Marvel's Jessica Jones
Overall - 91%
With the Marvel Cinematic Universe continuing to grow, it's going to get harder and harder for a film or series to stand out from the crowd. However, Jessica Jones treads entirely new waters for the superhero franchise, giving us a strong, unique female superhero protagonist and a long, hard look into what it's like to deal with the aftermath of mental and sexual abuse. Arguably the two best things to come out of Marvel's Jessica Jones are Ritter's and Tennant's performances as Jessica Jones and Kilgrave, respectively. The show might have stalled a little toward the end, but overall Jessica Jones is an edge-of-your-seat ride with many jaw-dropping, unforgettable moments.
With the success of Marvel’s acclaimed Cinematic Universe on the big screen, it’s no surprise they’d make a move to take over the small screen. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC was the first foray into television, followed by Agent Carter on the same network and then Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix. It was established that, while each of these series exists in the same universe as the Marvel films — which currently number at a dozen with the thirteenth, Captain America: Civil War, hitting theaters this coming May — and abide by the same rules of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), they would each be mostly self-contained until they proved successful.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been moderately successful despite the underwhelming viewership. Marvel’s first major success on the small screen was Daredevil with its first season airing in its entirety April 2015. Daredevil played a much different tune than many of Marvel’s films. Similar to Ant-Man, Daredevil has a much smaller scale, but as a more grounded crime procedural, chronicling blind Matt Murdock as he became the crime-fighting vigilante Daredevil, who hasn’t been seen on television or film since the character was played by Ben Affleck in 2003. Due to its success, Marvel’s Daredevil has even been renewed for a second season, which will air sometime in early 2016.
As many have noticed, Marvel has made a bid to bring more unknown, obscure characters to the screen. After this year’s Ant-Man, there are plans for Doctor Strange, Black Panther, the Wasp, and an ensemble of so-called Inhumans to each get their own film. On the small screen, Daredevil is pretty well-known, but Jessica Jones is certainly more obscure. Jessica Jones was brought to life because her comics series was so highly acclaimed, intended for a more mature audience, and because the character of Jessica Jones is unlike pretty much any other Marvel hero we’ve yet seen while having some pretty important connections with other major Marvel properties. However, I’m sure many are asking themselves…
Who is Jessica Jones?
The character of Jessica Jones is a relative newcomer to Marvel Comics. Introduced in the 2001 series Alias, Jessica Jones was oriented toward older and more mature readers who first meet the character after she’s opened her own detective agency — Alias Investigations — and is treating severe post-traumatic stress disorder with a budding case of alcoholism. As the series progresses, readers learn more about her and her past. Unlike pretty much any other detective, Jessica Jones has superpowers. After an accident that left her in a coma as a teen, Jessica awoke incredibly strong, resistant to injury, and she could even fly.
Feeling a sense of responsibility, Jessica decided to try her hand at superheroism, going by the name Jewel. However, Jewel’s superheroine career was pretty uneventful. Then it all came crashing down after a chance encounter with Zebediah Killgrave, AKA the Purple Man. Killgrave’s power was mind control. With a simple spoken command, he could make anyone do anything he wanted them to do. After meeting and becoming enamored of Jessica Jones, Killgrave decided it would be useful to keep her around as his own superpowered bodyguard-slash-plaything, which began an eight-month period during which Jessica Jones was the Purple Man’s slave.
Until this point in the comics, Killgrave/the Purple Man had been one of Daredevil’s nemeses. In a fit of rage, Killgrave tells Jessica to go to the Avenger’s Mansion, find Daredevil, kill him along with another other superheroes that get in her way, and then never come back.
The first hero that Jessica met after arriving at Avenger’s Mansion was Scarlet Witch, whom she eagerly attacked under Killgrave’s orders. However, Jessica was taken down and severely injured by the Vision and Iron Man with her life being saved only by the intervention of Carol Danvers/Ms. Marvel, who had known Jessica personally beforehand. Fortunately, Killgrave’s control over Jessica waned, but was quickly replaced by guilt and shame over all the things he’d forced her to do.
Between being violated by Killgrave and the fact that society didn’t notice that Jewel had been missing for eight months, Jessica decided to retire as a costumed hero and decided to open Alias Investigations. With many clients knowing about her past as Jewel, Jessica was frequently hired for hero-related cases, which meant that she would often end up using her powers over the course of solving a case. In terms of personal relationships, Jessica is most often linked to Luke Cage as the two eventually have a child and marry; however, Jessica briefly dated Scott Lang/Ant-Man and had a crush on Peter Parker while attending Midtown High School. Nowadays, Jessica Jones often helps the Avengers and simply goes by Jessica Jones a la Luke Cage rather than choosing a hero’s name.
