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. Whiskey Sam Inactive
    Whiskey Sam
    @WhiskeySam

    Frank Soto:

    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.

    Again, that’s completely contrived.  It’s suddenly just a virus which she just suddenly developed an immunity to.  It doesn’t matter that it was in the past and just now realized.  There’s no reason for her and only her to just magically be immune to him when she needs a way to defeat him.  His parents were with him much longer than she was, and they’re still susceptible to him so it’s not exposure or him making them do something horrific, it’s just because the writers needed an out.  Kilgrave conceptually was way too overpowered for anyone to defeat (once they just pretended he couldn’t be shot for some reason), and they wrote themselves into a corner.  The only reason Jones was able to resist him in the comics was Jean Grey putting a mental block in her head preventing Kilgrave from affecting her.  That at least gave an explanation for how she could defeat him.

    • #31
  2. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    I’ll probably finish it, but after three episodes I didn’t feel yanked into the story and characters the way I did with “Daredevil.” As noted by Drusis (I think) there was the feeling, perhaps unwarranted, that I was expected to cheer the Badass Female Who Can Punch Men For Great Justice. She just seemed like a miserable person whose glowering persona was supposed to make me think she was deep ‘n’ dark and stuff.  Add B-minus grade Marlowe-style interior dialogues grafted on to someone who looks like a junior at a Manhattan design school, and it just didn’t click.

    Note: if you liked it, I’m glad you liked it, and won’t argue. Doesn’t mean  either of us is wrong, unless of course you insist that it does. ;)

    • #32
  3. Judith Levy Contributor
    Judith Levy
    @judithlevy

    I loved the show, but there’s one plot element that’s been bugging me. Maybe one of you can explain it.

    * * * Spoilers * * *

    Kilgrave’s powers over people’s minds apparently wear off after a certain period of time (I’m talking about specific commands, not long-term development of some kind of resistance.) This is referenced in the (amazing) scene where Jessica and Kilgrave recount their entirely different recollections of the same incident (the time she kissed him [or didn’t] in the yellow dress) — he tells her that he timed her and knew that the critical number of minutes had passed, meaning that she was kissing him out of her own desire. This wearing-off quality is referenced again in the whole business with Kilgrave’s father — Jessica ties his hands behind his back to stop him from following Kilgrave’s order to kill himself, but then the order wears off, and his hands can be safely untied. But this point seems to be contradicted elsewhere in the story, doesn’t it? Remember the unlucky kid who came out of the club behind Kilgrave toward the end of the series, whom Kilgrave orders to cross the street and stand facing the fence — forever? That was one of the most chilling, unsettling moments in the whole series for me — until I thought wait a minute, isn’t this order going to wear off?

    Maybe I’m missing something, but this wearing-off thing seems to significantly undermine Kilgrave’s awfulness. (I hate to quibble, because he’s one of the most frightening villains I’ve ever seen. I rate him right up there with Heath Ledger’s Joker.)

    • #33
  4. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    What is the attraction of all these new super heroes?  Does it not foster the notion that there are people who are so good, so able that they can fix our problems.   In reality, they’d be super villains as their powers would make them unaccountable.  I find real heroes far more interesting and inspiring.  What can a super person inspire?

    • #34
  5. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

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

    Thank you.

    • #35
  6. Larry3435 Member
    Larry3435
    @Larry3435

    Those who are still reading this thread should know by now:  SPOILERS.

    JJ’s desire to save Hope, and to unmask Kilgrave, are only part of the issue.  Even aside from those points, JJ is struggling with the fact that she really doesn’t want to be a killer.  It is the baby Hitler problem, and it is a theme in both Marvel and DC comics.  How many times has Superman been hamstrung by the fact that his code prohibits him from killing?

    I take the message of this series as being, in part, that fighting evil sometimes requires killing.  In a sense, the whole series was about JJ’s journey in reaching the point where she was capable of killing.  And about whether she would get there in time.  You never knew, until the last 5 minutes, whether she would make it.

