing to risk his professional reputation and career just to get away from the woman whose picture he saw in Kilgrave’s possession.

In Dr Kurata, we see the terror; the panic at the thought of ever encountering Kilgrave again. And perhaps also the realization that, given all possible outcomes, he got off easy.

Dr Kurata not only provides a corroborating witness to convince lawyer Jeri that Hope’s case is worth taking, he also reveals the villain’s secret weakness! Apparently, Kilgrave refused any anesthesia during the kidney transplant because he feared what parts of his brain might be chemically shut down if injected. This leads Jessica to believe these surgical drugs may be the only way to stop him.

As plots go, it’s all a little shaky and easily-come-by, but it does succeed in showing us the prime stages of Kilgrave’s own personal version of crush syndrome: Hope’s self-loathing and disconnection, the ambulance driver’s powerlessness and unwillingness to go on, and the irrational terror experienced by Dr Kurata at the very thought of Kilgrave.

All symptoms we have seen Jessica exhibit, in big and small ways, from the very beginning. She is the embodiment of the worst Kilgrave can do.

So there you have it. Crush syndrome.

OR a canny conglomeration of coincidence. You be the judge.

You Can’t Fix Me…
 

Marvel's Jessica Jones Episode 2 - Rachael Taylor

The rest of the episode is a juggling act between Jessica’s various supporting players and side plots. We get some Trish, a little Malcolm, a lot of Luke, and we meet her twincestuous, rageaholic, “very perceptive asshole” neighbor (who gets the funniest scene of the episode).

The major focus outside of Jessica’s search for Kilgrave is Luke, who learns Jessica has been following him after detectives investigating Hope’s case look into him as a possible lead. We learn that the bus accident that freed Jessica from Kilgrave — an accident Jessica caused — also killed a beloved member of the community, one Reva Connors — the woman in Luke’s medicine cabinet — (not literally) — which we can surmise is why she’s been following Luke; out of guilt over her role in Reva’s death.

(Yeah, that’s a run-on sentence, but I’m leaving it! That’s how mysteries unravel sometimes!)

Of course, when Luke confronts her about spying on him, Jessica would rather lie than confess her sins, so she feeds him a story about being hired by the husband of the woman she saw him fooling around with last episode. This leads to Luke confronting the woman, Gina (played by Nedra McClyde, who plays the hell out of her moment of realization that she’s been caught). She in turn confronts her husband who, learning for the first time that his wife has been sleeping around on him (because Jessica lied, y’see), gathers his rugby team (do people play rugby in New York?) and goes to Luke’s bar to teach him a lesson.

When Jessica learns of the chain reaction her little lie set in motion, she goes to the bar, only to find the team already there picking a fight with Luke. Jessica steps in and

CUE THE SHOW’S FIRST FIGHT SCENE!!!
 

Marvel's Jessica Jones Episode 2

And… cue the realization that this really isn’t going to be a “fight scene” kind of show. What we get isn’t bad, but it’s a far cry from the kind of stunt work and choreography we saw in Daredevil. That doesn’t mean I’m expecting Luke and Jessica to bust out the same kind of martial arts mayhem on people — each character is going to have their own fighting style and that’s fine — but even executing a satisfying drunken brawl on camera takes a certain kind of finesse, and it’s something this director lacks.

Good stunt work can convince you of the reality of a moment, no matter how unrealistic. Stuff like Luke standing still while his hapless attackers break across him like water over to much rocks — or both he and Jessica flinging dudes across the bar because (surprise!) (but not really) he also has super powers — is all great in theory, and some of it even sells on camera… but a lot of it doesn’t. Quick cuts and staged jumps are used to give the illusion of a them punching harder a lifting more weight than a normal human should, but the performances are less than convincing, and the cuts come, in many cases, too late, making the whole thing feel out of sync.

I’m far from an expert on the craft of stunt fighting, but I know what I like, and I know what I’m convinced by, and the fight in this episode fell somewhat short. That’s okay, though! They have 11 more episodes to hone their approach.

But then, maybe they won’t have to, because it’s not going to be a punching people show. It’s going to be a people talking and thoughtful voiceover show. And a little bit of a horror show! Because Kilgrave really is a scary bastard. Another standout moment from the episode — maybe THE standout moment — is when we finally get to meet the Purple (clad) Man in the flesh (viewed from behind, just like Wilson Fisk)! It’s the scene you’ve seen in the trailers, with him knocking on the door of some innocent household and literally inviting himself in.

Something I definitely complement Melissa Rosenberg on is taking the core concept of the Purple Man and extrapolating on it to the most terrifying and logical extent. He’s so much subtler here than he even was in the Alias comics, but that makes him so much more intimidating. You get chills as he methodically takes control of each member and instantly configures the house to best meet his needs.

