I will preface these reviews by saying I’m a Marvel fan, but the fan that religiously consumes its movies and television shows. Jessica Jones has ben on my radar since it was first announced, back when Daredevil was still making its debut as the first of the planned series that would eventually culminate in The Defenders. Jessica Jones was announced not long after with behind the scenes photos of leading lady Krysten Ritter and love interest (and eventual main character of his own Netflix series) Mike Colter as Luke Cage. The arrival of Jessica Jones excited me because of Marvel’s proven resistance to throw its weight behind a female superhero, though it’s more than fair to debate the heft behind a 13 episode season on Netflix compared to the blockbuster might of Captain America or Thor. I’m not an avid comic reader (though I’m trying to get into it), but I did plenty of research going into Jessica Jones, enough to know how dark the series, and its heroine is supposed to be. And just for good measure the Century Link tech who finally restored my internet after a million years without it also told me of Jessica’s time with Kilgrave as his “willing” captive.
Jessica’s past with Kilgrave is vaguely traced throughout the first episode. We don’t see him and learn little of what happened to Jessica when she was with him, but we can assume from Hope Schlottman (Erin Moriarty) that it was extremely and profoundly terrible. It’s no wonder Jessica Jones is a casual alcoholic, consuming drinks all day and all night, her way of coping with the remnants of Kilgrave’s effect on her. Murmuring street names is her only other defense, and though she does it often, she gave up on therapy. Whatever likelihood Jessica has of recovering from her Kilgrave-caused PTSD is shot through when Kilgrave reappears, using his compulsion powers to send Hope’s parents to her in a tortuous move to reveal that he’s still alive, in the city and hasn’t forgotten about Jessica. Realizing that Kilgrave is enacting the same sick games he played with her and using mind control to force her into a romantic and sexual relationship, Jessica’s ready to flee rather than attempt to take him on.
The pilot is less focused on asserting Jessica as a hero who swoops in to help people in need but as a woman trying to recover from the trauma of Kilgrave’s captivity. Daredevil already proved Netflix had more of a license for the morally grey and gritty, which makes Jessica Jones (and Jessica’s horrifying experience with Kilgrave) more appropriate far from the splashy silver screen occupied by other Marvel properties. The violence is significantly lesser than Daredevil, though Jessica Jones is at least more comfortable with sex than it is with the gory killing that became so customary. Also unlike Daredevil, I can actually see what’s happening onscreen (newsflash: noir isn’t lessened by being able to make out what’s happening in front of me), but like Daredevil had Matt Murdoch coming to terms with his heroism and figuring our what lines were drawn, Jessica has to figure out how to live, and if she can help people, after her abuse by Kilgrave.
Jessica’s first instinct upon realizing Kilgrave’s back is to run, but she puts a pin in that plan to rescue Hope, encouraged by voicemails from her distraught parents and friend Trish (Rachael Taylor). Her desire to flee makes perfect sense, and “AKA Ladies Night” goes a long way to establishing Jessica as a sympathetic person who’s also a bit of a mess. She’s kind of cool and sometimes funny, but she loses her bravado when forced to remember her past with Kilgrave. The pilot doesn’t do anything new with Jessica swallowed down her PTSD to rescue Hope, as that was easily traced by this being, you know a superhero show, but it does inject some energy into it by having Jessica’s heroics be reluctant, grudging and even against her instinct for self-preservation. Her attempts at superheroics already failed once before, and she’s not eager to pick it up again when it was what landed her with Kilgrave to begin with. The first episode is vague in its explanation of what exactly Jessica endured as Kilgrave’s captive, but it’s not hard to draw conclusions from what “AKA Ladies Night” gives us.
Kilgrave has Hope shopping for lingerie, takes her out for one month anniversary dinners and leaves her half-dressed in bed and lying in her urine because he’s told her not to move. Kilgrave’s powers are so strong Jessica has to literally drag Hope from the room, kicking and screaming. The episode doesn’t come right out and say that Jessica and Hope are survivors of sexual abuse, but it’s written all over it. When Jessica gets Hope back to her office, she sits her down and tells her none of this was her fault, in a conversation reminiscent of that had between other sexual assault survivors and their advocates. Jessica knowing exactly what Hope’s endured with Kilgrave makes Jessica’s rescue of her more powerful, and it’s made even bigger when Jessica decides not to run after all, even after Kilgrave has forced Hope to kill her parents and tell Jessica to smile over their bloodied bodies.
“AKA Ladies Night” zeroes in on Jessica’s grudging rescue of Hope and its bloody end, but Luke Cage also takes up a sizeable portion of the episode’s time. Mike Colter is appropriately charming (and crazy attractive) as Luke, who Jessica spies on for yet to be disclosed reasons and eventually sleeps with. It likely has something to do with the woman whose photo she sees in his medicine cabinet, after which she quickly skips out. Luke Cage is an exciting addition for any Marvel fan and I’m interested in seeing how he’s going to be incorporated in the show. His appearance certainly doesn’t seem to be a one-off cameo.
Check back here tomorrow for a review of Jessica Jones‘ second episode.
- It’s because I’ve been watching Veronica Mars that this first episode reminded me of it quite a bit. Krysten Ritter also appeared on that show, and in the movie.
- I’m very intrigued by Trish. More Trish.
- Jeri Hogarth is a hot shot lawyer cheating on her wife with her secretary. I’m shocked Marvel not only genderbent an originally male character from the comics but also allowed her to be a lesbian.
- Jessica Jones manages to be Marvel’s most diverse attempt yet while still not getting there. Eka Darville and Mike Colter are the only non-white people in the whole cast.
- Jessica: “Jesus, more track.”