After establishing a new subset of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the first season of Daredevil on Netflix, Marvel Studios unleashes their newest hero in her own titular series, Jessica Jones. A hardboiled and traumatized detective, Jones (Krysten Ritter) is a new breed of hero in the often bright and shiny MCU. With a realistic and stark focus on sexual abuse, trauma, and addiction, Jessica Jones easily tackles the most mature subject matter from the studio to date.
Thankfully, creator Melissa Rosenberg and her team have been able to translate author Brian Michael Bendis’ comic book series Alias, where Jones first appeared in Marvel Comics, into a thrilling and deep series that handles its sensitive and painful topics with aplomb. While not every single aspect of Jessica Jones is a success, the overwhelmingly excellent execution mixed with powerful subject matter and easily one of Marvel’s best live action heroes to date makes the Netflix series a rousing success and a welcome break from much of the studio’s fare.
From the very start, the mature content and tone of Jessica Jonesdifferentiates the series from the typical superhero media seen today and keeps more in line with the ideas first presented in Netflix’s Daredevil series. As the series progresses, serious thought and time is devoted to the exploration of rape and the trauma it causes on survivors, with the additional time afforded by the series’ length allowing Jessica Jones to go in depth and wrestle with the extremely difficult subject matter.
It’s an incredible balancing act that could have been disastrous if done incorrectly, but the show’s success when dealing with these matters is most often its strongest points. The result is a haunting piece of noir storytelling that satisfies through its blend of heroics and pathos-laden narrative.
The Newest Hero of Hell’s Kitchen
First and foremost, there is a reason why this show is titled Jessica Jones. While a stellar supporting cast surrounds Ritter, this is her show through and through. Given an extremely complex, damaged, and often inspiring heroine to portray over the course of 13 episodes, Ritter puts on a powerful performance. Jones is broken by a past experience wherein the man known as Kilgrave (David Tennant) controlled her thoughts and actions for months, subjecting her to his every disgusting desire. While Jones possesses super strength, she is reluctant to use her abilities frequently, as her past superheroics are what led to her falling under his control.
Now, Jessica works as a private investigator and lives a hard, alcohol-fueled life as she seeks to outrun her past abuse. But when a case brings Kilgrave back into the picture, Jessica is forced to confront her abuser and the damage he inflicted on her life.
Ritter turns Jessica into a stunningly deep and infinitely watchable protagonist who manages to be both a difficult person and an inspiring heroine. Through her internal and external struggles, Jessica Jones portrays a massive and complex story arc for its central character that is focused on character progression, emotions, and healing rather than just beating up the bad guys. And it’s Ritter that pulls the audience through truly grim moments and even when the narrative loses its way at times with a performance that trumps most modern comic book actors.
On the other side of the narrative, Tennant’s Kilgrave is easily one of Marvel’s best villains on screen ever. That’s because he’s so convincingly brought to life by Tennant, given much more screentime to develop than the average movie bad guy, and is fully fleshed out as both a real and despicable human being. Beginning as a shadowy figure who brings dread by his mere presence and evolving into a complex figure with his own traumatic background, Kilgrave has his own massive storyarc that complements Jessica’s.
While Tennant may bring serious charisma and even many funny moments to the show, his horrific actions are never shied away from, which brings an important and heavy focus to his portrayal as a victimizer. With the power to control the wills and emotions of people by simply talking to them, Kilgrave makes people truly want to do whatever he says. This isn’t puppetry or mind control, it is a rape of the mind, which leaves victims reeling from such an intimate violation. While literal rape is implied but never shown, the parallels between this power and its real world analogs are devastating and crucial when these subjects often go overlooked or are portrayed terribly in mainstream media. Rather than having a clichéd and overused plot of world domination, Kilgrave’s small focus on dominating Jessica and the reality of his actions make the ideas explored here far more important than what any big budget Avengersmovie could accomplish. It’s most certainly not for the faint of heart, but it puts a focus on massively important issues in today’s world.
