After being thoroughly blown away by the excellence that was Daredevil (2015), I was a bit nervous about how Marvel and Netflix were going to follow up with their next production, Jessica Jones. On top of that, despite being an avid comic-book reader I had never really read many comics with the character in; Alias, the comic on which Jessica Jones is based, has been out of print for a number of years until very recently. The “no capes” aesthetic also worried me – could Marvel make a show set in a realistic setting with non-superhero characters? My previous experience with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. told me no, although I am aware that apparently that show has become excellent since its lacklustre first season.
Once again, Marvel has captured lightning in a bottle. The “no capes” aesthetic turns out to be one of Jessica Jones’ best aspects. All of these characters feel very real, complex, and full of problems, most of all Jessica herself, portrayed by Krysten Ritter. She is without a doubt one of the greatest of heroines, and is going to go down in popular culture as such. Simply put, Jessica Jones is totally unlike anything else that Marvel has done, and also unlike anything else that has come before. It is their most original and thoughtful production to date, and perhaps their most important, too.
The show’s treatment of real-life issues, such as sexual assault, post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism, and sexuality is perfect. I can’t think of another show, movie, or book that has done this much to explore the issues that women face on a daily basis. It’s true stroke of brilliance, though, is that the show never whacks you over the head with it, telling you these issues as some kind of political soapbox. Rather, the issues are delicately sown into the fabric of the story. They are necessary to the kind of story Jessica Jones is telling. By the same token, Jessica Jones is not a story that could feature a male lead; it absolutely had to have a female lead for it to work.
One of the biggest highlights of the show is David Tennant’s performance as Kilgrave, or as he’s known in the comic-books, the Purple Man. It would have been very easy to make Kilgrave a cartoony villain, but Tennant crafts a truly scary performance. One look at Kilgrave and you can tell he’s just a complete sociopath. But Tennant also imbues him with vulnerability and even sympathy. The writers resist the urge to make this super-powered rapist a truly evil, unlikeable villain. Instead, we spend a lot of the show in his shoes; learning about his childhood and the circumstances that his power creates. He is one of the first villains I’ve seen where he is as much a victim of his own power as the people that befall his gaze. If you were a mind-controller, and you never knew if people actually did things with consent, how could you not be a sociopath? This also gives a brilliant platform for discussing memories of trauma, and showing how the victims and perpetrators often have differing memories and opinions of what happened.
The show does have some minor flaws, however. It did take me a while – actually until around episode 5 – to really get into the characters and to realise what the show was trying to do. Additionally, I think the tension of the story peaked around episodes 8 and 9, leaving the ending of the show to be a little ant-climactic. Nonetheless, Jessica Jones is a quality show, and perhaps the most important and thematically rich thing that Marvel has yet to put out. It doesn’t quite reach the highs of Daredevil, but I am biased in saying that as Daredevil is probably my favourite Marvel comic. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed.