(Marvel Studios 2015)
Summary: P.I. Jessica Jones is just trying to make a living in in this harsh and run down world. However, haunted by her past and the torments of others, Jessica embarks on a quest for revenge and truth against the man who once made her life a living hell.
The same man who is now preceding to tear her world apart once again. Driven by rage, fueled by powers of unknown origin, and fighting to keep some semblance of herself in all this mess, is Jessica Jones ready to do whatever it takes to take down the man named Kilgrave? Or will she end up paying the ultimate price instead?
[SPOILERS!! - And strong language]
Review: Survival guilt. It’s a hard subject to talk about, because it’s so complicated in its manner. The human mind can only take so much trauma before the blur of what is real and what is a lie, what is your fault and what is someone else’s becomes too fine of one to ultimately decipher. At least for the person experiencing it. This is why so many people have trouble understanding it, because someone of sound mind and body generally doesn’t get it because nothing happened to them. The terrible events happened to someone else.
It’s a fault we humans live with, that most of us have such high tolerances of apathy and very low empathy. Sometime its the fault of no one, sometimes its the fault of everyone, that it becomes difficult to remember that its no fault of the actual victim who often truly believes its their fault.
This is what Jessica Jones dares to explore as not only Marvel’s latest foray into its series of Netflix shows but also its darkest. While we all thought Daredevil was great because it was the bloodiest story we’ve seen representing a superhero show to date, Jessica Jones is great because its the most psychological we’ve seen representing a superhero show to date.
Marvel’s impressive Cinematic Universe boasts various story styles. With each major movie they attempt to tale a different style of story. Such as Guardians of the Galaxy being a space opera, Ant-Man being a heist film, hell the first Iron Man was a corporate take down film. Both Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter are extensions of Captain America’s spy stories. Daredevil is a procedural drama with some superhero action thrown in. Jessica Jones is a psychological thriller in every sense of the word.
When it was first announced we were getting the Netflix shows and that Jessica Jones was going to be one of the 4 main characters Marvel had in line to get her own show, many fans including myself simply didn’t know what to think. Even up to its premiere I don’t think anyone had any clue as to what this series was going to bring to the table. And yet above and beyond a lot of Marvel’s other major outings does Jessica Jones shine for its strength, characters, and its daring to dig waaaay deep and explore what real shitheads in the Marvel universe are like.
While the Avengers are all of saving the world, Jessica Jones is dealing with a stalker that also has the ability to mind control others and who’s hunting her down in an attempt to get her back under his control. There’s a lot of plot threads that go into this series, which doesn’t lend itself any favors when for 13 episodes the show is still trying to figure out what to focus on completely. The a-story is Jessica and Kilgrave’s cat-n-mouse game, but there are a ton of a b-plots. Not all of them are fully connected or brought to satisfying conclusions by the end. Where as Daredevil ends with a tighter, more optimistic look at life, Jessica Jones ends abruptly with most plot threads still building for hopefully a season 2.
It’s the characters that really steal this show however, as everyone’s actors play them really, really well. If there’s one thing this shows does really well at is its penchant for establishing, holding on to, and showcasing everyone’s own mental anguishes. Every. Single. Character in this show is the product of some sort of mental or physical abuse. Often both. Jessica herself was a puppet of Kilgrave’s for awhile before finally breaking free of his hold. Doing things that she herself would never dream of doing. Even Kilgrave, who remains a sinful, unforgivable bastard all the way to the end is given reason for his actions.
Everyone has some sort of mental anguish, and everyone finds themselves entangled in a web of abuse by the end. Whether its by Kilgrave’s hands, Jessica’s, or their own personal issues. Jessica herself tries so hard not to fall into Kilgrave’s traps throughout the course of the show. Attempting to build relationships of her own that Kilgrave just tears down at a moment’s notice. Jessica tries so hard not to get anyone else roped into this mess she has become a part of, but because she let them into her life Kilgrave feels the need to take them out.
This is where that blur comes in. As a man of sound mind and body, who is watching this show from a far, I can clearly say “Everything is Kilgrave’s fault.” Because he is a dickweed and a piece of shit. Sure, he had a traumatic past of his own, but he was the one who chose not to overcome that and instead become the possessive monster he is today. He was the one who tore everyone down in order to tear Jessica down.
However, as someone experiencing these events first hand to Jessica this is all her fault. To her she was the one who let Kilgrave take her, she’s the one who decided to get away from him, she was the one who decided to build a life with people Kilgrave obviously didn’t want happening. And because of that to her she’s the one who got everyone killed. By the end of the show she’s the one who truly believes she isn’t a hero even for saving the day.
Every falling domino knocks another one over, and then another one and then another in a never-ending cycle of pain. And it takes a long, long time to build those dominoes back up. This is what the show does so well. Commenting on a subject matter that often mainstream television or movies are either afraid to discuss or when they do are very rarely written at a believable, relatable level.
