As has been well-established by now, I was very much looking forward to Netflix’s latest contribution to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Jessica Jones. Ever since Daredevil came out last April, I have just been telling people, “Assume I will be incommunicado for the whole of that weekend.” Mere hours, even mere minutes, before it was released, I ruminated on Facebook about the burden of going to bed instead of staying up, lest I keep staying up and go mad from lack of sleep. 😉
Yes, I was excited. 🙂
So, what’s the verdict?
Short version: it did not disappoint! 😀
Long version: keep reading.
Be aware: as the second Netflix installment of the MCU’s The Defenders series, one cannot help comparing and contrasting Jessica Jones with its elder sibling, Daredevil. This actually works in favor of both of them, as they have many similarities, but also some notable differences, which I will allude to. They are not the same show under different names, not by a long shot. They have distinctly different flavors, like two different dishes from the same culture or sub-culture.
A great deal of Daredevil‘s appeal was how the hero may have had super senses, but he was no superhuman. He was something of a normal guy, in the lowest corner of the Marvel world we have yet seen, just trying to save his city. It was an intriguing addition to the MCU, so, the first question to answer: how does Jessica Jones add to this little niche that Daredevil opened up for exploration?
Jessica, obviously the main character, works as private investigator. Her unique physical capabilities, which I will elaborate on in a moment, come in very handy in her line of work. She’s literally able to do things others can’t. However, her abilities are only a tool. Her real skill is that she can observe people, put clues together to form an accurate picture of them, and use that knowledge to her own benefit. She’s clever, crafty, and quick-thinking. Her body is strong, but it is her mind which makes her formidable.
But speaking of her power, she’s not the usual sort of powerhouse most super-people are. She has super strength, but she’s at the low end of such. She can get up after being hit by a truck, but a knife or bullet can end her as easily as anyone else, which is a poetic representation for how she is so strong and yet so vulnerable at the same time. She can fight, but she’s more of a brawler than a trained fighter, and can easily be overcome by the latter. She can fly in the comics, but in this series she describes more as “jumping and controlled falling.” She also heals faster than normal people, but nothing like, say, Wolverine. That last, as it happens, is her edge against the villain of the show, Kilgrave.
On which note, Kilgrave is a sick psychopath with the ability to control minds. He speaks, and you do whatever he says. A fearsome power, but not without limits and weaknesses, which Jessica discovers and exploits effectively. He takes whatever he wants, and casually leaves every life he touches ruined in his wake. He seems to take special pleasure in further tormenting people who cry, complain, or beg. His nonchalant cruelty is particularly savage when he can hurt children and ruin families. His influence is a virus. Literally. That’s how he does it, he spreads a virus that affects the brain and nervous system, so they must obey him.
And that is why Jessica is uniquely qualified to fight him: her rapid-healing body developed an immunity to his disease. As such, you can probably guess, Kilgrave is obsessed with having her.
Which brings me to our first contrast with Daredevil. In that show, the hero and villain spent a great deal of time learning about each other before their final confrontation. In Jessica Jones, Jessica and Kilgrave are already intimately familiar with one another. The entire show is one long, drawn-out final confrontation, with a convoluted back-and-forth between them. In this contest of wills and wits, there is no discussion about their similarities, as was found in Daredevil, and neither is there any dispute within Jessica about what she needs to do to stop him. This is a straight up fight between two powerful, capable, dangerous people, and it only ends when one of them is either broken or dead.
That’s not to say there is no debate about whether or not to kill Kilgrave, but Jessica’s objections, at first, are more in service to her immediate goal, that of saving a young girl whose life he ruined, than out of any moral conviction. There is no ambiguity here: Kilgrave doesn’t need to die because he deserves it, Kilgrave needs to die solely to stop his unending rampage.
It all makes for an entirely different sort of “darkness” to be explored in Jessica Jones than was explored in Daredevil. The latter was basically a superhero action show, albeit one with a great deal of blood, violence, and the most petty of evils: the love of money. The former is more of an intense psychological thriller, with mild elements of superhero action, and it had a sort of 80’s noir texture to it, which, I believe, was deliberate.