With 13 nearly hour-long episodes to fill out, Jessica Jonesis filled out by an incredibly strong supporting cast who create their own vivid characters. While not all of their story arcs are as strong as the series’ central narrative, each bring their own themes into a story that is focused on brokenness, victimization, and healing. As Trish “Patsy” Walker, Rachael Taylor creates a great dynamic as Jessica’s best friend and her scenes with the lead often reinforce the deeper issues at play throughout the series. On the other side of Jessica’s life is Carrie-Anne Moss as Jeri Hogarth, a high-end lawyer who uses Jessica’s skills in her divorce. While Moss is certainly powerful in the role, her storyline contributes little to the overall story, even though it has one of the most devastating conclusions in the show.
Special mention has to be made of Mike Colter, who brings long-standing Marvel superhero Luke Cage to brilliant life in Jessica Jones. Bringing a character into the series that has already been guaranteed his own show may have undermined the focus of Jessica Jones if done wrong. Instead, Colter’s Luke is one of the show’s secret weapons, elevating every episode that he is in and making the prospect of his own series incredibly exciting. Colter is strong and charismatic as Cage, a man with unbreakable skin and incredible strength, imbuing the character with many layers and real tragedy due to the losses he has suffered. His relationship with Jessica is easily one of the series’ most dynamic aspects as the two come together, break apart, and bring out both the best and worst of one another. While he may not be part of every episode, his storyline brings some of the series’ greatest emotional depth and reverberates throughout it. It only makes the prospect of his upcoming solo series more exciting.
The Netflix Guide to Heroics
As a 13-episode television season, Jessica Jones has the ability to explore its narrative and characters in a way that far exceeds any of Marvel Studios’ films based on time alone. Additionally, the creative freedom clearly given by Netflix allows Rosenberg and her team to present their story in a way that may be limited by most mainstream television networks, especially when it comes to the show’s difficult subject matter and often shocking violence. As a whole, the series is far better for it, with the world becoming more vibrant and fleshed out episode after episode and like Daredevil before it, Jessica Jones blows away both of Marvel’s cinematic outputs in 2015 thanks to the depth and power of the story at hand.
Also like Daredevil before it, Jessica Jones suffers from a few hiccups in its overall structure. Most noticeably, 13 episodes is just a bit too long for the amount of narrative being told here. While Jones’ hunt for Kilgrave propels much of the series’ second half, there are a few too many complications and reversals of fortune, which prevent our heroine from finding success in her hunt. Just when Jessica’s plans come to fruition, an unexpected development comes out of nowhere and lets the villain slip through her fingers. While it makes the narrative more enticing at first, it becomes tiresome after the third, fourth, and fifth times. The solution would have been to either shorten the amount of episodes to tighten to focus or to have the later episodes repeat the failures fewer times.
In order to fill out the runtime, some of the supporting storylines take precedence in the show’s focus later portions in sometimes baffling ways. Just when the main conflict between Jessica and Kilgrave seems to be coming to a head, multiple narrative threads with smaller characters suddenly come to the forefront for resolution, which pads out the series and stalls some of the momentum when things should be barreling ahead to their conclusion. Most notably, the focus in “AKA I’ve Got the Blues” on sometime ally Will Simpson (Wil Traval) adds little to the larger story, even though the conflict is compelling thanks to its comic book roots and clearly lays the groundwork for a future story in either season two of the show or another Netflix Marvel series. In addition, the increased role of neighbor Robyn is often frustrating, mostly because the character is specifically written to be annoying and grating. Create an annoying character on purpose and her scenes are going to be annoying, even if it isn’t on purpose.
When compared to Daredevil or most MCU films, Jessica Jones is also less than thrilling in its fight sequences, which mostly play out as quick brawls rather than captivating action set pieces. However, this is also a show that is far less based on its combat and far more focused on characters. Don’t go in expecting mind-blowing action, but instead focus on what this series is actually focused on accomplishing, which it does fantastically time and time again. Despite these setbacks and a somewhat underwhelming finale, there is so much to love about Jessica Jones that it quickly elevates the series to some of the best work that Marvel Studios has done yet, showing that there are still countless avenues to explore and new territory to mine in its superhero lineup.
Jessica Jones is a must watch for both longtime comic book fans and anyone looking for high quality adult-focused television.