Jessica Jones Review
From the pages of a cult hit Marvel comic and several failed TV projects Jessica Jones finally found a home on Marvel’s Netflix line-up. I was sceptical of this series at first since it seemed like Marvel was using their Netflix deal to get one of their failed TV shows made, if they couldn’t sell it to a TV network then how good could their take on the comic really be. Then they made the show and it turned out incredible and it was a great thing a regular TV network didn’t make it; the series would’ve been butchered it if was on network TV. This show was made by the right people, for the right place, at the right time.
I’d like to just say go watch the show, do it without any spoilers or ideas of what to expect, it’s a great A+ series. Fair warning, the show deals with rape, PTSD, addiction, rape trauma, and an incredibly creepy David Tennant, among other things, though this isn’t Game of Thrones so no rape is actually shown on screen. This isn’t a happy-go-lucky series so if you are affected by any of that and want to watch the series prepare yourself beforehand.
The rest of this review will contain spoilers, lots of spoilers, since the show’s been out for over a month.
Jessica Jones is a private investigator in New York City, she follows cheating wives and husbands and takes pictures of them having sex for money, then when the client reacts badly to the pictures she throws them through her glass door. She’s a functional alcoholic, with a very loose definition of functional. She’s got superpowers, she’s strong but couldn’t lift a car over her head, she can’t fly but she can jump real good. She also has PTSD from being abducted a year ago by a mind controlling psychopath called Killgrave. She thought he was dead but he’s come back and is playing mind games with Jessica as she tires to track him down to stop him for good.
The series harkens back to the classic PI stories and TV shows, not just with the ‘hard-nosed, down on their luck, PI’ but also in the way the story plays out. The show is an investigation and is paced as such. We see Jessica putting together information and tracking people down, usually posing as someone they’d want to talk to rather than a PI, to find out more information that could lead her to Killgrave. She continuously finds out more and we can see how everything she does leads her closer to Killgrave, then things don’t go her way and life throws her curve balls, as usual. It was surprising how the series would often get the feeling of Jessica finally getting Killgrave only for it to fall apart. When that happens it doesn’t pull the rug out from under you like lots of other TV shows and movies, where something completely unexpected happens to get in the way because they need to fill another 20 minutes of plot, this series shows us all the cogs that are moving and how they work in sync with each other. So we can see exactly how things can screw up with all the different characters involved and their own motivations.
It’s not just the plotting but also the directing and cinematography that works so well at creating that atmosphere. It pulls out that sense that the characters are being watched and observed without them knowing it, shots from a distance, inside cars, behind things, all add to the general feel of the show. The paranoia, the dread about what game Killgrave is playing, and it fits with Jessica’s job as a PI which is to observe from a distance and take photos. It also adds to the show when we do find out Killgrave has someone following Jessica. The sense of paranoia pays off as Jessica deals with the fact that anyone around her could’ve been mind controlled into taking pictures of her.
The superpowers presented in the show are impressively done. They’re great not because they’re big and flashy but by being small and understated. Jessica has super strength, but it’s treated very casually like it’s an every day thing. We don’t need to see her punching through walls, not when she can just casually break locks on doors and lift people up off the ground. There’s no special sound effect, FX shot, or the camera pointing out how amazing these feats are, because these are ordinary things to Jessica. My favourite one being her casually taking photos while nestled between two buildings, three or four stories up, and there’s nothing that calls attention to this; it’s just treated like it would be if she were sitting in a fire-escape.
As for the characters themselves, let’s start with the titular Jessica Jones. Coming after a year of being a mind controlled slave of Killgrave she’s a little broken and her attempts to put any sort of life back together has lead her to running a PI office out of her crappy apartment. She has PTSD over what Killgrave put her through, she can’t sleep, has flashbacks, pushes away any emotional connections with people, and she drinks as a way to manage all of that. But what makes her a great character is that she isn’t defined by any of those things, they affected her but they aren’t her whole character. We see flashbacks to her before Killgrave appeared and she’s still the same person, it’s just that her drinking and anger issues are now pushed more to the forefront to try and deal with her trauma. Being raped is not the end-all-be-all of her character, unlike a lot of other lazily written characters, and it’s great to see that being presented here.
