PILOT LITE: Jessica Jones (2015 tv series)

Posted: December 8, 2015 in Uncategorized

**It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything due to a multi-day power outage, Thanksgiving holiday and a busy work schedule. Sorry for the delay, but I finally finished this post on Marvel’s new series, Jessica Jones. Enjoy!**

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Marvel has become known as a safe and infinitely marketable studio when it comes to film and television fare. Sure, they’ve dabbled in darker storylines with Daredevil, but at its core that was still a superhero story with fairly clear lines between good and evil. When it was announced that the remainder of their Netflix original programming would maintain that “street-level” feel of grit and moody atmosphere, most fans assumed that it would still find a balance that skewed more toward the lighter side.

Jessica Jones, the sophomore series, is based on Marvel’s first adult oriented comic in their MAX line, Alias. With that comes an even more adult tone than the former series. I say, without hesitation, that this is the most mature story Marvel has ever put on the screen. This is a maturity that transcends violence or swear words. This is a series that presents complicated individuals in complicated situations. The emotional responses and character relationships feel very appropriate and realistic for the setting and story being told.

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Walking the beat, like a good PI.

The plot focuses on Jessica Jones (shocking, right?) a private eye with super-strength who’s also a former costumed hero. The series doesn’t go to great lengths to establish her past heroic exploits, but that’s not to say that her history isn’t explored. Jessica experienced an incredible trauma that lead to PTSD that plagues her life and causes her to seek the warm embrace of alcohol. The show does a surprisingly effective job capturing just how debilitating PTSD can be for a person. Jessica is someone who is self-assured and super powerful, and yet she can be brought to her knees by the wrong signal leading to a painful memory. The nuance and care that is put into this portrayal is certainly worthy of praise, as is Krysten Ritter’s work with the character. She does great with the hard-edged PI side of the character but shows surprising vulnerability that makes Jessica feel like a real person.

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Not yet Hellcat.

And it’s not just Ritter’s lead role that gets this treatment. Every major character in this series gets a healthy dose of nuance and realism, which leads to the maturity of tone that I mentioned earlier. Jessica’s best friend, Trish (as played by Rachael Taylor), is also grappling with past-trauma. In fact, nearly everyone on the series is. Which, in a way, is a general truth that can be applied to all humanity. We all carry our past abuses and damage with us every day of our lives. Some are worse than others, but they all have equal measure in shaping us as an individual and as a society. If this series is anything, it’s a treatise on how no one should shoulder guilt, depression or stress alone.

I wish I could talk about all of the actors involved at length, but sadly this is a blog post and not a book (hint, any publisher reading this…), so I’ll try to just hit the highlights. The aforementioned Trish Walker is more than just Jessica’s source of support. She has a pretty rich backstory herself and is busy dealing her own issues for a good chunk of the series. It’s interesting how few of the characters are simply reactionary. Most have enough agency and depth to carry their own story. Trish ends up becoming a surprisingly strong character as she progresses throughout the season.

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Hero for hire.

Mike Colter plays Luke Cage, Jessica’s love interest/sometimes sidekick. While he could have just been thrown in to promote his future Netflix series, he actually fits pretty well into the narrative.  The chemistry between the two of them is palpable and leads to some pretty intense love scenes.

That, itself, is another interesting aspect of the show: how sex-positive it is. Sex is portrayed shockingly honestly, despite the fact that rape and sexual abuse are very real within the story. Jessica is not defined by her past abuse, she copes with it and engages in healthy sexual encounters on her own terms. The series displays many different sexual relationships in many different phases, which further emphasizes the reality of sex as a part of the human condition. Healthy, consenting sex isn’t something to be judged or feared because it’s a part of life.

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Superpowered sex = HAWT!

Carrie-Anne Moss portrays Jeri Hogarth, a gender-flipped character from Iron Fist’s comic. She’s a powerful attorney with a flexible moral code and an incredibly complicated love-life. The complexity of the character is impressive as audiences will likely despise and root for her in equal measure.

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Doctor Who fans are gonna be sooo creeped out.”

And then there’s Kilgrave. David Tennent is no stranger to genre fare and isn’t even a stranger to playing villains. That said, this is easily his most complex and vile role. Kilgrave is a super-powered being who is able to control anyone near him by simply speaking to them. The implications of this sort of power are numerous and the show touches on nearly all of them. One thing that I didn’t expect was how much the show humanizes him. He is an evil, selfish monster but he’s still a person. His cruelty is rooted in past trauma (like nearly everyone else) but he’s so entrenched in his arrested development that he has never attempted to move past it, nor does he seem to want to.

Since this show is so intensely character driven, I’m not even going to really address the plot. The characters and their interconnectedness is the key to everything in this series. If even one of the characters didn’t work, then the whole thing would fall flat. If you’d like to read more of an episode-by-episode recap, I would strongly suggest checking out The A.V. Club’s coverage of the series by Oliver Sava. His episode break-downs are incredibly insightful and absolutely spot-on when digging into the subtext and subtleties of the series. The analysis of Kilgrave as representative of white male entitlement in America is especially truthful and worth confronting in today’s geopolitical climate.

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“I’m a good looking white guy, do what I say!”

In summary, Jessica Jones is another artistic win for Marvel. It would be very easy for this company to make shows that refuses to delve into the darker side of the human psyche. Thankfully, they are willing to tackle that type of subject matter, because it turns out they’re pretty good at it, when appropriate. It’s also nice to see a detective drama, a genre typically dominated by hard-boiled men, be so unabashedly feminist. I know I’d be up for more feminist noir. Who’s with me?

 

 

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