What’s notable about Jessica Jones is that she’s like you and me, just sort of an average person who happens to have special abilities. Similar to characters like Spider-Man and Ant-Man, Jessica Jones isn’t quite a savior of humanity or hero of the world. Unlike the Avengers and X-Men, Jessica Jones just wants to pay the rent and save her neighborhood, Hell’s Kitchen. She’s often portrayed as having very common, real-life problems rather than stopping alien invasions and things of the like. Alias and Jessica Jones are very grounded compared to many other Marvel properties.
Development of Marvel’s Jessica Jones[quote_left]Jessica Jones is a damaged, dark, complex former superhero who kicks ass.[/quote_left]
Marvel’s Jessica Jones was several years in the making. Back in 2010, Melissa Rosenberg — known for adapting all four Twilight novels for film and for being a head writer on Dexter — began adapting Alias into a television series for ABC, which would be called AKA Jessica Jones and air in the fall of 2011. At the time, Rosenberg planned to include the supporting characters of Luke Cage and Carol Danvers/Ms. Marvel. Rosenberg was excited about the character and adapting her for television, referring to Jessica Jones as “an incredibly damaged, dark, complex female character that kicks ass” and “a former superhero with PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder.” Rosenberg saw the new series as having long-term potential, even planning for Jessica and Luke to have their child and get married later in later seasons. Since this was before the success of 2012’s The Avengers, Rosenberg was planning for the series to exist in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and reference things like Stark Industries, Tony Stark, and Iron Man, but AKA Jessica Jones would remain mostly separate from other Marvel properties for the foreseeable future.
By spring of 2012, ABC passed on the series. While doing promotional interviews for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn films, Rosenberg reported that she was shopping AKA Jessica Jones around to several other networks in the hope of finding her beloved heroine a home. She also admitted that with the source comics being more adult-oriented material, network television might not be the best fit for AKA Jessica Jones. Late in 2013, the series was being presented as part of a package of four series and a fifth miniseries that would build on one another in a similar way as the Marvel films; this package was being offered to Netflix, Amazon, and WGN America among some other video-on-demand services. By early November 2013, Marvel and Disney had struck a deal with Netflix for the popular streaming service to air Marvel’s Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron First before the four characters joined together in a Defenders miniseries. Melissa Rosenberg remained at the helm of the Jessica Jones series, which was rewritten from page one.
Teresa Palmer and Krysten Ritter were the final two candidates for the role of Jessica Jones with Krysten Ritter officially cast in December 2014. Later in the month, Mike Colter was cast as Luke Cage and David Tennant was cast as Kilgrave in January. A month before shooting began, Rachael Taylor (Shutter, Grey’s Anatomy) was cast as Trish Walker — who the comics-savvy might recall is Hellcat — who is Jessica’s adopted sister after Jessica’s parents died. At the last minute, Carrie-Anne Moss joined the cast as Jeri Hogarth, the female version of Jeryn Hogarth from the comics. Among a number of other actors who rounded out the growing ensemble, Rosario Dawson was reported to be reprising her character of nurse Claire Temple from Marvel’s Daredevil. Production began in February 2015 with Marvel officially dropping the “AKA” from the title in June, shortening it to simply Marvel’s Jessica Jones. Filming concluded in mid-to-late August.
In terms of the approach, Rosenberg and Head of Marvel Television Jeph Loeb described Jessica Jones as closer to a psychological thriller than any other Marvel property. Not shying away from many of the darker and more mature themes of the Alias comics from which the Netflix series was adapted, Rosenberg stated that viewers would see Jessica dealing with the PTSD that comes with being a victim of severe psychological abuse and rape. This leads to Jessica being a bit of an aspiring alcoholic as she uses alcohol to deal with some pretty intense inner demons. According to Rosenberg, essentially the only things they had to shy away from were the word “fuck” and graphic sex scenes; however, it was reported that there would be no lack of sexuality in the show. Additionally, Rosenberg has said that when writing Jessica Jones, she was very interested in exploring how the character would deal with rape and how to communicate the horrors of the experience without resorting to actually showing the rape, which she considers to be “lazy storytelling.”