There is darkness here, but less in the violence – though, fair warning, there are some disturbing images involving blood – and more in the obsession of a madman the likes of which usually requires Shield, freaking Shield, to combat, as well as the trauma he inflicts on everyone around him. Jessica knows that trauma well, and she still suffers from it, which is what’s so inspiring about her choice to stand and face him. Her life has been scarred by him, and she gains very little by defeating him, but she overcomes him in the end. (oh, spoilers!)
Mind you, there’s another flavor of “graphic content” which is lacking in Daredevil. Namely, the sexual kind.
This is something of an issue for me, and I’m grateful for what limits they did place on it, but even at my most objective, I’d say there was too much of it. It’s distracting, unnecessary, and prolonged. Yes, we can enjoy the couplings, especially that of Jessica and Luke Cage, and we can appreciate their intimacy, but seriously? We do not need to watch them in bed! I hate censors and their rules with endless loopholes, but I hate the necessity of censors and their rules with endless loopholes even more. I never thought I’d be glad for the rules of what people can show. It’s disappointing that I can never really share this show with the kiddies. I would feel far too uncomfortable in doing so. Which makes me wonder, did Disney, Marvel, and Netflix all forget about the easy access children will have to this?
Sorry, soap box moment. It’s not like it was a constant thing, only about half a dozen scenes within thirteen hours of run time, but it bothered me. Moving on.
For the most part, I enjoyed this show. It’s new and different, thrilling and filled with suspense, the plot is driven by the characters, and, especially in light of the dismal failure of Supergirl, I can appreciate a show built around a female protagonist that does not waste time proclaiming “female empowerment!” They don’t tell us this is about a strong woman, or strong women. They show us. Which is what proper storytellers do: show, don’t tell, and certainly don’t preach. Also “strength” isn’t remotely limited to physical power, just as “empowerment” isn’t “always getting your way.” I very much enjoy that.
Also, while David Tennant is correct to say that Kilgrave is unique among the Marvel villains in that he is not trying to take over the world, I would point out that he already controls the entire world directly around him. Why conquer it when it’s already yours to command at your every whim? No, Kilgrave is bent on conquering the one thing/person he cannot simply command: Jessica.
Speaking of, I just gotta give some special props for the phenomenal acting. Tennant shines as Kilgrave, of course, as he’s arguably one of the greatest actors of our age, but it’s impressive that the rest of the cast, practically across the board, keeps up with him. Each of them deserves a special shout-out for bringing their characters, good or bad or a mixture of both, so vividly to life.
One last thing I want to mention is the obvious effort to connect the Netflix shows as the movies and television shows are connected. The most outstanding example, of course, is the coupling of Jessica with Luke, who is next up for Netflix series, counting Daredevil‘s second season as a continuation rather than as a new series. For me, it can’t come soon enough! 🙂 There are other threads, especially involving this mysterious company which is connected to both Jessica and Kilgrave, and probably to Luke, Matt Murdock, and the super soldiers we just got a glimpse of as well. There’s also the mystical element in Daredevil‘s background, which I imagine we will see more pronounced in Iron Fist and The Defenders. So, outside the presence of Claire Temple in both of the series we have gotten so far, I am wondering what the connection will be. Could they tie this corporation with its super soldiers together with the mystic element?
I can hardly wait to find out! 🙂
I am certain Luke Cage’s series will heavily involve that company and those soldiers. Speaking of, I just love how they kept his whole “Sweet Christmas” thing that he does instead of swearing. 🙂
Oh, one more last thing to comment on. While Daredevil took place almost exclusively on the ground or below-ground level of the Marvel universe, Jessica Jones only partially takes place there, and partially branches upwards to higher, more normal levels of society, which among other things, just emphasizes no one is safe from the villain, thus the need for the hero. That’s just one example of how well crafted this show is, even in the details.
All in all, deducting one point specifically for the unnecessary mature content, Jessica Jones is still scoring pretty well with me. The dark, disturbing material was gripping if also occasionally jarring, so they could have mixed in a bit more humor, though Jessica herself was a most unexpected source of levity.
Rating: 8 stars out of 10.