A Series of Series: Jessica Jones, Episode 1-3

Jessica Jones (2015): Episode 1-3
Starring Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Rachael Taylor, Wil Traval, Erin Moriarty, Eka Darville, Carrie-Ann Moss, David Tennant
Director of Photography: Manuel Bileter
Music by Sean Callery
Edited by Jonathan Chibnall (1), Michael N. Knue (2), Tirsa Hackshaw (3)
Written by Melissa Rosenberg (1), Micah Schraft (2), Liz Friedman & Scott Reynolds (3)
Directed by S.J. Clarkson (1-2), David Petrarca (3)
Rating: 8,5 out of 10

Exploring new grounds. I have wondered many times why I don’t write about TV shows since I watch quite a lot of them and some people actually asked me about it. Today, this will change because a) I really want to write about this show and b) there is no movie right now I want to write about. So, Jessica Jones it is. I’ve watched the first three episodes and thought I write about each 3-4 episodes as I continue. Needless to say, up to now I think it’s a very good show and I recommend everyone to watch it too. Besides, this review/analysis will obviously include spoilers, so unless you don’t plan on ever watching it, stop reading.

Jessica Jones is mainly based on Brian Michael Bendis’ and Michael Gaydos’ Alias, which was a great, innovative comic book that really used the possibilities of the medium for creating more than “just” a comic book. But that’s a different story. In the first three episodes it follows the main ideas from the book but has plenty of new things to add. I had to get used to Krysten Ritter in the title role at first but she seems to get better as the series moves along. The other actresses and actors do a fine job, too, I like the writing (which, if I may say, is a bit of a surprise considering Melissa Rosenberg’s Twilight résumé, but let’s just blame the source material for that) and the directing adds some interesting flourishes too, with a lot of playful camera angles and focus pulling.

The reason I got interested to write about Jessica Jones is that its themes are so brilliantly done and are far more than would anyone could expect of a “superhero show.” It’s not just that, it’s not just a “Marvel show”, it deals with serious issues in a serious way and even treads new ground. The combination of its elements are quite unique, linking super powers with issues of gender and dealing with topics like domestic abuse, rape, guilt, control and power.

We meet Jessica Jones as a damaged character, which is not so unusual in itself, since most TV characters are damaged nowadays. So, her film-noir-toughened-narrator is nothing new, but the more we learn about the cause for that damage, the more interesting her character becomes. There is also the fact that she is a superhero, someone with “gifts”, so naturally she should be too strong to be really damaged but the show makes it pretty clear that her physical strength doesn’t protect her psyche. This is why Kilgrave (whom we get to in a moment) is such an interesting antagonist for her because his mind control cannot simply be punched. I know, this is not necessarily a new idea either (see Loki etc.), but here it becomes much more than that because in her we get to see the actual consequences of mind control and it’s no surprise that throughout the episodes there are strong allusions to rape because that is what she feels like. For someone as strong as her, this is especially troubling because it makes her unarmed, naked and, well, powerless.

You can have all sorts of arguments about “strong female protagonists” but Jones fits any definition. That alone makes the show great but she gets to interact with so many different female characters that any Bechdel tests might implode. And it’s not just female characters on paper, but actual characters. Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) is her best friend, teaching herself self-defense, living in a secure apartment. But she doesn’t come across as overly scared and weak, her character just shows the dangers women naturally have to deal with in our society and she deals with them. There is also Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Ann Moss), a successful lawyer. She is a lesbian and the show deals with that as it deals with everything else, without making it explicit or an “issue.” All three women are “strong” while still dealing with different issues and are therefore more rounded and well-written than the majority of female characters on most television shows.

When Jessica gets to know Luke Cage (Mike Colter), they are so much equals that the show almost seems to make fun of it. What the show doesn’t even address is race, but not because it ignores any problems but by simply accepting their relationship, again, without problematizing it. The problems they have are beyond race and come back to Jessica’s fatalistic nature that drives her to start a potentially doomed relationship. The relative frankness of their sex also fascinated me, especially since most superhero portrays are so sterile when it comes to that. They fuck, they enjoy it and there is this one moment where they make out and it becomes a kind of mid-air arm wrestling that has no clear winner.

Kilgrave (David Tennant, really haunting) is the ultimate villain when it comes to power. All he can do is enforce literal authority over others. He is fascinating because he is in total control, something people in our culture constantly crave. But, as I said, the show portrays the consequences of this in such harrowing details that the fascination only goes so far. When we see him enter a family’s home (who, by the way, is also multi-racial, again shown as the most normal thing), it is one of the scary moments I’ve seen in a while, without any jump scares or violence, just by seeing him forcing others to do simple things. I’m really curious to find out what else they do with this character, especially since he seems to be one of the main focuses of the show.

After so much general introduction, some scenes that stood out to me. When Hope’s parents, the Shlottmans, approach Jessica, it’s Barbara who does the talking, while her husband is almost incapable of escaping his role as the practical husband who can only think of fixing a door, instead of being worried about his daughter. But it doesn’t even make him less sympathetic just unable to deal with the worry.

My favorite moment of the first three episodes is probably the last scene of episode 1. We’ve just seen a truly horrible and shocking murder and Jessica’s instinct is to run away as fast as she can. But then she stops, turns around and moves back, while saying: You gotta make a decision. One, keep denying it. Or two… do something about it. It might sound trivial out of context, but I found it really powerful in the moment, a true testament of trying to fight the self-imposed ignorance, the crippling fear of inaction and daring to deal with the inner demons instead of running away. I can’t wait to see how her journey continues in the following episodes.