I'm not one to do the whole episode-by-episode review thing. Instead, I like to take a semi-spoilery retrospective look at a season at a time. So if you're looking for a review of Jessica Jones episode 1, you're in the wrong place. If you're trying to figure out if you should watch Jessica Jones, the answer is yes, go do it now. Why are you even still here? But if you still need convincing, read on, but be warned, there will be minor spoilers.
Jessica Jones is Marvel and Netflix's next foray into the street-level side of their cinematic universe, and a follow-up to this Spring's Daredevil. While it very much feels like the same universe, the same neighborhood, Marvel's Jessica Jones is actually much darker than Daredevil, if you can believe it. Most of that is due to the more psychological brand of terror that the villain, Kilgrave, brings to the table. That, along with the exceptional casting job done on this show, and the offbeat, sometimes overly sexual humor, makes it an experience that you most definitely would not expect from Marvel, but it is an experience, none the less.
Beginning with the opening sequence, the show does exactly what Daredevil managed, by putting the major theme of the show up front. Where Daredevil's intro showed a city forming out of wax (which looked remarkably like blood) showing that the city itself was hemorrhaging, in need of saving, Jessica Jones' intro is a more focused, thematic message. Everything is blurred watercolors, through a purple haze, indicating that Jessica's world is no longer as clear to her as it once was after her experience with Kilgrave. The music starts out as a light, muted piano track, a fitting theme for one of the old fifties detective serials, before the music suddenly turns to a hard, driving rock melody with heavy drums in the background, cluing viewers into the fact that where once Jessica had happier days, something has changed, her story now has a dark cloud hanging over it.
Transitioning to the show itself, it's an odd one. Its extremely entertaining for sure, rivaling the likes of Daredevil, but its a jarring experience that takes a few episodes to get used to. Daredevil was dark, yes, but Jessica Jones' main theme is one of psychological damage and torture. Where Daredevil was about a man trying to save his city, this show is about a woman trying to deal with the torture she was subjected to at the hands of Kilgrave, and attempting to bring him down in order to stop anyone else from ever experiencing it. It's a refreshing step away from the "we have to save the world/town/ trope which even Daredevil was a victim of, and the show does it well.
We're slowly teased with the fact that Jesicca has some kind of powers over the first few episodes but its never really made clear what those powers are, which allows us to more easily relate to her. Is she really super strong, or does Pilates really work that well? It helps that we aren't made to focus on her abilities while her story unfolds, instead being made to look at her as human. An alcoholic, incredibly sarcastic human.
The show does this humanizing thing very well, as well as Daredevil did, perhaps even better. This is mostly because Jessica is so much more broken than Matt Murdock. Matt was on a crusade, but Jessica was just trying to get by when trouble walked into her life.
That trouble comes in the form of Zebediah Kilgrave, The Purple Man and Jessica's torturer. With the ability to control minds, Kilgrave brings a different type of threat to the table than Daredevil's Kingpin. Wilson Fisk was a very physical threat, with half the city in his corner, and we get very little discourse between him and Daredevil until the final episode. Kilgrave, however, interacts with Jessica quite frequently, taunting her and threatening her friends. He's a very personal threat, and while he may not have a criminal organization at his disposal, he's very much a powerhouse. There's a mystery that surrounds him even though we see him frequently. In fact, I think he might even receive more screen time than Kingpin did. As the show progresses, he becomes scarier and scarier, whether it's from coming unhinged or his growing obsession with Jessica. David Tennant, of Doctor Who fame, plays the Mind Bending Man with a gravity that certainly rivals that of Vincent D'onofrio's kingpin and is arguably the best thing about this show, which is actually saying a lot.
The show's narrative is incredibly compelling. While it does start off slow, seeing where a super hero goes after such great psychological trauma is what Marvel tried to do with Iron Man 3, but its done much better here. Jessica deals with extreme alcoholism, hallucinations, and estranged relationships, all while trying to track down and stop Kilgrave. And much like Daredevil, Jessica's backstory, told through flashbacks, is handled very well, and lends itself to the slow reveals this show uses. The story is cheapened a tiny bit by end of episode cliffhangers having very little tension, knowing you can simply just watch the next episode instead of having a week between episodes to let the excitement build, a concern that I also voiced in respect to Daredevil. Being able to binge-watch the entire season in a day is nice, especially with stories as interesting as this, but there's something to be said about the intrigue that comes with wondering how a particular situation could possibly resolve itself.