Jessica is a contradictory character, she will call her therapy sessions pointless and the coping mechanism she was taught a waste of time, but then we see she’s still using that coping mechanism to help with her PTSD and she even teaches it to others. She’ll encourage group therapy sessions and then call them a waste of time for herself. She doesn’t accept help for herself but will go out of her way to help others in the same position as her. All of which builds up to some pretty realistic character traits. People are contradictory, it’s great to see a character played like that but with nuance and subtlety.
Killgrave is a monster, but he’s a real world monster. He’s a monster that doesn’t see himself as a monster and doesn’t consider what he does as wrong nor does he think of the consequences of his actions on others. He can ruin your life and still somehow blame you for it. He is someone we can read about in the news everyday and see online every minute of the day. Someone who has power and thinks they are free from the consequences so he does what he likes and has zero empathy for those who suffer because of him. He tells women to sleep with him and thinks it’s not rape because they didn’t say no, regardless of the fact that they had no ability to say no. He is the scariest kind of monster, the one that actually exists and one you could meet one night.
What worked so well about him was that he wasn’t a one-dimensional caricature of a villain but a fully realised character. He has a tragic backstory and moments where you could possibly empathise with him, till you remember what a monster he really is. He grew up with a power that let him get whatever he wanted, no one could stop him from doing anything and all he needed to do was talk to them. That kind of power in a child could make for a frightening adult with a morality so broken it’s impossible to see whether or not it wasn’t always that way. He may talk about how he can’t possibly know if people are doing things because of his power or because they want to, that he doesn’t know the difference between his control and freewill anymore. But he clearly doesn’t seem to mind so long as things go his way. He’s a habitual liar and nothing he says should be taken at face value.
The few things we do know are certainly true is that he hates his parents and he does love Jessica, in a deeply twisted way. The entire series is his sick attempts to get her back and there’s no “true love” romanticised garbage here. He loves Jessica and to him he always gets what he wants, even if it means having someone kill themselves in Jessica’s bed or promising he’s going to go off with her sister and rape her every night. Killgrave has ideas of big romantic gestures, but they are played creepy instead of Rom-Com. Put together with his line “I do know what love is, I do watch television” it suggests he’s divorced quite a bit from what we’d consider normal human interaction.
Luke Cage was introduced in this series. This was a perfect portrayal of the character and I cannot wait for his own Netflix series to start. We get some hints to his past but a lot of what we get from the character is tied into Jessica, which makes sense given it’s not his show, and his relationship with her is the perfect mix of broken and bad decision making that fits with where they both are as characters. His superpowers are also understated but at the same time perfectly used. Unbreakable skin and super strength don’t have to be big and flashy powers, but at the same time he’s not a tank. Put a shotgun to his head and he goes down, not because it breaks the skin but because that kinetic energy is still going to travel to his brain and mess things up. Then the problem becomes ‘how do you medically treat someone with unbreakable skin’ which is a perfect way to handle powers like Cage’s, he’s vulnerable to different things, you just need to think outside the box for how to use it.
Luke and Jessica’s relationship is played out as human and tragic, with Jessica still suffering the sins she committed while under Killgrave’s control. She killed Luke’s wife and she’s still trying to deal with that a year later, hooking up with Luke being a mistake. But it’s a mistake she admits to, and one that she struggles with since she does have feeling for him and even though she knows it wasn’t her fault she still feels guilty over what she’s done to Luke. While I was screaming “tell him the truth” a few times at the TV, her hiding the truth from him felt like a real emotional reaction rather than an attempt to create cheap drama like other TV shows do. She was in a spot where there was no good outcome and continuing to lie to him was a very human thing to do.
This series has also done a first, it has the first openly gay characters for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Of the twelve Marvel films, two TV shows, and the two Netflix series, this is the one to finally have someone openly non-heterosexual in the cast. Not just one but three of them. Jeri Hogarth, her wife Wendy, and Pam, Jeri’s lover on the side. Jeri is a main character with the other two being part of her story in the series. Their story could have easily been about Jeri divorcing her husband because she’s having a lover affair with her male assistant, but that’s what makes this great the show doesn’t try to make these three out to be anything other than ordinary people. They just like other women, and they fit perfectly into the messed up world of the show. Which goes to show how easy and annoying it is that it took this long to happen in this big expansive Marvel Cinematic Universe.
