Feeling compelled to diversify my content output, I find it fitting to provide an analysis of the Jessica Jones (JJ) series that just premiered on Netflix. I spent a day mainlining all 13 episodes and I believe I have a good enough understanding to tell you what I think. I have never reviewed a show before, seeing as how television is contemptuous garbage, but since this series transcends regular television I thought I would give it a try. In terms of structure I am winging it, so please bear with me.
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JJ is based on the Alias comic by Brian Michael Bendis, a MAX series with adult content like Garth Ennis’s run of the Punisher. It follows Private Investigator Jessica Jones, who after years being a superhero, falls into a state of depression and alcoholism. That is where my knowledge of the source material ends. I find dark versions of conventional heroes appealing, but I never gravitated towards Alias because I am not a fan of Bendis.
JJ, essentially, is the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) equivalent of the MAX line. It has very explicit themes like rape, PTSD, drug addiction, and alcoholism. It also introduces a gay couple with Carrie-Anne Moss’s Hogarth going through a divorce. Unlike a lot of the press, people calling it X-rated and too gritty, JJ is quite tame. Sex scenes were not graphic or revealing, the violence toned down compared to Daredevil, and the overall feel was closer to PG-13 or a revolting CW show. I was a little disappointed, but it was exceptional for how it handled its themes.
The MAX line is known for gratuity. Punisher MAX was notorious for its borderline racist caricatures and excessive violence. I like the books very much, but its depiction of… well, everything was a little too much, and this is coming from a guy who laughed while watching Green Inferno.
JJ is respectful about its subject matter and does not pull any punches. Jessica’s alcoholism is a serious issue that affects her attitude and lifestyle as she tries to cope with her various traumas. She has flashbacks that result in violent tremors, harbors intense shame, and lives an introverted lifestyle that pushes people away. It is even clear she has given up taking care of herself, wearing the same clothes everyday and neglecting her apartment.
Jessica’s objective is to apprehend Kilgrave, the main antagonist with the ability to control people. In the past he made her his “girlfriend,” taking her out to dinner, buying expensive things, and having sex with her while she was completely aware. On their last night, he dies in an accident, and she is sent on a downward spiral of depression. While working a new case involving a missing girl named Hope, the circumstances behind her kidnapping are eerily similar, and Jessica puts aside her anxiety to clear Hope’s name.
This sets the stage for the show’s main arc. While conducting the investigation, Jessica realizes her experiences could help not only Hope, but also others controlled by Kilgrave. Slowly she develops some semblance of empathy as she assumes the persona of a hero. Jessica starts caring about her junkie neighbor, repairing the relationship with her friend Trish Walker, and works toward genuine recovery by cutting down on liquor consumption. The personality of an anti-hero is still there, but her sense of being good and conducting herself in a professional manner is greater. She wants to do things by the book, no matter how difficult it can be. It is not an ideal situation, but Jessica sticks to her principles.
In that way, JJ is very frustrating. Killing Kilgrave would not have helped Hope, but it is a simple solution that could have saved everyone a lot of stress, not to mention lives. It is the curse of all hero stories: they are unable to act outside the law because it would make them no better than criminals, trusting the system to render punishment. This both helps and hinders Jessica’s arc. The idea she cannot do everything the easy way exacerbates her anxiety, affecting her thought process to the point she takes extreme measures to get at Kilgrave. Her heroism comes from not only sticking to the system, but also working with it in the face of trauma. It presents a realistic examination of the hero archetype, as opposed to Batman or Superman, who are always content adhering to a code of ethics. Jessica has a code and hates it with a passion.
One of the more impressive aspects of JJ is Kilgrave himself. For the first time in a while, I believe Marvel has found its most sinister villain yet. Ultron was pretty cool, but a homicidal AI monster is not as unique as a legitimate sociopath with mind control powers. He knows what he wants and does whatever he can to get it. He does not care about anyone but himself, casually using his ability to enslave and punish in horrific ways. His perception of reality is warped, failing to see the rape in controlling a woman to have sex with him or the obvious evil behind making people kill themselves or each other. It paints a grim picture that trumps most of the MCU’s current rogues gallery.
Kilgrave’s detachment is thoroughly developed over the course of the show, but his full introduction does not happen until six episodes in. Before then you have to endure a dragging plot where nothing really happens. Everyone makes and repeats the same points that were already brought up in previous episodes, nothing changes, and no one moves ahead from where they were, except for some minute details that do not matter.
The goal is simple: catch Kilgrave, but the lead up to what eventually happens is so frivolous, that about three episodes could have been cut completely. Daredevil took three to reveal Kingpin and the build up was potent because we knew next to nothing apart from reputation. Having such a prolonged build up for a guy we learn more about after episode two is totally redundant. I have a feeling the show-runners had a lot they wanted to introduce and took their sweet time cramming it in wherever they had available space, eating up whole episodes’ worth of time that could have been better utilized or discarded entirely. It is a great waste that does nothing but cause fatigue until episode seven.
Krysten Ritter plays Jessica and I cannot think of a better casting choice. She is absent heroic features, looking like an ordinary person. Her demeanor is spot-on with light sarcastic quips overshadowed by a cold dismissiveness that drives home her anti-hero personality. David Tennant, the best Doctor, pulls his weight as Kilgrave in his best performance in years. He is as entertaining as terrifying with a casual attitude that enhances his sociopathic tendencies. He is gleefully arrogant and happily selfish as he orders people to kill themselves and do his bidding with apathetic delight.
Rachel Taylor plays a total opposite to Jessica as Trish, a former child star turned paranoid radio talk show host. She is the most together of the characters, but she is also naïve and totally separated from Jessica’s world. She has heart, yet is too sheltered to operate in a volatile environment. Luke Cage pops up as another supporting character thanks to Mike Colter. Taking note from the source material, Cage is a pretty standard hero with a normal personality. To put it simply, he is just a guy with indestructible skin and Colter captured that just fine. Wil Traval takes the reins as Simpson, and if you know who that is, I am happy to report he nailed it with some welcome additions. I am eager to see what becomes of him in the following season.
If you can endure the first six episodes without quitting, Jessica Jones is well worth the struggle. It takes the Netflix side of the MCU into territories not often seen in television, let alone a Disney property. The compelling set-up and depth-full examination of the hero/anti-hero archetype makes for an interesting watch that anyone interested in the concept should find enjoyable. It is well worth your consideration.