A version of this review was published in The Charlatan on Dec. 2, 2015.
Working in the pits of Hell’s Kitchen in New York as a private
investigator, Jessica Jones, played by Krysten Ritter, gets through life by working on cases of scumbag cheaters and liars that come through her door.
Quitting the superhero business after a traumatic experience with a supervillain, Jessica has a million skeletons in the closet, getting by and dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder through booze, sarcasm, and a mountain of self-loathing.
But everything changes for her when one of those skeletons—a charismatic psychopath with mind control powers named Kilgrave (David Tennant)—crashes back into her life, forcing Jessica to face her darkest trauma in a dangerous game of cat and mouse.
Released on Netflix on Nov. 21, Jessica Jones is one series out of the Marvel Defenders series, alongside Daredevil, that Marvel Studios plans on releasing through Netflix. With Jessica Jones, viewers get to see Marvel’s dark side.
Jessica is no noble, conquering heroine; rather, she is more of an antihero, someone who struggles to care about others as she works through her own inner demons. And Ritter portrays this inner conflict excellently, giving Jessica a combination of hard-edged world-weariness and wry, dark humour throughout the series.
Kilgrave is the charismatic, evil foil to Jessica’s hard-boiled, cynical personality. He is chillingly compelling; while he’s utterly nefarious in using his powers, certain episodes compel viewers to pity him. Tennant’s performance is manipulative in of itself; Tennant perfectly captures Kilgrave’s malevolence while still weaving a dangerous likeability about him. It’s a complete turnaround for an actor who’s best known as the noble 10th Doctor from Doctor Who, yet Tennant pulls off a villainous performance fantastically.
In addition to the brilliant dynamic between Jessica and Kilgrave, the show’s supporting characters are also well developed and performed. Mike Colter’s Luke Cage has (literally) superpowered romantic chemistry with Ritter’s Jessica. Rachael Taylor gives a strong performance as Trish Walker, Jessica’s strong-willed best friend and adopted sister, a character who could easily have her own show. The Matrix’s Carrie-Anne Moss is Hogarth, a cold-blooded lawyer with manipulative tendencies who tackles Jessica’s run-ins with the law during her chase after Kilgrave.
In some episodes, the plot wears a little thin with some developments feeling a little contrived. But the show more than makes up for weak plotlines by its amazing character writing. Jessica Jones’ well-paced cinematography is also impeccable, casting New York in a wonderfully gritty light.
Jessica Jones shows the seedy underbelly of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Notwithstanding the fact that the series is based on Marvel’s first mature-rated comic book series, the show deals with dark themes, not shying away from showing effects and situations of mental, emotional and physical abuse. This series can be triggering in its emotional realism, and it’s definitely not for the fainthearted. All 13 episodes are a heart-pounding roller coaster of violence, fast-paced action, and emotions.
At the heart of Jessica Jones is a profound, powerful story of survivor-hood. Underneath the action and plot, Jessica Jones reveals the ugliness of being a victim of a manipulative and abusive relationship: the insecurities, the deep emotional scars, and the incessant self-doubt. In Jessica’s world, the trauma she suffered from Kilgrave isn’t something that she can just conquer; it’s something she deals with every day. There is no clear future of hope, forgiveness, or reconciliation for Jessica, but there is survival, and as the show progresses, she learns survival isn’t something you can do alone, and viewers learn this along with her.
Overall, Jessica Jones is worth the binge-watch. Fans of the MCU will not be disappointed with its tie-ins with other MCU characters. Even so, it’s a worthwhile series to watch even if you’re not a Marvel fan.