"I don't know how you handle it," Trish Walker says to Jessica Jones, of the fear and danger with which she lives. "It's called whiskey," Jessica replies, lending the third episode of Jessica Jones both a title and a thematic throughline. "AKA It's Called Whiskey" is all about drugs, both literal and figurative. Alcohol is a drug, but so is power, and sex, and even emotion. Like all drugs, these things can be either a problem or a solution. Prescriptive or addictive, they can be used, and they can be abused. They can enable us to stay in control, and they can help us lose control when we're tired of holding on too tightly.
Most importantly, every drug is a monkey on your back, an obsession that demands attention ahead of all other concerns. In the third episode of Jessica Jones, the stakes are increasing, and the dangers are drawing nearer, and needs must when the devil drives.
On a plot level, of course, "AKA It's Called Whiskey" is all about drugs. "I really need to get some drugs," Jessica says, early in the episode. Specifically, what she needs is a surgical anesthetic called Sufentanil, which—as she discovered in Episode Two—may be the key to countering Kilgrave's power.
Jessica does—as always—do more than her fair share of drinking in this episode. (And we see her buying whiskey, after a flashback to the death of Luke's wife has led her to flee Luke's apartment: it's pretty clear from this, and other shout-outs, that writers Liz Friedman and Scott Reynolds, and director David Petrarca, want us to pay particular attention to addictions and coping mechanisms in this episode.)
And, of course, Jessica and Luke—throughout the episode—find escape through a whole different set of chemicals. ("You know any drug dealers?" Jessica goes to the bar to ask him at one point. "Is that really why you came here at this hour?" he asks her in return, and a few moments later we smash cut to their post-coital exhaustion and Luke's first utterance of his comic-book catchphrase, "Sweet Christmas.")
I should pause here for a moment to talk about the sex scenes, which are fantastic, and fantastically over the top. (Just as the fight-scene choreography last week was perfectly appropriate to Luke's invulnerable state, the sex between Luke and Jessica is very believably what fucking would look like between two people with super-strength. It's no wonder the bed wasn't up to the task.) What's most impressive, however, is the parity in these scenes: on top and on bottom, aggressive and submissive in turns, these are two evenly matched people with full agency, strong sexual appetites, and absolutely no shame. (And—as unapologetically feminist as this show has been from the beginning—if anyone's being objectified by the camera's gaze, it's Colter, not Ritter.) There's an extraordinary moment in their first coupling when Jessica rips off Luke's shirt and slams him against the wall; he then goes to rip off her shirt, but she grabs his hands and forces them behind his back. It is simultaneously forceful and gentle, and they are both smiling as they play this scene out. This is not a power game: these are two people who respect and enjoy each other's power.
Depicting consensual sex between absolute equals: Jessica Jones makes it look so easy that it puts further shame on the thousands of movies and TV shows that can't seem to pull it off.
But, getting back to our theme, I do think the intensity of their encounters functions here as something of a drug, if not—yet, at least—an addiction. Have we seen either of them happier outside of these scenes? In addition to the pleasure, they each seem so much more relaxed and at peace in these scenes than they do in their fully-clothed lives. We sense that Jessica could lose herself in Luke's apartment, and much more happily than she could at the bottom of a bottle. As coping mechanisms go, this would be a pretty good one for a while.
But she won't, of course, both because the original sin of Reva's death poisons the air, and because the real addiction she's feeding—more than alcohol or sex—is her need to beat Kilgrave. Even as she sits in her office swilling Wild Turkey, she also researching Sufentanil, and listening to callers eviscerate Hope on talk radio. "She's just a weak and damaged person," one morally superior caller says, "hiding behind the pathetic excuse that the devil made me do it."
"But what if the devil did make you do it?" Jessica narrates. "Even if you could prove it, would people ever forgive what you did? Could you ever forgive yourself?"
