Binge 'n' Purge - Marvel's Jessica Jones
And with that small exchange, that’s as close to an origin for the powers of both Jessica Jones and Luke Cage in Marvel’s newest Netflix series, Jessica Jones. That’s just fine with me. With Marvel’s stated intent that their TV shows tie in to their cinematic universe, do we really need origin after origin? Instead, we start ‘in medias res’ and that’s fine. We’ve already established a world where the Avengers exist and by accepting the central conceit that yes, in this world superpowers are a thing, we don’t necessarily have to indulge the origin trope every time a new hero takes the stage.
That’s not to say that Jessica doesn’t get a backstory. Oh, no…that’s the very core of the plot; how she and her gifts were exploited by Kilgrave, a man with the ability to control people’s minds and actions with his very words. Okay, and presence, since he at least has to be in the room with you…it doesn’t work over the phone. Anyway, Jessica proves to be probably the most flawed hero Marvel has presented us with to date…and given the depiction of Daredevil in the previous Marvel/Netflix series, that’s REALLY saying something.
On that note, let me just interject something here. With first Daredevil and now Jessica Jones, Marvel’s Netflix series have been almost universally praised. Hell, I certainly love ‘em. But that’s just it…these two series are run by Marvel’s TV division, spearheaded by Jeph Loeb. With these two series being so great, I have to ask, why does Marvel’s first TV outing, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. suck soooooo bad? When I watch Daredevil and then Jessica Jones, I get the same vibes as I get when I watch long-standing TV champion DC’s series Arrow, Flash and Supergirl. I tried Agents out for a season and a half and…no. It just pissed me off too much. [Now, now, it’s not all golden with DC either. Gotham, I’m looking at you. – Ed.]
Mini-rant aside, fans of Daredevil will find much to appreciate here as well, including an appearance from Rosario Dawson to help tie things together. And while I certainly didn’t miss it while watching the series (in fact, it really only came to mind as I was writing this review), I’m kinda surprised there weren’t more mentions of the Hell’s Kitchen vigilante in the background. The darker tones and mature subject matter certainly carry over. For me to say, well, yeah, this series deals with PTSD doesn’t really cut it. An invisible internet troll [Who has better things to do that read this site. Seriously, what does that tell you? We don’t even have trolls!!! – Ed.] would say “yeah, well so did Iron Man 3”. Yeah, Tony Stark had a mild case that was apparently cured by a pep-talk from a bullied ‘tween. Jessica has PT-fucking-SD. Yeah, that’s totally in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Go ahead. Look it up. Sure, far more detail oriented reviews and far more qualified people to speak on the subject can go into much greater depth on this topic than I can, but as you progress from episode to episode and as Kilgrave ups his game more and more, the sheer level of mind-fucking [That a technical term too? – Ed.] becomes staggering after a while. Look, I’m no expert, but by midway through the season…just…woah. That’s messed up. You’ll know it when you get to it.
As with any scripted drama, you can have the best writing in the world, but if your actors don’t sell it, it can still end up crap. No worries here though. Having never watched anything with Krysten Ritter before, well, she was an unknown quantity. That, combined with how little I knew of the character of Jessica Jones from the comics (aside from the fact that she took it up the backside from Luke Cage…consensually, I think…no, seriously, go look it up…and the only reason I knew that is because, surprise, the internet tends to fixate on that sort of thing. Shocking, I know…) [What did I tell you about sarcasm in text? – Ed.], well, there were a lot of questions leading into this series. I shouldn’t have worried, and neither should you. Krysten perfectly balances a person that is both strong and fragile, both mentally and physically, in such a way that there are no moments in this series that somehow take you out of the narrative allowing your brain to question what’s happening. And that’s storytelling at its finest. They say a hero is only as good as their villain, and holy shit does David Tennant’s Killgrave fill the bill. While the Purple Man, AKA Kilgrave, was a character I was aware of, it wasn’t one I knew well (granted, I did know him better than Jessica…so there’s that). I recall there was an episode of the much-beloved/cancelled-too-soon-for-no-good-goddamn-reason Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes cartoon where he took on the team and nearly won. Stop and think about that for a second. He went toe to toe (or maybe ‘brain to toe’?) with the Avengers…and here he is against Jessica Jones (followed by “who?” in your mind, right?). And the things he does to this poor girl are just…damn….Tennant just nails it. Now, granted, I gotta admit a certain joy at seeing actors who’re previously known for their turn as a hero (in this instance, the 10th Doctor) go all villain on us. That’s the thing that makes this such a good performance, maybe it’s leftover from his turn as The Doctor, but there is a certain charm that emits from Tennant that you almost want to like Kilgrave, hell, you almost do find yourself sympathizing just a bit…then he just as quickly commits a colossal dick move that will leave you agape. Rounding out the cast are vengeful cop/former Kilgrave victim with a dark, shadowy past, Simpson, played by Wil Traval who goes from potential hero to dickhead villain though the span of the first season, Rachael Taylor as Patsy (now Trish) Walker, Jessica’s best friend/adopted sister who certainly looks like she’s headed toward her comic Hellcat identity…maybe in season 2, and next up on the Marvel/Netflix list, Mike Colter as Luke Cage who was always a welcome sight and I’m looking forward to what they do with him in his own series.
Just as they didn’t shy away from darker themes, they also didn’t shy away from darker visuals, as we see our fair share of cuts, blood, deaths and more deaths. Perhaps before writing this review, maybe I should’ve done a death count…because I’d wager that there’s at least 1 death per episode.
As season 1 of this show concludes, the arc with Kilgrave meets its conclusion (probably in the only way it could) and there’s set up for season 2, which looks like we might get a bit more of the traditional origin story. And that’s fine. As I said in the beginning, to shake up what has become the standard superhero story by skipping over the origin and heading right into the good stuff, that really worked well here. To wrap up, don’t let any lack of knowledge of this character keep you from watching the show. Don’t let the lack of any notable Marvel names keep you from watching this show. Hell, don’t let ANYTHING keep you from watching this show. Jessica Jones shows that even though the Marvel name is attached and there are people with superpowers involved, comic book properties are capable of a hell of a lot more depth than the spectacles we see in the theaters every few months.
Just to test and see if I’ve got any Kilgrave in me, I’ll simply say this: if you don’t watch this series, pick up the nearest sharp object and stab your eyes out. You don’t deserve them.
[Nuking The Cat is not responsible if this actually works. Seriously, no stabbing. What the hell, man. – Ed.]
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