Warning: some spoilers for season one of “Jessica Jones” follow.
The Marvel Netflix shows are some of the most interesting takes on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU for short). They represent more grounded takes on a world that includes Norse gods and hulking green steroid monsters. They represent a moral ambiguity that underscores a franchise typically full of characters whose main struggle is “I’m not powerful enough” before they discover “oh wait, yeah I am” and then promptly throw the bad guy through a building or two.
I’ve already talked about “Daredevil” season one and two. “Daredevil” was the start of the Netflix shows, representing a darker, more nuanced superhero story. And while season two started to collapse under the weight of its multiple plots, season one still represents some of the best Netflix has to offer.
So, going into it, I had no idea that “Jessica Jones” would feel so different.
Like “Daredevil”, “Jessica Jones” is dark, but even from the show’s title sequence you can tell its tone is different. The opening sequence for “Daredevil” showed the world being filled in bit by bit, which was a representation of the main character’s unique perspective. By contrast, the title sequence for “Jessica Jones” plays with shadows and silhouettes. It features many shots of windows and perspectives that imply being watched or observed, which ties into Jones’ career as a private investigator.
It was about midway through the first episode when it hit me: “Jessica Jones” is essentially a modern noir story.
The aspects of the show line up: a private investigator with a tragic past, a piano-heavy soundtrack underscored with hints of jazz, and voice-over narration done by Jessica herself. I’m not familiar enough with the character or the comics she comes from to say for sure, but it feels to me like the show is steeped in that tradition. At its core, “Jessica Jones” is still a superhero story, making the noir elements mere icing on the cake. But it’s enough to give the show a unique style all its own amidst the other Marvel Netflix shows.
“Daredevil” season one was all about Matthew Murdock coming to terms with who he wanted to be as a hero and the lines he was willing to cross. We followed him as he grew into the hero he needed to be. By contrast, “Jessica Jones” keeps things from us and much of the season is about uncovering those parts of her past to better understand her as a person. It becomes clear by the end of the first episode that Jessica tried the hero thing before and something went terribly wrong. The bad times in her past are centered around a mysterious figure named “Kilgrave” who has the ability to control people’s minds.
Jessica is guarded and masks her feelings with sarcasm. At the outset it seems that she’s done trying to play the hero, but she’s quickly drawn back in when a new client sets her on a collision course with her old nemesis, Kilgrave.
They could have easily pulled Jessica too far down the sarcastic, gloomy route and made her an unlikable protagonist. But her sarcastic quips and grim worldview are punctuated by glimpses of a person who wants to believe better, who wants to do good. During one of the episodes, we get flashbacks of Jessica before Kilgrave that show how she gradually comes to the realization that she wants to help people. Even her job as a private investigator after the fact clues us in to her inclination for helping people, despite her outward attitude. The show succeeds at bringing us into Jessica’s world and letting us learn who she is bit by bit.
One aspect of the show that worked better than I would have expected was the introduction of Luke Cage, another Netflix Marvel hero who was later given his own show. I’ve talked before about the inter-connection of Marvel’s universe and how that could become a problem, but that isn’t the case here. Rather, the inclusion of Luke Cage feels natural. His past and Jessica’s intertwine, which is evident from the start when we see Jessica spying on him in the very first episode. The progression of their relationship and how it ties in to the greater plot of the season is done very well here. It never feels forced or added for the sake of tying it in to the larger Marvel universe.
Another aspect of the show I was surprised by was the villain, Kilgrave.
Played by David Tennant, Kilgrave is a very different beast from Wilson Fisk in “Daredevil”. Fisk was a character who believed he was changing the city for the better, albeit through extreme and violent methods. By contrast, Kilgrave has no such noble goals. He’s selfish. He’s vain. He’s unhinged and positively psychotic. And he has an unhealthy fixation on Jessica, especially considering she’s the only one who’s ever escaped from his control. Tennant was a great choice for the character too, providing that charming yet unpredictable nature to the character and making him a memorable villain.
That being said, I found it strange that they decided to not reveal his face until near the end of the third episode. Anyone who knows David Tennant or has seen him in other shows will be able to tell that it’s him from the moment he says anything, so waiting on that reveal just seems a little pointless. Even the pre-release stories for “Jessica Jones” had already confirmed David Tennant would be playing him.
All that being said, Kilgrave is a great villain and provides a very personal adversary for Jessica to face. But not everything is perfect with the first season.
I’ve mentioned before how “Daredevil” season one decides to refer to the day when literal aliens invaded and blew up half the city in the first “Avengers” movie simply as “The Incident”. It’s a weird, out-of-place choice that almost feels like they’re trying to distance the Netflix shows from the movies because of their wildly different tones. “The Incident” shows up again in Jessica Jones, this time in the form of a minor character (read: very minor…as in they only appear in one episode) who has grievances with super powered people because of losing someone during the siege of New York. It ends up feeling forced and has no purpose other than being a red herring.
There’s also a subplot featuring a police officer Jessica saves early on in the show. It’s revealed later on that he is part of a mysterious research group with a doctor that developed some kind of combat enhancement drug. It comes out of nowhere with no real buildup and doesn’t resolve itself by the end of the season. Rather, its whole purpose seems to be to tease a future plot, as very late in the season it’s revealed that this mysterious group may have ties to Jessica and how she got her powers.
And that’s another thing that bothered me with the season. Early on, after Jessica learns that Luke has powers as well, they have a brief conversation about where they got them. Luke tells her his came from an experiment and Jessica says hers were an “accident”. For much of the season, I assumed Jessica knew exactly how she got her powers and it would be revealed later on. But as it turns out, Jessica has no idea. During the final episode, she has a line where she mentions that she looked into her past before but kept hitting dead ends. But it isn’t until near the end of the season that there’s any hint of that. So when she says “accident”, we’re not really clear what she means by that.
Despite these issues, “Jessica Jones” is well worth a watch. The pacing takes a dip during the last few episodes and the final confrontation doesn’t feel as climactic it should be, but overall it’s another great entry into the Marvel Netflix shows. Its style and tone are quite different from “Daredevil”, so if you go into it expecting a similar outing, you might find yourself surprised and put off at first. But if you give it a chance, “Jessica Jones” provides you with a wonderfully deranged villain and a gripping personal story.
Thanks for reading! Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week!