    • #36
  7. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Larry3435: I take the message of this series as being, in part, that fighting evil sometimes requires killing. In a sense, the whole series was about JJ’s journey in reaching the point where she was capable of killing. And about whether she would get there in time. You never knew, until the last 5 minutes, whether she would make it.

    Agreed. I was impressed when they actually let her kill him and was willing to say “No, Killgrave is just too irredeemable and/or dangerous to leave alive.”

    • #37
  8. Bill Walsh Member
    Bill Walsh
    @BillWalsh

    I would make the slight observation that, while about overcoming PTSD and so forth, the specific problem Jessica has is that she has the world’s worst control-freak, stalker ex. He’s charming, (supernaturally) manipulative, etc., and he’s convinced she’s the love of his life.

    A huge amount of her character arc is overcoming and dealing not only with the trauma of having been his mind-controlled girlfriend, but dealing with him in the present, which it eventually becomes clear, is inevitable, as his machinations prove aimed at getting her back and fulfilling his sociopathic romantic fantasy.

    This is the central hinge of the story. She needs to be mentally free of him, and when she finally is, she can be rid of him. She can actually consider a life that’s entirely hers. Otherwise, her body and mind are constantly under the threat of being possessed by a will not her own.

    There’s a little feminist window-dressing to this. In Kilgrave’s compelling characters to smile at him, you hear Jezebel writers’ complaint that men on the street tell them, “Hey, you’re pretty and the sun is out, smile, darlin’!” (and that said men should be sent to the Hague in irons). But the fact remains that his ability to elicit what should be a spontaneous expression of joy or pleasure at a command is flatly chilling.

    So I think Jessica Jones distinguishes itself in exploration of what is primarily a woman’s problem, taken to eleven by the supernatural elements of the genre.

    For my tastes, it was nice that until fairly late in the series, the brain-thumpingly stupid clichés of superhero lit (People punch each other forever to no effect! What would happen if two good guys fought each other! A scientist will figure out how to stop the bad guy!) are mostly not present. As people have noted, it plays more like a B-movie noir crossed with The X-Files. Which worked for me.

    Overall, I’d recommend it. Krysten Ritter’s performance starts off a little one-note, but it becomes clear that this is a function of the character’s broken personality, and as events snowball, she becomes more multifaceted. David Tennant is just terrific as a narcissistic creep who has godlike powers but no particular ambitions other than to get Jessica to buy into his loony conception of their relationship. The supporting cast is strong, even if, as in most noir fiction, the characters are largely broken or wicked.

    If you can tolerate super stuff and like films noirs, or if you like super stuff and can tolerate films noirs, I think you’ll like Jessica Jones, which sits at the corner of the two genres.

    • #38
  9. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Bill Walsh: For my tastes, it was nice that until fairly late in the series, the brain-thumpingly stupid clichés of superhero lit (People punch each other forever to no effect! What would happen if two good guys fought each other!

    Yes. As others have noted, the fact that Jessica gets injured and is a fairly unaccomplished fighter (who happens to be incredibly strong) were very nice touches.

    Judith Levy: Remember the unlucky kid who came out of the club behind Kilgrave toward the end of the series, whom Kilgrave orders to cross the street and stand facing the fence — forever?

    Yes, indeed. That and when he told Simpson to leave and then — without even bothering to look away from the TV — pointed to the balcony and said “No, that door, officer.”

    • #39
  10. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    #####SPOILER######

    Judith Levy: Maybe I’m missing something, but this wearing-off thing seems to significantly undermine Kilgrave’s awfulness. (I hate to quibble, because he’s one of the most frightening villains I’ve ever seen. I rate him right up there with Heath Ledger’s Joker.)

    Personally, I don’t see it as underminng Kilgrave’s awfulness.  Given the “Kilgrave Anonymous” club that forms in the series, the fact that it wears off seems to leave a lot of destruction in its wake, which is more horrifying given how seemingly trivial his demands often were.

    • #40
  11. Owen Findy Member
    Owen Findy
    @OwenFindy

    Boss Mongo: Sniper.

    Good point, but nearly every TV show would be 3 episodes, and nearly every movie 3 minutes, if … gun.

