The second of Marvel’s “street level” superhero series, Jessica Jones, focuses on another super powered person who exists in the MCU. This continuing the buildup to Marvel’s team-up mini-series, The Defenders, is also continuing Marvel’s trend of producing quality TV shows.
Recap (mild spoilers)
Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) was a normal girl that ended up getting super strength from an accident that also killed her family. When the series begins, she is working as a P.I. for her own Alias Investigations Agency. Her home and office are one apartment located in the not-so-nice neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen. Her only real friend is former child star, Patricia “Patsy” Walker (Rachael Taylor), who’s mother adopted Jessica in an attempt to score some good publicity for the troubled starlet. Trisha is currently working through some personal safety issues, that have led her to lock down her apartment like a fort and start learning martial arts. Jessica also has occasional work coming in from Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), a prestigious lawyer who specializes in winning above all else. Jeri is also dealing with a messy divorce from her wife, whom she cheated on with her younger secretary.
Jessica has a real sense of self-loathing along with a pretty bad case of PTSD; both stemming from her brief stint as a superhero that ended when she encountered a man named Kilgrave (David Tennant). Aside from a strange name, Kilgrave has the ability to make people want to do whatever he tells them. After seeing Jessica display her strength defending an innocent man, he becomes fascinated with her and keeps her by his side for months. During that time, Kilgrave rapes Jessica and forces her to do many other things against her will. After Kilgrave has her kill a woman named Reva, Jessica is able to break free of his control and has given up on being a hero since then. All of these events take place before the series begins.
In the first episode of the series, the parents of Hope Shlottman (Erin Moriarty), come to Jessica in order to get Jessica’s help finding their daughter. Jessica takes the case but soon realizes that the entire thing is a trap set by Kilgrave in order to lure her back to him. After Jessica saves Hope, another of Kilgrave’s instructions kicks in and she murders her parents in front of Jessica. Hope is arrested for the murder of her parents and Jessica decides to take a stand against Kilgrave and prove that Hope wasn’t actually responsible for her actions. The rest of the series follows Jessica as she hunts for Kilgrave, who is also trying to capture her.
There are several other small adventures that happen along the path to catching Kilgrave. Jessica starts a relationship with a man named Luke Cage (Mike Colter), who is Reva’s widower. Luke doesn’t know that Jessica was the one who killed Reva, he just knows that they both have powers, which allows them to bond quickly. She also takes on several cases, including one that was a trap orchestrated by two people with a grudge against super powered people. Through it all she has to fight her PTSD and growing paranoia about Kilgrave coming after her, while trying to prove to others that such a man actually exists. She actually builds a support group for individuals who have been used by Kilgrave. This allows other people to start to believe that he actually exists, and gives Jessica clues to how to find him. The group is also comprised mostly of people that Kilgrave used in order to get to Jessica, making her feel responsible. Eventually, Jessica does find Kilgrave (or Kilgrave finds her) and things take a slight turn. Kilgrave reveals that he has been after Jessica because he’s in love with her. Threatened by the prospect of what Kilgrave could do, Jessica indulges an exploration of some level of relationship between them, and even considers what would happen if Kilgrave could be taught to use his powers for good. As Jessica digs farther in to Kilgrave, she discovers things about him and herself as well. Everything leads up to Jessica having to make a hard decision about how to deal with Kilgrave.
Commentary (contains major spoilers)
This show turned out to be much more of a drama than a super hero show. Taking ques from the Marvel comic, Alias, the show dealt with more complex adult themes than most of the other MCU properties. A big part of the early part of the show dealt with Jessica trying to manage her PTSD and personal guilt that stemmed from her time with Kilgrave. He’s like her own personal boogeyman that’s scared her to a life of drunken solitude. The show also deals a lot with the concept of rape without ever having to deal with depicting the act. They chose to focus on the idea of rape as a violation of a person’s will. As a result, everyone who falls victim to Kilgrave’s suffers in a similar way because they’ve all had their will violated, even if they were not sexually assaulted. It’s kind of a tame way to deal with the subject, but I can appreciate that it saves the show from the always uncertain task of having to focus on or otherwise depict actual sexual assault while still leaving it as part of the conversation.
