Week of January 22, 2023:

AKA Smile (Jessica Jones s1 e13) released November 20, 2015 (where to watch)
Closure (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. s3 e9) released December 1, 2015 (where to watch)
Erik Bates | March 19, 2023

AKA Smile: Claire! I loved seeing this crossover, and her willingness to call her friend who might be able to help. Also, I've said it once, and I'll say it again: Rosario Dawson is awesome. This whole first season has been fantastic, on the whole, and I appreciate the "I love you" to Trish right before Jessica snaps Kilgrave's neck. That being said, somehow, the simple snapping of his neck just felt anticlimactic at the time. But then, in retrospect, what more should I expect? Kilgrave's whole thing is that he is weak and his only means of defense is to control others and manipulate them into protecting him.

Jessica/Krysten Ritter played the is she/isn't she under Kilgrave's control so well. The tears welling up in her eyes. The seemingly forced responses and actions. If I didn't already know that he would die at the season, I could have very easily seen this as a way to set up a cliffhanger to a 2nd season.

Erik Bates | March 20, 2023

One of these episodes had Kilgrave giving a long monologue to himself on the balcony. It was odd. It sounded too stereotypically villain-y.

Like, I could hear Skeletor saying it under his breath as he develops his plan to finally defeat He-Man.

Scott Hardie | March 21, 2023

AKA Smile: It's a bit strange for a season finale to spend so much of its time on a guest appearance unrelated to the main conflict, but as Erik said, Rosario Dawson is awesome. Claire Temple is very welcome here, exchanging the expected funny banter with Jessica ("If your leg gets infected, you're not going anywhere. Take off your pants." "I usually like a little more romancing." "Don't we all.") and helping once again to ground the fantastic abilities of the main characters in something like reality. I could have done without the clumsy dialogue in her conversation with Malcolm about not being "sidekicks," but the cleverness of her solution to Luke's unbreakable skin was worth her appearance all by itself. That gross use of a needle is a prelude to maybe the bloodiest scene of the season, the fate of poor Albert Thompson, as the series achieves a kind of grand guignol with its bloodletting. Kilgrave continues denying that he's evil, telling Jessica over the hospital phone that he's never given a second thought to telling someone to die and claims that he's performing a "public service" by eliminating "nuisances," giving us one final glimpse into his psychopathy in case there was any lingering doubt about his redeemability. (And Erik, I agree about the underwritten balcony monologue. It felt redundant as a reminder that he's evil, and also appendageous, like it was added for time when the episode ran short.)

And then comes the big finale, which has a sadly limited special effects budget but an unlimited potential emotional payoff in the relationship between the adopted sisters. For all of her envy of super-powers, Trish truly admires Jessica's heroism and self-sacrifice, starting in their childhood together. And I think that Jessica must appreciate how Trish overcame her own childhood trauma and abuse to become a successful adult. Their unlikely bond is the heart of the series, and the show is very wise to center it in the final conflict with Kilgrave, with its perfect use of their code-word to one another. In the years since this was made, I wonder how many people have cheered or at least breathed a huge sigh of relief when Jessica finally snaps the bastard's neck. The show can't celebrate because too much irreparable damage has been done, but it can still be a cathartic feeling to us watching. Jessica has spent her whole life doing heroic deeds at great personal cost, and now she shoulders the guilt of taking a life because it's necessary. A "hero" like Frank Castle wouldn't think twice about murdering Kilgrave, which makes him just as bad (see the phone call from the previous paragraph), but Jessica is quite ethical for being a self-described asshole, and the show executes just about perfectly in its portrayal of her inner conflict. This finale doesn't have much thematic ground left to cover compared to earlier episodes, but I think it's just about perfectly executed too. (9/10)

Discussion topic 1: At some point, Jessica stopped reciting the street names of her childhood neighborhood in order to soothe her panic attacks. Is that because she sufficiently overcame her trauma that she no longer needed the technique, or because the show no longer needed to set up its big mid-season revelation that Kilgrave purchased her childhood home?

