Created by: Melissa Rosenberg
Starring: Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Rachael Taylor, Wil Traval, Erin Moriarty, Eka Darville, Carrie-Anne Moss, David Tennant
Number Of Episodes: 13
Stepping out of the shadow of the stellar Netflix series ‘Daredevil’ is even more difficult when you’re arguably a touch darker still. The tale of Matt Murdock took the media world by storm and showed that the Marvel Universe is still for real even when crammed onto the small screen. Netflix showed a tenacity and competency with beloved titles as it launched it’s plans for several street level heroes to culminate into a future series of ‘The Defenders’, essentially a plucky underdog team of budget Avengers. This series finds relatively lesser known heroine Jessica Jones who has been featured in her own and other heroes comic lines and more lately as the heart and conscience of Luke Cage and the New Avengers as she hung up the heroism for motherhood. She seemed a strange choice for a next series but as many fans bemoaned the lack of noir flair in Daredevil, early trailers teased a dark, stylish detective flavour for Miss Jones and her private eye, alcohol-fueled snoopings. The addition of geek idol David Tennant also gave the star factor and the chance to see him creep and sneer as the dangerous villain. So how would these bold flavours combine? Carefully moulded together like the man without fear’s flagship season or would it stumble over the ever growing hurdle of fan anticipation?
We find our anti hero Jessica Jones running Alias Investigations in an office where if the clients matched the number of insects burrowed away she would be a rich and busy woman indeed.Instantly striking as a no nonsense woman who believes talk is as cheap as the discount bourbon she gulps down, immersing herself in cases and booze alike to escape a fragmented yet instantly disturbing past. Jessica is quickly shown to have been previously under the influence of Kilgrave, a man with the ability to control the minds of others. As his pawn she committed heinous acts and now drowns her guilt in a cocktail of booze, loneliness and desperate atonement. Believed dead , Kilgrave reappears to torture Jones controlling those around her as she hunts him down. Meanwhile she also faces her inescapable wounds painfully reopened by the sharp blade of affection as Luke Cage and best friend Trish Walker try to force their way into her world.
The first thing to say about this series is that is very bold and a somehow vibrant shade of dark, the grimy setting of the back alleys a vibrant contrast to the larger than life events taking place. If Daredevil introduced us to Hell’s Kitchen then Jessica Jones shows us the gutter of it. It is a refrshingly different feel to Matt Murdock’s outing in a number of ways, the Daredevil season was lauded for it’s gritty violence and well choreographed action while this is a whole different waltz with super powers setting the rhythm. Minor powers and huge strength lead to more brawls than the acrobatic blind lawyer and while Murdock tries to be the perfect saviour while desperately fumble the needle back into his moral compass Jessica is running on pure instinct and trying avoid the being the hero everyone else wants her to be.
The issues this series tackles are not just plot points either but grabbed hold of and shaken in your face with a rare and well balanced boldness, PTSD and rape are repeatedly not only referenced but tussled over. These become the season’s greatest strength as it makes a larger than life story important in it’s message and makes it’s victim Jessica more human in her frailty and Kilgrave more disturbing in the horrific conviction he has to constantly justify his crimes. The season should be praised and noticed for raising this issues and not just for show but to make careful and important points. The show also isn’t violently feminist but a positive change to the noir formula, Jones know as the stable detective holding her friends world’s together and Luke Cage taking the femme fatale role and arguably, subtly making it the homme fatale male equivalent. The ladies man with a cloudy past, drawn together and used to hurt her, he’s mysterious and a weak point in the powerhouse life of our Jessica Jones. This points aren’t insisted upon but make a welcome change but good points don’t make a show entertaining and frankly good alone, does the rest of this season flesh it out into a complete product?
Initially the first episode is impacting, Kilgrave’s flashes in and out of Jones’s mind and world wreaking havoc upon her the one place her superhuman strength can’t help, her mind. The mental scars are made flesh on our screen interfering with shots and fading in and out of the back ground, Kilgrave’s memory appears to violate her space at whim and his shout echoes in the background, even more disturbing for it’s similarity to his well know Timelord tone. sadly even though Kilgrave won’t fade away his intrusions into her psyche do and the striking noir style also is utilised much less to the point where it seems to be enough that she has an office and drinks. This is a huge shame and for me the first tow episodes remain arguably the best. Kilgrave’s powers are forever entertaining as they are terrifying and have a lot of potential for set pieces and the ones they use are mostly effective though sometimes lazy such as in the bar and at the docks in the end. His origin story is great though and treads the line of sympathy and justice with Olympic worthy balance.
