WORST ROOMMATE EVER
So, I finally got around to actually watching Netflix’s Jessica Jones, and, naturally, I have thoughts about it, because of course I do. This is 2016, after all, and I’m a writer with a blog: I have thoughts on everything. You’re lucky I don’t bother posting most of them.
Anyway, I enjoyed the series, for the most part, and give it a solid B overall. It would have been a smashing eight episode series, but at 13 episodes it sagged a bit. The acting was top-notch, the writing in general was good, and David Tennant, frankly, was awesome as the worst villain ever conceived, Kilgrave, a.k.a. The Purple Man. The story of Jessica’s victimization at the hands of this mind-controller was horrifying and interesting, and Kilgrave was without doubt the most despicable and horrifying villain to come around in a long time.
There were, however, two plot points that no one commented on that bothered me, because they underscored a lazy writing mistake you see a lot of. Let’s consider Chekhov’s Gun and how people generally miss the other point that piece of writing advice makes.
FOR GOD’S SAKE WHY IS PETE CAMPBELL STILL ALIVE?
So, everyone more or less understands the principle of Chekhov’s Gun: If you show your audience something that can have an impact on the story, they expect to see it come into play and will regard a lack of activity involving that something as a betrayal. The classic line is, if you show your audience a gun in the first act, it has to go off by the third. Easy enough, and most writers pay attention — except those writers, like Matthew Weiner, who enjoy toying with this rule for fun and fuckery; after all, we saw Pete Campbell’s hunting rifle in Season One of Mad Men, and every year since millions of people tuned in to that show praying that tonight was the night Pete committed suicide.
Knowingly ignoring Chekhov’s Gun is the writer’s prerogative, and can be a sign that you’re in total control of your instrument. But what we saw in Jessica Jones were two blatant instances of the Inverse Chekhov’s Gun Rule: Once the gun goes off, you have to consider the ramifications for the plot going forwards — and backwards.
Let’s examine these two moments in the show. SPOILERS, people.
1. The Security Team. At one point in the show, Team Jessica has established a “safe room” where Kilgrave can be imprisoned. It’s got a soundproof cell where he can be safely stowed. Team Jessica kidnaps Kilgrave off the street, drugging him to ensure he cannot simply command them to set him free. They manage to get just outside the building where the safe room is located when a team of security specialists/bodyguards arrive hot on their trail and overpower Team Jessica through sheer numbers, retrieving their client.
It’s a great scene. Team Jessica’s desperation to hang onto their victory slowly erodes under the sheer numbers of beefy guys who keep coming at them, and when Kilgrave is ferried off to safety without ever using his mind control power it’s a gut-punch.
The problem? Kilgrave has a security team. A security team that knows precisely where his kidnappers were taking him. A security team that never shows up or is even mentioned again. When Kilgrave is kidnapped again and brought to the same location, no security team shows up. They’re not even mentioned or hand-waved.
Once you establish that Kilgrave has taken the precaution of setting up a failsafe that will go into action if his mind control powers ever fail to control the situation for him, you can’t just pretend they don’t exist in future scenarios. Can you argue that Kilgrave fired his team for one reason or another — maybe when Jessica agreed to come live with him in her childhood home? You can argue it, brother, but it isn’t stated in the show, and it doesn’t make any sense in any event. It’s just lazy writing: No one wanted to figure out how they find a new location for a safe room and evade Kilgrave’s security team the second time, so they simply deleted them from the story.
2. Patsy’s Headphones. We can goggle at the fact that when faced with a mind-controller who takes control via the sound of his voice, Team Jessica takes 13 goddamn episodes for someone to experiment with some noise-cancelling headphones. I mean, as I was watching this show I kept thinking, why not crank up some tunes? Sure, it doesn’t stop Kilgrave from ordering other people about or doing other evil shit, but at least it would prevent him from, oh, hissing Patsy, put a bullet in your head at you as he rushes past you.
I mean, sure, headphones aren’t exactly a perfect solution, but one thinks they might at least be tried.
So when, in episode 13, Patsy shows up wearing some Beats on her head, it’s finally a smart moment, but it also makes those headphones into a reverse Chekhov’s Gun, doesn’t it? Once you see them, you realize the characters did have the idea. The question becomes, why didn’t they have it sooner? It’s not exactly “one weird trick.” It’s probably the first thing almost anyone would think of once they realized they were dealing with an auditory mind control scenario.
Again, I blame lazy writing. No one wanted to spend time trying to figure out what happens when Team Jessica shows up with headphones duct-taped to their ears, ready to swarm Kilgrave and stab him to death in a parking lot. So they just pretended no one ever thought of it, and walked away with their hands in their pockets, whistling.
Ah well, they can’t all be as smart as me. And hey, someone paid them a lot of money to write a thing for TV, and no one is paying me for that (yet). As I said, I enjoyed the series overall and will definitely be back for the next season — although I’ll miss Tennant, like the desert misses the rain.