Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Jessica Jones stumbles by avoiding the complexity of Luke and Jessica’s dynamic

Illustration for article titled Jessica Jones stumbles by avoiding the complexity of Luke and Jessica’s dynamic

The coupling of Jessica Jones and Luke Cage is pulled directly from the Alias comic, but their dynamic is dramatically different on the TV series. All of the material with Jessica killing Luke’s wife, Reva, while under Kilgrave’s control has been added to introduce conflict to the romance and give Luke a stronger tie to the show’s central villain, but the writers struggle with the complications this brings to the narrative. “AKA You’re A Winner!” spotlights Luke and Jessica’s relationship by teaming them up on an investigation, with Luke hiring Jessica to track down a young man whose sister has valuable information about Reva’s death. This new professional dynamic revives their romantic one, but it all falls apart when Jessica finally tells Luke that she killed Reva, stopping him from killing the MTA bus driver that was driving drunk on the night Reva died.

One of the most significant problems with Jessica Jones is that it doesn’t firmly explain Jessica’s motivation for spying on Luke and sleeping with him while knowing that she killed his wife. It’s Jessica’s most despicable action on the show, but the writers are reluctant to fully detail the gravity of this violation. There’s no explicit answer given for why Jessica takes picture of Luke at the start of the series, and while the show infers that she’s compelled by her guilt, that still doesn’t explain why she was taking pictures. Is she keeping an eye on the man whose life she ruined as a reminder, forcing herself to suffer because of the suffering she inadvertently caused? She’s clearly attracted to Luke, so maybe the pictures are connected to her lust in some way?

The show withholds this information at the start to bring an air of mystery to Jessica and Luke’s romance, but once her role in Reva’s death is revealed, Jessica’s reasoning for stalking, seducing, and deceiving Reva’s widower needs to be explained. Maybe Jessica doesn’t explicitly know what is driving her actions, but she said in the last episode that she had good intentions, so what are they? The phrase “good intentions” is used to brush Jessica’s treatment of Luke to the side, but there are a lot of ethical issues in this situation. Rather than commit to exploring them, the show avoids them to get back to the Kilgrave plot where Jessica is more clearly the her, and while Luke’s words at the end of this episode have an impact on Jessica’s immediate future, the series won’t linger on those consequences for too long.

The explanations of “she’s damaged” or “she feels guilty” aren’t good enough. There needs to be a more specific motivation there, even if it’s not a positive motivation, because the viewer needs to understand why Jessica does this horrible thing. And make no mistake, it is a horrible thing. Luke is overwhelmed with revulsion when he hears Jessica’s confession, disgusted that he allowed himself to become intimate with the woman who killed his wife. The blows of Jessica’s revelation hit in waves; first Luke laments that Jessica made him think that he could get past Reva’s death, and then he starts thinking about the sex. “You let me be inside you,” Luke says through gritted teeth. “You touched me with the same hands that killed my wife, while you knew.” He has a right to be furious, especially because Jessica doesn’t have any defense.

For the majority of this episode, Mike Colter gives a textured performance as Luke, embodying the conflicted emotions that drive Luke to reconnect with Jessica. He’s still hurting from Jessica abruptly ending things with him, but he’s not over her. Hiring Jessica is a way to get back in her life and potentially find out more about what is keeping her from him, and Luke does learn more from Malcolm, who oversteps his boundaries and tells Luke about Kilgrave and his manipulation of Jessica. This immediately brings out the softer side of Luke we saw earlier in the season, and Luke goes upstairs to comfort Jessica now that that he thinks he knows the whole story. He wants to make it right, but Jessica tells him there’s nothing he can do. “It’s me. I’m a piece of shit,” she says, to which Luke replies with a one-sentence character breakdown you might find on a casting notice: “Jessica Jones, you are a hard-drinking, short-fused mess of a woman, but you are not a piece of shit.” He will later take those words back when he finds out Jessica killed his wife and then slept with him while withholding this key information.

