Jessica Jones: AKA Ladies Night

"Smile."

Jessica Jones proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that all of Marvel Studios' best talent is working on their television shows, not their movies.

Don't get me wrong, I love Marvel's movie output, but this year has shown that the most interesting characters with the best stories are not the ones we're seeing on the big screen. Jessica Jones is the second in Marvel and Netflix's five series Defenders project, following hot on the heels of the brilliant Daredevil. Whereas that series dealt with questions of morality between its many bloody fight scenes, this series deals with more uncomfortable issues like post-traumatic stress disorder, abuse and rape. While it deals with all of them in ways that are careful and respectful, this series still might be too difficult for some viewers to sit through. I myself had to take a breather before I got started on the next episode.

Say hello to Jessica Jones, my favourite comic book heroine since I first read Alias 14 years ago. I'm sure the question on many people's lips going into this series is probably "who the hell is this Jessica Jones character anyway?" which is understandable, seeing as she is one of Marvel's more obscure heroes. What's great about this episode is that it doesn't bash us over the head with exposition in the first five minutes to answer that question. We slowly learn almost everything we need to know about Jessica as the episode unfolds with some key questions, such as how'd she get her powers, left unanswered.

What we do learn is that Jessica Jones is a former would be superhero now working as a smart mouthed private investigator in Hell's Kitchen, New York City. While Jessica might live only a few streets away from Matt Murdock, their worlds couldn't be more different. Jessica's world is one of pure noir, a genre mash-up of everything from Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, to Jim Rockford and Veronica Mars. If you have any notions of P.I. work being glamorous or exciting, this show dispels them in the first few seconds. Jessica earns her living taking pictures of cheating spouses or doing grunt work for high priced lawyers. Jessica isn't out there trying to be a hero like so many other comic book characters we see on TV. That's the last thing she wants to do. She tried it once and it ended badly for her. Really, really badly. Now she's just looking to earn a honest, or dishonest, buck so she can keep her liquor cabinet fully stocked.

I honestly can't heap enough praise on Krysten Ritter. I'll admit, I had my doubts when she was first cast. I just couldn't picture her as Jessica. But she's made me eat more than my fair share of humble pie. From the very beginning she simply was the Jessica Jones I have known and loved for the last 14 years. In fact, the entire cast is excellent. Mike Colter makes for a instantly likeable and charismatic Luke Cage, making me more excited for his solo series than I ever have been before. Carrie-Anne Moss owns every scene she's in as Jeri Hogarth. And David Tennant just made my skin crawl as Kilgrave.

When Jessica first realises that Kilgrave is back, her first instinct is to get out of the city as quickly as possible -- and who can blame her? This man terrifies her, not just because of what he can do to her, but what he can make her to do to herself and others. We may never see Kilgrave in person, he only appears in Jessica's PTSD flashbacks, which alone are frankly disturbing (I literally shuddered when he licked her face), but we get a clear picture of just how dangerous and how cruel he can be. He took Hope, subjected her to a twisted recreation of his equally twisted time with Jessica, and then made her kill her own parents, orphaning herself and her younger brother. He destroyed an entire family simply as a way of saying "Hello" to Jessica.

Jessica Jones isn't a story of saving the world, a city or even a few blocks, it is about surviving the true horrors this world can throw at you. Kilgrave is the most terrifying villain Marvel has produced so far simply because he is the one who feels the most real. He is the abusive ex who won't stop stalking you. He's the rapist who gets away with it because "Sorry, but it's your word against his". We live in a world filled with Kilgraves and they don't need superpowers to destroy people's lives.

It's safe to say I'll never be able to look at the Tenth Doctor in the same way again.
Notes and Quotes

--Jessica Jones was created by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos and first appeared in Alias (not related in any way to the Jennifer Garner spy series), one of the titles of Marvel's now defunct MAX imprint, which produced comics with adult only content.