The music is fine and the shots used are ok though never memorable in their originality. The city is infused with more of the locals and Hell’s kitchen is still fleshed out as it becomes a character of it’s own which helps the series although Jones doesn’t have the same affinity for the city which is fine as the people around her do. The script has some high points but is relatively flat, never achingly bad but merely bland and without too much poetry or snap. Kilgrave has most of the stellar quotes but is only introduced around half way through and Jones herself lacks cutting dialogue with only a couple of tasty put downs and mainly strops around her world in turmoil with all the charm of a bee-stung bulldog.
The acting has been praised and it’s mostly deserved, Tennant absolutely melts away the world around him as the volcanic Kilgrave who is incredibly well written. A power tripping survivalist who can claim to be a god in the same breathe as playing the verbal possum and whining out his justifications and trials of being the victim of his own powers. “You don’t know what it’s like. I never know what’s real!” The Hannibal Lecter routine is actually very gripping and he turns his charm to manipulating the heart strings when he cant manipulate the mind. He wheels around every stage like a rock star high on his own ability while sneering at the less worthy around him. Mike Colter is great as Luke Cage, Eka Darville is very good as Malcolm who shows the true nature of Kilgrave’s view on disposable human tools. Wil Traval as Will Simpson is thrust into the story like a bewildered puppy and wanders around the narrative leaving the muddy footprints of his over acting all over the plot threads, basically it seems like he’s doing an impression of Brody from Homeland and never improving. Carrie Anne Moss is a pointlessness is only rivaled by the frigidity of her wooden contribution. Krysten Ritter as Jessica is at her best when portraying the anguish and fear but i found her very hard to like when bruising her away round as the frankly abrasive and the charm of this anti hero seems sadly lacking while some of her hard boiled attitude lines are very awkward and stale. Rachael Taylor is actually far better as Trish walker, the best friend who is made randomly capable but brought crashing down to earth when she’s still out of her depth, the flawed friend who should be annoying and a random side story but is actually one of the few likable characters around.
The story is initially intriguing and the relationship between Kilgrave and Jones is rife with drama and psychological terror, her friendship with Trish is an original take on sisters and her romance with Luke Cage is enticing fan bait. There are some strong set pieces like the police station stand off and Jessica’s old home yet it lurches from one to the next without much impact or time dedicated to any except maybe the cell or the startlingly “death by a thousand cuts”. The horror factor is never really turned up to 11 and the plot meanders from the serious to the frankly ridiculous and borderline pulp with uncertainty. Some of the atmosphere is great with a paranoid Jessica being spied on by ever changing victims and in crowded streets of people that may not know they are weapons of Kilgrave, ready to pounce in an instant, this is brilliant but not fully sustained in my opinion. The stories are stretched and intermittent so it’s hard to really feel much investment and i found myself bored and frustrated towards the end. Jessica’s morale conflict is unconvincing and more blatant as a tool to elongate affairs. The romance with Cage is positive in it’s honest and purely carnal beginnings then splutters out into boredom and only has one sincere, well crafted moment that isn’t even genuine.
It’s a great idea to have local touches like the regular hotel and restaurant or Cage’s sentimental bar. Also normal citizen’s spread throughout to emphasise they are heroes of the people as it did in daredevil and this series takes a close look at people affected by power related incidents with support groups and consequences of actions truly resonate throughout the series. It’s a shame then that only Malcolm is convincing with Robyn being a volatile flame of ridiculousness setting fire to any credibility this plot line has. They aim for quirky and shoot themselves square in the foot by creating an unbelievable, unlikable set of side characters that merely serve to throw themselves on the slowing cogs of the story. I felt nothing for most of this poorly constructed victim group other than impatience. Malcom however is relevant and well acted. Rosario Dawson has a fleeting appearance that only highlights other shallow characters and mediocre acting and although daredevil is referenced and answered for it’s sadly late and little, also the Avengers are mentioned to remind us that we are in the same world but this series feels the most isolated outing to date.
The end set piece is terrible and anti climactic for a 13 episode build up. their idea to block Kilgrave’s influence is childish and obvious, it would be anyone’s first idea and is patronisingly bad writing. Rather than suspend disbelief we’re asked to fire it out of an ejector seat from this once promising vehicle of a story that is now starting to shudder to a halt. Their are many positive elements to this series but very little direction and payoff that left me feeling as underwhelmed and cheated as the optimistic gambler who faces the one hand hand better than his own. Several story lines are teased for the next series but with the deft touch of a hammerhead shark doing crochet, they aren’t so much ended as wrenched away like the carrot of satisfaction on the stick of poor pacing. Again the show is run competently but never consistently and overwhelmingly well, it’s confusing and entertaining and interchanging bouts of equal measure.
The Verdict: A random series of events that are equally intriguing as they are drawn out and often not committed too. The microwave meal of Marvel series, does the job and leaves me temporarily filled without being fully satisfied.