Jessica Jones had a very unenviable task in following up the outstanding Daredevil, which received universal acclaim. The bar had been set very high for future Netflix superhero shows from Marvel Studios. Does Jessica Jones meet the high standards of its predecessor? After nearly 13 hours of binge-watching season one of Jessica Jones, my verdict is…Not quite! It’s very good but it’s no Daredevil. Let’s delve into the show, but be warned…SPOILERS ahead!
You have to give credit to Marvel for choosing a somewhat obscure character for their second Netflix show. Whereas Daredevil is a long established Marvel property with a feature film on his resume, Jessica Jones is a later addition to the Marvel ranks and does not have the mainstream recognition that characters like Spider-Man, Captain America or Daredevil have. So it was a rather daring move to put her in the spotlight on a show that had to continue the momentum of Daredevil. Conventional logic would say to use the more well-known Luke Cage in the second slot, but Marvel went a different route. To a large extent, it pays off. Jessica jones makes for an interesting heroine.
Krysten Ritter has the starring role of Jessica, and she turns in an extremely strong lead performance. The character of Jessica Jones—a former super hero turned private detective—is a rude, bitter, emotionally damaged mess, suffering from post-traumatic stress after being psychologically tortured for months by her arch enemy. From that description alone, we can see that Jessica is a very complex character. Ritter is terrific at capturing Jessica’s many psychological issues. This is a character who is possibly even more emotionally screwed-up than Batman. Since it’s a characters flaws that make them interesting, Ritter has a lot of work with here, and she handles it impressively. And while you may often want to smack Jessica for being such an unlikable punk, Ritter still makes her somehow likable.
A good hero needs a good villain and we get one of the best that Marvel has yet delivered in the form of the cunning Kilgrave. Known in the comics as the Purple Man, Kilgrave is not purple here (a small quibble I have with the show) but he has the same mind control powers and uses them to torture poor Jessica for months, just as he did in the comic continuity. Kilgrave is wonderfully played by David Tennant, best known as the tenth incarnation of that Time Lord hero in Doctor Who. Tennant is both chilling and charming as Kilgrave, who matches Fisk/Kingpin in villainy and complexity. He’s on par with Loki in the pantheon of best bad guys in the Marvel Studios line-up. This is David Tennant’s best performance since Broadchurch.
What’s most interesting about Kilgrave is that he is not portrayed as being truly evil; but rather as someone who has no concept of the difference between good and evil. His backstory explains why he is totally amoral, with no empathy. He just does whatever he wants to do and takes whatever he wants to take without any thought of the social repercussions or the suffering of others. The life of another person means absolutely nothing to him….he is like a child who just wants things and doesn’t care if he has to do something naughty to get it. He wants what he wants and his mind control power allows him to get away with it! At times, he seems almost sympathetic, despite his cruelty. Best of all, he’s one of those bad guys who makes you ask yourself “Could I resist abusing a power like that if I had it?”
The entire focus of the first season revolves around the relationship between Jessica and Kilgrave. While we’ve all seen the obsessed Stalker storyline before, Kilgrave’s mind control power puts a new spin on the old plot, because he was able to literally make his obsession into his personal toy for months and now he wants his toy back. Kilgrave’s cruel mind games are insane attempts to seduce Jessica, and throughout the season, it often plays out like the Hannibal Lecter/Clarice Starling relationship from Silence of the Lambs.
There are a lot of supporting characters floating around during season one; most notably Luke Cage, played by the likable and handsome Mike Colter. Much of the first season is devoted to the romance between Jessica and Luke, which will no doubt ultimately play out in the Defenders. Luke’s storyline also sets up his own solo series, coming in 2016. Luke’s presence here is both good and bad. On one hand, he’s one of the best characters in the show and he has good chemistry with Ritter. On the other hand, reducing such a popular character to a sidekick for a less popular one seems like a strange choice. Having Luke spend the final episodes as a pawn of Kilgrave makes him look like a liability, not a guy you want to see starring in his own show. It reminds me of the complaints that Jeremy Renner had about playing Hawkeye as a zombie servant for Loki in the Avengers. It would have been better for him to have only appeared in the early episodes where the secret past connection between Luke and Jessica is revealed, but not come back for the final few, where he seemed shoehorned in just because they wanted to promote Colter more heavily to help launch the Luke Cage solo series.
Among the other characters and subplots are Jessica’s all-too perfect, beautiful sister Trish “Patsy” Walker (we don’t know if she’ll become the Hellcat in the second season, as she did in the comics, although she wasn’t Jessica’s sister there), and her love interest, a police officer named Will Simpson (Wil Traval), who starts off as a pawn of Kilgrave, and goes through a strange story arc during the rest of the season. Actually, there are a few too many dangling storylines competing for screen time here. One concerns cold-as-ice lawyer Jeryn Hogarth, played by Carrie Ann Moss, who remains just as deadpan and expressionless as she was in the Matrix trilogy. The plot concerning her lesbian love triangle takes up a lot of time but only superficially connects to the story, skirting around the fringes of the season.
Other unnecessary subplots concern a support group for people who had been mind-controlled by Kilgrave, which could have been funny but instead turns into an intrusive interference in the later part of the main Jessica/Kilgrave storyline. Also, the bizarre story arc with officer Simpson being given pills by some mysterious organization with gives him super powers and makes him turn bad is odd and silly. We also get a subplot about Jessica’s weird upstairs neighbors that could easily have been omitted. I won’t even go into Jessica’s family drama with her stepmother.
The show is firmly entrenched in the MCU. There are a lot of references to the Avengers, and a direct connection to Daredevil in the form of ER nurse Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson). And of course, this sets up the Luke Cage series and the Defenders.
This is a very good first season. I’d like to say it matches the excellence of Daredevil but that would not be the truth. The main story and the dynamic between Jessica and Kilgrave is excellent but it’s the multiple subplots—most of which add nothing to the main story—that drag the show down a few notches. Overall, this is a good follow-up to Daredevil, despite not being it’s equal. It’s actually better than Agents of SHIELD or Agent Carter.
Rating: 8 out of 10.