Even with what she’s done to Luke, Jessica still isn’t a piece of shit. She’s still a human being with feelings, but it would be easier to empathize with her in this situation if the series gave us a better idea of why she became so infatuated with Luke. There’s potential for some very complicated character work to be done with Jessica in regards to why she watches Luke and eventually falls for him despite knowing how she’s hurt him, but writer Edward Ricourt doesn’t tap into that potential in this episode. Instead he chooses to simplify, and part of that involves regressing Luke’s personality to one of blind rage when he learns about the MTA driver.


We see a lot of different sides of Luke in this episode: he’s prickly, he’s tender, he’s a total badass when he beats up a bunch of men in a warehouse full of marijuana plants. But once Luke learns about the MTA worker’s drunk driving, the dimensions of Colter’s performance disappear as the character becomes singularly focused on murdering the man that he believes killed his wife, and they don’t come back until Jessica confesses. The abrupt personality shift doesn’t gel with what we’ve seen from Luke in the past, and while the script tries to sell the idea that anything involving Reva drives Luke mad, the character immediately feels shallower when he becomes fixated on revenge.

This show hasn’t used the word “rape” when talking about Kilgrave’s abuse of his female victims, but that changes in this episode when Hope Schlottman tells Jessica that she’s pregnant. She says she can feel the fetus growing inside her like a tumor, and every second it’s there, she is raped all over again. She kills her parents all over again. This unwanted fetus is a constant reminder of the trauma she suffered under Kilgrave’s control, and the beating she received at the end of last episode was Hope’s attempt at having an abortion. It didn’t work out as Hope planned, so she begs Jessica to get her an abortion pill, which Jessica does. There’s not a second of hesitation when Hope swallows the pill, and that moment is a powerful depiction of Hope’s desperate need to expel every trace of Kilgrave from her body.


It’s wise that the show doesn’t linger too heavily on the specifics of Kilgrave’s sexual abuse, but having confirmation that he raped Hope is an important detail that clarifies Hope’s trauma. Further clarifying the trauma is Malcolm’s description of being under Kilgrave’s control that bookends the episode, and he talks about the freedom of not being a slave to guilt, fear, or logic when Kilgrave orders you to do something. That creates especially troubling feelings in the aftermath of Kilgrave’s control, and survivors are left thinking that they wanted to do the horrible things he made them do. These are the kinds of valuable details that give the audience a stronger understanding of how deep the wounds of Kilgrave’s abuse go, reinforcing why Jessica is so shaken by her role in Reva’s death. That trauma is responsible for the way Jessica treats Luke, but there are essential details missing that could have drawn a stronger connection between the two plot points and given “AKA You’re A Winner!” more depth.

Stray observations

  • Has Jessica’s reciting of her childhood street names all been set-up for this episode’s big final reveal that Kilgrave has moved into her childhood home? I think so.
  • We’re starting to see how Kilgrave interacts with larger groups of people and it is super creepy. The scene where he tells everyone in the coffee shop to be quiet is particularly eerie.
  • What in the world could Jeri Hogart want with Hope’s dead fetus? We’ll find out.
  • It’s fitting that Hope’s abortion pill is yellow, the color that is on the opposite end of the color wheel from purple, Kilgrave’s signature shade.
  • No Trish or Simpson in this episode. They’re probably holed up in bed sexually healing after getting their butts kicked by Kilgrave’s hired goons.
  • Jessica briefly mentions another private investigator, Angela Del Toro, when Luke comes to her office to hire her. In the comics, Angela Del Toro is a federal agent that becomes the fourth White Tiger after getting her hands on a mystical amulet owned by her uncle, the original White Tiger.
  • We get our second “Sweet Christmas” when Luke sees the warehouse full of weed. I really like how the show is handling Luke’s comic-book catchphrase, using it as a casual exclamation instead of a battle cry.
  • “Bitch, best be careful messing with my digits. I got ladies to satisfy.”
  • Jessica: “I prefer repression.” Malcolm: “And self-medication.”
  • “That’s some good herb.”
  • “Of course they’re O.K. I don’t hurt dogs.”