Jessica Jones Synopsis
Jessica Jones — a blunt, emotionally-withdrawn woman dealing with her own tortured past — has just opened a detective agency: Alias Investigations. Her recent venture into private investigating allows her to use her superpowers for good while paying the bills and supporting a pretty hefty alcohol habit. When a new missing-person case hits a little too close to home, Jessica realizes that her haunted past is much closer than she thought.
The missing person is an all-American girl, a star athlete named Hope who had been attending NYU when she suddenly disappeared; however, she still calls her parents now and them to let them know she’s alive while uncharacteristically having abandoned school, her friends, and her life. Jessica tracks the girl down and finds that Hope had been under the control of Kilgrave, a man from Jessica’s past who has the ability to control minds with simple spoken commands. Jessica has been under Kilgrave’s control for six months, during which time Kilgrave kept her captive, repeatedly raped her, and forced her to commit unspeakable atrocities.
After returning the girl to her parents results in both the parents’ deaths and Hope behind bars, Jessica decides that it’s time to stop hiding and start trying to stop Kilgrave from killing anymore people or destroying anymore lives. With the help of her sister Trish and her new friend-slash-lover Luke, Jessica sets her sights on Kilgrave, determined to prove that he forced Hope to kill her parents and finally put an end to Kilgrave’s evil games… but she’ll have to face her worst nightmare.
Marvel’s Jessica Jones Review
Although I’m usually fairly busy with my work, I managed to binge-watch the entire thirteen-episode inaugural season of Jessica Jones. It’s one of those shows that continues getting better and better as each subsequent episode adds additional layers and history to the characters and story. Additionally, I was immediately impressed at how different the show was to virtually every other Marvel property, both the films and the other television series. And here’s why…
The character of Jessica Jones is incredibly unique. It’s not all that uncommon for a character to be tortured and haunted by their past; in fact, this is quite common in Marvel films alone — Tony Stark is haunted by the invasion of New York, Black Widow is haunted by her time in the Red Room, Hank Pym is haunted by the loss of his wife Janet, and round and round we go. However, Jessica is haunted by something very dark that happens to lots of people today: She was mentally and physically violated. She was raped.
This makes Jessica Jones a very unique protagonist, especially for a female and especially for a Marvel female protagonist. She drinks like there’s an impending alcohol famine, she fights like a bar brawler, she talks on the phone while taking a crap, she has vigorous sex and one-night stands, she struggles to pay the bills, and she doesn’t take shit off anyone. However, she’s also very resourceful, perceptive, and very sharp when she’s not wasted. Jessica Jones also cares a lot despite the surly and distant veneer. The cumulative effect is that while she’s certainly a hero with a strong moral compass, Jessica’s heroism is reactive; she defends those who can’t defend themselves, particular those she cares about or those she sees as vulnerable in some way.
The first episode of Marvel’s Jessica Jones — titled “AKA Ladies Night” — was brilliant: It takes only a moment of lucidity and connecting the dots to lay Jessica Jones out, at which point the defensive sass disappears and she becomes a scared little girl. It becomes obvious that Jessica has had a very traumatic experience and, once learning the perpetrator is actually still alive, she still lives is utter terror of him. Despite her superhuman strength and pseudo-flight — it’s more like jumping and “guided falling” — Jessica Jones is still very vulnerable, just like everyone else is vulnerable, each in their own ways.
What I Liked About Jessica Jones[quote_right]While the Avengers are fighting against alien invasions and a robot that wants to destroy the world, Jessica is up against a foe who has personally, intimately targeted her in a long-game of his own creation.[/quote_right]
Compared to Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, Marvel’s Jessica Jones is much darker, grittier (seems to be the watchword lately), and more violent in a twisted sort of way. I’d go so far to say that aside from Daredevil, there’s nothing like Jessica Jones on Marvel’s current roster. Additionally, the darkness and imminent threats in Jessica Jones are more intimate than in other Marvel properties. While the Avengers are fighting against alien invasions and an artificial intelligence that wants to destroy the world, Jessica is up against a foe who has personally, intimately targeted her in a long-game of his own creation; it seems that at every corner with every advance she makes, Jessica is always right where he wants her. Even though she’s not under his mind control, it makes her feel like Kilgrave is still the one in control. This might not be a catastrophe of global proportions, but there’s a sick intimacy to Kilgrave and his abuse that makes the show more compelling despite the much smaller scale. In a sense, it’s almost more gripping when the enemy has violated you intimately and is pulling you back in once again.
