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In a comparison between the two giants of comic book entertainment, I’ve seen it stated that DC presents stories of gods and demigods – myths for modern time – while Marvel presents stories of human beings who happen to have powers. If any recent storyline presents that latter concept well it has to be the Netflix series, “Jessica Jones.”
In fact, “Jessica Jones” is a very human story. Super-powered beings are integral to the tale, but initially the powers seem to be incidental to the characters. It takes some time for any powers to be used in earnest and in all honesty I think it does the series well. By using a slow burn, we get time to learn about the players in this tale. The powers don’t distract us from who these people are and what’s going on at the first.
Krysten Ritter plays the title character. She is a private investigator working in Hell’s Kitchen (a familiar location for those who saw “Daredevil”) in a dingy little office that is also her apartment. Ritter is a waif of a person, which contrasts well with her character’s super strength and attitude. Occasionally she does a job or two for attorney Jeri Hogarth (played by Carrie-Anne Moss). A nice, wholesome Midwestern couple approaches Jones in the first episode. She was recommended to them and they need Jones to help them find their missing daughter, Hope.
Jessica takes the case, but quickly finds that elements of the case feel all too familiar. Hope has been taken by a man from Jessica’s past, Kilgrave (played by David Tennant of Doctor Who fame). Kilgrave is a rather chilling antagonist as he has mind control. Tennant plays this well. Kilgrave tosses out commands casually, with barely a thought. He’s sociopathic and narcissistic, but yet the show avoids making these traits cartoonish. By the end of the first episode, Hope, compelled to kill her parents, is looking at murder charges, and Jessica is faces a decision: flee from this man or face him.
The choices in this series: to keep it fairly human and to avoid comic book caricature is important. The show is truly about dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. Jones was manipulated, controlled, and essentially raped by Kilgrave. Like a typical narcissist, Kilgrave cannot admit his own culpability, even knowing he has complete control over his victims. Jones must overcome her fear and her guilt over what has happened in the past and what happens now as Kilgrave pursues her in his own twisted way. So though this series takes place in a comic book universe, it does not have a comic book feel to it. This is a redemption tale for Jones, and for that it is very satisfying.
There are no wasted characters in “Jessica Jones.” Eka Darville plays Malcolm Ducasse, Jones junkie neighbor who at first appears to be comic relief, but soon proves to be important to the story. The plot is consistently like that. Someone who seems like a throwaway character turns out to be integral to our story. The side dramas are minimal and generally become part of the main story. It makes these incidental stories very satisfying. When we ask, “Why do we have to go through Hogarth’s messy divorce?” the show dutifully answers.
Something I also appreciate is that the pacing isn’t frenetic. They give you time to think about the story and characters. If this were a typical superhero story, it might come off as forced, but the PTSD theme demands a more thoughtful approach, I would think. Not everyone likes a story at this pace, but I find it refreshing as it is done well.
“Jessica Jones” is a Netflix exclusive. Like its cousin “Daredevil,” it is darker and more graphic than other comic-inspired shows have been. Jessica is not quite as bloody, though it has a few very startling scenes toward the end. Still, if that doesn’t bother you, I highly recommend this series. The story and characters are strong, and I found the ending satisfying.