Over the holidays, Netflix released the newest addition to their impressive line-up of Marvel t.v series. “Jessica Jones” is the story of a woman, Jessica Jones, who leaves her superhero ways behind her and becomes a P.I in New York City’s “Hells Kitchen”. The central focus is her mental and emotional struggle against the deranged Kilgrave, a man with the ability to make anyone do anything he wants, simply by telling them to.
In episode one, we are introduced to Jessica by following her activities as a P.I; snapping pictures of cheating spouses, serving subpoenas for the somewhat dubious defense lawyer Jeri, and self medicating her PTSD by drinking incessantly. Jessica takes on an apparently open and shut missing person case, but it turns out to be something much more sinister. After tracking the missing girl’s card purchases, she recognizes that it is following Kilgrave’s pattern. Jessica believed that Kilgrave had died, and faced with the idea of confronting him again, Jessica attempts to leave town. It is only with the insistence of her friend, Trish, that Jessica tracks down the missing girl, Hope, and rescues her. However, in an unfortunate turn of events Hope is still under the control of Kilgrave and once she is reunited with her parents, murders them in the elevator of Jessica’s building.
In the second episode, Jessica is forced to deal with the ramifications of Hope’s actions as well as come to terms with the fact that Kilgrave is not only alive but is out to get her. Jessica promises Hope, who has been arrested and imprisoned for the murder of her parents, that she will prove that Kilgrave exists, thereby proving Hope’s innocence. But Jessica is not completely cleared of suspicion herself. After being questioned about pictures she took of a local bar owner, Luke Cage (whom she had sex with in the previous episode) she goes to his bar to find that he is being questioned about the murder as well. She apologizes for getting him involved and for not disclosing that she was a P.I before, claiming to have been taking pictures of the married woman he was having an affair with. With Luke thoroughly pissed at her, she resumes her search for Kilgrave. Following the trail of Kilgrave’s broken victims she learns that Kilgrave’s powers won’t work if he is sedated by medical grade anesthesia. Later, the married woman that Luke Cage had been having an affair with confronts Jessica. Apparently, Jessica had not been hired to follow her. But, believing that Jessica had been hired by her husband, the woman accidentally outed herself to her him. Jessica goes back to the bar, which is being attacked by the angry husband and his buddies but Jessica and Luke both beat the group up easily. It is then that they both realize that the other has powers.
In the third episode, Jessica is stunned to find out that Luke seems to have unbreakable skin. Likewise, Luke is fascinated by Jessica’s amazing strength. In the time that follows, the pair resume their affair from the first episode and bond over their powers. They ask each other about their limits and how they received their “gifts”. When Jessica asks him about the possibility of a person with the ability to control people’s minds, Luke says that he wouldn’t believe it could be real, since you can’t see what a person is thinking. Jessica uses the bathroom and, once again, sees the picture of a woman in his medicine cabinet (she initially saw it in the first episode). Luke tells her that the woman is his wife, who died in a bus crash. However, this is not true. Jessica already knows the woman because Kilgrave made Jessica kill her. It is only then that the bus accident, which she previously believed killed Kilgrave, occurred. Guilt ridden, Jessica leaves Luke again.
The following day, Jessica pushes Jeri to do some spin control in Hope’s defense, as she is getting slaughtered in the media. Jeri tells Jessica to come forward herself as one of Kilgraves victims, but Jessica is having none of it, saying that it will only put her in the same position as Hope. Jessica attempts to procure the anesthetic Sufentanil in any way possible but keeps getting blocked. Later, Jessica learns that Jeri and her friend Trish are working together to put Hope of Trish’s radio show. Jessica doesn’t like the idea but Trish is determined. However, when they do the show, not only does Jeri trick Trish into saying that Kilgrave’s “gifts” are real so she wouldn’t have to, Trish also sticks her foot in her mouth by insulting and belittling Kilgrave on the air. This is an act that Kilgrave does not take kindly to. After the broadcast Jessica makes Trish hide in her apartment and tells her not to let in anybody while she looks for another way to get the anesthetic. Jessica is struck by inspiration when she sees her drug addicted neighbor struggling in the hallway. She takes him with her to the hospital then pushes him on a nurse, using him as a distraction while she swipes the drugs. Meanwhile, Trish opens the door for a police officer who is under the control of Kilgrave. The officer nearly kills her before Jessica shows up, convinces him that Trish is dead by injecting her with the anesthetic and following him back to Kilgrave’s new hideout. Jessica and Kilgrave come face to face for the first time, but her attempts to pursue him are halted by the many victims under Kilgrave’s control.
