On Friday, Netflix released Marvel’s latest foray in to binge television with the explosive show “Jessica Jones.” With its release, both DC and Marvel have officially gotten off the ground with female heroes. However with Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) slated to appear in other Marvel Cinematic Universe properties, including a Defenders team-up (with Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Daredevil), her show already has the upper hand on its relevancy for TV.
Furthermore, the portrayal of the hardened, alcoholic, and pessimistic character continues Marvel’s gritty approach from the “Daredevil” series. Separately, each show has its own merits and faults, but together the message is clear: if you thought that Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy was dark and gritty, you are in for a shock. Parents should be warned, because like Daredevil, Jessica Jones is remarkably violent, features substance abuse, and even has mature sexual content that has been absent from the world of superheroes adventures up to this point. This is a prestige show masked in a superhero costume, and if Netflix did not exist, it would fit right in with HBO or Showtime.
The show picks up in Hell’s Kitchen, the same location shown in the previous series “Daredevil,” yet the neighborhood is not as important to “Jessica Jones” as the former. Instead, Jones tours across New York as she seeks information about a dark figure from her past, Kilgrave (David Tennant). Along the way, she reconnects with her adopted sister Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), a soldier/cop Will Simpson (Wil Traval), and Luke Cage (Mike Colter). Each helps her, yet each also makes her vulnerable in ways that are unexpected. While each character is complex, they all provide foils to different personalities of Jessica that force her to react and grow as the season progresses.
One thing that “Jessica Jones” does incredibly well is tell a completely unified story. Every character through the whole show is affected by Kilgrave in a unique way, yet haunting similar at the same time. Building such an elaborate story is tough, and with so many characters having a similar motivation of catching or killing Kilgrave, disputes on how to execute the common goal arise. It was smart storytelling that gives the show a little something extra. Adding individual’s complex emotions and goals is extremely tough to do, and highlights how even common goals can be approached in radically different ways.
The writing on this show is definitely a big part of the reason why the show is so successful. There are times when the script could easily fall into melodrama, but avoids menial storylines throughout. The story is so focused at telling the story as a standalone show within the MCU, that it is not until the last two episodes that a potential story thread for a second season is revealed to be at play. The teleplays perfectly blend the seriousness of the story within the context, while giving small bits of humor. However, unlike many of recent films, the humor does not undercut moments of pain. Instead, the humor fits the characters in a far stronger fashion than some of the random asides one finds in the typical Marvel movie.
Showrunner Melissa Rosenberg is most known for writing the “Twilight Saga,” leading many to believe that she would embrace melodrama over substance. However, “Jessica Jones” showcases its characters in ways that make you cheer for them at some moments, and realize their darkness in others. Almost every character walks on both sides of line between good and evil at some point, revealing a moral ambiguity many do not expect from comic book heroes.
A secretly great aspect of the show is the intense and often high stakes fight sequences. While Ritter is not asked to do a tremendous amount in these scenes, almost every scene (especially in last two episodes) were better than the movie counterparts. However, scenes including Cage, Simpson, Walker and a bevy of extras all show more elaborate design and choreography than your standard show. Considering that “Daredevil” has the 5 minute uninterrupted shot in its corner as well, one has to wonder if Kevin Feige should start consulting the TV guys for fight scenes in future Marvel films.
One thing that is frustrating, are links to the other stories within the MCU. Based on events occurring within the film, the series seems to occur simultaneously with “Daredevil” yet there is no mention of his exploits outside of a few comments. That in itself is not the problem.
While watching the show, I thought about the rumors that continue to swirl regarding the Defenders showing up within an MCU film like “Captain America: Civil War,” and I’m left with the conclusion they should not occupy the screen at the same time. Not only do I think that will ultimately be a negative for the Netflix characters, because conforming to even a PG-13 rating will take away a lot of what makes them unique, but the “horrors” seen in the MCU are nothing compared to what Jones, Cage, or Daredevil have witnessed. They simply don’t fit together, and I think crossovers between the two will harm either brand.
It cannot be understated how this show has set a benchmark for women superheroes. While “Supergirl” was first to the table, “Jessica Jones” feels like the more memorable show immediately. Jones could walk into a bar with Phillip Marlowe, Walter Neff, and Joe Gillis and instantly fit in. She is partially born from the Neo-Noir movement, yet doesn’t draw exclusively from it. This gives her cynicism and edge, with a hint of positivity and optimism toward her future.
With a wave of women finally hitting the screen in their own movies, including Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, and the in-progress “Supergirl”, “Jessica Jones” has set the bar for these women. She will not be overshadowed by the men in her series, even the ones that have powers. She can go toe-to-toe with anyone physically, and openly discuss mature subjects that face women. Ultimately, the show goes right at questions about rape, attacking commonly held myths. The stalker aspect of Kilgrave also touches upon the often taboo subject that women are often not believed when these scenarios occur. Jones’ fear is real in every scene she discusses Kilgrave, and it should open dialogue about the problems that women face when these issues arise.