--Melissa Rosenberg has been developing a series about Jessica Jones since 2010. At first it was going to air on ABC under the title AKA Jessica Jones, before the network decided to pass on the series. This was definitely for the best. The last thing I wanted to see was a watered down network TV version of Jessica Jones. She wouldn't be allowed to swear, for a start.

--Bendis' earliest ideas for the series had it centred on Jessica Drew, best known as Spider-Woman. Eventually, he decided it would be better to have an original character free of established continuity -- but she'd still be called Jessica.

--I have never related to a fictional character more than when Jessica woke up to find her phone dead because she forgot to plug the charger into the actual socket.

--Many scenes are lifted frame for frame from the comics such as Jessica throwing the client through her door window and her infamous sex scene with Luke (which was just as uncomfortable on screen as it was on the page.)

--If you're wondering why the jazzy score reminds you of Homeland, that's because both shows share the same composer, Sean Callery.

--In the comics, Jessica's best friend was Carol Danvers, the current Captain Marvel. Since that character is being saved for her own movie she has been replaced by Rachael Taylor's Trish "Patsy" Walker.

--The Saul Bass-like title sequence was designed by David Mack who also designed the covers for the comics.

Jessica: "I was never the hero you wanted me to be."

Trish: "You need to go back to that therapist."
Jessica: "That quack that had me reciting street names from back home? Two hundred bucks for Birch Street, Cobalt Lane, Bullshit Drive!"

Jessica: "In my line of work, you gotta know when to walk away. But some cases just won’t let you go."

Jessica: "You turn that thing on, I'll pull your underwear through your eye."

An excellent start to what I hope will be a brilliant series. Four out of four broken doors.
--
Mark Greig is the Walrus, goo goo g' joob. More Mark Greig.

10 comments:

migmit said...

I've watched two episodes so far. This show seems smart. I agree that we don't really need to see Kilgrave — he works great as a shadow.

But the main character annoys me greatly. I understand that her life is basically shit and it's not her fault; but it seems that she enjoys that a little too much. And Ritter doesn't give me anything to like.

It's good to see Mike Colter — he is great as a drug kingpin in "The Good Wife", he is great here as a good guy (at least for now).

As for Trish, jury's out — there wasn't much of her. But her actions in the second episode were really stupid, and it's not good that she wasn't really made to recognise that.

I'll keep watching, but I have lots of doubts about that show.

Josie Kafka said...

I myself had to take a breather before I got started on the next episode.

Yes, me too! I felt like the show gained some pep by the second episode, though. I certainly had no problem binging after the first one. :-)

Jessica's world is one of pure noir, a genre mash-up of everything from Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, to Jim Rockford and Veronica Mars.

Yes! It's like Santa realized that I like noir, but am a woman, and he had his elves make me a show for Christmas. Thank you, Santa! I love you, Santa!


My favorite part of this episode was exactly the quote you chose for your lead, Mark: "Smile." It epitomized the way the show is dealing with--but not being reductive about--the way that predatory men can essentialize, objectify, and demean women by demanding they exist to pleasure men.*


*I am told to smile quite often. Perhaps because I have a sort of mopey Ringo Starr face, perhaps because I have ovaries. My favorite time was quite recent: I was in my office at work, alone, typing on my computer. A colleague walked past my door, poked his head in, and said "Smile." Like I had to keep that fucking smile plastered on my face even when there was no one around and I was typing an email. (Apologies for the obscenity.) (Well, not really.)

Billie Doux said...

I'm one of the ones who couldn't get into Daredevil, so I was surprised by how much I liked this episode. Krysten Ritten made me care about Jessica Jones, and I very much want her to beat this horrible guy Kilgrave, whom I kept expecting to show up every second, even though he didn't.

Terrific review, Mark.

And I *hate* being told to smile. I had a boyfriend who kept telling me to smile, and needless to say, I broke up with him.

Patrick said...