Kilgrave is probably my favorite Marvel villain we’ve yet seen. I’d go so far to say that he could have been bigger than Loki. And David Tennant played Kilgrave with absolute aplomb. Jessica’s fear of him is so palpable that we can’t help but to fear him the moment we finally see him. There’s also something horrifying in a villain whose power isn’t physical, but rather is in making you do his bidding. And it’s more than just that. Jessica explains that one begins to wonder where Kilgrave’s power ends and your own will begins, meaning that she became unsure of how to tell when she was acting of her own volition and when she was acting on his. She also explains that when he gives an order, you don’t just obey; you want to obey. The effect is something very sinister with huge potential and implications.
I can’t speak for the version in the comics, but Tennant played Kilgrave with a suave sense of worldly style. Kilgrave isn’t taking over the world. He tells restaurant hostess to give him the best table and a gourmet meal on the house or bystanders to forget they ever saw him. If someone annoys him, he’ll tell that person to take a knife to their own throat or feed himself, limb by limb, into the garbage disposal.
Interestingly, Kilgrave’s obsession with Jessica is his own twisted version of love. After happening upon Jessica as she’s saving the life of someone being mugged and beaten, he was instantly infatuated. He seems to consider her time as his captive their courtship while acknowledging that she was always under his control. At a point, Jessica considers whether Kilgrave could be “reformed” since his ability could be useful, but she realizes that Kilgrave cannot differentiate between someone acting on his orders from someone acting on their own feelings.
With her continued spurns, Kilgrave’s game grows increasingly brutal. He attacks her at her core by targeting loved ones, exploiting her past and emotional weaknesses, and seems to do these things to discourage her from failing to love him. Meanwhile, viewers are treated to snapshots of Jessica and Kilgrave at different points of their bizarre, abusive relationship as well as of many of the things Kilgrave has forced her to do, including kill. In effect, Jessica was Kilgrave’s favorite of his numerous playthings.
I’ve always been fond of shows that, through quality of writing, force you to either root for or sympathize/empathize with the villain. By giving us a glimpse into Kilgrave’s perspective, we learn that his motives aren’t always so sadistic, but rather pathetic. When we learn that his powers are the product of some pretty inhumane experimentation at the hand of his parents, we almost feel bad for the guy.
An interesting aspect of the show was Jessica’s journey of healing from her experiences with Kilgrave. Despite being aware of his control over her, she continues to blame herself for the things he made her do as Kilgrave’s control is so absolute that he makes his victims actually want to do the things he forces them to do. Jessica explains this to many of the other victims she encounters, trying to discourage them from feeling guilty when their actions weren’t their own.
Speaking of healing, it could be said that healing was one of the major underlying themes of the show. With Jessica’s substance abuse and Trish’s apparent history of addiction and dependency, rehabilitation and healing are mentioned or referenced quite a few times over the course of the show’s thirteen episodes. In particular, the show both mentions and illustrates the fact that people heal in many different ways and each at their own pace, which I feel is a very important message and speaks particularly to victims of trauma or abuse.[quote_left]Krysten Ritter plays Jessica Jones as human and relatable with a don’t-give-a-shit attitude that rounds out the character, making her more authentic.[/quote_left]
I also need to mention here that the show had some pretty outstanding performances on the part of the actors involved. I can’t really think of a single actor who didn’t impress me at some point or another. Even Eka Darville, who played Jessica’s junkie neighbor Malcolm, gave an exquisite and layered performance. However, Krysten Ritter is the real gem here. She plays Jessica Jones with a dry, sardonic wit and a sharpness that’s both impressive and underrealized due to the character’s heavy drinking. I’d previously associated Krysten Ritter with mousy, ditzy characters like Gia on Veronica Mars, but she radiates power and a raw badassness in Jessica Jones that left me a bit awestruck. And while being so powerful and superhuman, Jessica comes off incredibly human and relatable, even down to her styling — leather jacket, boots, worn jeans — and appearance, which adds to the character’s don’t-give-a-shit attitude and totally rounds her out, making Jessica Jones all the more believable and authentic. Let’s just say that after this performance, I’m definitely on Team Ritter.
