This weekend, the world met the whiskey-drinking, super-powered Hell’s Kitchen detective known as Jessica Jones. She’s the star of the second Netflix Marvel superhero show, leading into the team-up series The Defenders, and many people spent their weekends on the couch, devouring all 13 episodes.
We did just that—and overall, we absolutely loved the show. Created by and produced by Melissa Rosenberg, Jessica Jones is wholly different from everything Marvel has done, but also fills a nice new niche in that world. Still, there are definitely a few issues, so we came up with 12 things we love about the show and four that we don’t.
Be aware, these are riddled with spoilers, ranging from small to very big. Read at your own peril.
Cities might get destroyed, people may die, but the Marvel TV and Cinematic Universes have always leaned more toward being family-friendly. There’s a smattering of language and intensity but it’s all in service of the big spectacle. We started to see that shift a bit in Daredevil, but Jessica Jones completely tips the scales. There’s copious cursing, drug use, sex, sexual content, disturbing imagery, basically everything minus the “F-Word.” In the best possible way, the penchant for more adult content sets the tone for the show and the character of Jessica herself, played by Krysten Ritter.
Hearing the characters curse, or watching them vigorously have sex, lets us know anything can happen on this show, which is a welcome change for a Marvel property. People can die, heroes can turn on each other, or villains can show their sensitive sides. Nothing is impossible—and that ups the intensity and drama.
This also separates Jessica from the rest of her fellow superheroes. Tony Stark thinks he’s a badass with tragic flaws, but he’s also a billionaire who barely curses. Jessica actually is a badass with tragic flaws. She has a shit apartment, drinks cheap whiskey, wears the same clothes almost every day, and still manages to do her job with swagger. That hard-boiled persona makes us eager to learn more about her, but also makes her a bit more relatable. You know people like Jessica Jones, but you don’t know anyone like Captain America.
As we enter not only just Phase 3 of the Marvel Universe, but the start of DC’s deluge of movies and TV shows, you continue to hear a lot about “superhero fatigue.” Know who else is getting tired of superheroes? Jessica Jones—which makes her show that much more relevant right now.
Jones is a character who has lots of powers, who doesn’t know how she got those powers, and even tried at some point—though we don’t really learn a ton about it–to be a hero. When we meet her, though, she’s over all of that. She drinks to numb the pain of her experiences and only uses her powers when they are absolutely necessary, and even then her powers aren’t particularly flashy. It’s as if she’s simply wants to crawl into bed at all times. That attitude dictates that sometimes she fails, and sometimes has to quit, and people die. She’s a hero without that “hero” sheen, and that makes her a hero that we can all relate to.
Masking a superhero show within this hard-boiled, noir, twisty detective construct is just plain refreshing. It works on a story level, and it works on a larger scale in that now you kind of want to see more of the traditional heroes, just to view he or she through Jones’ eyes.
Jessica Jones clearly owes its roots to noir, but Jessica ditches the usual private-eye investigation schtick for Kilgrave’s mindgames—although, if the end of the season is any indication, the detective stuff could very well take over when we next see her. It’s an action story, like so many comic book adaptations, except there aren’t that many overly-choreographed and stylized set pieces. It’s a drama, except where it’s darkly funny. The fact that the show can’t be easily put in a box makes it more than the sum of its parts.
David Tennant’s Kilgrave is, without a doubt, one of the most effective villains in any superhero movies or TV to date. From his lingering presence in the early parts of Jessica Jones to the way he overwhelms the story as it reaches its climax, it’s a truly fantastic performance that will have Doctor Who fans’ skin crawling whenever they see the Tenth Doctor.
Kilgrave is both Marvel’s most personal villain, one of its most intimate, and one of its most hugely threatening, even compared to planet-or-galaxy destroyers like Loki and Ultron. If anything, that’s what makes him so compelling—the way his powers develop over the series,you can almost imagine the unbridled horror of what would happen if he ever decided to step into Avengers Tower. But he never would, because of his singular, manic obsession with getting Jessica Jones to love him in a way no one under his control ever could. And unlike several of Marvel’s villains, Kilgrave is frequently, stunningly effective in his threats. Hope Schlottman, Rueben, Kilgrave’s parents, and so many other unnamed people meet horrifying and gory ends because of Kilgrave’s whims, cold acts made all the colder by the fact that they’re for no other reason than to goad Jessica. There’s an almost child-like bent to it as well: Kilgrave lives in a world where he can get whatever he wants, no matter how extreme, and that amps up the creepiness as well—the infamous police station holdup scene in “AKA Top Shelf Perverts” is a stand out in that regard. But in general you simply have no idea what Kilgrave will do from moment to moment, right until his final end.
