Who is Jessica Jones? This is certainly a question many Netflix viewers may be asking as this Marvel character does not have the same recognition cache of the likes of say Spider-Man or Captain America, but that kind of anonymity can work to show-runner Melissa Rosenberg’s advantage. How many people watching this show are going to be yelling at the television set, “Jessica Jones in the comic would never do that!” or “They totally screwed up her costume!” Jessica Jones first appeared in the comics book Alias by Brian Michael Bendis back 2001, and if you’ve never heard of this comic you are not alone. Though now having binged watched the first season of Jessica Jones I may have to track down some trade paperbacks of that comic.
Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), at one point in her life, tried the superhero bit, it did not end well. Now she runs her own detective agency out of a rather rundown apartment building and does her best to not beat her clientele senseless (It’s harder to get paid when the are unconscious). She is of the hard drinking (bordering on alcoholic) variety of private investigators, but who is also suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder which leads to keeping her circle of friends very small. There is her childhood best friend Trish Walker (Rachel Taylor), a radio talk show host and ex-child star, who Jessica keeps at a distance for fear of the one person she cares about getting hurt, we have Jeryn Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) a cast iron bitch of lawyer that throws the occasional job Jessica’s way, then there next door neighbor Malcolm (Eka Darville), a sad sack junkie who Jessica looks after as one would a half-drowned kitten (if you didn’t particularly like cats), her upstairs neighbours Robyn (Colby Minifie) and Ruben (Kieran Mulcare) are fraternal twins who have a decidedly weird relationship and wh0 drive Jessica nuts, and then there is Luke Cage (Mike Colter), a hunky bar owner that Jessica has a dark connection with.
Steamy sexual drama is not something we can expect to see in the big Marvel tent pole movies, which is why Netflix is the perfect place for the darker underbelly of the Marvel Universe. With the launch of Netflix’s first Marvel show Daredevil we were treated to a view into Hell’s Kitchen, a bleak and violent world that is rarely visited by bright spandex clad heroes, and now with Jessica Jones we take an even grimmer peak into a seedy world populated by very dangerous people. None more dangerous than this season’s big bad, Kilgrave (David Tennant).
Originally a Daredevil villain, before moving on to terrorize Jessica Jones, Kilgrave is one of the creepier villains to ever grace the pages of Marvel comics. He has the ability to control people’s minds to the extent that when he tells someone to do something they not only do it they NEED to do it. For this Netflix series his history with Daredevil has been jettisoned in lieu of a darker connection to Jessica, one that is directly related to why she left behind the superhero biz, and for her PTSD. A sociopathic bastard stalking you would be terrifying thing in any world, but when said stalker also has the ability to control your mind your in a never ending nightmare. And this show does not steer clear of the subject of rape in all its forms. None of this is shown, thankfully, but the implication of what Jessica’s past with Kilgrave was like is made abundantly clear.
Note: In the comics Jessica was never used by Kilgrave sexually, that is not the case here, and it’s hard to believe a villain devoid of any semblance of morals would not use it against woman, so that change certainly makes sense.
David Tennant is not bringing us a cartoon villain to boo and hiss at, his Kilgrave is a fully realized evil sadistic fuck who, despite all the cruel and appalling acts he commits, we at times understand where he is coming from. That takes some fancy writing and extraordinary acting chops, which Tenant has full on display here. Strangely enough this leads to my only real criticism of the show, the lack of variety in it’s episodes as pertaining to villains. Kilgrave is an amazing villain to have Jessica face off against, but it would have been nice to see her taking on more than just one baddie.
There is an episode where one of her cases puts her in the cross-hairs of someone who really does not like superheroes, and blames them all for the carnage and death that the “New York Incident” caused. It was a good episode, and the show could have used more of that flavor, but not only does it add a bit of variety but it also connects the show to the wider Marvel Universe. Unfortunately Jessica Jones does not have the same kind of rogue’s gallery that Spider-Man or even Daredevil have to draw from, but that doesn’t mean we can’t spend a little more time away from the hunt for Kilgrave. In the very first episode a case she is on is revealed to have all been set up by Kilgrave, who she had assumed was dead. Would it have hurt to wait until episode two before revealing the season’s main villain? Sure, they only have thirteen episodes to tell this twisted story arc, but maybe they could have left out some of the zany neighbor antics, or possibly trim some of Kilgrave’s stalking scenes as they got a bit repetitive, and then they could have given us a couple more side cases to show us that Jessica is actually really good at her job, and not just a victim of Kilgrave’s particular brand of evil. That quibble aside this is an outstanding show, and most of that comes down to how good Krysten Ritter.
Jessica Jones is a mess and being able to lift up the back end of a moving car, and jump really high, does not help her win friends or influence people. Her humor is of the dry and sarcastic nature and she can be a total asshole at times, and Krysten Ritter is able to balance all of Jessica’s faults while also letting us get glimpse at her true hidden nature, which is that she is basically a person who may just care too much. Now this series isn’t just a crime drama it is also a badass comic book superhero show, and when Jessica Jones and Luke Cage throw down against either one another in bed or in a fight it is no holds barred affair that is immensely fun to watch.
Note: Luke Cage is of course known to comic book readers as Power Man and who is one half of the “Heroes For Hire” team with his best pal Danny Rand aka Iron Fist. Mike Colter will continue to play the unbreakable skinned power house in Marvel’s Luke Cage (2016) which will then be followed by Marvel’s Iron Fist, before leading into the miniseries, Marvel’s The Defenders.
As a follow up to Netflix’s beautifully handled Daredevil this show has me just drooling at the thought of more and more of these superbly put together comic book adaptations. These are dark and gritty shows which work because the source material lends it to that look, unlike a certain Superman movie that I will not mention here. So whether you watch the episodes on a weekly basis or binge all thirteen episodes in one sitting as I did, you will find yourself in a Marvel world well worth your time.