A Review of Marvel’s Jessica Jones

So, I have, at long last, gotten to Netflix series Jessica Jones. Obviously, this review is late, as the series came out in November, and the new season of Daredevil has already begun.

So, now that we’re finally here, where do we begin?

To be honest, where we should begin in Episode 2, because that’s where things actually start to get interesting. But, alas, we must begin in episode 1, because there are some elements there that add up over time.

And our first image? Two people we don’t know, and will never see again, having sex in a car with our illustrious hero snapping away with a camera. When the client is shown the pictures, and throws a fit, he is promptly thrown through the glass of the office door.

Enter Jessica Jones, the one throwing the client.

That sets the tone for much of the early episodes. Several minutes of sex, with a smattering of character and violence here and there, just to pretend that there’s a plot, and not an episode of Game of Thrones. Honestly? I think the first 90 minutes could have been condensed to 60. Because, seriously, there’s sex, and there’s violence, but violence should add something to the plot, and so should the sex, dang it.

The plot of episode one has two nice people looking for their daughter. They’re from the midwest — perfectly pleasant, hardworking, good people. They’re missing their daughter Hope, and wants Jones to find them. What she finds, though, is the man who mind-controlled and abducted her for … weeks? Months? Years? It’s never quite spelled out in the show.

Now, I’m explaining that to you because that’s the only way to explain it to you. In the TV show, we don’t ACTUALLY know about that for all of episode one, however, and we’re trying to figure out what the hell is going on for most of it, especially since half the episode consists of atmospherics.

In the middle, Jones goes to a bar, picks up a bartender, and jumps him for sex.

Episode 2 is mostly a hunt for how her abductor is alive, because the last time she saw him, he had been hit by a bus. Literally. The mid-point of this episode is where things get interesting.

Enter: the bar fight.

Yes, there’s a barfight. For those people who have not yet seen the series, nor know anything of comics, the bartender mentioned above is Luke Cage.  The short version is, he’s interesting. Heh. Heh. Heh.  The bar fight is amusing, very low key and surprisingly well done, and almost subtle with some of the little tricks they do.

By the end of episode two, we have the introduction of our villain: Kilgrave.

Trust me, I’m the Doctor

(Yes, that’s the name of our badguy: Kilgrave. Even Jessica makes fun of this later on, asking if the name “MurderCorpse” was taken.)

Enter David Tenant, the star of the show. Yes, he’s playing the villainous, deeply evil, very psychotic Kilgrave, but he is so obviously enjoying every single minute of chewing the scenery. You almost want him to be the hero — except he’s so sinister, you know this has to end with someone ramming a stake through his heart.

In the comic books, he was Zebidiah Kilgrave, an Eastern Bloc spy who had a run-in with some chemicals that gave him mind control powers. Yes, mind control. They also turned his hair and skin purple, giving him the name “The Purple Man.”

Yes, really. Because comic books. No, I can’t make this up.

Luckily for the former Doctor, Marvel TV spared him the fate of being sprayed in purple dye, and merely dressed him in a lot of purple, but not so much that he looked like a pimp from the 1970s.

However, because Tenant is British, they changed the origin story so that he got his superpowers from science experiments. More on that below.

Overall? We’ve got an okay little series, that, when it actually stays on point, it is solid. When it doesn’t, though, then we’re in trouble.

But special attention must be paid to episode 6.

Oh, yes, episode 6, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways…

So, a rape victim of Kilgrave has gotten pregnant, and “needs” to have an abortion. Because it’s “a tumor growing inside me.” Yeah, that’s a charming and pleasant way to refer to any baby. So there’s a subplot about slipping her an abortion pill that eats up a lot of the episode. And that entire storyline (about 25 minutes of the episode, easily) goes nowhere, really. They do their best to make it relevant — using the remains of the baby to perform experiments (because embryonic stem cells?) — but we could have done without it. Seriously, writers, did you run out of things to fill out the time?

Time is a large problem of this show, because there are so many time wasters.

Time Waster 1: Jones usually works for a lawyer, played by The Matrix‘s Carrie Anne Moss, who hasn’t really aged all that well, nor has her acting. She’s a bit of a bitch, who’s cheating on her sainted doctor spouse with the secretary — the lawyer, the secretary, and the spouse are all women, by the way. Because it wasn’t just enough to have a show about rape victims and their rapist, but we’ve got to have it as two relatively horrible people in the midst of their divorce, and let’s make them gay. And this adds nothing to the plot, by the way. We don’t care about the lawyer, the doctor, and only a little about the secretary. But at the end of the day, they were three (maybe 2.5) horrible people doing rotten things to each other. It was just “Hey, Lesbians! Let’s rub this in people’s faces. Because Lesbians.”

