Published on November 23rd, 2015 | by Geraldine Malone0
Geraldine comes up for air (and to jot down her thoughts) after bingeing on eight episodes of the Netflix / Marvel Comics series Jessica Jones.
The anticipation leading up to the release of Marvel’s new Netflix series, Jessica Jones, was palpable not only in the nerd-blog sphere online, but in the general TV critic world. After all 13 episodes were dropped on the streaming platform on November 20th it’s easy to see why the new series, which moves a bit outside the comic universe, is being recognized as a quality drama. The show delves into well-rounded and important characters that represent real struggles in the everyday world.
I woke up early in the morning on the release date with the expectation of watching the first few episodes to write this review. Six hours later I was in need of some physical activity and even brought the series with me to the gym to continue watching while I ran. If there’s a definition for binge watching I think I have fully encapsulated it. I am not quite done the series but it’s time for some air and some writing after eight episodes.
The new series is based off of the Alias comics (no relation to the Jennifer Garner show) which ran from 2001 to 2004 created by artist Michael Gaydos and writer Brian Michael Bendis, who actually serves as a consultant on the TV show. The comics were worth a read but didn’t really garner that much mainstream success.
In the comics, there is a clear origin story and crossovers with Marvel Universe characters. Main character Jones goes to school with Peter Parker and gains her super powers through a tragic accident. Her comic story has her struggle with being a superhero with extreme strength and some solid jumping skills and what that means for her place in the world, especially after a run in with a nefarious villain. From that point, the Jessica Jones show follows somewhat close to Jones’ inner struggle but in general the story is much different.
The show’s introduction sets the tone both stylistically and through sound of the noir-drama the viewer is about to settle into. It’s a throwback to old detective series and beyond the giant red Marvel at the beginning doesn’t give away any of the super-style secrets that you will slowly learn as the episodes unfurl.
The viewer is immediately introduced to the main character — Jessica.
“New York may be the city that never sleeps, but it sure does sleep around. Not that I’m complaining. Cheaters are good for business,” Jones explained from Hell’s Kitchen (the same neighbourhood the Daredevil series uses).
“A big part of the job is looking for the worst in people. Turns out, I excel at that. Clients hire me to find dirt, and I find it. It shouldn’t surprise them but it does. Knowing it’s real means they have to make a decision. One, do something about it or two keep denying it. Shoot the messenger. Tell me I’m getting off on ruining their shitty lives. Option two rarely pans out.”
The callous tone from Jessica, played by Breaking Bad’s Krysten Ritter, is perfectly delivered to create the believable no-nonsense private investigator. She explained that people “do bad shit” so she just avoids them — most of the time.
Jones crashes through an office door where we meet a cold-hearted lawyer, Jeri Hogarth, played by The Matrix’s Carrie-Ann Moss, who becomes one of the central characters. This exchange sets up Jones as ‘erratic and volatile’ but also effective when it comes to finding information that no one else can deliver on. Jones gets to work on a case, from her toilet, without pants — a character I can immediately relate to.
But she’s not without flaw. Jones tries to sleep but can’t. She pours herself a water bottle full of liquor (her countertop of empties show that it’s not for the first time) and heads to the streets to take photos from an apartment staircase.
“In my line of work you have to know when to walk away but some cases just won’t let you go,” Jones said.
This is where we begin to see the larger storyline unfold and see Jones as more than a gruff PI. The viewer gets the first glimpse of Luke Cage, who in the comics plays Jones’ long-term love interest. He is brilliantly portrayed by Mike Colter who many have seen on The Good Wife and through the series you will learn that his connection to Jones is rooted in a tragedy, which changed both their lives. Cage will actually have his own Netflix spin off show in this universe but I don’t want to spoil his powers for those who haven’t read the comics.
We also hear the haunting voice of Jones’ villain — Kilgrave. Kilgrave is played by the tenth doctor in Doctor Who, David Tennant. Although not omnipotent and larger-than-life like most Marvel villains, Kilgrave could possibly be the scariest. He has the powers of mind control but what makes it so terrifying is that he doesn’t just make people do what he wants; he makes them want to do it. Although barely seen in the first few episodes, the viewer slowly learns that Kilgrave has been able to have anything he desires whether it’s a home, money, sex, or even Jones without consequence or concern. He is not driven by conquering the world or any grand scheme; he is only driven by self-satisfaction.
“You want to do it. You know you do,” Kilgrave whispers in Jones’ ear during a flashback.
The relationship between Kilgrave and Jones drives this story into the realm of a thoughtful drama. There are no huge CGI effects, explosions, or even fight scenes that are only believable in a comic universe; this show is pushed forward by the psychological impact left in a powerful man’s wake.
Jessica Jones delves into the emotional trauma, which lingers after Jones becomes free of Kilgrave’s mind control. Jones struggles with the PTSD in a realistic way that doesn’t need to play theatrics to the fact that she spent months kidnapped, continuously raped, and forced to commit murder. Jones is trying to take control of her life after trauma but to achieve it she is pushing everyone away.
Actually, the way that Jessica Jones explores rape and assault is refreshing in a TV landscape where something so agonizing is often thrown in as a quick plot device. Jones doesn’t flinch when it comes to pain, self-blame, and questions around if recovery is even possible. A different character who was controlled by Kilgrave tells Jones she is pregnant and the understated tone of the scene (especially with Ritter’s performance) brings brevity to how damaging the assault can be physically and emotionally without exploiting the trauma itself by using such lazy plot devices as a flashback to a rape scene. The actors’ strong performances make you understand what is being said without either even having to mention that a rape occurred.
Jessica Jones delves into multiple aspects of anguish that people deal with in real life, which is often ignored in comic universes. There is a support group for Kilgrave’s victims, which is a huge turn for Marvel. In Avenger’s movies and most comic TV shows, we see buildings topple and explode without a second thought for who was inside or how communities recover. In Jessica Jones the minor characters sit over coffee and have a dialogue breaking down the experiences that they have been through. They talk about whether it was part of their inner character which made them susceptible and how they can possibly deal with life after. This story choice brings a whole new depth to what could just be throw away characters at the same time it expands the horror of what Kilgrave has done.
Jones’ best friend is also suffering through her own wounds but in a different way than Jones, creating an interesting dichotomy on the show. BF and sister through adoption, Trish Walker, played by Rachael Taylor, is a former child star and current radio personality with a past filled with deep dark secrets. The show’s creators say that Trish is the alternate identity of the Hellcat (another Marvel superhero) but she hasn’t done much yet to embrace her super side. It is her optimism and humanity that keep Jones from fully going off the deep end into despair or darkness.
Unlike the other female-led superhero show to hit screens recently, Supergirl, Jessica Jones is actually breaking glass ceilings and dealing with issues real women face. Hogarth is a powerful, lesbian attorney, struggling through a divorce, new romance, and her career. She represents people for Jones but also has no qualms with making money through shadier clients. Then there is Walker whose celebrity profile makes her susceptible to exploitation from a dangerous stage mom and the menace of stalkers. Jones herself is physically powerful but her emotional vulnerability, especially in situations she cannot control, is clear. All of the women driving the show are fully formed characters with story lines that develop to show how complicated it is to be a woman navigating any part of modern society without making them into victims. They are also characters that move beyond the usual categories of good or bad, they all fall somewhere in between.
Jessica Jones relates less to its comic book peers, The Flash or Agents of SHIELD, and more to shows like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad. It is a comic book show but even more it’s a show about morality, consequences, suffering, and gender roles.