There’s a moment in one of the last few episodes where Luke Cage turns to Jessica and says: “I forgive you for everything. Now tell yourself that every day for as long as you need to until you believe it.” Those might not be the exact words but that’s what he says. Now, of course, there is a cruel take away from that later on that is revealed by Kilgrave, but in the moment it’s a perfect representation of often the first step in the healing process. And something most people, especially traumatized victims tend to find themselves needing to hear.
If there’s one major flaw to this series it is something I already mentioned in this review. And it’s that difficult sense of focus the story has on all its plots. In the earlier episodes plots happen boom-boom-boom, really fast and really quick with the looming threat of Kilgrave in the background. Then as the series progresses and Jessica’s feud with Kilgrave makes center stage other plot threads not only take a back burner but also take a little longer to tell their story. There’s even a few plot elements that are introduced in the last few episodes that are built entirely for the second season if/win we get one.
Daredevil was better structurally because it felt a lot more focused on the story it was trying to tell. Jessica Jones is better narratively for its approach to its subject matter and for doing psychological trauma so well.
The weakest subplot in the whole of the show is Luke Cage’s who often feels like he exists here just to kickstart his own show. In fact by the end he actually goes missing for whatever reason I’m not sure and the next time we’ll see him is in his own series coming out in 2017. He exists as an escape for Jessica, a possible future where she can be happy, and then he willingly goes missing for a good portion of the last half of the series, and then repeats that same act in the finale.
However both characters are great together – of course they are, they’re together in the comics! - and both Krysten Ritter and Mike Colter have wonderful chemistry when they’re on screen. It’s just a shame that Luke feels so underutilized by the end.
Patsy Walker surprised me the most in how they utilized her, making her incredibly wealthy with her own history growing up as a Hollywood star and current Radio Talk Show host. It’s sad that they didn’t set her up to become Hellcat by the end of this but since her story ends on one of those “and look for season 2!” moments I assume that will addressed more openly then.
However the biggest addition to the cast that surprised me the most was Nuke. A relatively lesser known villain who is sent into madness after experimentation on him goes awry in the comics, they basically followed that same route in this show as Nuke, or Will Simpon as he goes by his real name in the show, becomes more and more deranged by the end. He too ends on a “now look for season 2!” note.
Jessica and Kilgrave is what its all about though. Jessica is openly torn a part by her past and the current events surrounding her. Kilgrave is openly sadistic about the terrible acts he commits. Both are yin and yang of one another and that truly shines in this series in a 13-episode long game of cat and mouse. With a bit of chutes and ladders thrown into to make the game more entertaining.
Kilgrave is twisted and possessive, even going as far to buy Jessica’s childhood home and reset it to the way it was when her parents died – exactly the way it was – in order to mess with his victim. Thankfully Jessica remains resolute throughout the the story, but there are definitely moments when she almost lapses to defeat. This is a visual and symbolic representation of Jessica’s struggle within herself but then again this show kind of beats you over the head with that knowledge so I’m not really dishing out anything poetic here.
Jessica Jones is also the most risque show for Marvel to date. Offering up openly gay characters who kiss on screen and finger each other on screen, and on that note the show offers up full blown sex scenes. Not just closing the door behind two characters who you know are having intercourse but full blown showing it. Luke and Jessica get two sex scenes. I had no problem with this, it just surprised me as generally Marvel isn’t quite near this risque. I mean I’m pretty sure the f-bomb isn’t dropped once in this entire series.
Now, of course, I say that about the gay characters – who let’s be honest that is not their defining traits, but it is still a milestone for any story these days so let’s continue to tell it like it is. Hogarth and Pam, as well as Hogarth’s wife Wendy, are shown to have very real lives. Very real problems. They’re not treated as entertainment fodder or for a commentary on homophobia or for illustrious girl on girl sex. To Jessica, Luke, Kilgrave, to everyone they’re just another person or persons. Who have sex and who have problems, who try to live their lives and make mistakes along the way just like everyone else.
It’s cliché to say these days, but this show broke a helluva lot of boundaries and Marvel should really pat themselves on the back for doing so.
Jessica Jones is a tale about survivors, it’s a tale about humans, it’s a tale about life in all of its many terrors. But is it a tale about heroes? Well, maybe if we work really hard on day we can make ourselves really believe that. Until Jessica does however, who’s to really say?
Either way, this series was fantastic on so many levels. And of course I highly recommend it.
Final Score: 4.5 Gifts of Hope out of 5
Derrick is a born and raised otaku with a love for comics, anime, manga and movies. The full list is pretty long, but that’s just the basics. Stories set in space are his bread and butter.
You can find more of his writing at IndieComix.net