Marvel Studios doesn't have the best track record with female characters. In typical action movie fashion, the women in their stories typically fall in to two categories: damsel in distress, or sexualized sidekick. Luckily, a new Netflix series has arrived to change that. Jessica Jones features the powerful Krysten Ritter as the eponymous hero, and it's the most authentic superhero story ever told.
The series takes place in Hell's Kitchen, just like its sister show Daredevil. If Daredevil captured New York City's moral depravity, then Jessica Jones captures the haunting loneliness looming over every building. All of the principal characters deal with loss, grief and pain in one way or another, and the oft-bustling streets of NYC resemble less of a flashy tourist locale and more of a impenetrable prison.
Jessica is a retired superhero who, when she is not drunk, runs her own private detective agency. Super strength, an Olympic-level high jump, and flying (well, "guided falling") are her signature powers, but it is her skill for alienating others that she uses most often. As a result, she has very few friends: there's well-meaning drug addict and neighbor Malcolm (Eka Darville), radio star and on and off best friend Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), and frequent employer Jeri Hogarth, a high-powered attorney played by Carrie-Ann Moss, doing her best Robin Wright/Claire Underwood impression.
Creator Melissa Rosenberg and her staff waste no time on an origin story, and the little background knowledge that we do get comes from infrequent flashbacks. Yet Jessica's tough exterior starts to crumble less than halfway through the first hour. A man from her past, mind-controlling psychopath Kilgrave (David Tennant), has returned to haunt her in the most malevolent of all slow burns. A whirlwind of charm and malice, he lurks around every corner of Jessica's fragile psyche. He is, as Slate puts it, a "walking consent metaphor,"and the conflict between him and Jessica takes the show in to a territory that few shows - let alone any superhero shows - have ever gone before.
Kilgrave can get anyone to do anything that he desires simply by telling them, "You want to do this." This ranges from the harmless (stealing an expensive coat from a man on the subway) to the vicious (enslaving Jessica and a host of other women). With his disarming British accent, dapper wardrobe and wide smile, he is a far cry from the likes of Loki and Ultron. They are merely supporting characters to be defeated by our almighty heroes, but Kilgrave is something new altogether: a truly terrifying villain who may actually win.
When he re-enters Jessica's life, seemingly back from the dead, he does not strive for global domination or a world with no superheroes. Rather, his goals are much more personal, much more private, and, unfortunately, much more realistic: he wants to own Jessica in every way possible, and, for the most part, he succeeds. She manages to strike a deal that frees Malcolm from his influence, but her side of the agreement gains him entry back in to her personal space: every day at 10:00 AM, she must send him a picture of herself. Each photo reminds her of the pain he caused and the power he still wields over her, but that's not the worst of it: one day, she catches herself fixing hair to look pretty for him.
In its entirety, this first season goes against everything we know about superhero tales. The hero is a boozy mess who does more bad than good, and she is rarely, if ever, the strongest person in the room.This is not a complaint, but a point of praise: Jessica Jones is overtly human, and that makes her all the more interesting than any hero out there.
Her humanity allows the Jones team to tackle a myriad of subjects that seem like they have no business being in anything related to Marvel. In 13 episodes, the show takes on sexual abuse, parental abuse, abortion, and drug and alcohol addiction, among others. Daredevil was touted for its dark and realistic storytelling, but Jessica Jones ups the ante even more. It's easy to forget that these vulnerable characters occupy the same world as Black Widow, "the big green guy" and "the flag-waver," and it's even easier to forget that this is even a superhero show.
The show's titular character stakes shots at the so-called heroes who 'save the world' and leave rubble in their wake, and we get the sense that the artists behind the show feel the same way. While they get all the praise and accolades, the Jessica Joneses of the world are left to fight off far more personal demons. This time, we're never entirely sure who will win, and for that, it's worth every minute.
What did you think of Jessica Jones on Netflix? Let me know in the comments below!