Now for the things this show does not do well. Pacing is one of them. Daredevil started out slow, yes, but there was a method to it. This show speeds up and slows down at random points, and makes things feel a bit disjointed, but its a minor complaint.
Something else that does not work well, is this series' side story. Daredevil had Karen and Ben investigating Fisk throughout the length of the season, which from the very start made sense, and tied into the main narrative. Jessica Jones has Jeri Hogarth's marital problems. It's not compelling, it's not interesting, and every time a scene comes on which deals with that story, it bogs down the episode.
Finally, perhaps the worst thing about this show, is the scenes dealing with Jessica's overt sexuality. Yes, the sexual relations of her and those around her are dealt with in the Alias comic series, but Bendis handled them in a way that made sense, and had weight. In this series, the sex scenes feel shoehorned in as if to say "Hey look we're like the comic book," which this show honestly does not need. It is an excellent show for the most part, but these sex scenes just disconnect the viewer for the most part. The only one which offers any substance or relation to the plot is the one which occurs after Jessica and Luke discover each other's superhuman abilities. It offers a very slight amount of humor as well as insight into their characters. The scenes basically stop after the first few episodes, like the writers worked it out of their system, which allows the show to grow beyond the confines the writers almost trapped themselves in. That is perhaps the show's greatest narrative strength. It just gets better as it goes on.
Now for the cast. As usual, the casting was spot on, from the previously discussed Kilgrave to Jessica herself.
Krysten Ritter was an excellent choice for Jessica. After proving she could play broken, misguided characters in Breaking Bad, Ritter seemed like an excellent choice for our titular character, and rightfully so. Ritter's sarcastic wit often carries the scenes, and the ones that have her interacting with Tennant are the best this series has to offer. Her portrayal of Jessica is so spot on that there actually isn't all that much more to be said about it. As a main character, she's understandable and repeatable, and believably unhinged from her experiences.
Did anyone have any doubts that David Tennant was going to be fantastic as The Purple Man? Because I didn't. Tennant's Kilgrave is a sight to behold. He's threatening, terrifying, childish, entertaining, and at times, almost endearing. The Marvel Netflix series yet again succeeds where most of the Marvel films fail, at delivering an incredibly compelling villain, with multiple facets, a tragic backstory, and a truly enjoyable personality. Tennant's genuine amusement at the idea of being a hero, his starry eyed, childish wonderment at actually using his powers for good Might have actually been a high point in the series, because Tennant played the scene as if the whole thing was just a game to Kilgrave, but Kilgrave himself did not realize it. I even found myself genuinely excited at the prospect of Kilgrave's redemption because it would mean the possibility of more Tennant. I genuinely cannot imagine The Purple Man without Tennant's face now.
Rachael Taylor plays Trish Walker, otherwise known as Hellcat to avid readers of comics. She is...underwhelming, to say the least. Taylor does an admirable job with the character, but Trish is very underutilized. Compared to the supporting "best friend" character from Daredevil, Foggy, she does very little besides exist as emotional support for Jessica. She certainly has a few scenes, but for the most part, she doesn't feel necessary.
Finally, we come to Mike Colter as Luke Cage. Man, was this guy great. Ever since I saw Colter in Halo Nightfall, I've been looking forward to him playing Cage. The guy just exudes badassery in whatever scene he's in. He makes us believe that he is a force to be reckoned with, without actually having to lift a finger. The Cage he gives us is a bit more serious than the Power Man of the comics, but boy was he satisfying, especially since they got to his powers straight away. The scene where he first demonstrates his powers to Jessica by using a circular saw was just too damn cool. Colter truly feels like he belongs in the Marvel Universe, and from the second he steps on screen, you see Luke Cage. His performance makes me incredibly happy that his solo series is the next one in line, because I am certainly anxious to see what he can do with the character and those powers.
All in all, Jessica Jones is another excellent outing from Marvel. The story sucks you in and holds you, and like one of Jessica's favorite wines, its gets better as it goes on. So much better. If you want a compelling story, an amazing villain, and an incredibly satisfying ending, and you can look past things like the weirdly out of place sex scenes, give it a whirl. And if you're a fan of the comic, you probably don't need me to tell you to go watch it, but given it's faithfulness to the source material, I strongly urge you to check it out. The Defenders buildup is two for two. Well done Marvel, well done.