To what extent are we responsible for what we do under the influence? Is an addict a criminal? A victim? Or just a weak and damaged person? Because that's what Kilgrave is, isn't it? He's the influence. His power is to be the addiction that must be fed, even when you want desperately to stop, even when you know what you are doing is wrong.
Listen to how Hope, in her interview with Trish, describes being under Kilgrave's control. She did everything she was told "because Kilgrave wanted me to." "All I could feel was this need," she says. She fought his power, and she wanted to get away, but she couldn't do it. "I'd get these glimpses of myself, and I'd try to hold onto them, but I wasn't strong enough." Kilgrave made her an addict, as he made Jessica an addict. And recovery is a long road.
I think there are probably extended metaphors at work here, which we don't need to belabor. (Kilgrave is certainly a sexual predator and a manipulator of women, but we can also draw more specific parallels if we think about the established connection between drug addiction and sex trafficking: Kilgrave is the pimp who doesn't even need heroin to enslave his women. He is the heroin.) It's too early to say, but I suspect there's a larger theme going on in Jessica Jones about the forces that try to control women—particularly in a place like Hell's Kitchen.
What's important here, I think, is that—whether we're talking about rape, or forced prostitution, or drug addiction, or domestic violence—our society has a tendency to blame the woman. (If only they were stronger, if only they'd made better decisions, if only they'd refused to stay and put up with it…) Those radio call-in moralists are the most obvious expression of this, but Jessica also hears it from Luke: even though he and Jessica both have superpowers, he still can't believe that anyone could ever control his mind. The implication—from him, and from the public—is that anyone who would let him- or herself be controlled like that must be either complicit or "a weak and damaged person."
Jessica needs Luke to believe her, of course, and Krysten Ritter is particularly adept at playing the multiple layers of these conversations: they are important to the plot, and they are important to their chance of a relationship, and they are important to Jessica's own sense of her identity and culpability. For we learn at the end of the episode that Luke's wife Reva didn't actually die in the bus crash that injured Kilgrave: Jessica killed her, because Kilgrave wanted her to. Luke's unwillingness to even entertain the idea of mind control means he would blame her—as the public blames Hope, and as part of Jessica still blames herself.
The same extended subtext underlies all of Jessica's motivations here. She needs to prove Hope is innocent, because she needs to prove herself innocent. "My story will put me in the same position as Hope," Jessica tells Jeri, but the truth is that legal concerns are the least of Jessica's worries. Jessica is in the same position as Hope, already: tortured by the guilt of what she did under Kilgrave's influence, and tormenting herself for not being strong enough to pull away.
So, as I said above, the investigation is itself a drug, both medicinal and addictive: simultaneously her cure and her disease, it is the single driving need of her life right now. And we see what Jessica is willing to do to feed the need. First, she tries to exploit the emotional turmoil of Wendy and Jeri's relationship, which leads Wendy to suggest that the drug Jessica really needs is an anti-psychotic. (Wendy writes the prescription as an insult, but Jessica takes it anyway: "Just in case.")
Plan B is to beat up whoever she needs to beat up at the hospital, but she's not so far gone that she can justify knocking five people—including a pregnant woman—unconscious. But the way she finally gets the Sufentanil is just as messed up, in its own way. "You're too busy self-medicating to turn your moronic head," an angry bike rider accuses Malcolm. Jessica has sympathy for Malcolm—a fellow addict—but in her own way she is too busy self-medicating to turn her head and see anything else. The scene where she and Malcolm go to the hospital is a clever play on the drug-seeking behavior of addicts who turn up in emergency rooms on a regular basis. In raiding the hospital's drug stash, Jessica isn't after a literal fix, but she's seeking a figurative one, and the way she uses her fellow addict Malcolm—as the look he gives her after communicates—may be an unforgivable act.
"You're a good person, Jessica Jones," Malcolm had said earlier. "You're high," Jessica had responded. She may not be a good person right now. She needs what she needs, and she'll do what she has to do, and she may screw anyone and everyone around her in the process: that's the life of a junkie.