One of the amazing things that’s not overtly noticeable but comes out once you start thinking about it is how the sex scenes are done. While there are a few sex scenes the focus is slightly different than usual, as they are not focused on the men but the women instead. Whether it’s Trish getting cunnilingus or Jessica impulsively having sex with Luke for the first time and then realising she can’t look him in the eye so she turns over, it’s clear who the scene is about. It’s also clear that it’s not for titillation either, as there’s no shots of naked breasts as is common place in other media, while a bit unrealistic it does make it even more clear these scenes are of the women getting off and not for the audience members to ogle the women. It is also incredible that there is not one rape scene, not even one happening out of frame, because it is pretty common to glorify rape scenes in media that deal with the subject. But this show trusts its audience to know what’s going on and to know that rape is bad without needing to see it. The horror of it is imparted through the characters rather than it needing to be unnecessarily played out on screen. After seeing shows that feel the need to throw in sex and rape scenes seemingly every episode this felt like a nice change of pace.
The show wasn’t without its problems though, the most egregious to me were the characters Simpson and Robyn. With Simpson the character was great with his descent into crazy self-righteousness a good look at how far someone can fall when they are trying to do the right thing for the wrong reasons. The problem with his story comes when out of nowhere he’s a part of this secret government supersoldier project. It helps fuel his madness and makes for some good drama later on, but when it first comes up it feels incredibly out of place. Not to mention that the doctor in charge is pretty stupid, he tells Simpson that they ‘changed procedure from last time, only one red pill a day, with these blues to come down from it’ then just leaves the bottle of red pills next to Simpson. So of course Simpson takes more red pills, flees his government handlers and kills a bunch of people. They could’ve done the same character arc with Simpson but just had him taking non-supersoldier drugs to fuel his addicted crazy mindset and his obsession. But I think they wanted to set up the mysterious government agency for the next season. They should’ve at least handled it better than springing ‘this guy who you thought was an ordinary cop with a military background suddenly has connections to a supersoldier project’ on us with no build up. I just expected better from this series.
With Robyn, she’s just annoying. She’s made to be annoying, it’s just she goes from annoying to actively endangering people. She lives in the apartment upstairs from Jessica, and she’s a paranoid messed up woman. Her paranoia grows over the course of the series, and in her hatred of Jessica she incites and manipulates a hate mob to attack Jessica while claiming Jessica is manipulator and horrible person. Through this she indirectly causes the death of one person and nearly gets herself and the others killed. No one calls her out on this and afterwards we still have to spend more time on her insanity. It doesn’t feel like wasted time, because it also helps the character arcs of others, but she’s still annoying to watch. Intentional annoyance or not it’s still annoying.
Even with the few bad things it’s still a great series with so much built into it, it is such a feminist series. Beyond its many great female characters it also deals with rape culture, male privilege, abortion, the entire plot is a metaphor for proving rape in a court of law because of the ongoing discussion of how impossible it is to prove Killgrave’s powers exist. Then in the end it takes a considerable amount of victims to come forward, and even then the police were willing to write them off because ‘they could’ve been drunk’ even though they had no alcohol in their systems. We see victims be subjected to public ridicule, we get the terror a victim feels from a rape baby, and the main character has to deal with being a rape survivor and none of that is shied away from. It’s all dealt with in a mature manner and all of it shown as ongoing issues with none of them forgotten about by the end of the episode.
What really helps is that the cast are an even split of women and men, which allows for a wide variety of characters, their personalities, backgrounds, and it is more effective for diversity. Having only one woman in the cast leads to them being tokenised, they are put into a box of set characterisation and plots, and very few shows break out of that box. And that applies lots of minorities put into series where they are the single token version of them. But with multiple characters the box becomes irrelevant, because they don’t have to be “the woman” or “the black guy” or “the gay character” they can just be characters. This happens because while there are lots of female characters in the history of TV and film they are usually in male dominated stories, so they get written as “the girl” and not usually as “a character” but a representative of her gender.
So we need more shows like this, ones with amazingly rich characters with tight plots and villains that are all too terrifyingly real while still being able to tell fantastic stories around them. It is definitely worth multiple watches as many revelations make the second viewing compelling since you know exactly what’s going on and can see all the foreshadowing and hints that are easily missed the first time around. The Marvel Netflix shows are going great so far and I can’t wait for more shows and more seasons of Jessica Jones.