Small Screen Review: “Jessica Jones”

 

jjIn 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.

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  1. Larry Koler Inactive
    Larry Koler
    @LarryKoler

    Well, I looked at it the other day and couldn’t find the interest at first blush (5 mins. in). I’ll do what’s fair and go through a couple episodes and see if I change my mind. Thanks for the nice writeup.

    I love Krysten Ritter. Have you seen her in “Refuge”? She’s really excellent. Great little heart-warming movie.

    • #1
  2. C. U. Douglas Thatcher
    C. U. Douglas
    @CUDouglas

    I think by the end of episode 2, it’s enough to decide whether you’re all in or not. It grabbed my attention episode 1, and I wanted to finish by 2.

    Ritter is great, and she pulls off a few subtle expressions here and there that seem to say everything.

    • #2
  3. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    I finished it last week; very fine series. More ambitious than DareDevil, but also more underplayed (and also lacking the former’s weird anachronisms).

    • #3
  4. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Excellent show.  Very dark.  Just be prepared for it going in.

    • #4
  5. C. U. Douglas Thatcher
    C. U. Douglas
    @CUDouglas

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:I finished it last week; very fine series. More ambitious than DareDevil, but also more underplayed (and also lacking the former’s weird anachronisms).

    It’s one of the reasons I like it. They take a lot of chances with Jessica Jones, and do it well. There’s even room to continue if they want (though I’m not sure how they’d top this season).

    Note: I liked the nice little hat tip to DareDevil.

    • #5
  6. C. U. Douglas Thatcher
    C. U. Douglas
    @CUDouglas

    Side note: I think one of the strengths of the Netflix exclusives DareDevil and Jessica Jones is that they aren’t wed to Network season structure. There’s no need for 20+ episodes. That means there’s less story padding and far less filler. This strengthens Jessica Jones, I believe, because that makes the storytelling purposeful. There’s very little filler even in each episode.

    • #6
  7. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    C. U. Douglas: Side note: I think one of the strengths of the Netflix exclusives DareDevil and Jessica Jones is that they aren’t wed to Network season structure. There’s no need for 20+ episodes. That means there’s less story padding and far less filler. This strengthens Jessica Jones, I believe, because that makes the storytelling purposeful. There’s very little filler even in each episode.

    Absolutely agreed. The 20+ model is just an unwieldy amount of content. It’s no surprise that those networks that can get away from it have. Can you imagine how compromised Breaking Bad or The Wire would have been if they’d been forced to be twice as long?

    • #7
  8. C. U. Douglas Thatcher
    C. U. Douglas
    @CUDouglas

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    C. U. Douglas: Side note: I think one of the strengths of the Netflix exclusives DareDevil and Jessica Jones is that they aren’t wed to Network season structure. There’s no need for 20+ episodes. That means there’s less story padding and far less filler. This strengthens Jessica Jones, I believe, because that makes the storytelling purposeful. There’s very little filler even in each episode.

    Absolutely agreed. The 20+ model is just an unwieldy amount of content. It’s no surprise that those networks that can get away from it have. Can you imagine how compromised Breaking Bad or The Wire would have been if they’d been forced to be twice as long?

    Interestingly, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” was improved when they put “Agent Carter” mid-season, creating three mini-seasons instead of one long, padded season.

    • #8
  9. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    C. U. Douglas:Side note: I think one of the strengths of the Netflix exclusives DareDevil and Jessica Jones is that they aren’t wed to Network season structure. There’s no need for 20+ episodes. That means there’s less story padding and far less filler. This strengthens Jessica Jones, I believe, because that makes the storytelling purposeful. There’s very little filler even in each episode.

    Yes and no.  I don’t think the number of episodes is the key.  I think the key is that Netflix doesn’t meddle heavily in the creator’s visions for the shows.

    I would have preferred a slower build for Jessica Jones, where she is working on other cases and you learn of her PTSD under the assumption that Kilgrave is dead.

    The reason they didn’t is likely because they wanted to make sure to hook people in the very first episode.

    • #9
  10. C. U. Douglas Thatcher
    C. U. Douglas
    @CUDouglas

    I liked the slow pace of the show, and though I can see a slow build doing it well, I again appreciate the way things tie together organically. The tie-ins don’t feel forced. More storyline would either have more throwaway moments or characters, and if they tied in to the main story it would start to look more and more forced with each addition.