It’s that personal focus that drives Jessica Jones constantly, and makes this conflict all the more terrible (and compelling) to endure as it peaks and troughs. In a series full of sublime performances, Tennant’s Kilgrave still stands out. And he’s also the most sharply-dressed character, too—although the comic book moniker of “The Purple Man” is never uttered, you have to appreciate a man capable of picking out the loveliest purple suits in between his moments of heinous villainy.
And yet, for all the genuine fear and horrible things Kilgrave does, there’s two moments which bring you so close to understanding why he does the foul things he does over the course of Jessica Jones that almost make you even more disgusted by him.
The first comes in “AKA WWJD?”, when Jessica, having willingly come to live with Kilgrave in her own childhood home, attempts to use her precarious situation to make Kilgrave see his powers used for good—rescuing a family from a suicidal man. The struggle, and then moment of sheer excitement he experiences having done it, is enough, for a second, to make you think that this could be a major turning point... only to have Kilgrave back to his sinister self, threatening two cooks he’s brainwashed to serve Jessica her dinner. Tennant plays the glee and then the immediate, callous snapback, so well that it’s a huge gut punch to see him falter.
It’s a similar moment in “AKA Sin Bin”when Kilgrave is confronted with Jessica’s secret weapon: his parents. It’s an emotionally charged moment that once again delivers that sickly feeling of hope and understanding as Kilgrave confronts the people who made him. A moment that immediately falls apart when his mother tries to stab him, and Kilgrave flies off in a rage, leading to her death and his escape. Marvel has done fairly complex, understandable villains before—but Kilgrave’s evil is amplified so much more by having these few moments of almost-redemption, a fine line between justifying his actions and giving you a moment of hope.
Jessica Jones has a number of characters, who aren’t Jessica or Kilgrave, that are fully realized and wonderfully acted. Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) is both Jessica’s best friend and a hero all on her own. She has a fully realized arc, from estranged best friend to the person Jessica trusts enough to bring with her to the final confrontation with Kilgrave. From practically the beginning, we see that Trish has many layers. She wants to help Hope and Jessica. She’s been training in self-defense and made her home a fortress. And her fierce attack on Kilgrave on her radio show is both brave and foolhardy.
Jeri Hogarth is also a well-crafted character. It would be so easy for this show to use the lesbian character played by Carrie-Anne Moss for titillation. But what Jessica Jones does is give her the exact same plot her character would have had if Jeri were still the male character Jeryn Hogarth. She’s going through a nasty divorce, and is a horrible wife and girlfriend. She’s also a manipulative lawyer and a pragmatist. She may know that Kilgrave’s powers are real, but that does her no good. So she goads Trish into taking that stand for her.
Even though Malcolm starts to feel, at some point, like he’s derailing the plot, his part is actually very interesting. It’s so easy to dismiss him as comedy relief—the druggie neighbor—early in the season. But when it’s revealed that he has a history with Jessica that makes him a perfect mark for Kilgrave, he suddenly becomes much more important. And the playing of someone who was made an addict against his will—but might have always had it in him—was an idea that deserved even more time than it got. He also grew into a strong friend and advocate for Jessica. We’re excited to see more of him as her new assistant next season.
Jessica Jones is, importantly and obviously, all about Jessica’s story. But it also does such a fantastic job with Mike Colter’s Luke Cage that it has us dying to binge watch his own solo series right now. As he moves in and out of Jessica’s story, Luke is eminently enjoyable to watch: charming and funny, yet firm and serious when needed. And between some great sequences showing off his unbreakable skin and that sublime fight between Luke and Jessica in “AKA Take a Bloody Number,” his superpowered moments wind up being just as satisfying to watch as his emotional beats. Even as a supporting character, Colter does a fine job of letting us see what his Luke Cage is all about, ahead of us getting to see a lot more of him on his own in Luke Cage next year.
