(This is a spoiler free review)
Jessica Jones. Private investigator, chronic alcoholic, truculent she-bitch, neurotic self doubter, street wise survivor, perpetual pessimist, trauma victim and failed superhero. In that order.
This is who Marvel has chosen to follow up on their highly received and critically acclaimed Netflix debut of Daredevil. Played by Krysten Ritter, of Breaking Bad and Don’t trust the bitch in Apartment 23, Jessica Jones the series starts of at the same languid pace as her predecessor, allowing ourselves time to get to know the lonely, cynical and often fiercely terrifying world that led to create this, up to this point, little known and intriguing anti-hero.
Jessica Jones is the introduction of many firsts by Marvel. This is firmly in the “not for children” camp, being like the rest of the Netflix / Marvel territory, completely adult in tone and style. Jessica Jones the series is Marvel diving into the deep end with suspense and psychological terror. Making the mind the playground, using very mature themes like post traumatic stress disorder, Stockholm syndrome and depression as the canvas of storytelling.
It’s Marvel by way of Sleeping With The Enemy, or Dead Calm, or Kalifornia. It beds itself in the unease that lies just under the skin, two steps removed from reality. The world of domestic and emotional abuse, handled through a prism of comic book powers.
Created by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos, Jessica Jones manages to captivate by the strength of its many unique and often far from cookie cutter characters and dynamics. It is to the credit of the Netflix Marvel offerings as a whole, that a concerted effort has been made to not make the demonstration of powers and gimmicks the main focus of the storytelling.
Truly, the last thing about Jessica herself that we are interested in is her powers by the end of the series. It is the character, warts and all, battling her demons and insecurities, struggling to make a difference on the right side of the scale,and her failures along the way, that give her much colour and scope.
Jessica Jones begins after a major period in Jessica’s life. She tried the superhero thing to an extent, but didn’t work out for her. Her life now revolves around investigator work that doesn’t embark too far away from collecting incriminating photos that her clients can then use to confront their cheating spouses. Her life is cribbed from post-modern Chandler novels. She is Phillip Marlowe by way of Joan Jett.
Caught in the half light of living in the darkness of the mean streets, cobbling a livelihood depending on the most deplorable in Hell’s kitchen, Jessica is as much responsible for her Sisyphus like existence, as she isn’t.
Tough, flawed and jagged edged, but betraying under many layers, the craving to help those who often can’t be helped. Jessica is like this because she is uniquely both victim and survivor herself. A little bit broken and completely suspicious of the motives of people, who she no longer views with prism she used to as a more conventional crime fighter.
It’s hard to get to her caring underbelly at the beginning as by this point she pushes most away, haunted by her recent past escaping the captivity of Kilgrave, a man who makes those around him do whatever he commands. Played by Doctor Who’s David Tennant, Kilgrave is an antagonist equally as adept and well equipped as Loki or Kingpin in the Marvel verse.
Arguably the most frightening of the lot, Kilgrave is terrifying in the way that he is pure Id. Coupled with the ability to make all differ to his will and bidding, he is a villain that succeeds because he is so simple in his dominance and motivations, yet so insidious and horrifying in his ability to twist and warp others so easily by removing all their walls of agency and resistance. What’s scarier is he is a creature of whim, not driven by a singular ideal by and large, but by impulse. A pure agent of chaos.
It is the span of the series that explores this dynamic between Jessica and Kilgrave and wrenches the stakes to the nth degree. It has to be said that the territory explored by Jessica Jones sometimes skirt very close to the real world implications of post rape and sexualising assault trauma. Many of the parallels can be drawn in terms of subject matter and approach using the device of Kilgrave’s ability. It is to the series’ credit that it’s all handled with a great deal of intelligent and brilliant writing.
The series is startlingly fresh in a few approaches. Possessing a ream of unique and often off kilter characters, Jessica Jones has really ramped up the roster with a conveyor belt of great and complex female characters. From the titular title character to a wealth of great supporting characters like Patsy Walker, Jessica’s closest confidante, to Jeri Hogarth, her ice cold calculating lawyer and her trio of lovers to the broken innocence of Hope, a victim of Kilgrave that she’s trying to save.
There really is so much about Jessica Jones that surpasses Daredevil for quality. Daredevil had great character building and atmosphere but ultimately lacked a larger strong plot thread running through the series, sacrificing that for a more spontaneous exploration of personas rather than an arching grand narrative. Jessica Jones however, perhaps sacrifices more choreography and cinema verite for more gripping plot twists and curve balls. It spends about half the series building slowly, characters a handful at a time. And by the second half when the let all of them loose on each other, the story is applaudingly delicious.
The cast here is strong throughout. This is by far Krysten Ritter’s strongest work and any naysayers to her casting will eat a trough of crow by the series end. She is perfect in playing the psychological and physical mess that is Jessica. Carrie Anne Moss is also resplendent as the scheming Hogarth.
David Tennant is equal parts hilarious and chilling as the creepy Kilgrave. And the standout performance among all these players is Racheal Taylor’s Patsy Walker. Sometimes sister, sometimes admirer but never damsel in distress, one of the key fun dynamics in Jessica Jones is the chemistry between Ritter and Taylor. Playing a normal person with a overpowered sister, Patsy’s turn as capable sister always in awe of her more grungy sibling, trying her best to keep up is right up there with Frozen for endearing sisterhood in film
There really is chemistry in spades across the whole season. Smouldering Mike Colter is a perfect Luke Cage, and will do well when his character’s series drops next year. The interplay with Cage and Jones is electric. Every character jumps of fully fleshed out from their comic origins.
Given the story within the series has so much surprises in store, Geek culture will leave you to enjoy it yourself. No spoilers. But be prepared for some truly R rated territory, for both subject matter, and visual imagery.
There is really a wealth of things that could be said about why you should drop everything and watch Jessica Jones. It is television of the highest order, vastly entertaining, at times deeply unsettling and horrific, and then again possessing moments of great dialogue and pitch black humour. There are moments of spectacularly gory violence and suspense, and twists and turns abound.
And most importantly, Jessica Jones sticks the landing right to the final frame on a perfect first season.
But the proof of a show’s quality can be in whether it merits re-watching. Jessica Jones is firmly in this camp. It has to be said how ridiculously high Marvel has set the bar with two of their four Defenders characters series so far. Geek Culture sits with baited breath to see if they can keep the quality streak going with Luke Cage and Iron Fist.
Dare we say it, the Netflix Marvel TV universe could just be better than the Marvel cinematic universe. And that would be incredibly high praise indeed.
And possibly very, very true.
GC hearts JJ.