The Netflix Original Series Marvel’s Jessica Jones, based on one of the lesser-known Marvel superheroines, premiered this morning, and has left us positively reeling. Read on for our initial impression, based on the first episode, AKA Ladies Night.
Bear in mind that this review is from someone who went into this premier knowing next to nothing about Jessica Jones; her character, backstory, and whether or not she is in fact possessed of any superpowers are a complete mystery, which made the show all the more gripping. I do not say that to deter comic book buffs, however; those who are familiar with her tale will still be drawn into this incarnation of it.
First of all, I would like to praise the superb casting. It stars Krysten Ritter, who is best known for her roles on Breaking Bad and Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23, and is absolutely perfect for this role. Her acting is top-notch the internal emotional struggle of the character is often plainly visible on her face, and the delivery of her often sardonic sense of humor is flawlessly deadpan. As yet, the only other character that stands out is the barkeep (played by Mike Colter), who has an air of importance that suggests he will be a recurring character; we of course know him to be Luke Cage.
The introductory artwork and theme song are hauntingly beautiful, which really sets the tone for the whole experience. The cinematography, jazzy background music, adult themes, and melancholy all lend the show a very film noir feel (not to mention the fact that Ms. Jones is a private eye). The aura of mystery created surrounding her origin story sucked me in right from the beginning, and didn’t let go from there.
I found myself loving Jessica because she is so far from the typical female superhero. Rather than the busty, scantily clad, glamorous women we are used, here we have one that swears, drinks herself into oblivion nightly, and hooks up with random men. Not to mention her propensity for climbing fire escapes and spying on people. She is cynical and sarcastic, which the viewer gets a sense that she uses as a front to hide feelings of profound hopelessness.
In fact, it’s been said that the show has a dark feel similar to Daredevil; however, this is not exactly a fair comparison; Daredevil and Jessica Jones are as different as can be. While it’s clear that both have been victims of tragedy, Daredevil uses his to fuel his brand of vigilante justice. He is just starting out as a superhero, and full of naive hope; we get the feeling from Jessica that she has been there, done that. The one glimpse we get of her superhuman ability is when she lifts a car; otherwise, her super strength doesn’t really come into play. She has a superpower, without really being a superhero. And, whereas Daredevil has Foggy and Karen as companions, Jessica radiates intense loneliness. She never smiles, except in an ironic manner.
We know that she is a private eye, and is exceptionally good at her job. She is hired by a midwestern couple who have come to the city in search of their daughter, who has dropped out of NYU, moved out of her apartment, and cut off contact. What at first seems like a straightforward case leads Jessica to a series of twists that finally give us the barest insight into her dark past. She begins to draw parallels between the girl’s case and a significant event in her own history, and has a series of brief, intense flashbacks. Here, we are introduced to the apparent villain in the story — a man known only as Kilgrave. He employs some sort of mind control, and Jessica has apparently had a run-in with him; this is ostensibly the reason for her severe PTSD.
The pilot paints an incredibly bleak picture of Jones’s life, but injects enough levity into each scenario to keep it from being too oppressive. Although the premiere is not heavy on dialogue, her interaction with other characters is often overflowing with thinly veiled sarcasm. For instance, she tells the man in the car she lifts, “It’s people like you that give people like you a bad name.” When she meets with an enigmatic-yet-attractive bar owner (with whom she ultimately goes home), they engage in a slew of delightfully witty banter.
The morning after said encounter, we see her fleeing his residence on the verge of tears. In fact, throughout the episode, she seems to be barely holding it together; tears are always lurking just behind her eyes. To one as yet unfamiliar with her story, it evokes a strong curiosity as to what this woman has been through to make her so deeply depressed. The glimpses into her past serve to pique the viewer’s interest, revealing just enough to keep the story interesting without ruining the mystery.
In the interest of not spoiling the episode, I’ll just say that the ending keeps with the aesthetics of the rest of the show. It’s not a feel-good show, that much is certain; just when you start to think the episode might end on a warm, fuzzy moment, the producers rip the rug out from underneath you in a twist that will leave you both shocked and horrified (yet oddly intrigued).
Given that Jessica Jones is not the most familiar Marvel character, the choice to give her a show in lieu of the more popular superheroes that exist in the universe is interesting. Comic book-based shows and movies seem to be something of a fad lately, and while it might seem that Netflix and Marvel are capitalizing on this trend, this show really stands apart from the rest. Thus far, it seems singularly well-done; even someone who is not a fan of the superhero franchises currently saturating the market might find that they enjoy Jessica Jones. Netflix has really hit it out of the park yet again with an original series. If you’ll excuse me, I am now going to go binge-watch the rest of the series.