Marvel’s Jessica Jones (2015)
Creator: Melissa Rosenberg
Since Marvel and Netflix managed to shock everyone with how well their ‘Daredevil’ series worked, I’ve been waiting to see if they could repeat the success with a far less known character, the follow-up ‘Jessica Jones’. Yet again this ideal partnership has produced another genre-defining series that is so engrossing I was captivated for the whole night watching all 13 episodes in one sitting.
Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is a private investigator in Hells Kitchen, New York. Plagued with guilt, her troubles increase when an investigation leads her to believe that her past abuser, mind controlling Killgrave (David Tennant) may still be alive and prepared to stop at nothing to get her back under his control.
Right from the opening credits the tone and style is established, beautifully painted in an artistic watercolour style that reflects the original comic artwork, designed by the same artist, David Mack, and reminding comic fans of the source material. Though Jessica and other characters have superpowers, the focus is not on the powers themselves, but rather the people ‘gifted’ with them and the ways they choose to use their abilities.
What impressed me most was how nicely paced the season was, the 13 episodes kept things moving with no pointless filler. There are so many twists and turns but things were revealed at a good pace that kept it interesting right to the end. Even the more minor plot points were interesting, giving supporting cast and characters meaningful roles and allowing for plenty to be developed through the episodes and potentially into the other interlinked Netflix and Marvel shows and future seasons of Jessica Jones.
They have taken a hardly known character and made a show that would never have been easily substituted by a film or two, as she has been fully developed and fleshed out with so much detail and tackling some weighty subject matter. Superpowers took a back seat as personal drama and the dark side of having and misusing power was beautifully depicted.
The tone is dark, some moments while not overtly sinister had a subtle undertone to them, certain lines, acts and gestures, could be seen with some humour yet also had an edge to them. It was in the second half of the season that things really intensified, the tone gets considerably darker as the extent and full details of characters pasts are brought to light with all sorts of points converging. There’s also some gore as fights are brutal and characters don’t hold back.
The show also contained a lot more intimate scenes than ‘Daredevil’, some in the context of unusual romantic relationships, each showing contrasts of good and bad and all somewhat messed up in some way or another. Killgrave’s relationship with Jessica especially is a form of misguided romantic attachment that struck me with a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ vibe complete with what are essentially pitchfork wielding villagers.
Key to this working is doubtlessly the impeccable casting. Krysten Ritter in the central role is very good, much better than I had at first expected. She is given a lot to work with and has opportunity to convey both the present-day traumatized Jessica with her alcohol dependence, while also dipping into her past in a few scenes where we enjoy seeing a completely different woman. Her work as an investigator is the setting for some acrobatics and other interesting insights into a character who is very well suited to her job.
Without a doubt thought it is David Tennant who completely steals the show. I thought he would be good, but he excels beyond all expectations by finding the perfect line between charming and creepy, setting a new standard for comic book villains. His demeanour is so perfectly portrayed that his misguided obsession appears as love to him but something more sinister to everyone else. He’s immaculately dressed, often in purple as a nod to the character’s alter ego ‘The Purple Man’, with a striking and attention grabbing presence, yet the season doesn’t reveal him too early on, nor is he featured in every single episode after. His character plunges to dark depths that completely dispel the criticism that Marvel don’t do strong villains, though this has been the case with some of their films in the cinematic universe, these Netflix shows could never be said to suffer from the same issue.
The rest of the cast is great too, and wonderfully varied. Carrie Ann Moss is a duplicitous lawyer (worlds apart from Murdock and Nelson) who is going through a messy divorce. Jessica’s closest (possibly only) friend Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) is more than just a sidekick and avoids becoming an annoyance as many in the best friend role do. Even the seemingly minor role of Jessica’s neighbour Malcolm (Eka Darville) is developed brilliantly, with his own arc and clear development that is surprising in both complexity and importance. One character who stands out as particularly important is Luke Cage, whose role is filled by Mike Colter not Terry Crews as was once hoped by many, though I can see why they went with Colter. If the casting was just for Luke Cage as a stand alone series Terry Crews might have worked but when this at times has a team dynamic and the romantic aspects you can see that Colter’s casting fits far better, he’s excellent. It will be really good to see him in his own series too, I’m interested to see how his story is developed and how Jessica will fit into his series as he fits so fascinatingly and well into hers.
The storyline is full of many twists, at one point looking like things may take one big turn, then completely taking another suddenly and unexpectedly. This made it really engaging and engrossing. Lots happens in just the course of 13 episodes, upon reflection it’s amazing when you see how much is fit into this short run, with detailed origin stories and so many threads developed.
I have nothing specifically critical to say about the show (other than having to flinch at certain rougher moments), I was yet again amazed by the way Netflix and Marvel have pulled this off, making truly compelling television. I watched the 13 episodes in one go and was at no point bored, or even sent to sleep when it got into the early (and not so early) hours of the morning. I hope that Marvel and Netflix continue their partnership for many more years if this is the quality of show they will keep producing, and as long as they do I’ll be keeping my subscription.