    I do agree that Netflix being hands-off is a major boon to the quality of its exclusive offerings.

    • #10
  11. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    I loved Jessica Jones, in fact I think its the second best production in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Guardians of the Galaxy being my favorite). I found this series to be hands down better than Daredevil, mostly thanks to the personal nature of the bad guy. While the Kingpin is a classic Daredevil villain, the nature of their conflict is really not that interesting and really fairly impersonal, while Kilgrave’s obsession with Jones makes it a very personal and intense relationship. I also think one of the great aspect of Jessica Jones is that the character is so obscure that there are no preconceptions about it to bog one down when going in to the show.

    So far the Netflix franchise is really impressing me. I can’t wait for Luke Cage (who was awesome on Jessica Jones) and Iron Fist.

    • #11
  12. Drusus Inactive
    Drusus
    @Drusus

    I’m surprised to be in the position of disagreeing with so many that I normally find common ground with, but I thought this series was awful. I couldn’t enjoy the plot elements simply because I was so distracted by the laughably bad dialogue and the contrived “bad-ass-ness” of the eponymous Jessica Jones.

    • #12
  13. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Look, I really liked the show.  I liked Jessica.  I liked Luke.  And as a 40-years ago little kid who was a comic book nerd: I liked that Luke, at some point, was going to get into a scrap whilst allied with a kid named Danny Rand.

    That said, a lot of the plot falls apart, a lot of the pain and angst is alleviated, a lot of the perils civilians suffer in the presence of Kilgrave all evaporates with one word, said word writers should’ve dealt with so that guys like me are not frothing at the mouth and yelling at the TV:

    Sniper.

    • #13
  14. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Drusus:I’m surprised to be in the position of disagreeing with so many that I normally find common ground with, but I thought this series was awful. I couldn’t enjoy the plot elements simply because I was so distracted by the laughably bad dialogue and the contrived “bad-ass-ness” of the eponymous Jessica Jones.

    Wow.  I’ve never seen you this wrong.

    • #14
  15. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Boss Mongo:Look, I really liked the show. I liked Jessica. I liked Luke. And as a 40-years ago little kid who was a comic book nerd: I liked that Luke, at some point, was going to get into a scrap whilst allied with a kid named Danny Rand.

    That said, a lot of the plot falls apart, a lot of the pain and angst is alleviated, a lot of the perils civilians suffer in the presence of Kilgrave all evaporates with one word, said word writers should’ve dealt with so that guys like me are not frothing at the mouth and yelling at the TV:

    Sniper.

    This was dealt with.  There is a concrete reason why this doesn’t happen for most of the show.  Once it is an option, there is no one available with said skills.

    • #15
  16. Drusus Inactive
    Drusus
    @Drusus

    Frank Soto:

    Drusus:I’m surprised to be in the position of disagreeing with so many that I normally find common ground with, but I thought this series was awful. I couldn’t enjoy the plot elements simply because I was so distracted by the laughably bad dialogue and the contrived “bad-ass-ness” of the eponymous Jessica Jones.

    Wow. I’ve never seen you this wrong.

    Ha! Hey look, I’m willing to be convinced of my wrongness. It’s just that my wife and I made it through the first three episodes by pretending we were the robots on Mystery Science Theater. By the fourth episode, the schtick was old and we gave up.

    • #16
  17. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    I’ve got mixed opinions on this show.  I like the writing, the acting, the directing, and the camera work.  But my goodness it’s bloody.  The casual cruelty of Kilgrave and the self-inflicted wounds and deaths make it harder for me to watch than Daredevil.  Still, I managed to cringe my way through the first nine episodes, since the plot was really building up well.

    It was Episode 10 that made me stop.  Without giving the plot away, the extra bloodiness grossed me out more than usual, the ending frustrated me too much, and the compromising of several characters seemed too complete.  Reluctantly, I’ve given it up.

    But I’m looking forward to the next season of Daredevil and The Man in the High Castle (I know—not a comic book show, but it’s an online exclusive series).

