“Maybe it’s enough that the world thinks I’m a hero.”
Netflix have quickly become the kings of event TV. The marketing genius behind throwing all episodes of their latest show up at 8am on release day for us to binge over a couple of days is just amazing. It gives us, the audience, the opportunity to watch the shows at our own pace. It gives the creators a chance to stretch their muscles when they aren’t relying on artificially hyping up week-by-week viewings with cliffhangers and – most importantly for me – it means I can watch and review these shows as the 13 hour movies they are created as.
Jessica Jones is the second of three original series’ in conjunction with Marvel and ABC studios after the surprise hit that was Daredevil. It stays within that same universe, but plays it a little differently than our new favourite blind superhero.
But, the same as everything in the combined Marvel and DC universes, I get to go in as the anti-comic book nerd. I know next to nothing about these worlds unless a film or something has mentioned them first. My comic book/graphic novel history begins and ends with The Mask, one volume of Hellblazer and a volume one compilation of Fables. While I may not always be the target audience for these, I admire the commitment of the production companies involved in keeping me, a non-believer, in their thoughts when they make them.
Meeting Jones (Krysten Ritter) as a New York private eye, we are instantly given a showing of her powers; an insane strength, as she overpowers a client that refuses to believe what she’s dug up about God knows who and tries to take it out on our new hero. That, as she tells us, rarely goes well for them as the client’s head appears through a pane glass window. Little is revealed about the mysterious woman outside of the stereotypes she brings to the table; loner, alcoholic, you name it. Fitting more with an old pulpy noir novel than the bright lights of New York, Jessica Jones clearly spends her life in the wrong place and the wrong time.
A woman who seems to be nothing short of a walking cliché, Jessica is damaged; terrorised by haunting visions of her past and fearful of her future. Still running from a lifetime’s worth of abuse, Jones must break free from a man whose control over her is more than just theoretical. It’s very real and extremely dangerous.
This man, Kilgrave, a monster in more ways than one, has the power to manipulate people and bend them to his will. His “gift” leaves a lasting impression on his victims, affecting them long after he has seemingly left them be. Thinking she has been free of Kilgrave for long enough to finally move on, Jessica feels his presence returning to New York and starts to see his influences all across her city. Enlisting help from her best friend, Trish (Rachael Taylor – of See No Evil fame) a radio personality who seems to have the magical ability to talk sense into Jones when no one else can; and Luke Cage (Mike Coulter – an almost full-time TV actor who is a regular voice actor for the Halo series) an indestructible bar owner who’s only connection to Jessica is also being gifted; the private eye must take the evil mentalist head-on in a game of wits that puts the lives of dozens of people on the line. Success will mean freedom for the tortured superhero. But failure will mean an eternity of suffering for her, and those close to her.
The underlying premise for Jessica Jones is a simple one; a woman who has spent years in an abusive relationship must find the strength within herself to escape her abuser. The draw to go back to a bad relationship and try again, believing an abuser can be changed or they really aren’t that bad is one that many abused people find themselves repeating time and time again with a form of Stockholm syndrome that makes them believe they need to stay and this is an amazingly strong theme across Jessica Jones‘ 13 episodes, followed closely by the belief that what is happening is their fault and to watch Jones fight her way through her own personal hell is to root for every mentally and physically beaten woman that can relate to her situation.
As with everything that comes out of the Netflix TV studios, Jessica Jones has the quality and style to keep almost everyone entertained and invested for not just the first season, but for the entire run of the show. It’s why I’ll be going back to House of Cards in March even though the previous season didn’t quite hit expectations. Jessica Jones‘ first season lets us spend a little over ten hours with this tortured soul and while it doesn’t necessarily hit the highs that Daredevil did earlier in the year, it’s certainly well worthy of your time.
In the titular role, Krysten Ritter is amazing. Having only ever seen her in Breaking Bad before now, I wasn’t too familiar with her and as such I was quite open minded going in and had no expectations. Sadly, I can’t say the same for David Tennant. A man I only really know from Dr. Who, a show I loathe and despise. Everything I’ve seen him in since (maybe excluding the Fright Night remake) has just irked me, so I went in ready to have him be the worst bit of a show I was quite excited about. But no, he steals every scene from his co-stars and his portrayal of Kilgrave comes with a terrifying air and a maniacal look in every frame. Every scene has a flash of purple – a nod to his “Purple Man” moniker from the source comic books – that feels like a nice, sometimes not too subtle, alternative to having a really sinister soundtrack play with every scene he arrives in. And once you spot it, the influence bleeds into scenes Kilgrave isn’t even in, but his presence is most definitely a part of; a beautiful little bit of direction that sits as an example of how and why Netflix as a production company are becoming a worldwide phenomenon.
But Jessica Jones isn’t perfect. And when its holes appear, they seem to be much more obvious because of the quality of show that they are making look bad. For example, the show works very hard to remind you that it’s part of the Avengers universe, to quite a jarring level. We know it’s set in a post-alien invasion New York – and for those that don’t, a quick mention of it will be fine to set the scene for us all. Mentioning it more than once felt unnecessary and as if the show is treating us like morons who may have forgotten after a couple of hours.
Directors and editors do a fantastic job of making Jones’s gifts seem realistic. I suspect this is to save spending a fortune on effects that will date the show and ruin the tone they are going for. “Flying” looks awkward and uncomfortable because it would be, wouldn’t it? Jessica’s feats of strength don’t look unrealistic because to keep herself inconspicuous, she has to limit herself and as such, she isn’t lobbing sweaty fat guys into the sun and just using what she needs to get the job done – dishonourable mention to one awful effect that is so bad, and so jarring, that the fact it happened in the last episode almost ruined my whole experience – but for the most part, everything looks and feels great.
But overall, Jessica Jones is an excellent show. The only thing that stops it being up there with Daredevil, in my opinion, is the simple fact that miss Jones didn’t have an awful, awful film overshadowing it before the show premiered that it managed to blow away in the first 15 minutes. Daredevil has the beautiful, visceral combat that I covet so much. But Jessica Jones is a gorgeously dark noir thriller that, just because I say isn’t as good as its predecessor, doesn’t mean for a second that you shouldn’t be watching it.
These Netflix/Marvel productions are putting a premium on quality and characterisation and as such, have become a name that can easily be mentioned in the same conversation as HBO, FX and Showtime.