Yesterday, I finished watching Marvel’s newest Netflix series, Jessica Jones. It was a riveting story, and only the demands of real life kept me from binge-watching it all in one go. I’d like to jot down some thoughts about it, since it’s fresh in my mind.
Because I’ve abandoned all pretence of actually knowing how to write, this piece will be in listicle format. Huzzah! And, a warning: THERE ARE SPOILERS AFTER THE JUMP.
- Jessica Jones is really, really good. I know I already said that, but it bears repeating. The series successfully blends action, psychological drama, and neo-noir, which is no small feat. Furthermore, the story remains interesting from start to finish, even as it nearly careens off the rails a few episodes from the end (more on that later).
- The performances are amazing. Krysten Ritter’s performance as the titular character is astounding. She has to simultaneously project bitterness, toughness, and vulnerability, and she pulls it off. One really believes that Jessica Jones is an inhumanly strong (no pun intended) skinny woman, not an actress playing the part. Carrie-Anne Moss delivers what might be a career-best performance as amoral attorney Jeri Hogarth. But the best performance comes from David Tennant as the series’ main villain, Kilgrave. I didn’t know whether to laugh or be terrified at everything he did, which just added to the horror he conveyed. Vincent D’Onofrio’s performance as Wilson Fisk in Daredevil was fantastic, but Tennant is on another level entirely.
- Jessica Jones is better than Daredevil. Speaking of Daredevil comparisons, it needs to be said: Jessica Jones blows that show out of the water. Now, full disclosure: Daredevil didn’t work for me at all. In fact, it might end up on my annual list of pop cultural disappointments. It wasn’t a bad series, but it completely failed to grip me. Its main problems were that: 1 ) Matt Murdock simply wasn’t an interesting character, despite Charlie Cox’s strong (if unremarkable) performance; and 2) the show couldn’t decide whether it was a character study or the story of Hell’s Kitchen, and in the end it didn’t do either goal justice. Jessica Jones addresses both those issues. It has a much more compelling character at its centre, and right from the outset, it knows that it wants to be a deep character study.
- The show could be important for survivors of sexual assault. Philosophical debates aside, I’m going to refer to mind-controlled sex as rape, as does the show’s titular character. Jessica was Kilgrave’s victim, but she doesn’t hesitate to tell Kilgrave that he raped her. Just hearing what Kilgrave did referred to as “rape,” a word that so many people pussyfoot around (sometimes for good reasons; often not) could be a huge thing for rape survivors. Moreover, the show leeches any trace of sexuality from Kilgrave, making it abundantly clear that he’s driven by a combination of irrational desire and lust for power.
- The story very nearly goes off the rail a few episodes from the end. After Kilgrave escapes from the hermetically sealed room, Jessica is attacked by members of the Kilgrave survivors’ group, which leaves her unconscious just long enough that Kilgrave is able to kidnap Hope. It’s a string of coincidences so unlikely (and reliant on Jessica suddenly not being great at using her powers) that it nullifies some of Kilgrave’s potency; he really lucked into his plan. Luckily, the show rights the ship shortly after and comes to a (mostly) satisfying conclusion.
- The dissonant jazzy soundtrack is great. I was originally not a fan of Sean Callery, since I didn’t like what he did with Bones’ soundtrack, but his work on Homeland (also dissonant jazz) pleasantly surprised me. His work on Jessica Jones is nearly as good. The off-kilter staccato piano notes are a nice touch.
- There are actual heroes and villains. One thing that bothers me about a lot of “prestige” dramas is that they’re so intent on exploring antiheroes that they come across as cynical and almost nihilistic. Jessica Jones doesn’t fall into that trap. Jessica does a lot of morally questionable things, but the show never tries to paint her as someone who has bad intentions; she’s flawed, but she’s not a bad person. Similarly, Trish, Malcolm, and Luke are also heroes. On the other side of the equation, Kilgrave is clearly a villain, and the show never tries to portray him as anything but. The scenes where Jessica tries to teach Kilgrave how to be a hero are tense, but they’re also intentionally hilarious; Kilgrave’s moral compass is so screwed up that he completely misunderstands the purpose of heroism. Jessica Jones smartly relegates its exploration of antiheroes to secondary characters, Jeri and Will.
- What’s up with Will’s accent? I have no idea what his portrayer, Wil Traval, is doing. Fellow Australians Rachael Taylor (playing Trish) and Eka Darville (playing Malcolm) acquit themselves nicely. Why is Traval’s American accent so weird?
- I want to see a second season. I don’t just want to know what’s going on with IGH; I also want to spend more time with these characters. Jessica, Trish, and Jeri are fascinating people, and I want to see how they continue to develop.
Jessica Jones really is something special, and you owe it to yourself to check it out. I’ll probably rewatch it at some point in the future to revisit what I might have missed.