    • #17
  18. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    P.S:  Tennant is fantastic as Kilgrave.  The fact that he plays the character as an occasionally pleasant-seeming and likable man makes him all the more frightening.  I want to like him, when he’s not making people torture or kill themselves.  Even when he’s doing something cruel, he’s often playing a “normal” man.

    Eerie.

    • #18
  19. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Frank Soto: This was dealt with. There is a concrete reason why this doesn’t happen for most of the show. Once it is an option, there is no one available with said skills.

    I recall wondering this at times myself. Spoil it for us?

    (Use “#####Spoilers######” at the top of the post.)

    • #19
  20. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Frank Soto:

    Boss Mongo:

    That said, a lot of the plot falls apart, a lot of the pain and angst is alleviated, a lot of the perils civilians suffer in the presence of Kilgrave all evaporates with one word, said word writers should’ve dealt with so that guys like me are not frothing at the mouth and yelling at the TV:

    Sniper.

    This was dealt with. There is a concrete reason why this doesn’t happen for most of the show. Once it is an option, there is no one available with said skills.

    Wait, what?  So, super-soldier dude couldn’t make a distance shot?  Doesn’t know a guy nearby that can’t make a distance shot? He got hold of some SpecOps paisons pretty easy when he needed to, if I recall.

    And, I kind of simplified.  You’re in an urban environment.  You know where Kilgrave will be at a given time every day.  You can erase the fella at 75-100 metres, with nothing but an AR and reasonable (not deluxe) optics.  Hell, no need to even calc windage at that range.

    There might’ve been somewhere where they dealt with that and I missed it, but okay, forget sniper.  Talk hand gun.  Across the street, two stories up, Colt Python .357.  Done and done.

    • #20
  21. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Boss Mongo: Wait, what? So, super-soldier dude couldn’t make a distance shot? Doesn’t know a guy nearby that can’t make a distance shot? He got hold of some SpecOps paisons pretty easy when he needed to, if I recall.

    Did you even watch the show?

    • #21
  22. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto
    Spoilers######

    Simpson explicitly calls for sniping him in episode 5.  Jessica needs Kilgrave alive to prove Hope is innocent, and refuses this option.

    This is a massive part of the storyline.  People continue to get hurt because Jessica has opportunities to kill him, but doesn’t because she is damning Hope if she does.  This is why Hope killing herself is such an amazing moment.

    It simultaneously frees them to do what needs to be done, and renders all of the previous sacrifices meaningless.  It’s a fantastic emotional moment.

    Hope kills herself in episode 10, at which point Simpson isn’t one of the good guys anymore.  Once Jessica gets an opportunity she snaps Kilgrave’s neck.

    Between Kilgrave’s constant use of suicide distractions to escape, and Hope’s presence in the first 10 episodes, Jessica’s hands are tied.

    • #22
  23. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Frank Soto:

    Did you even watch the show?

    Yeah, I did.  And your explication in the #22 goes a long way toward revising my opinion downward of the moral compass of the series.  Full disclosure: there’s lots of times I come home, ice whatever’s hurting, and watch what I hope will be a good show while I get as drunk as I can as quick as I can, so I can go to bed and still be on the mats the next morning at 0600.

    I loved Hope.  Hope broke my heart.  But to avoid ENDEXing Kilgrave on the off chance that somehow, given his powers, JJ will be able to exonerate Hope reduces JJ as a hero in my estimation.  There are a thousand actions that could help Hope later.  But Kilgrave is a malignant POS that needs to go.  Hope can be handled later, administratively, legally, judicially.  And that sucks, but look at Kilgrave.

    You’re right.  And that was right there on the show, so I understand your disappointment at my failure to see that.  Just the way my brain works.  Look at what Hope had to do to get JJ to do what she should have done from the outset–and again, after that: Sniper.

    • #23
  24. Whiskey Sam Inactive
    Whiskey Sam
    @WhiskeySam

    Drusus:I’m surprised to be in the position of disagreeing with so many that I normally find common ground with, but I thought this series was awful. I couldn’t enjoy the plot elements simply because I was so distracted by the laughably bad dialogue and the contrived “bad-ass-ness” of the eponymous Jessica Jones.

    This is more where I am.  I enjoyed Cage, but I found her so obnoxious I was pulling for Kilgrave by the midpoint of the series.  The deus ex machina ending was a bit much to swallow.  I found Daredevil much more enjoyable.

