All posts by Achala

Hell hath no fury: Jessica Jones, Season 2

There are three things that are guaranteed to happen in any Marvel-Netflix show: someone who is presumed dead will turn out to very much alive; people will go into the hospital, where violent altercations rather than healing will take place; and someone, the villain, or the companions, or even the hero, will break out of jail. Season 2 of Jessica Jones hits all three points, and then some.

jjtop1-539x600That’s not to say that the season is predictable. Far from it. Characters that we thought we knew behave in surprising, fascinating ways. To be honest, I found myself far more intrigued by the old faithfuls: Jessica, Jeri, Trish, than any of the newer entrants. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Plenty of time for dissection later.

Season 2 opens very shortly after the horrors of Season 1 and The Defenders. Though the show doesn’t make too much of the events that took place in the latter, Season 1’s ghosts literally linger into the present, with one episode bringing back Kilgrave as an annoying, sadistic voice in Jessica’s head. It’s clear right at the outset that it will take more than a team-up with a bunch of other heroes to put Jessica’s demons to rest, and the events of these 13 episodes make it seem like that ‘rest’ will be a long time coming.


While Jessica is trying to move past her trauma, Trish is doing all she can to dig deeper into the secrets behind her friend’s superpowers, openly going after the mysterious ‘IGH’ on her talk show.  Her journalistic ambition, however, ends up ruffling some powerful feathers, and it’s not long before a ruthless killer is on the loose, determined to shut her up. Jessica, the best friend, rushes in to protect her, and finds that far from the monster she had imagined, she is confronted with a disturbingly familiar figure: her mother.

5b78d313-9912-4c30-ac58-6e252f94bef2-jj1This, really, is the heart of Season 2, the reckoning with one’s past, the sins of the mother, and the manner in which they shadow our character’s lives. Jessica’s mother, Alyssa, is the recipient of the same mysterious treatment that saved her own life, and gave her her powers. Alyssa’s powers are far stronger than her daughter’s, but unlike Jessica, she cannot control herself. Subject to horrifying, murderous rages, Alyssa lashes out at Trish, and those she sees as threatening her survival, hers and that of her partner, the Frankenstein-like Dr. Karl Malus.


In this season, Jessica comes face to face with her maker(s), the scientific one, and the biological. While she struggles to handle the dilemma posed by her mother—-a mass murderer who represents, to Jessica at least, her one chance at family—Trish falls down a rabbit hole of her own. Growing up as a victim of abuse, both from her domineering, driving mother and various men she encountered in showbiz, Trish has long felt helpless, and sees IGH as her one path to salvation. We watch her spin herself into deeper and deeper holes, putting her relationship with Jessica at risk. Indeed, by the end of the season we’re not even sure if they can ever be friends, let alone sisters, again.

Darkness hangs over the indomitable Jeryn Hogarth as well, who receives a diagnosis of ALS early on in the season. This launches her on a quest to find a cure, which brings us in contact with my favourite new entrant: Inez, a nurse who once worked with IGH. This being the Marvel-verse, nobody is as trustworthy as they seem, and victories do not come easily, if they come at all. In this world of superpowered beings, it seems easy enough for Jeri to believe in Inez’s stories of a ‘healer’, another patient of IGH who can heal sick persons with his touch. A desperate Jeri clings to this story, but of course, it meanders to a bitter end.

Marvel's Jessica Jones

Season 2 was written and presumably put into production long before the flood of stories that form the #MeToo movement, and the resounding echoes of the same in Hollywood. Maybe it’s because those stories, and that anger, is still so present that it was impossible to watch this season without thinking about it, seeing anger in all its forms distilled into and played through these female characters. Whether it’s Trish’s anger over her helplessness at the hands of an inherently hostile, bullying world, Jessica’s anger at herself for her seeming failures, Alyssa’s much more violent rage that was, tellingly, the result of a man’s botched experiments, or Jeri’s colder, existential fury at having the life she’s worked so hard at taken away—all of these are powerful, telling illustrations of what happens to a dream too long deferred. The male characters, Malcolm, Karl, other new entrants Oscar and an investigator named Pryce Chang, are frequently stunned by the force of this anger, and the achievements and actions it can give rise to. Often, they are left helpless in the face of it, tied up in bathtubs, driven to suicide, or defecting to rival organisations. The only exception seems to be Oscar, who presents the one pleasant thing for Jessica this entire season.

