Jessica Jones was a joy to watch, full of great character development, fantastic female character dynamics, challenging issues and gritty realism I have not seen for a long time in a tv drama. It manages to be a superhero drama, film noire centric, case/police procedural and thriller simultaneously. As rotten tomatoes perfectly puts it “Jessica Jones is… a TV detective drama about loneliness, control, and how a human soul recovers from violation”. We learn very little about Jessica’s past until later episodes, but the glimpse and truth that leaks out makes for a heart breaking backstory, tragic and angsty in almost equal measure, but most importantly, justifies Jessica’s present day actions. After being held hostage, raped and controlled for over a year, it’s no wonder Jessica is suffering from PTSD, alcoholism and a devil-may-care attitude.
It’s her relationships with other characters, her friends that bring out the ‘old’ (pre-Kilgrave) Jessica, and with Trish, Luke (and occasionally) Malcolm she jokes and actually “from time to time gives a damn” as she puts it herself. Her relationship with Trish is deep and very sisterly, although Jess doesn’t always show it, she will do anything to keep Trish safe, and Trish wants nothing more than to save the world with Jess by her side. I loved how their back story was told in flashbacks through the series, hopefully more of that will be shown in season 2.
The story lines focus around the themes of control, recovery from trauma, female friendships and agency/responsibility all beautifully shot in a gritty NEw York, film noir style with plenty of detective legwork and police procedural tropes thrown in. The guardian has a brilliant article about how Jessica Jones explores issues of rape, agency and confrontation with rapists/trauma and I agree with its main argument: philosophically it is unheard of for women in tv to confront their rapists, challenge their views and provide them with evidence that they did not give consent, and that’s what Jessica Jones does, kudos to you Marvel!
For the most part, the 13 episode series is character driven and the cast is fantastic and mostly female, a real rarity in tv and film. All the women are well rounded characters and perhaps more importantly, women with power. Jessica has her own P.I. business as well as superpowers, Trish was a famous child star but now hosts a popular radio show and Hogarth is a cut throat lawyer. Even minor female characters are presented as powerful, Robyn is maternally aggressive and dedicated carer to her brother Ruben, Claire Temple is a well established nurse and Wendy is enjoying a successful carer as a doctor. Even Trish’s abusive mother has her own successful carer and is certainly a sought after women. It’s great to see so many different kinds of strength in these women and for them to often work together for a common goal, without being too obviously written in.
Luke Cage remains mysterious for the most part of the series, but his obvious affection for Jessica and his intriguing back story make for compelling future viewing. Malcolm is a supportive neighbour to Jessica and I enjoyed how he worked his way out of a hole and made it up to Jessica, including being there in the final scene saying “how can we help”, a powerful moment showing that although not much has changed, Jessica has at least 1 friend she can rely on day to day.
Simpson and Kilgrave are not your typical ‘bad guys’. Simpson starts off as your typical police officer with the law being very black and white to him. But after his experiences with Kilgrave, his ‘savier/vigilante’ personality type resurfaces and he chooses to opt back into a top secret army programme where he can maximise his abilities using drugs. However, these drugs don’t give him the ability to think clearly/morally and he kills and destroys whilst using them (possibly to become the series 2 main villain, also possible become Nuke from the comic books?). His relationship with Trish is also interesting, but ultimately she puts Jessica ahead of him and pushes him out of her life, perhaps onto a more dangerous path.
Kilgrave is a twisted, narcissist who uses his power to get not only material possessions but people’s emotional property and physical being too. He doesn’t just tell people what to do, he tells them how to feel whilst doing it, which is perhaps the most chilling part of his ability - the people controlled aren’t able to stop showing how their supposed to be feeling - as if trapped behind glass - but appear to show Kilgrave what he wants, even if it is not a true representation of what they are feeling. This makes it hard for Kilgrave to know, love or trust anyone and this as well as parental abandonment sends him spiralling into selfishness and greed. his side of the story is given some light, and he certainly is given plenty of time to talk, but his use of abilities come first, which stands him apart from Jessica who is happier lying low, and his greed overpowers his willingness to use his powers for good.
The finale sets up next season well (What has happened to Luke and Simpson? Where did Jessica’s powers come from? What will Hogarth do about her lover’s quandary?) whilst also confronting Kilgrave and the expansion of his power. Jessica has been avoiding killing Kilgrave throughout the season so he can be used as evidence to get people off of serving sentences for several crimes. However, once her main reason for sparing Kilgrave dies, Jessica gives a damn and decides that she can’t let the world get hurt by him any more, tricking Kilgrave at his own game and twisting his neck. It’s a dramatic scene, but the aftermath hits home more, as Jessica neither celebrates nor leaves, she returns to her daily life, only slightly more relieved of her burdens than before - a powerful reminder than PTSD and trauma are more complex than revenge or protecting others and it’s wonderful that these issues are given the respect they deserve and are not simplified for the sake of plot :)
Although Jessica Jones is set in the Marvel universe (and more specifically the same time/place as Daredevil) it doesn’t feel like a superhero caper. Jessica’s strongest assest is how NORMAL she is, she forgets to charge her phone, forgets to buy loo roll, doesn’t bother with pyjamas, only has 3 differnt outfits eats badly but knows better, all of which we the audience can relate too! It’s great to see such a normal female protagonist that isn’t fashion conscience or in a different dress each scene. Jessica’s battles are mainly psychological and when she is solving cases, she puts her P.I. skills and fists into practise rather than relying on her ‘super powers’ (jumping and super strength), which makes her feel relatable and definitely the most human protagonist Marvel has.
The cinematography is beautiful throughout. The title sequence is a watercolour masterpiece and the dark, grey tonal palette of most sets remind you that Jessica’s world is still very grey and downtrodden. The purple accents in scenes all nicely link to Kilgrave’s favourite colour and evoke the cold bitterness of down town New York as well as the sufferers of Kilgrave’s mind control. The fight choreography is just as good as it was in Daredevil, albeit with more gutsy punch ups than martial arts techniques, but still emotionsally driven and varied. Jessica’s flat takes quite the beating but each time it’s with different people and has a different emotional driving force behind it, keeping it fresh and tense.
Overall I was very impressed with Jessica Jones in terms of dealing well and portraying sensitive themes, utilising a range of powerful female characters, having male characters that weren’t one dimensional, not relying on superhuman abilities and having psychological struggles as the main adversary in a well acted and written detective action drama. I most eagerly await season 2 and the next Marvel outing on Netflix - their tv world building and narratives are some of the strongest I have watched in a long time.