JESSICA JONES TV Review
Marvel and Netflix teamed up earlier this year and impressed everyone with Daredevil, a gritty yet fun show that wasn’t anything like the Marvel movies but still felt a part of the same universe. It told a long form story that really developed the character of Matt Murdock, who by the season’s end was officially Daredevil, and gave the Marvel universe its most interesting villain (sorry Loki) in Wilson Fisk.
Well, now they are at it again with Jessica Jones, another street level show set in Hell’s Kitchen, and this time they knock it out of the park. Let’s just get it out of the way early: Jessica Jones is up there with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Avengers, and Guardians of the Galaxy as the best of what Marvel is putting out. It might not be as out and out fun (though it has its moments) as some of those movies, but it is complex, thematically rich, engrossing, and features two of the most interesting characters in that entire universe.
Jessica Jones is a private investigator with super powers (namely, she can punch really, really hard) and a bit of a drinking problem. She’s not an anti-hero but a post-hero, someone who gave the superhero game a go and found she wasn’t all that great at it. What she is great at is digging up dirt on those she is hired to dig on, and seeing the worst in people. Jessica keeps herself removed from the rest of the world, only sticking her head out of her office to photograph adulterers in order to pay the rent. It is apparent almost instantly that Jessica is haunted by something. Something traumatic has occurred to her and it has reshaped her entire life and personality.
Jessica is recommended by a third party to a worried married couple who are looking for their missing daughter, and Jessica takes up the case. That case soon opens up old wounds, and the mysterious trauma from Jessica’s past becomes terrifyingly clear.
The through line of the season is the hunt for the man responsible for the misery in almost all of the characters lives, and that man is Kilgrave (known in the comics as Purple Man, hence the surplus of purple in this show) played with menacing megalomania by David Tennant. There are some smaller story lines that occur throughout but at its core the show is Jessica versus Kilgrave.
Kilgrave can control minds. If he tells you to do something you do it. He tells you to walk off a roof top, you do it. He tells you to put your head through a wall, you do it. He tells you to love him, you do it. And that is what makes Kilgrave so truly frightening. With his powers he could conceivably take over the world like an old school super villain, but he isn’t all that interested in that. All Kilgrave wants to do is control women. He takes away a woman’s agency, immediacy, will and resolve, and personality. He takes away their autonomy, and makes them his play things. He is a rapist. He is a monster.
And he is the most fascinating villain in all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The reason he is so great comes down to how he works thematically within the show. Jessica Jones is a show about power, control, and trauma. Kilgrave has both power and control. Jessica has power but almost no control, often inflicting as much damage as she is attempting to prevent. All of the supporting characters, from Luke Cage to Patsy “Trish” Walker to Malcolm, Jessica’s junkie neighbor, are fighting for the power to control at least a tiny part of their lives after a complete loss of that power.
Jessica and Kilgrave are not only at the heart of the plot, but of its themes, of its message, and mission statement. Jessica Jones is a show where every character, plot point, and story choice is working towards a singular purpose. And most impressively the show manages all of this without ever feeling overly serious or heavy. It feels like a noir inspired superhero show with great characters, that just happens to have a surprising amount of depth. And some kick ass action.
The fight sequences in Jessica Jones are different from any other superhero property I can think of. There are no highly technical fights in this show. Jessica isn’t a trained martial artist like Daredevil. She is a chick who hits like a truck. She brawls. And more than that, most of the people she’s fighting would flat out die if she hit them full strength, so she’s pulling her punches. The fight scenes are messy and abrupt, just like Jessica herself is.
The performances throughout are excellent across the board. Ritter as Jones is fantastic. She is a hard drinking, self destructive bull in a china shop. Ritter plays her with just the right amount of edge to convince that she could go off the rails, but never forgetting the character’s empathy. Tennant as Kilgrave is a revelation, and will be a fan favourite for a long time to come. Mike Colter as Luke Cage plays things smooth, with just a hint at the simmering rage beneath the surface. He should be more than able to carry his own show when it comes around next year. In fact, all of the supporting characters prove to be interesting. Even those who initially seem too broad or one note are fleshed out after interesting arcs by the season’s end.
The pacing, as it was in Daredevil, is still the weakest part of these Netflix shows. There are few clunky moments in the early episodes but once it hits the middle section it is near flawless. And then the show tries to drag things out for a few too many episodes and scuppers some of that good will it had just earned. But overall there are no out and out bad episodes, just moments that stick out as lesser because what works really, really works.
Overall Jessica Jones is a success, and a welcome new voice in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It has great characters (who I can’t wait to see interact with the larger established universe), is full of weighty, interesting themes that don’t lessen the show’s pulpy style and sense of fun, and its own unique energy and vibe that differentiates it from the rest of the MCU (before watching it I was worried it was going to be way too samey to Daredevil. I was, thankfully, very wrong). The show is so strong that I’m hoping that Jessica gets another season to herself before The Defenders crossover show happens.