I enjoyed the way this series started out, but overall I found it much less enjoyable than Daredevil. I was more drawn to the exploration of morality via Matt's Catholicism. But this show didn't really start to bog down for me until later on, these first few episodes were alright. And the ending of this episode, when Hope killed her parents, was a real emotional gut-punch.

jencat said...

Ah, thank you for mentioning who did the music, I kept getting distracted by how Homeland it felt but it didn't occur to me to check the composer :-)

I ended up marathoning the whole of Jessica Jones slightly more gradually than Daredevil (over three days instead of two) because JJ does benefit from a breather between each episode (and I kept having to recover from the plot twists. Good grief there are some massively unexpected plot twists in this thing.)

I think it's interesting how it's brutal in a completely different way to Daredevil (which was more about existential angst and male Catholic guilt, with a little inventive ultraviolence chucked in). Jessica kind of crawls inside your head and shows you the most skin-crawlingly disturbing thing you can think of - loss of agency, being powerless against someone who will use you without a second thought. It's almost much more like a female-focused version of Hannibal in terms of that aspect of psychological horror?

Laure Mack said...

Josie, Thank Santa for me too!

Great review, Mark, and I am loving this show.

I agree with everyone else about being told to smile, and the subtle way it indicates the delicate and respectful manner that JJ is going to use while tackling this super intense subject matter.

That ending hurt my soul a little. I don't think I could bounce back from that whether I had a choice or not.

I'd also add that this didn't feel like a pilot episode. It felt like we jumped right into Jess' life and I liked that a lot. Pilots are usually spent bringing the audience up to speed with heavy exposition and back story and it comes across as BOH-RING. JJ skipped that and we still got all the info we needed for the story to makes sense. Good writing choice! I approve.

Kristin Ritter blew me away. I've never seen her anything that I thought was particularly bad or anything, but I very much did not expect it to be this good.

sunbunny said...

I really hate Krysten Ritter so it's with an extraordinary grumpiness I must admit she's perfect in the role. I maintain that she has a minuscule range as an actress but the character of Jessica Jones fits that range perfectly.

The smile thing was so great. Kilgrave is just your average abusive, controlling, possessive creep taken to an obvious extreme so why wouldn't he approach attractive women on the street and tell them to smile, a scumbag classic. And one I've never understood at all. Why do they want us to smile? Do they just want us to be happy in which case why not tell men to smile too? Do they not want men to be happy? Confusing.

I agree with everything jencat said. Daredevil is definitely more violent and much more gory, but Jessica Jones is way darker.

I really loved the whole show and I'm still trying to come up with a reason why that doesn't sound like word salad. Maybe by the time the next review is up. :)

M said...

Kilgrave is so scary because he actually exists, without the superpowers, of course. He is every abusive, controlling, narcissistic a$$#0!3 out there. When Jessica was dragging Hope out of Kilgrave's hotel, Hope kept screaming "I can't leave! I can't leave!". It reminded me of the real life victims of abuse who feel they can't escape their relationships, even though no one else understands why they don't just leave. It was kind of heartbreaking. Well done.

Jenna said...

Given my strong dislike for all things Marvel and superhero, I didn't expect to like this pilot. In fact, I only watched it for David Tennant. So imagine my surprise when I actually enjoyed the episode, despite the fact that Mr Tennant was barely there :) I like film noir, but the genre is sadly lacking in kickass heroines, so Ms Jones is a character I instantly loved.
And despite Kilgrave being an abusive creep, I just can't bring myself to hate him. It's the Tennant effect. He played a similar creepy character on the British miniseries Secret Smile, which was mildly disturbing, but I couldn't hate his character even then :)

Juliette said...

Very high quality TV, but man, this was depressing. And so literally dark - I couldn't see what was going on! A problem I have also frequently had with The X-Files and Daredevil.

I think I'll go finish Daredevil first (2 or 3 episodes to go on that one) and then come back to this. But both are struggling to drag my attention away from my Stargate SG-1 marathon, given that SG-1 has things like humour, people who love each other, people doing nice things and scenes I can actually see, and I like that in a TV show!