    • #41
  12. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    A-Squared:#####SPOILER######

    Judith Levy: Maybe I’m missing something, but this wearing-off thing seems to significantly undermine Kilgrave’s awfulness. (I hate to quibble, because he’s one of the most frightening villains I’ve ever seen. I rate him right up there with Heath Ledger’s Joker.)

    Personally, I don’t see it as underminng Kilgrave’s awfulness. Given the “Kilgrave Anonymous” club that forms in the series, the fact that it wears off seems to leave a lot of destruction in its wake, which is more horrifying given how seemingly trivial his demands often were.

    Concur.  I still shiver thinking about the guy who got co-opted as a driver, and left his kid in his car seat on the street.  That one bit character demonstrated Kilgrave’s evil more than almost anything else.  That’s probably why I skipped straight to “Kilgrave’s gotta die” and blanked out, apparently, JJ’s more subtle journey to making that decision.

    • #42
  13. Owen Findy Member
    Owen Findy
    @OwenFindy

    Whiskey Sam: That’s a major contrivance.

    Didn’t Kilgrave’s power turn out to be caused by a communicable microbe, and wasn’t she developing an immunity?  Or did I dream that?  Or maybe it was a throw-away fantasy of one of the characters….

    • #43
  14. Owen Findy Member
    Owen Findy
    @OwenFindy

    Frank Soto: but the reason isn’t any more important than why she has super-strength, or why Kilgrave can control people.

    Right.  They’re all of the same nature, aren’t they?

    • #44
  15. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Owen Findy: Good point, but nearly every TV show would be 3 episodes, and nearly every movie 3 minutes, if … gun.

    I think Frank’s answer to this was pretty solid. That is, Jessica was trying to save Hope, and needed Kilgrave alive for that.

    • #45
  16. Whiskey Sam Inactive
    Whiskey Sam
    @WhiskeySam

    Owen Findy:

    Whiskey Sam: That’s a major contrivance.

    Didn’t Kilgrave’s power turn out to be caused by a communicable microbe, and wasn’t she developing an immunity? Or did I dream that? Or maybe it was a throw-away fantasy of one of the characters….

    That was a theory, but it was never proven.  Still ignores the fact his parents were exposed to him much longer and never developed immunity.

    • #46
  17. Whiskey Sam Inactive
    Whiskey Sam
    @WhiskeySam

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Owen Findy: Good point, but nearly every TV show would be 3 episodes, and nearly every movie 3 minutes, if … gun.

    I think Frank’s answer to this was pretty solid. That is, Jessica was trying to save Hope, and needed Kilgrave alive for that.

    That was a pretty weak plot point for me.  How many more people does he have to kill before we reach the point it isn’t worth it to save one girl?

    • #47
  18. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Whiskey Sam: That was a pretty weak plot point for me. How many more people does he have to kill before we reach the point it isn’t worth it to save one girl?

    I think the point was that Jessica let her desire to save Hope cloud her judgement. She should have killed Kilgrave earlier.

    • #48
  19. C. U. Douglas Thatcher
    C. U. Douglas
    @CUDouglas

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Whiskey Sam: That was a pretty weak plot point for me. How many more people does he have to kill before we reach the point it isn’t worth it to save one girl?

    I think the point was that Jessica let her desire to save Hope cloud her judgement. She should have killed Kilgrave earlier.

    Agreed. It’s when the Hope situation becomes irrelevant that Jessica goes from capturing Kilgrave to killing Kilgrave.

    • #49
  20. Brian Clendinen Member
    Brian Clendinen
    @BrianClendinen

    Boss Mongo:

    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.

    Its typical Marvel and DC. They never show how evil the good guys are because of all the countless human beings they let die because they don’t want to get their hands dirty. The series started out so good but because they wanted all the interactions between the two characters the plot became more and more dumb. The plot point could of worked decently with Hope, but I just never bought into it it was so out of character from everything else she did that it just became a convenient plot line so writers could do all the artsy scenes they wanted to. Don’t get me wrong it is the best comic book T.V. series made yet and it still was a  good show.However,the first 4 or 5 episodes were so much better than the last three. A great story has to have at lest good resolution  if not a great one and this one was just average.

