Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
After last April’s Daredevil, the Marvel Cinematic Universe proved that it could tell a grittier and more mature superhero narrative than what fans are accustomed to seeing. Jessica Jones, the MCU’s latest installment on Netflix, builds off of Daredevil’s grittiness and tells one of the year’s most powerfully harrowing stories. In short, Jessica Jones rocks.
Showrunner Melissa Rosenberg (Dexter, The O.C.) introduces protagonist Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) at her lowest point, skipping over unnecessary origins and backstory. Suffering from PTSD, Jessica battles a constant barrage of horrible memories. Having given up on the path of becoming a superheroine, she operates Alias Investigations — a detective agency in New York City — as a private investigator who largely pursues petty cases of domestic infidelity. The casting of Ritter as Jessica Jones is spot-on; she plays a convincing badass who has become somewhat detached from the world. Despite her superhuman strength, Jessica comes off as a genuine human being with real, human issues. Because of this, Jessica Jones sometimes feels more like a crime drama than anything else, which is reinforced by the jazzy, noir-esque score.
Jessica’s life is rattled by the emergence of Kilgrave (David Tennant), a supervillain who easily ranks among the MCU’s best baddies. Tennant brings the antagonist to life beautifully, giving Kilgrave a deceptive sense of charisma. Under this façade, however, is a selfish lunatic. Possessing the ability to control and manipulate minds, Kilgrave can bend anyone to his will with a simple command.
While mind control certainly isn’t new to the superhero genre, Jessica Jones takes the power in a very fresh and realistic direction. Aside from his pursuit of Jessica, Kilgrave doesn’t seem to have much of an agenda; he’s merely a deranged man who ruins lives out of pure enjoyment. It’s genuinely unsettling to watch as Kilgrave infiltrates, violates, and harms his unsuspecting victims. His despicable actions lead Jessica Jones into some very dark and uncomfortable territory, so watch at your own discretion. I should mention that while rape isn’t explicitly shown on Jessica Jones, it is implied on several occasions.
As one of Kilgrave’s previous victims, Jessica must confront what is an incredibly painful past. Despite her blatant — and certainly warranted — fear of Kilgrave, Jessica never backs down in her relentless fight to stop him. While she doesn’t pursue Kilgrave purely out of revenge, her motivations are understandably personal. In a way, Kilgrave’s existence inhibits Jessica’s ability to find the closure she so desperately desires.
Along the way, Jessica teams up with some great secondary characters. She develops a truly captivating friendship with Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), providing some of the show’s most heartwarming moments. The sisterly love they share for each other is one of my favorite aspects of the series and it’s a relationship that proves crucial to the story.
We also get our first MCU appearance of the virtually indestructible Luke Cage (Mike Colter), whose own Netflix series will be released in the near future — and rightfully so. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise is Malcolm Ducasse (Eka Darville), Jessica’s drug-addicted neighbor. Without spoiling anything, Malcolm proves to be a very dynamic character whose personal journey is a joy to watch. Trish, Luke, Malcolm, and Jessica are all people who have been damaged by Kilgrave in some way, so it’s great to see them muster sympathy for one another.
Jessica Jones does have a few drawbacks, however. The show tries to juggle a few too many deviating side stories that ultimately feel irrelevant to the overarching story. Police officer Will Simpson (Wil Traval) is an interesting character, but his transformation feels like a rushed setup for the upcoming MCU installations on Netflix. Also unnecessary is the amount of screen time lent to Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Ann Moss), whose tumultuous divorce drags on endlessly throughout the season. Additionally, Jessica’s twin neighbors Ruben (Kieran Mulcare) and Robyn (Colby Minifie) feel like over-the-top caricatures that never quite fit within the mature Jessica Jones universe. While their inclusion is obviously meant to provide comedic relief, I much preferred the humor provided by Jessica’s sarcastic edge.
Overall, these flaws are only minor distractions; they certainly aren’t enough to prevent Jessica Jones from being the excellent 13-episode season that it is. With generally great characterization and gripping action, Jessica Jones has immediately become a highlight for television in 2015. This is far and away the darkest and most violent material that Marvel has explored, but it’s a gamble that pays off. Jessica Jones is a home run.
Featured image courtesy of screenrant.com.