    • #24
  25. Big John Member
    Big John
    @AllanRutter

    I like my detective fiction fairly dark, but something about the pacing of the show, the characters, all made the whole thing too dark for me to watch (and I like “River” which is just as slow as “Wallender” but much less whiny).

    • #25
  26. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Whiskey Sam: The deus ex machina ending was a bit much to swallow.

    Care to explain that?

    • #26
  27. Whiskey Sam Inactive
    Whiskey Sam
    @WhiskeySam

    Frank Soto:

    Whiskey Sam: The deus ex machina ending was a bit much to swallow.

    Care to explain that?

    **********SPOILERS***********

    Far enough down?

    Kilgrave can control anyone’s mind until he suddenly can’t control JJ for some inexplicable reason (mainly they had no other way for him to be defeated since they out of hand dismissed someone shooting him).

    Edit: This forced formatting sucks.  You can’t add space to prevent spoilers from being readily seen without it being removed unless you jump through technical hoops.

    • #27
  28. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto
    ######Spoilers######

    Whiskey Sam: Kilgrave can control anyone’s mind until he suddenly can’t control JJ for some inexplicable reason (mainly they had no other way for him to be defeated since they out of hand dismissed someone shooting him).

    That’s not Deus Ex Machina.

    They established he couldn’t control her any longer in episode 8 or 9, after hinting at it in a few places before that.  They don’t dig into the reason, as it isn’t crucial to what’s happening.  What we see in episode 1 during a flashback is that when he made her kill that woman, she snapped out of his control.

    He explicitly tells her to “come back here”, and she doesn’t.  This why Kilgrave knows throughout the whole show that he can no longer control her.  He specifically calls her slow on the uptake because she didn’t realize it sooner.

    What matters for the ending is whether or not Super charged Kilgrave has become powerful enough to overcome JJ’s resistance. Everything that happens in the ending was setup earlier in the show, and makes sense in the context of the story.

    That doesn’t mean you should like it, but it isn’t Deus Ex machina.

    • #28
  29. Whiskey Sam Inactive
    Whiskey Sam
    @WhiskeySam

    Frank Soto:

    ######Spoilers######

    Whiskey Sam: Kilgrave can control anyone’s mind until he suddenly can’t control JJ for some inexplicable reason (mainly they had no other way for him to be defeated since they out of hand dismissed someone shooting him).

    That’s not Deus Ex Machina.

    They established he couldn’t control her any longer in episode 8 or 9, after hinting at it in a few places before that. They don’t dig into the reason, as it isn’t crucial to what’s happening. What we see in episode 1 during a flashback is that when he made her kill that woman, she snapped out of his control.

    He explicitly tells her to “come back here”, and she doesn’t. This why Kilgrave knows throughout the whole show that he can no longer control her. He specifically calls her slow on the uptake because she didn’t realize it sooner.

    What matters for the ending is whether or not Super charged Kilgrave has become powerful enough to overcome JJ’s resistance. Everything that happens in the ending was setup earlier in the show, and makes sense in the context of the story.

    That doesn’t mean you should like it, but it isn’t Deus Ex machina.

    It’s absolutely a deus ex machina.  He makes all sorts of people do all sorts of things they don’t want to do without losing control of them, and then suddenly it doesn’t work on her for no reason?  That’s a major contrivance.  Kilgrave was otherwise unstoppable without them writing in, “Oh except on her just because so she has a way to defeat him”.

    • #29
  30. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    Whiskey Sam: It’s absolutely a deus ex machina. He makes all sorts of people do all sorts of things they don’t want to do without losing control of them, and then suddenly it doesn’t work on her for no reason? That’s a major contrivance. Kilgrave was otherwise unstoppable without them writing in, “Oh except on her just because so she has a way to defeat him”.

    It doesn’t appear at the ending to save everyone, it is established in the middle of the story, and hinted at earlier than that.  If you find limits to powers implausible, why not the powers themselves?

    I know why she is resistant to his power (she was under his control for far longer than anyone else as he grows bored with people quickly, and developed a resistance to the virus that drives his power) but the reason isn’t any more important than why she has super-strength, or why Kilgrave can control people.

    • #30

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