Over the course of the show, we’re made to believe that Jessica is emotionally guarded in her relationships. Jessica’s only romantic relationship over the course of the thirteen episodes is with Luke Cage, played by Mike Colter. With Luke Cage getting his own series — which is actually next on the Netflix lineup — he didn’t get a ton of screentime, but Jessica Jones definitely established that there’s something between Jessica and Luke. Although it started off as just a sexual fling, they clearly came to care about each other and I liked that this was handled without it being overtly cutesy. Jessica never had to become doe-eyed in order for the characters to develop a stronger bond. Moreover, Luke mentions in the show that he got his invulnerability and super-strength via experimentation, whetting our curiosities for more information; fortunately, we’ll only have to wait until next year for Luke Cage.
What I Didn’t Like
I can accept that the scales are small; in fact, I usually prefer it. I can’t relate to alien invasions, but I can relate to mental and physical abuse. Even for those who haven’t actually been abused, it’s close to home. However, I couldn’t help but wonder why Kilgrave didn’t do more with his ability. Someone who can control others’ minds with a mere spoken command could essentially rule the world, but it seemed that the show didn’t quite know how to translate that into something bigger. Either that, or it was a conscious decision to play Kilgrave close to the chest, but if that’s the case it seems unrealistic that Kilgrave wouldn’t use such a power to become more powerful in society.
The character of Will Simpson was an utterly despicable cookie-cutter. A police officer who was victimized by Kilgrave early in the season, he turns guilt for what Kilgrave forced him to do into determination to kill Kilgrave. The problem is that he gets such incredible tunnel-vision and near-sightedness that he screws up many of Jessica’s plans to capture Kilgrave. And then at the end of the season, he becomes the character who takes a military-funded experimental performance enhancer that throws him into a rage and he ends up a temporary pseudo-villain. It just seemed like a way to kill an episode and draw the season out.
Speaking of drawing the season out, this season would have been even stronger if it had been shorter. Toward the end of the season there were at least a couple episodes where things just sort of halted when they short have been working toward the climax. There was also a lot of down time that focused on Jeri Hogarth’s divorce, which was pretty uninteresting. It really felt like the writers had set up the finale too quickly and had to draw it out a bit there at the end.
Critical Reception[quote_right]David Tennant’s Kilgrave will ascend to Hiddleston’s Loki as a cornerstone of MCU villainy.[/quote_right]
The response to Marvel’s Jessica Jones has been incredibly, impressively, overwhelmingly positive ever since the screening of the pilot episode at New York Comic Con. The show holds an impressive 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus being that Jessica Jones is “Marvel’s strongest TV franchise to date.” It has also received 81 out of 100 according to 30 reviews on Metacritic. Newsarama referred to the show as “Marvel’s first flirtation with psychological horror” and “a landmark moment for female superheroes on TV.” Collider gave the pilot alone a full 5 out of 5 and noted that Tennant’s Kilgrave would ascend to Hiddleston’s Loki as a cornerstone of MCU villainy.
According to Variety, Marvel’s Jessica Jones isn’t strong among superhero-related series, but is a standout among all TV series despite the saturated market. In another glowing review, Forbes referred to the series as the best thing Marvel Television has ever produced. The Los Angeles Times lauded the show as a real game-changer, redefining the superhero genre and applauding its examination of recovery from sexual abuse. The entire season received a 9.3 out of 10 from IGN, particularly commending the actors and the relationship between Jessica and Trish.
Marvel’s Jessica Jones: Bottom Line
With the Marvel Cinematic Universe continuing to grow, it’s going to get harder and harder for a film or series to stand out from the crowd. However, Jessica Jones treads entirely new waters for the superhero franchise, giving us a strong, unique female superhero protagonist and a long, hard look into what it’s like to deal with the aftermath of mental and sexual abuse. The performances were strong and the writing was tight and mostly satisfying. For those who aren’t particularly fond of the superhero genre, Jessica Jones is, first and foremost, about a young woman trying to find purpose after losing herself in the wake of profound violation.
Arguably the two best things to come out of Marvel’s Jessica Jones are Ritter’s and Tennant’s performances as Jessica Jones and Kilgrave, respectively. The show might have stalled a little toward the end, but overall it was an incredible ride. This won’t be everyone’s cup of proverbial tea, but there’s a lot to love in Jessica Jones. With Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and hopefully another season of Jessica Jones in the near future, color me impressed with Marvel’s TV series.
What did you think of Marvel’s Jessica Jones? Do you agree with my Jessica Jones review? Comment and share below.