Is it just me, or has she not aged well?

Time Waster 2: Episode 6 abortion subplot, as mentioned above.

Time Waster 3: Sex. Lots and lots of sex. Jessica Jones and Luke Cage sex. Best and her boyfriend sex. I’m trying to figure out how there wasn’t lesbian sex. Maybe Carrie Ann Moss wasn’t interested. And the sex is boring. It’s not interesting. They made some attempt to make it amusing briefly, with the two of them smashing a pipe at one point, and breaking a bed in another scene, but they don’t really try to make the joke work, and so the entire thing becomes a waste of time, and adds nothing to the plot, or their relationship.

Time Waster 4: The neighbors. Siblings Robyn and Reubin, the upstairs neighbors, are annoying. He’s “in love” with Jessica Jones, though it’s expressly stated that he can’t tie his own shoelaces (he even wears loafers). The sister, Robyn, is a shrieking, neurotic, “why am I listening to this fruitcake?” lunatic. I was hoping for her to be horribly murdered, so she could be put out of my misery. At the end of the day, her entire purpose to the show is to drag out an already padded plot.

There’s a reason I got through 11 episodes in 8 hours. Liberal use of the fast forward button.

Though I never sped through David Tenant’s scenes, mostly because he’s just that watchable. Hell, David Tenant stole every scene he was in as the charming and freaking terrifying Kilgrave. He’s pleasant and friendly, until he’s not, and then he’ll pleasantly tell you to kill yourself. He was basically a Criminal Minds villain with superpowers, only I usually skip those scenes in Criminal Minds. His origin is such that you can’t tell if you should feel sorry for him, or if he should just have a stake driven through his heart. (I’m sure the effect is better on normal people, but even when I felt sorry for him, I also feel sorry for rabid dogs, but they have to go).

The way it’s portrayed, you can’t tell if he’s a spoiled child who grew old but didn’t grow up, or was he maltreated and poorly parented. The answer … both, really. You’ll see. At the end of the day, you can’t really tell how much of him being evil is nature or nurture. And I like how the answer boils down to a bit of both. Is there good in him? Maybe. Ish. But there’s so much mucking around in his head and in his actions, he gives serial killers a bad name. He’s not a very shallow monster. He never really lies, he just selectively remembers. His entire history is deeply edited in his own head. He is a simple evil, but complex in his generation. A lot of work went into making him the way he is.

Actor Mike Colter also stole much of the show as Luke Cage, known in the comics as …. Luke Cage. Or as Power Man. Trust me, Luke Cage is a much cooler name — Nicholas Cage used it to inspire his stage name. In this, Luke Cage is a bartender who happens to be indestructible. He’s an interesting, grounded character, who brings a good deal of gravitas to the series. He was in just over half the episodes (7 of the series’ 13), and the episodes that lacked his presence were, well, lacking.

Much must be said for actress Rachel Taylor, who plays Jones’ sister and best friend Trish Walker — a former Hannah Montana parallel who has grown up to become a well-adjusted human being. Basically, she’s a sidekick in a Norah Roberts novel — you know, the plucky best friend who has grown up with / adopted the main heroine (in this case, both), and is there to provide encouragement, humor, and happens to carry a gun. As possibly the most normal person in this series (Luke Cage being a close second), Trish provides an interesting counterpoint to all the misery and psychosis around her.  Though if you’re interested in seeing her became the superheroine “Hellcat” … you get a little bit of that, but it’s a very different character (possibly obvious starting from the fact that Hellcat has nothing whatsoever to do with Jessica Jones in the comic books).

Kudos must be given to actress Rosario Dawson, playing Claire Temple, Daredevil’s friend the nurse. She makes an appearance in the final act, not quite as a deus ex machina, but close. She has some good words of wisdom, and it is consistent with her character that she has no problem dealing with a man with unbreakable skin, or mind control powers, or that a 90-pound girl can lift a 6’3″ man built like a running back. She added some nice levity at a point in the show when it was just getting bleak.

