The word “hero” gets thrown a lot on Jessica Jones, but I don’t think this is a show about heroism.
When people say “hero” on Jessica Jones, it’s usually just to emphasize how difficult or impossible or inadequate “heroism” is for them. Jessica can’t seem to say the word without rolling her eyes or apologizing for failing to be heroic enough. Trish’s general excitement about heroism seems naive at times, but almost impossibly brave at others. And then there’s Kilgrave, who considers his experiment with “heroism” as either an interesting diversion or a chance at redemption—and I’m not sure which is more unsettling.
Jessica Jones might center around Jessica’s sad, small, dirty brand of heroism, and it might feature a couple of other budding and/or reluctant superheroes. But I’d hesitate to call Jessica Jones a show about heroism because I think it’s more about salvation: saving people, being saved, and all the painful, difficult work in between.
And maybe that’s a small, pedantic kind of distinction: heroism versus saving people. The two things definitely overlap at times. And saving people is definitely a heroic endeavor. Jessica Jones is full of quietly, reluctantly, or strangely heroic people doing amazingly brave things to save others.
So what kind of distinction is this? Well, it seems to me that saving someone can be a single, isolated heroic act. But to call yourself a hero is to commit to an entire lifelong pursuit of saving everyone, all the time.
The enormity of that commitment explains Jessica Jones’—and Jessica Jones’—general skepticism about superhero costumes. (Jessica has nothing but contempt for Trish’s attempts to make her a sparkly superhero outfit; in “AKA The Sandwich Saved Me”, Jessica does save a little girl as dressed as a hero… just, you know, the wrong kind of hero.) People like Jessica and Luke don’t put on tights and fly around the city because they don’t want to be noticed or stand out. While they’re both brave, strong people who routinely do pretty heroic things, they also don’t want the incredible burden of being set apart as “heroes”, of being responsible for everyone all the time.
Ironically, then, “AKA I’ve Got the Blues,” is basically a long series of people promising to save each other, sometimes failing, and sometimes succeeding.
It starts with a flashback: Jessica wakes up in the hospital after the death of her family, and the first thing she hears is Dorothy Walker promising that “Patsy’s going to save you.”
Then we cut back the present when Jessica has just failed to save Hope from bleeding to death. She convinces the rest of the Kilgrave survivors support group that they have to lie to the authorities about how Hope died—mostly to protect the police, to save them from Kilgrave.
Throughout this episode, we see how Trish continues to fulfill Dorothy’s promise to save Jessica—not in the self-serving, publicity-driven way that Dorothy anticipated. As Jessica and Trish take a “fun” trip around NYC’s morgues, searching for evidence of Kilgrave and his father, we see the extent of Trish’s incredible love and support for Jessica. As teenagers, they protect each other, promising to “save” each other by keeping each other’s secrets. In the present, Trish patches Jessica up when she’s hurt and tries to make her rest when she’s tired. Even though they’re dealing with a lethal, supernatural threat, Jessica and Trish’s supportive, loving relationship, their easy teamwork and mutual care, is a comforting example of everyday salvation—how it’s possible to rescue your loved ones in big and small ways by simply caring for them.
And Jessica needs a lot of care. She’s running on negative sleep and two concussions in two days. She limps and winces her way through “AKA I’ve Got the Blues.” She’s worn down, beaten up, and giving up hope. She’s losing faith in her own ability to defeat Kilgrave and save the innocent people he keeps “throwing at” her. Perhaps worse of all, she’s losing faith in the “innocent” people: “Humanity sucks and they don’t deserve saving.”
Malcolm and Robyn have a similar conversation in this episode, and they come to similarly bleak conclusions. “No one can help anyone,” Robyn says. Malcolm answers, “If I believed that, I’d kill myself.” Malcolm exemplifies the incredible courage and effort it takes to spend your life serving and saving others. A life where you can’t help anyone isn’t a life he’s interested in living, but that might mean he can’t find a way to live at all. At one point, he gets so frustrated and hurt by Jessica’s standoffish behavior that he resolves to leave New York City.