“Be warned, I have a very particular palate.”

brrrrrr

David Tennant is going to be amazing on this show. I can feel it already.

…I’m Unbreakable
 

Marvel's Jessica Jones Episode 2 - Mike Colter

I had this thought while watching the first episode, but the last line of episode 2 really cements it for me: if there’s one movie this show owes the most to, in terms of tone and subject matter, it’s Unbreakable.

(yes, the Shyamalan flick — don’t freak out on me, it’s actually pretty good!)

There are barely any echoes of the larger Marvel Universe in Jessica Jones so far, which makes this essentially the real world. And in this real world live “gifted” people whose abilities are subtle, not spoken of, and not even believed in. Their days are spent in quiet contemplation as they try to live ordinary lives. Their villain is a master manipulator with a fetish for the color purple — and this episode even ends with a home invasion (complete with kids in captivity) like the movie did! Whether intentional or not, they’re tapping into that subdued Unbreakable energy, which I actually consider a plus, despite how slow it makes it seem.

The thing that bothers me, though, is that this continues to feel written like a network TV show. Maybe the content will drift outside of what’s typically acceptable on ABC, but it still has that feeling of being Written (with a capital W); of being Plotted (capital P). The conversations people have in this show, while by no means terrible, are still Dialogue. The performers are by no means bad, but they’re still Acting. The difference may be subtle, and a lot of people may not even notice it — and those who do may not even care! — but it’s a far cry from the naturalistic, theater-like, almost improvised interactions in Daredevil. That show hit us with so many powerful performances and strong character-building moments in such rapid succession that it made the people and world of Daredevil feel REAL. Even when a performance or piece of dialogue drifted off course from reality, the quality of everything surrounding it bolstered that errant aspect and legitimized it by proxy.

In contrast, the world and characters of Jessica Jones just feel Written. Like they come from the mind of a decent writer trying — a little too hard at times — to tell a good story. The effect actually drags down the members of the cast who are pulling their weight, because they’re now forced to pull the rest of the show’s weight too.

Is it working overall? Yes, it’s definitely working. Is the show entertaining? With room for improvement, but yes, definitely entertaining. Is it the best comic book show out there? I’m sorry to say, no. Not yet. But hey, even Daredevil had its stumbling moments (though those came towards the end). Flawless execution from the onset is a wonderful thing, but it’s rare. More often, shows like this start weak and then grow into greatness (see Battlestar Galactica, The Flash, Angel, and some would even say Buffy). If Jessica Jones just needs a few episodes of set-up to really get the wind under its wings, I’m willing to let it have them.

Besides, with how quickly the plot seems to be moving, I’m intrigued as hell. The broad strokes of Jessica’s dark past were revealed and she was already on the mission to stop Kilgrave by the end of episode 1, and now by episode 2 she already knows his greatest weakness? I honestly don’t know how they plan to draw this story out for the next 11 episodes, and that kind of excites me. Here’s hoping it takes some massively unexpected turns along the way. (It would almost have to.)

Easter Egg Hunt:
 

Marvel's Jessica Jones Episode 2 - Krysten Ritter, David Tennant, Thom Sesma

– Trish Walker sports some bruises on her arms this episode, and it’s revealed she’s secretly working with a personal trainer/fight instructor who’s teaching her how to take down dudes with guns. I won’t go into too much detail on what this could be setting up because… well… it’s setup. I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise. I will say this, though: the speed and ferocity with which she took down that guy with the gun? Whoof. That woman’s a hellcat.

– Not an easter egg, but just a really cool aesthetic choice… I’ve noticed that when Kilgrave’s influence is felt in the story, the color purple will work its way onto the screen. This is obvious enough in Jessica’s PTSD episodes, but both when she retrieves Hope from the hotel in episode 1 and when she speaks to Dr Kurata in this episode, there’s this inexplicable purple light painting the walls. And when Jessica sees Hope pull the gun out of her bag, do you notice what color the bag is?

Marvel's Jessica Jones Episode 2 - Erin Moriarty, Ian Blackman, Deborah Hedwall

It’s as if Kilgrave has somehow stained the world with his presence. Some have criticized this design choice in the show, but I love it.

(sorta reminds of how the color red represents the presence of a ghost in The Sixth Sense…)

(ANOTHER Shyamalan connection! I doubt Melissa Rosenberg would ever admit to it, but if it’s revealed at some point down the line that she’s a fan of his, let’s just say I won’t be surprised.)

And that’s all she wrote for this one! Next episode: WHISKY… it’s what’s for dinner.