Because of the jagged theme, the season itself seems to move in a halting fashion, and it takes a while for it to find its stride. That being said, though, there’s a lot to unpack in these 13 episodes, and I’m sure that those who watch it will end up thinking about it for a long while. We cover a long trail, from the opening shots, that follow Jessica about her tawdry tasks of stalking cheating spouses, to the close, which sees her, somewhat hesitantly, embracing if not the fact, then the idea of happiness. Earlier in that same episode, Jessica had recalled how she felt ‘dead’, alone ever since the loss of her family. At the end, she seems to have opened herself to the notion that ‘death’ in her case is a choice, and taking steps to face the other way. Whether Oscar and the relief he offers will prove permanent is a question that remains; for now, it looks as though she might finally, finally, be working towards some sort of peace.

The peace that comes after a storm, or before one? Only time, and Season 3, will tell.


Soaring on the Other wind

The tale of puberty, that difficult, awkward phase of a person’s life, has been told many times. I recall it with alternating flashes of embarrassment and nostalgia. There are some parts of it I think of fondly—the suddenly much more serious friendships, the whispers of crushes and romantic interest—and others I prefer to forget.

Why do I begin with this? I’ve read, somewhere, that the books we read in that phase, or as young teenagers, are the ones that affect us most, that stick with us and mould what becomes of us later on. I don’t know where this was, or even whether it’s scientifically proven, but I’ve often thought of it, and wondered at its validity, especially in my life. It’s true, for me at least, that the books I read in those years, 13 to 17, are the ones that have stayed with me longest, and still feature on my ‘top ten’ lists, even now, more than a decade later.

leguin_ursula_kUrusla le Guin’s books were among those.

I still remember it so clearly. When I hit 13, and my body began its weird, inexplicable morphing towards adulthood, my mother made me start ‘exercising’. This was very strange to me, since I was a fairly active child, attending dance classes and karate classes. True, I spent most of my time between those classes lying around and reading, or walking around and reading, but this emphasis on ‘exercise’ mystified me. She would make me, and my sister, go upstairs to the terrace, and do ‘something’. Skip, I assume. Or run. I’m not sure, mostly because, the moment I reached the terrace, I would pick up my book, and walk around, reading.

It was exercise of a sort, I suppose.

One of the books I picked up was Ursula le Guin’s Earthsea Quartet. I was coming to it fresh from The Lord of the Rings, and I knew, already, that I liked fantasy. I was more at home among dragons and Elves and heroic ideals than I was in any other place (like near a skipping rope, obviously). Being a smug little 13 year old, I thought I knew what I was in for, and being a smug little 13 year old, I was surprised.

The world of Earthsea was nothing like Middle Earth. It was dirty, and it was corrupt, and its residents smelled bad and lost control of their bowels. I distinctly remember a description of a princess—a princess—gasping in fear and the narrator commenting on the snot dangling from her nose. I was so scandalized by this; I was coming off fresh from the Arwens and Galadriels, who probably never had to sneeze, let alone leave mucus dangling from their noses.

But I loved it, and most of all, I loved the women in it. Two of them, specifically. I worshipped Tenar, the priestess in her tombs, who turns her back on everything she knows to flee to freedom and the outside world. I loved how she became wise, and venerable, and that I’d been able to watch her do it, in a way I never had with Galadriel. She felt reachable, closer to me than any woman Tolkien had created.

And I adored Tehanu. I’ll always remember The Other Wind for its last scenes, the victory and sheer power that accompanied Tehanu’s departure. I wanted to be her, and it’s with only the smallest bit of embarrassment that I admit wishing I was part dragon, so I too could transform in  a blaze of glory, and sail away from everything on the other wind.

rebecca-guay-the-tombs-of-atuanLe Guin’s world, and her women, were complicated, and messy. They were not an escape from reality. Puberty is a strange time. I remember feeling terrified, of everything, of myself, of inexplicable, hard to name things. Life didn’t seem neat and tidy, the way Tolkien’s world was at the end. There were darknesses in every corner, and I think, at that age, I was just beginning to realize it. At least, I was beginning to realize the dangers that accompanied my existence as a girl, and learning to cultivate a very particular kind of fear.

And strangely enough, or perhaps not so strangely, le Guin’s fantastical world reflected that darkness. It had at its root a greyness that Tolkien’s didn’t, a reckoning with the fact that many lives are haunted by danger, and dread.  And yet, her heroines managed to overcome it, whether by jumping madly across chasms, trusting to the words of a stranger, or reaching their arms up into the heavens. They struggled and they made mistakes, and they faced horrors, but they won through a hostile world.