While searching for Kilgrave, Jessica and Trish run into Simpson—literally. Simpson is determined to kill Kilgrave, no matter what it takes, and he’s somehow become convinced that he needs to go through Jessica first. Hopped up on knockoff super-soldier serum, he attacks Jessica in her office. Trish takes a bunch of Simpson’s “red pills,” Jess walks off her broken ribs and busted head, and they defeat Simpson together. They save each other.
But it’s an ugly business. The three of them throw each other through walls, through doors. They growl and scream, angry and afraid and injured. This fight scene isn’t “exciting”—it’s just a brutal, desperate brawl. This isn’t elegant, well-crafted cinematic superheroism. It’s messy, ugly, and painful. If this is heroism, then heroism hurts.
Trish loves it, of course—she’s always wanted to be a hero, and now she’s all jazzed up on Angry Pills—but then she stops breathing and has to be hospitalized. She wakes up and sees Jessica waiting at her bedside—a neat, sentimental symmetry with the hospital flashback at the beginning of the episode.
Meanwhile, Kilgrave is working on increasing his powers and influence. He mind-controls Luke Cage and forces him to blow up his bar—while he’s standing inside. Kilgrave’s plan was to make Jessica watch Luke die, but, fortunately, Kilgrave didn’t know about Luke’s fun Unbreakable Skin party trick. (Or maybe he did? More on that later.)
Anyway, Luke walks out of the bar with his clothes on fire. Jessica Jones doesn’t deliver easy, escapist heroism, but darn it if this isn’t one of my favorite superhero shots ever—it’s iconic and thrilling and badass as hell.
After Luke’s (not) near-death experience, in “AKA Take a Bloody Number”, Luke and Jessica make up and comfort each other, growing closer than ever before. Luke is pretty devastated after losing his bar—his last physical connection to Reva. Jessica tells him that it’s okay if he talks about his (ugh) feeeeelings. Luke apologizes for not trusting Jessica, and Jessica apologizes for not being trustworthy.
Then, Jessica watches over Luke while he sleeps. It’s a powerful, important moment in their relationship: there’s a fragile but growing trust between them. And perhaps more importantly, Jessica finally trusts herself to protect another important person in her life. In just a few episodes, she’s grown from pushing Luke away because she didn’t think she could protect him to accepting the responsibility of keeping him close.
In addition to his trust, Luke offers Jessica his forgiveness—and she desperately, desperately, needed it. But this moment of catharsis isn’t particularly transcendent or happy. I’ve written before about what an unexpected, weird, and subtle couple Colter and Ritter are onscreen—how they don’t have “chemistry”, per se, but a conspicuous lack of it. They’re (heh) cagey, wary, closed off with each other. It’s counterintuitive and awkward, but it’s definitely interesting.
In another parallel scene, Malcolm takes Robyn to Ruben’s final resting place. She says goodbye to her brother and even forgives Malcolm, which seems to bring her some peace. Again, Malcolm shows us how helping people can be incredibly difficult. Helping Robyn isn’t easy—she’s abrasive and unlikable. Malcolm feels a responsibility to help her, but it’s a constant process with unexpected repercussions.
Meanwhile, Dorothy visits Trish in the hospital. In exchange for worming her way back into Trish’s life, she brings her information about IGH, the shadowy organization that may have made Simpson and Jessica into superhumans.
Ultimately, Trish decides she can’t trust her mother or her motives. Just as “AKA I’ve Got the Blues” is an exploration of how difficult it is to save people, “AKA Take a Bloody Number” is about how difficult it is to trust them.
Jessica and Luke eventually track Kilgrave to a nightclub. In a shocking and painful revelation, Kilgrave says he “forgives” Jessica, using the exact same words Luke did just a few hours earlier.
At Kilgrave’s command, Luke attacks Jessica. For the second time in two episodes, Jessica grits her teeth through another painful, superpowered, wall-busting fight. Jessica and Luke throw each other through the club, bathed in spooky purple light. She begs him to stop, to shake off Kilgrave’s control, but she’s eventually forced to shoot Luke in the face with a shotgun.
So, basically, all of Jessica and Luke’s hard-won reconciliation and understanding gets violently, suddenly thrown under the proverbial bus. It’s a painful mockery of forgiveness and of trust. There’s still some small, shaky hope for Malcolm as a “helper” or “savior” of other people, but it certainly isn’t working out for Jessica Jones.