But it is important also to note that Jessica does extend extraordinary sympathy to her fellow Kilgrave-addicts. (As Luke says of goodness and badness: "The way I see it, most people got both going on. Just depends on which part wins that day.") The last act of "AKA It's Called Whiskey" brings Jessica into battle with a series of Kilgrave's mind-controlled victims, most significantly Will Simpson (Wil Traval), a cop Kilgrave recruits to kill Trish Walker. Will nearly does kill Trish, but Jessica understands the addiction and what is required to satisfy it: using the drug Sufentanil, she feigns Trish's death and makes Will think his mission is accomplished. It is a ploy—so she can follow him back to Kilgrave—but it's also a perverse form of kindness: to give him what he needs.
And when she encounters him later—after she has come face to face with Kilgrave for the first time since she was under his control—she gives up her chance at revenge in order to save Will's life. She is not so obsessed and out of control that she'll let an innocent cop leap to his death, and in the end she has enough sympathy to ensure he is not as haunted as she is, as Hope is. She fakes the leap off the roof that Kilgrave ordered him to take, and she reassures him—truthfully, of course—that he didn't kill anyone. "You're confused," she tells him, when he remembers murdering Trish. "No one died. Nothing happened." She tells him to go home, and heal, and forget the whole thing. From a plot perspective, this is a little frustrating—for surely a New York City cop would be exactly the kind of witness Jeri needs to support Hope's story?—but from a humane perspective it's a tremendous kindness: she doesn't want him to become yet another in the string of "broken people" Kilgrave leaves behind. He's another addict, but is he a victim? A criminal? A weak and damaged person? "We both survived," she tells him. "That's all that matters." And we can imagine her saying the same thing to Hope: guilt and judgement are beside the point. There is only survival.
Finally, my tour of addicts would be incomplete without mentioning the one at the center of everything: Kilgrave himself. Trish touches on this when she lashes out at Kilgrave on the radio, calling him "a sick, perverted man," terrified of his own weakness and preying on the hopeless so he can feel powerful. Power, too, is a drug, a control mechanism, a compensation for fear and inadequacy. He's a dealer, but he's also an addict.
But what the final scene of "AKA It's Called Whiskey" makes clear is that Kilgrave's real addiction is Jessica. She knew he was coming after her, but—as she stumbles into the ultimate in stalker shrines—she realizes it goes far, far beyond simple anger or revenge. Kilgrave may be the Devil, but he is as obsessed and compulsive as any junkie, and Jessica is the Devil's Drug. And it remains to be seen what he will do to fulfill his all-consuming need.
Additional Thoughts and Favorite Bits
- First of all, apologies again for the delay in posting: it's been a busy couple of weeks. (Trust me, it hurts me far more than it hurts you: I still haven't watched anything beyond this episode.) I now have some free time over the holidays, however, so posts should start coming more quickly.
- An interesting plot point I haven't mentioned yet: what we have seen in the flashbacks of the night Reva died is that Jessica did resist Kilgrave's commands. She broke free, somehow, even before Kilgrave was hit by the bus. Was being forced to murder Rena enough of a psychic trauma to knock her free of his influence? Or was something else at work?
- I realize I haven't talked much about Trish here, which is something I'll try to rectify in future posts. I'm enjoying Rachael Taylor's performance, however, and the dribs and drabs of emotional backstory that are coming out about her—and her friendship with Jessica—are evocative. ("Is your mother back?" Jessica asks, when she sees the bruises on Trish's body. And self-defense is clearly Trish's drug of choice at the moment, the thing she needs to feel safe and in control. "No one touches me anymore unless I want them to," she tells Jessica. "I let you fight my battles for far too long.")
- I continue to delight in the colorful minor characters of Hell's Kitchen. This episode's MVP: the guy who finally fixes Jessica's door. "This is our business," he says. "Not a charity for women with broken doors."