Jessica Jones’ dark, moody first season comes to an end in a finale that’s disconnected, undecided, but strangely satisfying. In one fell swoop, Jessica saves Luke and defeats Kilgrave, but this ending isn’t a clean, cathartic victory. After bravely saving herself and dozens of people from a terrible villain, Jessica is still conflicted and troubled by the very idea of heroism, still haunted by the sense that she’s responsible for other people.
“AKA Smile” begins with Jessica bringing Luke to the emergency room after shooting him in the face. Unfortunately, the medical staff are totally unable to help him due to his unbreakable skin.
Enter Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), who understands a thing or two about patching up foolhardy vigilantes. Jessica and Claire manage to escape the hospital, dodge Kilgrave’s many mind-controlled minions, and transport a very unconscious and very injured Luke back to Jessica’s apartment.
Jessica’s encounter with Claire is a convenient, fanservice-y tie-in with the rest of the Netflix MCU. But try as she might, Claire doesn’t offer Jessica any convenient, usable answers. As in previous episodes, the rapidly shrinking degrees of separation between Jessica Jones and Matt Murdock don’t make her seem more connected and supported, but more isolated and alone. In the MCU, Claire Temple is defined entirely by her almost limitless capacity for empathy, care, and healing, but that doesn’t mean she can help Jessica.
Claire and Jessica’s multiple conversations in “AKA Smile” are almost awkward in this way—Claire’s almost limitless patience and understanding contrast with Jessica’s unwillingness to tell her everything, to explain anything, about her responsibility to face Kilgrave alone.
While Jessica goes after Kilgrave, Claire stays behind to watch over Luke and runs into Malcolm. They have a conversation (which is also awkward, natch) about how people like them aren’t “sidekicks”, but are dedicated to lives of heroic service nonetheless. (I’m not sure why we have to be drawing arbitrary lines between heroism and superheroism, between people who are “Special” and people who “keep running into Special”, but with the Sokovia Accords looming, maybe that’s the big picture.)
Basically, “AKA Smile” is just a series of moments of disconnection. Jessica instinctively trusts her Night Nurse, but won’t open up to her. Then, Jessica promises an unconscious Luke that she’ll stay out of his life when/if he gets better. And when Luke does wake up, he slips out of the apartment without saying goodbye to Claire or Jessica.
But this episode also emphasizes connection—specifically, the connection between Jessica and Trish. Trish is by Jessica’s side as she makes her final stand against Kilgrave. As usual, there’s no real suspense about Jessica being in physical danger, and this final sequence is thrilling, but not because we’re uncertain about its outcome. (This season was always predictably going to end with Jessica killing Kilgrave, wasn’t it?) It’s thrilling because of that sense of inevitability—Jessica’s grim, stony determination—and because of her deep love and concern for Trish.
So, in the end, Jessica breaks Kilgrave’s neck, saves a bunch of innocent civilians, and tells Trish she loves her—even though “I love you” isn’t something she’d ever normally say. Hogarth comes up with a brilliant murder defense for Jessica—that Kilgrave used her to commit suicide. Thanks to the overwhelming testimony from Kilgrave’s many, many victims, there’s no longer any legal uncertainty about Kilgrave’s powers, and Jessica walks away a free woman.
Or does she?
In the season’s closing sequence, Jessica monologues about the “line” between heroes and villains. Luke is gone, and Malcolm is in her kitchen, just like he was in Episode 1.
There’s been consistent imagery about doors and walls and windows throughout this season, underlining Jessica Jones’ big themes about vulnerability, security, surveillance, and power. Locked doors and closed windows can’t protect anyone. Jessica snaps open locks in almost every episode. When she’s in the most danger, she’s surrounded by windows, cameras, and watchful eyes. Her apartment seems particularly permeable—friends and foes wander in and out as they please, her front door is always broken, and her walls are all busted up.
In the final shots of this final episode, Jessica’s broken door and open blinds take on a new meaning. Safety, maybe? For the first time in months, she doesn’t have to worry that Kilgrave may be watching her. Malcolm is not a home invader, but a trusted friend…ly person.
But Jessica’s new metaphorical openness isn’t entirely—or even mostly—positive. After her high-profile heroic antics, she’s got a bunch of new prospective clients blowing up her phone. They’re begging for help, begging to be saved. “The world thinks I’m a hero,” she deadpans.
The last few episodes of Jessica Jones are all about Jessica’s unwillingness to commit to “heroism”. But Jessica is hardly unique: Luke, Malcolm, Trish, Simpson, and even Kilgrave all grapple with the idea of being “heroes” in one way or another—and they all find themselves inadequate or unwilling in some way, not because doing one heroic deed is difficult, but because they’re terrified of the immense responsibility of heroism as a lifestyle, a calling, a commitment. At the end of “AKA Smile”, people see Jessica as a hero, but her heroism feels like a burden instead of a victory.
Image courtesy of Netflix