Jessica Jones is super but only in the way that, say, Buffy The Vampire Slayer was. She has super strength and that’s it. But she is also dealing (badly) with a childhood trauma that left her without any family. She drinks. She sleeps with strangers. She has a bad attitude in most situations. Krysten Ritter (Nightbooks) perfectly embodies a woman who can’t cope and so throws herself into vice and sarcasm in order to get by. A skilled private detective, she runs Alias Investigations in order to bring in enough money to keep the whiskey flowing.
In series 1 we meet her still traumatised from being held captive under the influence of Kilgrave (David Tennant). Kilgrave has the ability to make anyone do what he tells them to do, whether it be jump off a building or put a bullet in their head. The series shows how Jessica had been his slave for some time, and some of the things he forced her to do. On a surface level, there is the power struggle and revenge elements driving the plot. But underneath this is a commendable amount of subtext about the mental repercussions of sexual assault, toxic masculinity, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Filling out the main character roster is Malcolm, a drug addict who lives down the hall and seems to be hiding something; Trish, Jessica’s foster sister and child star celebrity who’s attempts to help often betray an inferiority complex; and Jeri, a cold-hearted powerful lawyer who hires Jessica for the more seedy jobs. With a predominantly female cast (and crew) the character arcs are refreshingly nuanced and fleshed out.
Season 1 throws you into a statement of intent. This is a noir world with a dirty underbelly of sex and violence and even though it takes place in the same location as Marvel’s Daredevil, the tone couldn’t be more different. You’ll probably find you power through the episodes and let it all wash over you. Season 2, however, starts off rather slow. A status quo of sorts is established and what blips there are to that start off as mere distractions (cue a cocky rival investigator getting beat down and refusing to let it go throughout the whole series). It’s not until a clear threat is defined a few episodes in (thanks to a skin-crawlingly manic Janet McTeer) and the mystery of what happened to Jones to ‘gift’ her with superpowers is unwrapped that things kick up a gear.
There are pros and cons to the various narrative threads that run through the show. Some characters make stupid decisions for reasons that seem more designed to move things forward than logic. But anchoring it all is the superb performance from Ritter. She is at once strong, vulnerable, hurt, defiant, self-doubting, misanthropic, but hopeful. She battles with the morality of whether or not to kill and her sisterly relationship with Trish – who takes on more and more personal risk to keep up – is layered throughout. By taking on a noir tone, Jessica Jones has a licence to explore the darker personality aspects via a core of great characters.
I’m watching the Netflix Marvel shows in order and so I have a little way to go before Jessica Jones season 3 (it was the last one to be canceled before Disney took back all the rights for their own streaming service) but I am glad it will be the one rounding out the clutch of mature Marvel shows.
Words by Michael Record