They endured, perhaps with grey in their hair, or burns on their faces. But importantly, they endured, fighting on, or flying into, another day.

the other windAnd I guess that’s what she’s done, enduring in a genre traditionally hostile to women, living life with a grace and fortitude that she infused in her characters. I’d like to think that she crossed that crumbling, horrible wall, and found it waiting on the far side. That Other wind, that swept her up, and took her to lands more fantastic than we, lingering behind, can imagine.

The Shape of Water

You know that feeling when you’ve been submerged in another world for two hours, and when you surface, everything seems less appealing, more mundane?

I’d assume that most people who read books, or watch movies, or undergo other intensive, immersive experiences offered by art are fairly familiar with it. I’d also assume that, given how much practice we’ve had in dealing with it, we’d be better at the surfacing by now. That the rush up for air is less a headlong, pressure-induced splurge than a measured, calm rise air and the ‘real world’. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m still fairly horrible at handling it, yet another way in which I disappoint myself as a human being.

My latest immersive experience (all the puns intended) was with Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water. I’ve been waiting to see this movie for months; it seemed totally up my alley, based on promos. Happy to report that unlike with some other movie experiences this year (sigh, Spiderman Homecoming) my excitement was not misplaced.


The Shape of Water is a gorgeous fairytale, and I use that term with all the literary weight it carries. At its heart, it is just that—the story of a princess ‘without a voice’ who finds her prince, and must overcome hurdles, some institutional, some personal. The means she uses range from the strangely mundane (towels) to beautifully fantastical (no spoilers). She receives help from her misfit friends, and faces danger from the powers that be. She is very much the hero of our story, the damsel and the saviour both.

Both del Toro and numerous reviewers have been going on about how revolutionary Shape is, the biggest reason being the fact that instead of the conventional, handsome prince, it’s the monster, an ‘amphibian man’, who gets the girl. In an interview, del Toro speaks about how watching The Creature from the Black Lagoon inspired him, how one brief shot of the heroine swimming in the water, the monster lurking beneath, made him hope that they would ‘end up together’. Shape is his fulfillment of that wish, and it’s a beautiful fulfillment yes, but I’m not sure the ‘monster gets the girl’ trope is all that revolutionary by now. Vampire and werewolf love stories have been dominating the big and small screens for years, some darker and less sparkly than others. The moment they decided to make Dracula sexy instead of horrifying, the monsters won.

the shape of water

What I found most ‘revolutionary’ about the movie wasn’t the monster, but the princess herself. It’s a cliche now to say that fairy tales are not exactly the best places to see a woman use her agency. Many princesses are confined to towers, to sleep away centuries, or pay the price for the errors of others. When they do make decisions, it tends to go very badly, and resulted in entire kingdoms being swallowed by thorns, or having to marry warty, demanding frogs. There’s little they do besides look beautiful (without any effort, because no woman in a fairytale has ever had to wax or get her upper lip and eyebrows done) and wait for reward in the form of a handsome prince. Sometimes that prince is a corpse-kissing wanderer in the woods, and at others he’s a book-loving softie hiding behind a fierce facade. Whatever the case, he’s the hero, despite the women being, ostensibly, the centre of the story.

How does Shape rewrite this? Not only is our princess Eliza (Sally Hawkins) riddled with might be seen as ‘defects’ in a traditional fairytale (she is a mute cleaning lady), but those very limitations are what give her power. Her relative invisibility (as the ‘help’, and a not especially glamorous woman) allow her to slip, unnoticed, into places she might not otherwise be allowed to enter; her ‘difference’ is what foregrounds her desire to befriend and rescue the stranger (Doug Jones, encased but not unexpressive in a rubber suit) trapped in a tank. ‘He sees me,’ she signs to her neighbour, seeking to explain his importance to her. The ‘monster’ does not see her flaws; he accepts her entirely for who she is, and having been alone all her life, Eliza feels nothing but compassion, fascination, and eventually, love for this being who has no peer that she can see, or imagine.

To watch Shape is to drown, for what might be a disappointingly short time, in a world that’s markedly similar to ours. There are evil security officials (a great and convincingly horrible Michael Shannon), warmhearted, caring friends (Octavia Spencer, playing to type), Cold War politics all drenched in del Toro’s fantastical colours. There is homage to the sweeping Hollywood epics of the past—both the historical fare that plays in the largely-abandoned theatre below Eliza’s apartment, and the black and white musicals that fuel her romantic daydreams. It’s worth pointing out how art—in this case, music and movies—is what really connects the monster and the maiden, and puts them on the path to communication. Del Toro’s movie is both an homage to that art, as well as a seductive object itself. It reels you in, and submerges you, and when you emerge, the world above seems a little colder, a little less magical, than the depths you’ve left behind.