Now, there are a few reasons why I like this show so far. From the moment I saw the trailer and promotional images, I was intrigued by the way it looked. I absolutely love the noir style, which lends very well to the “mature comic” look. Many of the Marvel cinematic properties are very light and colorful, even when the content is not. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a stylistic choice to appeal to a wide demographic and it works well. However, their collaborations with Netflix have been notably darker. Thankfully, in the case of “Jessica Jones” it’s dark, and serious and even frightening without feeling grey and moody.
I also appreciate that Jessica and the other women in this series are all complex characters. Too often, the “damaged woman” trope often makes female characters that suffer trauma annoying and erratic. Jessica Jones is damaged. It is evident by her interactions with people, her temper and her drinking. But she is not erratic. Her actions are always understandable even if they’re not the nicest. Her relationship with Trish is realistic, free of catty quips back and forth. It is sometimes loving and protective but other times distant, much like real friendships can be.
Another thing this show has going for it is a truly frightening villain. Kilgrave is both sadistic and charming with a power that is truly invasive. Unlike other demonstrations of mind control that I have seen, this show’s portrayal of mind control feels truly sinister. He doesn’t simply force people to move the way he wants them to, or replaces their conscious with his own. Instead he imposes his will to make it their will. They do what he tells them to because he makes them want to do it. In the scene where we first meet Hope, this is especially poignant. She is tied to a bed and it is obvious that they have had sex on numerous occasions. Though her body may have moved on it’s own, her ability to consent was compromised. This brings to the forefront an issue that most “superhero” movie villains may skate around but never develop; rape. Both Hope and presumably Jessica have been raped by this villain. This is true in a literal, sexual sense as well as in a figurative sense.
This violation has caused her to distance herself from other people. However, she is not a complete hermit. She is willing to accept help from her friend Trish when she needs it and is able to open up to Luke once she realizes that he has unbreakable skin. In fact, she looses herself in a sequence that is probably one of the most hilarious gratuitous sex scenes I’ve ever seen, where Jessica appears to take full advantage of finding a man she can have sex with without having to worry about breaking him! (The bed frame was the real victim there). She is trying to make connections but her past, and the things Kilgrave made her do haunt her and keep her from moving forward.
Rape, murder, mental health, alcohol dependency, sexually liberated women that aren’t being sexualized for men to oggle… this doesn’t feel like a superhero show at all!
That’s because this isn’t a show about a superhero. As Jessica tells Luke at the beginning of Episode 3, she’s “been there and done that” when it comes to being a hero. Jessica is struggling to deal with trauma and do what is right. She is trying to be a good person eve though her methods are often dubious at best.
All in all, these first three episodes really impressed me. However there were a few things that didn’t win me over.
Although I really enjoy Krystin Ritter (I’m one of a select group of people who really miss “Don’t Trust the B in Apt. 23) and she knocks it out of the park as a complex, damaged character; physically, I kept staring at images of her and thinking she looks way too thin. I know, I know, she has superpowers but even for a thin girl there isn’t much visible muscle. Even if superpowers give you the ability, you’d still expect to see muscles flexing if you’re going to stop a moving vehicle. Although effects like cracking glass and cracking cement looked alright, the acts of jumping and tossing full grown men around looked like they were done with wires. By contrast, the fight between Trisha and the police officer was extremely intense because it felt hectic and real. The actress who plays Trisha is also a thin woman but in those scenes you at least see her muscles moving.
The other issue I had was the inconsistency of Jessica’s powers. For someone with super strength, she gets tossed around a lot. Now, with this criticism, I don’t mean that she gets hurt too easily. Some may have issues with her getting knocked out if she’s hit from behind or something along those lines but I actually don’t have an issue with her getting hurt. In fact, it makes sense to me. Luke Cage may have impenetrable skin and therefore has a high tolerance for pain and punishment, but super strength doesn’t give Jessica super endurance. My issue is her physically being moved, pushed back and thrown around by assailants. With the level of strength she possesses, even near misses should be one hit knockouts. She should be able to push back against any guy who attempts to grab her and toss her across the room. Instead, in fights, Luke Cage seemed to have this ability, which doesn’t make sense, because he is super durable but he’s not abnormally strong.
All in all, I really liked the first three episodes. I hope that the momentum continues to build and we can possibly see some improvement with Jessica’s fighting with her full power. I’m also looking forward to more of Kilgrave, and seeing how his obsession with Jessica will advance.