    Although I could of done without all twin incest sub-plot line.

    • #50
  21. C. U. Douglas Thatcher
    C. U. Douglas
    @CUDouglas

    Brian Clendinen:

    Boss Mongo:

    Frank Soto:

    Its typical Marvel and DC. They never show how evil the good guys are because of all the countless human beings they let die because they don’t want to get their hands dirty.

    Actually, Jessica Jones does more to show the consequences of her hesitation. The crises point comes when with the end of the Hope situation and the involvement of her rather angry neighbor.

    • #51
  22. Brian Clendinen Member
    Brian Clendinen
    @BrianClendinen

    C. U. Douglas:

    Brian Clendinen:

    Boss Mongo:

    Frank Soto:

    Its typical Marvel and DC. They never show how evil the good guys are because of all the countless human beings they let die because they don’t want to get their hands dirty.

    Actually, Jessica Jones does more to show the consequences of her hesitation. The crises point comes when with the end of the Hope situation and the involvement of her rather angry neighbor.

    I agree that was a great scene but they destroyed a lot of it by dragging out the conclusion for another three hours.

    • #52
  23. Owen Findy Member
    Owen Findy
    @OwenFindy

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: I think Frank’s answer to this was pretty solid. That is, Jessica was trying to save Hope, and needed Kilgrave alive for that.

    Yeah.  When I made my very good point about movies, TV and guns, I had forgotten that.  Frank’s right about that.

    • #53
  24. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Owen Findy: Yeah. When I made my very good point about movies, TV and guns, I had forgotten that. Frank’s right about that.

    Yeah. It’s probably the only comic book adaption like this where “Why not just shoot him?” isn’t applicable.

    • #54
  25. Owen Findy Member
    Owen Findy
    @OwenFindy

    Whiskey Sam: Still ignores the fact his parents were exposed to him much longer and never developed immunity.

    Yeah, that does look suspicious.

    • #55
  26. Tim H. Inactive
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    Owen Findy:

    Whiskey Sam: Still ignores the fact his parents were exposed to him much longer and never developed immunity.

    Yeah, that does look suspicious.

    Like I said, I bailed out after Ep. 10, but I had figured that Jessica’s immunity developed from her superpower, rather than simply being exposed to him longer than the others.

    • #56
  27. Owen Findy Member
    Owen Findy
    @OwenFindy

    Tim H.: but I had figured that Jessica’s immunity developed from her superpower

    Another good point.  Now my head’s really spinning.  At some point, I just decide I’m going to suspend disbelief and enjoy the show.

    • #57
  28. Mark Allen Inactive
    Mark Allen
    @MarkAllen

    I thought this was an amazing series – one of the best comic adaptations I’ve seen as a movie or on TV.  Great characters, super evil villain, and good pacing made me a big fan.

    I guess I was a little shocked by the carnage, especially at the end – but I guess it felt more visceral seeing these things on actors than drawings on paper like I would’ve in a graphic novel.

    Still, season 2 just got a green light, so hoping for the best and no sophomore slump.

    • #58
  29. Whiskey Sam Inactive
    Whiskey Sam
    @WhiskeySam

    Tim H.:

    Owen Findy:

    Whiskey Sam: Still ignores the fact his parents were exposed to him much longer and never developed immunity.

    Yeah, that does look suspicious.

    Like I said, I bailed out after Ep. 10, but I had figured that Jessica’s immunity developed from her superpower, rather than simply being exposed to him longer than the others.

    That’s entirely possible, but they never actually gave a reason for it.  She just was.  It’s the lack of explanation that makes it contrived.

    • #59
  30. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    Owen Findy:

    Whiskey Sam: Still ignores the fact his parents were exposed to him much longer and never developed immunity.

    Yeah, that does look suspicious.

    It’s been a while since I watched it, but I thought his parents abandoned him shortly after his powers became apparent.

    If true, then it’s not clear how long they were around his powers to build up a possible immunity.

    • #60
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