Discussion topic 2: Was the show wise to eliminate Kilgrave? Should he have been kept alive for a second season or more? He's so potent and terrifying as a villain that any number of interesting demonstrations of his abilities could surely have been written, but I think the show already thoroughly documented all of the ways in which he's terrible and would only repeat itself thematically by keeping him around, something that I fear Daredevil doing with Kingpin. (Was it me or did Fox's early X-Men movies suffer from Magneto fatigue before the studio realized that other villains also exist?) Besides, the choice of whether to kill him was critical to Jessica's arc, just as the choice of whether to kill Wilson Fisk was critical to Matt Murdock's arc, and I think the show would have felt incomplete and anticlimactic without this ending.

Closure: Ugh. I think I would have enjoyed this a lot more had I not just finished the first season of Jessica Jones, which at its worst was still written far better than this parade of poor choices. Some of the key problems in chronological order:

• Rosalind Price is fridged. Her death, and possibly her existence in the first place, is solely to motivate Coulson to get mad about Ward. It's tasteless and disappointing and misogynist, and I'm not just saying that because it was preceded in this project by a 13-episode series made in protest of fridging.

• How is Mack able to get a truck to Price's building so quickly to rescue Coulson? He'd have to have been stationed within a mile. If he was on security detail in anticipation of this sort of incident, why wasn't he stationed inside the building, and why wasn't it handled by a junior agent instead of Mack, who is apparently so valuable to S.H.I.E.L.D. that he can become acting director but also has whole nights available to wait nearby while Coulson has a date?

• Mack becomes acting director because Coulson doesn't want S.H.I.E.L.D. "implicated" in what he's about to do. Implicated how? S.H.I.E.L.D. answers to no one, and if I understand correctly, the world at large believes that it no longer exists. And what Coulson goes to do, kill a rogue former agent, is something that S.H.I.E.L.D. has already tried to do numerous times in public.

• When Simmons is tortured, Fitz is willing to unleash a very deadly monster onto Earth in order to save her. He literally references a time when he said he'd give up the world for her, here turning that phrase to mean that he would sacrifice Earth's population itself in order to spare her pain. How is this cowardly weasel of a man considered heroic?! Judging from contemporary reviews that I've read, he was considered one of the most popular and sympathetic characters on the show at the time.

• Speaking of Fitz, he fails to listen to Simmons twice. First, he mocks her accurate and quite urgent warnings to take the alien threat seriously, dismissing it as "an old wives tale" for no apparent reason. Second, she gives him the very good advice to stop assisting Hydra and let them kill her, but he says he won't live in a world that doesn't have her in it. This is not romantic behavior, except from a psychopathic worldview in which a man doing any very bad things out of love for a woman is good. Fitz doesn't just compromise S.H.I.E.L.D. missions with his inappropriate feelings for a coworker; he's now compromising Earth's security itself. Just like Johnson causing the spread of Terragen around the planet with her impulsiveness, I expect Fitz to be held to exactly zero consequences for his actions, but at least Johnson's terrible actions were an accident.

• And in the end, the coup de grâce of bad writing: Coulson leaps out of a plane being rocked by missiles, diving without a parachute head-first into a portal the size of a kiddie pool, far exceeding the skills demonstrated by Olympic-grade competitive divers, through an opening in the castle roof that wasn't there when S.H.I.E.L.D. found this laboratory deep underground through a series of hidden tunnels. I can't even.

I don't dislike all of the episode. The scene of Thomas tricking Ward into staying on the line long enough for them to trace the call may be a trope, but it's well-executed here, in part because Thomas is innately appealing as a reasonable and clear-eyed person who doesn't belong in this world of double-crossing spies. And why Malick chooses to tolerate the survival of Coulson (who should have been assassinated instead of Price) and Ward (who he has already tried to kill multiple times now) gradually becomes clear on its own, in a nice bit of showing instead of telling. But mostly this hour is a mess, and while my reaction may be biased because it's hard to return to the shallow end of the MCU pool after enjoying the deep end for the last few months, I can only be honest about my reaction. Am I being a little too hard on this episode, or a lot? (2/10)

Scott Hardie | March 26, 2023

season rating: 8/10 (It ruled.)
best of season: "AKA Sin Bin"
worst of season: "AKA You're a Winner!"

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