However, the worst part of the show is part of the plot. In a 13- episode arc, a lot of the subplots is padding, or are otherwise generally annoying. But the worst part of all of this? Worse than abortion subplot #6 or the lesbian divorce case or the gratuitous sex scenes? There is one primary reason for keeping Kilgrave alive for most of the series. and then, that reason is gratuitously removed.

Good God, that pisses me off. It’s sort of like the opening to Alien 3 — hi, we killed off two of the characters from Aliens that we spent THE ENTIRE FILM trying to save, so that entire effort was wasted by gratuitous writing. Thanks for your time, but the entire film was a waste. Ciao!

Ugh….

Overall, the good parts are so superior to the bad parts, that I’d recommend it. When it’s good, it’s very very good. When it’s bad, it’s boring. At the end of the day, call it a 6/10 — because if you want to stick around for every last minute of the show, you’re going to want to tear your hair out. Fast forward through anything that does not have Cage, Kilgrave, Trish or Jessica on the screen … though anything with the lawyer or chunks of episode 6 should just be sped through. And the sex, obviously.

One big problem that will be an issue for Matt Bowman. One of his primary gripes with the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that it should feel more like a tightly knit little world. Agents of SHIELD, NetFlix, and Avengers films seem to be three separate and distinct worlds. Sure, the smaller shows might make mention of the bigger events — the alien attack on New York from the Avengers films, or “the big green dude and his friends.” But the three will never directly interact — tv shows can reference the films, but the films won’t reference the tv shows, nor Netflix or television reference each other.

And with Jessica Jones, all of that is one big missed opportunity. Looking at her Wiki bio, Jessica Jones has been hip deep in this world since forever, with casual references to SHIELD, Spider-man, Daredevil, Miss / Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers), Scott Lang / Ant-Man, and that was before she was even a Private Eye. As Danvers, Lang, and SHIELD were already established within the lineup before the scripts were being written for this series, it seems a bit of a waste that no one thought to connect them in this.  Heck, Matt Murdock couldn’t have popped up as a lawyer?

I’ll give the director this: the noir style of the camera work and the music is very nice. It doesn’t get in the way, but I did notice a slight Fritz Lang quality to the show, with slanted angles, and framing the shots in unique  But I’m not going to up my score for the directing. Episode 2 of Daredevil did a marvelous job with their final fight scene in the hallway, and to greater effect. Here, it was just more atmospherics in an already dense atmosphere.

Again, final grade: 6/10. When it’s good, it’s great. When it’s bad, it’s awful. Anyone religious should probably take with a grain of salt and a shot of tequila. This is not your standard superhero story, and it was never meant to be. It’s really the story of a PTSD victim who is self medicating with booze and self pity. She does not want to be a hero, and one can argue that she’s avoided being one for the entire series. It even ends on an awkward note.

About Declan Finn

Declan Finn is the author of Honor at Stake, an urban fantasy novel, nominated for Best Horror in the first annual Dragon Awards. He has also written The Pius Trilogy, an attempt to take Dan Brown to the woodshed in his own medium -- soon to be republished by Silver Empire Press. Finn has also written "Codename: Winterborn," an SF espionage thriller, and it's follow-up, "Codename: Winterborn." And "It was Only on Stun!" and "Set To Kill" are murder mysteries at a science fiction convention.
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3 Responses to A Review of Marvel’s Jessica Jones

  1. shamrock31girl says:

    Declan, thanks for this balanced and thorough review! I have been bouncing back and forth about this show for quite a while; in all honesty, the only reason why “Jessica Jones” intrigues me is Kilgrave (and Claire! I love Claire!). I find it hard to invest myself in shows (even when they are only 13 episodes!), and I really, really like it when plots are substantial and everything connects meaningfully. So, it’s helpful to hear that so much of the show is padding. Between that, and all of the gratuitous sex, I feel like I could utilize my Netflix time in a better way. (though maybe I’ll play one episode sometime just to get a dose of Tennant’s acting, because he’s awesome) ~AnneMarie

    Like

  2. Pingback: Daredevil Isn’t Catholic Enough: A Superhero Fisk | The Catholic Geeks

  3. No mention of the phenomenally stupid episode 10?

    That was probably the single stupidest episode of a show I’ve ever seen. The one where Simpson inexplicably killed the cop and destroyed all their evidence, and Jessica suddenly became a wuss, and Kilgrave’s powers became completely inconsistent, and…and…

    It was just awful. Truly awful.

    But I liked a couple of episodes afterward.

    Like

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