By James Hancock November 20th, 2015
I just finished my marathon binge watching session of the first season of Jessica Jones and I’m feeling a little bit woozy. Technically I only watched episodes 2-13 due to my already having caught the first episode during a sneak peak at New York Comic Con, but as a confirmed Marvel Zombie and a massive fan of the character from Brian Michael Bendis’s comic Alias (2001-04), I had no choice but to devote my entire day to this excellent season of television. The good news for Marvel fans is that we have a fantastic new addition to the MCU, a badass, hard-drinking, shit-talking chick who captures everything Marvel comics fans know and love about the street level vigilante stories that take place in Hell’s Kitchen. The partnership between Marvel and Netflix got off to a great start earlier this year with the first season of Daredevil but in my opinion Jessica Jones is the darker, edgier show of the two. The MCU always benefits from experiments with new genres, in this case a story centered around a private investigator struggling to get by in New York. There are no capes, no tights, no costumes of any kind but the fact that our hero Jessica Jones can punch through brick walls only makes the show that much more interesting. When it comes to sex and violence, the show throws caution to the wind with some of the most graphic, hardcore scenes we’ve seen from Marvel to date, material that is unheard of in their feature films. So chalk me up as fan. I would not call it a perfect show (whatever that means). Some of the action is clumsy and there are several supporting characters who did not interest me in the slightest, but on the whole the first season of Jessica Jones delivered a very solid story of murder and mayhem that could easily become one of Marvels most popular franchises in film and television.
***mild spoilers ahead***
The success of the show hinges 100% on the performance by Krysten Ritter who absolutely knocks the role right out of the park. For reasons that are initially unclear to the viewer, Jessica Jones is suffering from a recent trauma that has left her even more hostile and dysfunctional than is normal for her. All she wants now is a life free from other people’s personal baggage (when it isn’t work related) and she does her best to keep everyone in her life at arm’s length with a river of sarcasm and barely restrained violent intentions. Part of Jessica’s charm is her unrepentant bachelorette lifestyle and when she isn’t busy trying to pay the bills by helping her clients spy on their cheating spouses, she is drinking herself into oblivion or indulging in incredibly athletic sex with Luke Cage, played by Mike Colter who will soon have a Netflix show of his own. Watching two enhanced human beings break the bed while getting it on is certainly bold new territory for the typically PG-13 costumed adventures we’re used to in the Marvel Universe. The relationship between Jessica Jones and Luke Cage is very much the heart of the show, a relationship that inevitably leads to the type of kick ass team-ups that comic book junkies like myself absolutely adore. But if you’re not a fan of heroes wearing spandex, not to worry, Jessica shoots down her friend’s attempt at making her wear a costume and use a codename. When presented with the outfit, Jessica fires back, ‘Jewel is a stripper name, a really slutty one and if I wear that you’ll have to call me camel toe.’ It is but one of many hysterically funny beats scattered throughout the show.
***massive spoilers ahead***
Fans of David Tennant from Doctor Who won’t be surprised at all by this revelation, but once he shows up as Kilgrave (better known to comic fans as Purple Man) he completely steals the show. As much as I enjoy Marvel’s movies, one of their major flaws has been always been a shortage of compelling villains. David Tennant is absolutely extraordinary as Kilgrave, a total psychopath who is oddly sympathetic in spite of leaving a trail of ruined lives and wanton destruction in his wake wherever he goes. His power is the ability to control anyone within range of his voice and prior to the start of the show we learn that he kept Jessica Jones as his personal slave for an extended period of time. A near-fatal collision with a bus granted Jessica her freedom from his power and she presumes him to be dead until learning that Kilgrave used his gift to force a man to donate both his kidneys so that Kilgrave might survive. The shows constantly finds darkly funny or outright savage new ways for Kilgrave to use his powers taking the story into dark territory that makes a film like Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) feel tame by comparison. The only downside to Tennant’s performance is that the show runs the risk of feeling completely empty and devoid of entertainment value anytime he is absent from the screen for too long. Late in the season, he disappears for a few episodes and his presence is sorely missed, in particular when the show tries and fails to make us care about some of the second and third tier characters of the show, many of whom are barely tolerable.
If you’re wondering how Jessica Jones ties into the rest of the MCU, I regret to inform that there is not as much connective tissue as I would have liked. I kept hoping that Charlie Cox would pop in at least as Matt Murdock. In the comics Murdock has worked with Jones as her attorney or used her as a bodyguard on many occasions but sadly my hopes for such a scene were in vain. Apart from a few casual references to the Chitauri attack seen in The Avengers (2012), the only connection to the rest of the MCU we see is a brief appearance by Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple who shares a few words of wisdom about Daredevil when Jones needs a little positive encouragement. There is also a character comic readers will immediately recognize from the greatest Daredevil story ever written, Frank Miller’s 1986 classic Born Again (Daredevil #227-233). The only clue I’ll give is “Give me a red.” I wrongly assumed that the season would end with some sort of easter egg about future Netflix shows but to my mild frustration there was nothing. We all know that Marvel and Netflix are building toward an eventual show that will be called The Defenders featuring a team that will include Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and possibly Iron Fist, Moon Knight and the Punisher. But this is a minor grievance toward an otherwise very entertaining show that kept me glued to the screen all day. It was about halfway through the eighth episode where I realized that rather getting tired and exhausted from binge watching the show, I was instead becoming exhilarated. If you’ve been looking forward to the show, you need no encouragement from me and are likely already well into watching it or have finished it as I have. But if you’re on the fence, I urge you to give this show a try. Jessica Jones is unlike any other movie or show by Marvel to date and if we want to see more edgy material like this from Marvel in the future, we have to let them know how much we enjoy this dark new twist to their shared universe. As always, make mine Marvel.
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