The show also leans hard into some areas that MCU properties haven’t gone yet. The character of Jessica is aggressively vulgar and unapologetically sexual, making for a hero that’s fascinating but not what you’d call “marketable”. I think the show’s best moments center around those parts of the character. My favorite part of the first half of the season is Jessica’s relationship with Luke Cage. Ritter and Colter have great on screen chemistry together. I also think that the way they meet is really fun. They meet once and end up having a one night stand, but they don’t really know anything about each other. It’s not until Jessica shows up to help him with a fight, that they discover that they both have powers. Once that happens, they’re able to discover each other in a whole new way. Their most powerful moment was the one where Luke discovered that Jessica was the one who actually killed Reva, and kept it a secret from him. I thought it would’ve been fine to let that be the last time that we saw Luke in this series, but I had no problem with them bringing him back to help round out the series.
Aside from the sexy-times, the show also really played into the idea that Jessica is not actually a hero. She’s just a damaged person who’s trying to do the best she can in the situation. That becomes really apparent when she spends time with Kilgrave. She pulls a fake out on the audience by making it seem like she actually believes that Kilgrave could actually change. Instead, she does what most practical people would do, and uses the opportunity to sneak attack him. However, the feelings of relief at her lack of naivety turn to feelings of uncertainty when she takes him and decides to torture him, even bringing his parents into the situation. In some ways, it seemed like she actually turned Kilgrave into even more of a villain than he actually was.
The comic book version of the Kilgrave character (aka the Purple Man), is much less sympathetic than David Tennant’s version. I suspect that some of that may come from the actor’s natural charm and likability (of course, I know him as The Doctor, so I may be biased). But, most of it definitely came from the show depicting him as the victim of experiments that left him with a power that he didn’t understand how to control. It’s never really clear how much of the sympathetic Kilgrave is an act and how much of it is genuine, but it ultimately doesn’t matter. Jessica’s actions push Kilgrave to become more truly evil. He has a monologue in the later episodes where he fantasizes about the ways that he wants to make Jessica suffer. If I remember correctly, those are actually things that the comic book character did to Jessica. So, he ends up becoming as evil as his comic book self, but because he’s ultimately killed, it doesn’t matter too much. Although, we all know that death doesn’t mean that much in the MCU.
I also really appreciated the depiction of Jeri Hogarth in this show. The character was gender bent into a woman and then made a lesbian dealing with relationship issues. Ultimately, the whole relationship arc only serves as a catalyst that allows for the final showdown between Jessica and Kilgrave. Before that, it felt like a really honest portrayal of a couple having marital problems. It was refreshing to see something like this portrayed without the show feeling like it had to trumpet the fact that they were depicting a lesbian couple or a powerful female character. Although, with the show’s predominantly female cast, that last one would’ve been hard to do. Luke Cage is really the only truly positive male character in this show. Jessica, Trisha and Jeri are the primary characters. Kilgrave is obviously the villain, but the other main male characters play the role of the romantic interest. Luke is there for Jessica while Trish has Will (Wil Traval). Then there’s Maclom (Eka Darville) who seems to be almost a “damsel in distress” or unwilling sidekick kind of character. That’s not to say that these characters are one dimensional, it’s just clear that they’re second fiddles in this series.
Trying to juggle all these nuanced ideas in a non-action-centric show, would’ve made the show really easy to mishandle as a “comic book show”. Instead, I think it succeeded with flying colors. Even though it’s not a typical MCU property, it is compelling and has enough action to appease those looking for it. I also think it avoided the pacing issues that Marvel’s earlier show, Daredevil, suffered from. That being said, it’s still not so fast paced that I would recommend binge watching it. This is the kind of show that you could easily watch in 3 or 4 episode blocks, but would probably still be a bit too dense to try to watch all at once. But, no matter how you do it, you should definitely watch this show.