It’s an interesting time for television (thanks to Netflix) and we’re still riding high in films and TV shows based on comic book superheroes (thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe). So, of course, we’re going to see more Netflix shows from Marvel. First came Daredevil, and now we’ve got Marvel’s Jessica Jones.
In New York City, Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is trying to make her living as a private investigator, using street smarts and superhuman strength to serve subpoenas and get evidence of cheating spouses. But her past catches up with her when she encounters a young woman caught in the clutches of Kilgrave (David Tennant), a man with mind control powers and no conscience. Desperate to spare others from the same fate she endured, Jessica joins forces with her adopted sister Trish (Rachael Taylor), a ruthless attorney (Carrie-Anne Moss), and the formidable Luke Cage (Mike Colter) to expose the madman and bring him to justice, one way or another.
Now I’ll admit that I never read the original comics, but the fact that Krysten Ritter (whom I know from Breaking Bad) was playing the lead role got my interest. As a character, Jessica is a great anti-hero and an excellent portrayal of an abuse survivor. She’s bitter and sarcastic, but she doesn’t sacrifice any sympathy points during her investigations, even when she’s roughing up suspects or Kilgrave’s minions. It helps that she knows the pain they’ve undergone in mind control, which also makes her clever when she finds a way to circumvent that control.
Speaking of Kilgrave, this is easily one of the darkest villains in the MCU. Tennant’s villain is charismatic, pleasure-seeking, dangerously unhinged, and effective at pushing everyone’s buttons. Almost no one is safe from his influence once he’s in earshot, which often results in a trail of fresh corpses once they’re useless to him. Kilgrave was great to watch, but I had trouble at times seeing how he was both a man-child and a talented manipulator. Still, David Tennant plays both sides well (and yes, it was creepy to hear such villainous lines in the same Estuary English accent he used in Doctor Who).
Besides Kilgrave’s monologues, my other favorite parts of Jessica Jones (apart from the brutal fight scenes) were her interactions with Trish. Rachael Taylor makes a nice, optimistic contrast to Jessica’s hardboiled shell, but she backs that optimism up with a lot of physical prowess and some good investments in home defense. I don’t know why, but I love it when a good relationship between two women gets established and explored in TV or film. And as we see in this show, both Jessica and Trish have helped each other get past a shared history of abuse, which ties nicely into the central theme.
My only real gripe with the show had to do with its subplots and supporting characters. At times, I liked the romance with Jessica and Luke Cage, but at other times, I found it a little boring. And that goes double for any of the cutaways to her neighbors Robyn and Reuben or the subplot of Jeri Hogarth’s messy divorce (which I usually skipped). The sole redeeming factor in the supporting cast was Malcolm (Eka Darville), who does an amazing transformation from a comic relief character to a nuanced and surprisingly moral ally.
In between all the fistfights, epic body slams, and blood splatters, the show goes deeper than other media into subjects like rape, abuse, and other traumas. Jessica Jones isn’t afraid to throw words like “rape” and “consent” in Kilgrave’s face, even while he tries to avoid being tagged that way or paint himself as another victim of unwanted superpowers. It’s a little refreshing to see this side of sexuality explored in a modern show, as well as to see survivors find their way toward recovery. It’s what makes the dialogue between characters like Jessica and Hope Shlottman so effective.
By the end of the first run, I liked the show better than Daredevil at times, if only for Krysten Ritter’s performance. While I enjoyed the side characters in Daredevil a little more, I found this version of Jessica Jones to be very compelling, from her dark past to her tightrope walk between protecting the innocent and taking the easy way out. She’s a great protagonist and I can’t wait to what else lies in store for Alias Investigations.
Marvel’s Jessica Jones is now available for viewing on Netflix.
Bibliography: Marvel’s Jessica Jones. Created by Melissa Rosenberg. Based on the comics by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos. Produced by S. J. Clarkson, Liz Friedman, Allie Goss, Kris Henigman, Cindy Holland, Alan Fine, Stan Lee, Joe Quesada, Dan Buckley, Jim Chory, Jeph Loeb, and Melissa Rosenberg. Perf. Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Rachael Taylor, Wil Traval, Erin Moriarty, Eka Darville, Carrie-Anne Moss and David Tennant. Marvel Television; ABC Studios; Tall Girls Productions. Netflix (distributor). Original release date: November 20, 2015.