We could have done without tying his dead wife to Kilgrave and Jessica so closely, but when Cage vanishes at the very end of the season, it leaves us wanting to see a lot more of him, sooner rather than later.
When it comes to romance in fiction, there is a lot of pining and angsting and unresolved sexual tension. When it comes to sex in fiction, there’s a lot soft-focused fades to black and “sexy” shots. Jessica Jones has neither.
Jessica and Luke don’t meet in the pilot and then spend the rest of the season giving each other long looks and having conversations laden with innuendo. Which is great, because we all know that they’ll end up together. Save one fairly big connection in their pasts (see the things we didn’t like for more on that), they act just like anyone else who met in a bar and had chemistry. They have sex. Not like roses and chocolates sex. Or “basically porn” sex. But sex that is both realistic and, strangely, fits with their powers. When they go out for food and have a conversation about their powers, they don’t dump out their whole stories to each other as an exposition technique. They share just enough to make sense for people who just met. How did Jessica get her powers? “Accident.” Luke? “Experiment.” That’s it. It works really well.
While Jessica and Luke’s relationship is just beginning, Hogarth and her wife, Wendy, provide an example of a relationship that’s ending. Hogarth’s divorce might be the most interesting thing about her. She wants it over, so she can be with the secretary she had an affair with. She demands Jessica get her dirt on her ex, so she can get her to sign the papers. But when Kilgrave tells her to go to a doctor that she “trusts,” she ends up going to see Wendy. Hogarth says she still likes Wendy, she just doesn’t love her. It’s actually a very nuanced look at how a romance can just fizzle out.
For her part, Wendy talks about the “death by a thousand cuts” that losing Hogarth is for her. She’s vengeful in her demands. She also brings up all the things she gave up to support Hogarth through law school and for her career. While the affair with the secretary might be the final straw, there are a lot of very real reasons their relationship is dying.
When you sit down to watch a Marvel show, you expect superpowers. Jessica Jones obviously delivers that, but it’s dealt out in a very piecemeal, slow fashion—which makes it that much more satisfying when we learn something new.
So, in the first episode, you find out she’s super strong. She uses that a bit as we wait for her to acknowledge she has powers at all, which she does to Luke Cage. Then we find out she can jump high. We see her use that to varying degrees before she busts out a mega jump, that makes people think she can fly.
Plus, each time, Jones isn’t impressed or excited about any of this. With every single lock or chain she casually rips apart, she’d much rather just take some photos and pound some whisky. And yet this decision to hold back the reveal of her powers not only makes for a gripping subtextual mystery for the viewer, it adds unpredictability and deeper characterization. Jones herself says she’s not hiding her powers, but she’s not advertising them, either. Which says almost everything you need to know about this confident, yet scared, character.
In the second episode of Jessica Jones, while thinking of Kilgrave, Jessica sees a cockroach. The camera then cuts to a shot from inside the sink drain, so we see the cockroach go in, then the focus racks back to see Jessica. Are you kidding me? That’s not your typical TV drama shot.
Jessica Jones is filled with stuff like this. From the canted angles seemingly hanging off the sides of Hell’s Kitchen buildings, to overhead shots of taxi cabs that feel like something out of a ‘70s detective drama, almost all of the exteriors make wonderful use of the New York City setting. Deep focus is used to accentuate the real life locations and whenever a skyline can be worked into a shot, it is. The interiors aren’t half bad either. The cockroach shot is one example, Will Simpson (Wil Traval) walking away from an indoor fire in slow motion is another. Seemingly every shot is composed and exposed to make Jones feel like something truly significant.
Unlike its predecessor Daredevil, which steadily built and built to its singular climactic finale, Jessica Jones’ pace and story ebbs and flows—a move that would otherwise be frustrating, but is aided by some truly fantastic “Wait, what!?” plot turns. that keep you hooked. The early capture attempt on Kilgrave by Trish, Jessica and Simpson in “AKA The Sandwich Saved Me” is so well done that it almost slips your mind that it’s far too early for the heroes to corner the villain.