She is haunted by Kilgrave in every way, and the PTSD flashbacks saturate the screen with purple hues so the audience knows exactly what is going on in her head. The mental trauma is so great that she threatens to leave the country in the pilot episode. She is a broken person, and the PTSD comes from the actions done to her, as well as the actions done by her. The disappearance of the PTSD in the back half of the show was a little weird, but given events that occur, not entirely unexpected.
Her alcoholism is a real issue for her, but also leaves her with an edge that makes her real. It was weird to see Jones get the storyline and emotional beats that should likely have been reserved for Tony Stark/Iron Man. Rosenberg’s crew handled it exceptionally well, and it looks to project as she remains involved in the MCU. Ritter really excels in these moments, and considering her work on “Breaking Bad” she seems to really grasp the complexities of playing a character affected with addiction. Ritter should receive a huge career boost from the show and really carried herself as an actress who realized the importance of the role as soon as she got the part.
David Tennant shines in what might be the best role of his career. The former Time Lord and Barty Crouch Jr. has been a well-known commodity in the geek community for some time. His depiction of Kilgrave amps up the creepiest scenes he has as Crouch, and turns him into one of scariest villains ever translated from comic books. His power set is somewhat curious and by the end is well explained. With the television series medium, Marvel is able to go further into his backstory and bring his upbringing into the story with a high level of importance.
His point-of-view on issues within the series is well stated, and honestly draws sympathy at times. Other times, his views on events are so jaded that it inspires rage in the viewer. His acts of evil throughout the series so despicable, that in my opinion he makes the Joker look tame by comparison. He is a maniacal genius unlike any that has surfaced in the MCU up to this point, and despite the fact that his powers would often not require him to be one, his intellect always keeps him five steps ahead of the heroes. His childlike behavior is unique, and the way he bends people to his will is truly horrifying.
The other character that was highly anticipated was that of Luke Cage. Cage is played by Mike Colter (The Good Wife), who makes the man with unbreakable skin extremely vulnerable and open. His interactions with Jones provide a nice foil, as a single event is interpreted by effects each in different ways. He is so good at times that it takes away the focus from Jones. The show obviously realized how special Colter’s scenes are at times, and self-corrects about halfway through in order to make sure that Cage is not over-utilized. The end of the season sets up perfectly for his own show in 2016, and it will no doubt be highly anticipated after his performance here.
Other characters do factor in to the plot, and ultimately push Kilgrave and Jones to a violent conclusion. Rachel Taylor’s Trish Walker provides a character that many of us can identify with, because while she wishes to be the hero, she simply cannot do it in the same ways as Jones or Cage. We get some real powerful moments with her toward the end of show, but even with intense physical and martial arts training, Marvel establishes that being a superhero requires something more. Her character arc might be the most complex in the whole show, and could lead to something more in future seasons.
Simpson (Wil Traval) is also a unique character that really speaks to the moral ambiguity of the show at times. His arc goes all over the place, and instantly draws comparisons to Frank Grillo in “Captain America: Winter Soldier.” Even his physical appearance is similar to Chris Evans in that film, which puts the audience in quite the bind as the show progresses. He seems like he will play a huge part in the show moving forward, and could lead extremely well into mysteries for both “The Defenders” as well as “Jessica Jones” Season 2.
Both Eka Darville and Carrie-Anne Moss are good characters in spurts, yet neither gets the same attention of the above. Darville is mostly sidelined for the first five episodes of the show, and there is something problematic in the way addiction is handled through his story. Still, he does not have the opportunity that others have to redeem themselves quite the same way. He is a powerhouse in the first half of “AKA Top Shelf” but is quickly overshadowed by the back half of the episode.
Carrie-Anne Moss also carries herself with a deeply dark and pessimistic attitude that recalls the worst parts of Nick Fury. Always scheming, it is hard to root for her, leaving Moss with the unenviable position of being the “bad guy” aligned with the heroes. The problem here is not Moss, who expertly makes her one of the most exciting characters on the show. Instead, in one of the rare issues I had with writing, the series depicts her as a mostly one-note character who deserves no sympathy from the audience.
Along with “Daredevil”, “Jessica Jones” has made an excellent argument for why Marvel should continue to exploit its unique distribution platform with Netflix. Jones lends itself to the binge model while never feeling like it was forced into the model. With the level of quality and depth equaling, if not surpassing the big screen counterparts, rumors of other characters making their debuts (such as Blade, Ghost Rider, Moon Knight, and the confirmed Punisher) through Netflix seem obvious. Ultimately, whether you prefer “Jessica Jones” or “Daredevil” doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that as long as Marvel TV is pushing boundaries with the medium, it will remain the most exciting scene in comic book entertainment.
“Jessica Jones” is available on Netflix now. It stars Krysten Ritter, David Tennant, Rachel Taylor, Mike Colter, Carrie-Anne Moss, Wil Travel, Eka Darville, Erin Moriarty, Robin Weigert, Susie Abromeit, and Colby Minife.