Netflix had a lot of success with its first Marvel show, Daredevil, which fans watched with baited breath in the hopes that it would surpass the notoriously bad film version with Ben Affleck. When that panic had settled, fans then anticipated Marvel’s first television foray with a female character as the lead. But has this woman-led show proved how bad Marvel is at writing non-sidekick females or have they once again proved that they can tackle any subject?
Let’s take a look at the first season of Jessica Jones.
Private Investigator Jessica Jones is not your average gumshoe. For one, she is surly and coarse, even for a noir-themed narrative, taking on the cases she feels like. Two, she is super strong, able to throw people across the room with ease and smash through some of the toughest material. However, there’s one thing that sends this super-powered PI running and that’s Kilgrave, a man who can force someone into doing whatever he wishes just by saying it. But when Hope Shlottman becomes his next victim, Jones decides to take on this beast head on. With the help of her best friend Trish, bar owner Luke Cage, and former military turned NYPD Will Simpson, she will try to stop Kilgrave’s reign of terror but the journey will lead her along strange and dangerous paths to her past.
There are times when the plot sags under its own weight, where there are episodes that feel like they are dragging their feet on certain ideas and scenes. Part of me feels that a lot of the season is more interested in the conceptual rather than the narrative-driven. The interludes with Kilgrave where she attempts to reform him are creepy but seem to be more philosophically based than an organic progression of the characters. There’s nothing wrong with having a plot line that’s more idea driven, but since the season tries to mix both, it comes out feeling a little sloppy.
Krysten Ritter is a perfect match for this character. Often relegated to side roles or over-the-top fare, Ritter manages to create a cold but charming persona, one that is clearly hiding more hurt but understands the importance and responsibility of her gifts. Ritter is tough, not traditionally gorgeous but honest, raw, and glowing from the inside out. Rachael Tayler, playing Jones’s best friend Trish, has also been typecast as the gorgeous love interest but here manages to be fierce, struggling to be independent and strong, wanting to be in control in a world of superpowers. It is this duo that is at the heart of the series, playing off of each other expertly, and with excellent chemistry.
Where this show really shines is in the villain. The MCU has been notoriously bad at creating complex and interesting villains, with King Pin being the closest we’ve had in a long time. David Tennant’s portrayal of will-controller Kilgrave is enough to blow all his evil predecessors out of the water. He is a presence that does not let you forget how quickly he can kill any person just with a few words. More so than Tennant’s bitterness and cruelty, it is his nonchalantness that is truly terrifying. He does what he wants and cannot care about what other people think or want. It is the deafening lack of empathy that is the most terrifying — human life means literally nothing to him and he destroys them left and right. Tennant is menacing, cruel, and also weirdly charming, making him a complex and truly horrifying villain the likes of which the rest of the MCU has yet to live up to.
The fight choreography is a bit of a let down overall, especially when compared to the excellent work done with Daredevil. However, the show more than makes up for it in its use of various locales and lighting, which makes the show feel gritty without removing the color and realism. If anything, this show feels more expensive than Daredevil, with more time taking place in various locations, really taking up the entire city rather than staying in the one neighborhood. It’s also nice to be able to see what’s happening rather than blurry outlines even in full screen brightness. The costuming is also great as it reveals as much about the characters as the dialogue does, most notably with Jessica Jones both in and out of Kilgrave’s control.
The show is also very sex-positive. It is made very clear that Kilgrave raped Jessica, multiple times, forcing her into sexual activity she could not consent to — she even says the words out loud and directly to him. But instead of showing that through flashbacks or showing it outright, it shows positive depictions of sex, with Jones and Cage and with Trish and Simpson, where the women are vocal and in charge. Personally, I think it’s a smart decision to so — so often show sensationalize and hyper-sexualize rape, hiding the violence in lieu of the sexual nature of the assault. It is clear from how Jessica acts and dresses when she’s under control of Kilgrave and when she is free how out of place and deeply uncomfortable she is, as is her violent reaction to Kilgrave’s insinuations that she enjoyed being under his control. Instead of using rape as a way to make the show sexy, they use sex to not only titillate but also to highlight the appeal of consent and mutual desire.
All in all, Jessica Jones is a fantastic start to what is sure to be the best of Marvel’s Netflix series so far. It’s dark, even darker than Daredevil and it refuses to pull any punches nor does it, as some shows do, turn their female leads into gruff, hyper-masculine figures. Jones’s identity as a woman is as central to her story as her violence and her bluntness. In the end, what saves Jones is her familial/platonic love for her friend Trish, highlighting that the friendship between women is enough, nay, more than enough to conquer the most frightening of evils. Season 2 has a lot to live up to.
– Excellent acting.
– Excellent cinematography.
– Progressive and sex positive narrative framing.
– Season has some lags in pacing.
– Fight choreography needs work.