Kilgrave buying Jessica’s old home from before the tragic accident that orphaned her is also a spectacularly creepy move (the slow pan out to reveal the street names, the ones Jessica chants to herself in moments of distress, is sublimely done), and although we weren’t quite satisfied with it in the long run, Simpson’s own twist, from Kilgrave victim to supporting hero to self-made villain added some interesting swerves to Jessica Jones’ endgame.
Marvel properties always leave you with questions. They popularized the end-credits sequence for just this reason. Jessica Jones does that too, but those questions rarely take away from any important information in the main narrative. At the end of the season, we’re left wondering how Jessica got her powers, what happened when she tried to be a hero, what is IGH—and then, of course, how Jones will eventually fit in with Daredevil.
But none of those questions are things that bug you after you finish watching. Each is at least teased, if not set up perfectly for season two, and that makes Jones feel like a much more complete story than we’re used to getting from Marvel. Seemingly everything that needed to be wrapped up for Jessica to further embrace her ability to be a hero, set up her relationship with Luke, and to defeat Kilgrave, are wrapped up nicely.
The population of New York City is over 8 million people. So what are the odds that, of all the people in New York, not only is Luke Cage’s wife Reva linked to Kilgrave’s origins, but that it’s Jessica Jones who kills her? It’s a perfect example of one of those infuriating connections in TV and movies that—of course—set up good narrative conflicts, but are so unbelievable you can’t help but feel like it’s kind of lazy.
Now, you could say because Luke and Jessica both have powers, there’s some kind of deeper cosmic connection between them, but there’s no evidence of that. Jessica Jones is a way too grounded show to go with any kind of larger, metaphysical explanation. Instead, we’re left with an understandable, albeit frustrating, choice in the narrative.
When Will Simpson first shows up as a cop Kilgrave sent to kill Trish, he’s just the latest of Kilgrave’s pawns. Then he shows up at Trish’s door asking to be forgiven, and the two talk through the door about their traumas, and he garners some sympathy. When he becomes one of their allies, he’s one of the good guys. There’s not a ton of depth to him, but there’s just enough that he feels real.
Unfortunately, all of that gets undone, with his turn to the dark side. We know, because he plays a comics character who is a villain, that Simpson will probably become one. And we’re probably supposed to feel bad about his fall. About how tangling with Kilgrave sends him back to the experimental pill program he used to be in. But, he goes way too quickly from ally who disagrees with Trish and Jessica about their methods and end goal to complete dickwad who’s willing to kill good people to get to Kilgrave. We wanted to feel for him the way we did for Slade in Arrow. Unfortunately, Jessica Jones didn’t do enough to make that happen.
Detective Oscar Clemmons is exactly the same character as Daredevil’s Ben Urich. He’s an older authority figure, who may be one of the only safe bets in his place of work. He’s sought out by one of our heroes to expose the main villain. He’s reluctant to help, but eventually joins their side. And he ends up dead.
It is frustrating to not only see this trope again, but to see it, beat for beat, in both Netflix/Marvel shows. It’s so obvious, it almost felt like it could be a double-bluff. But no. Clemmons dies in what would be a tragic fashion, if we weren’t so disgusted it was happening again.
Plus, Clemmons and Urich were both older black characters. You have to stop killing black characters for shock value. It’s just gross.
Although on the whole we loved much of Jessica Jones’ extensive supporting cast, we couldn’t help but feel a bit annoyed when the season stepped away from the main story between Jessica and Kilgrave to expound on some of these groups. It’s a testament to the main arc that these scenes, even the compelling ones,had us tapping our feet waiting to get back to the main event, but there were definitely some that felt like they ultimately spiraled out of control, simply to delay the main story from moving forward.
The ongoing meetings of the Kilgrave support group—especially the end of the arc with Robin convincing them all to attack Jessica—definitely got that way. And the short, largely pointless subplot between Trish and her mother (that just felt like it was setting up IGH as something to look at in season two) in the last couple of episodes just felt like unnecessary filler, especially in the finale. Jessica Jones is Jess’ story, and the more time we spent away from it, the more impatient we got.