I was pretty into the idea of Marvel’s Jessica Jones Netflix series as soon as I heard about it. A female superhero? In. A notoriously dark backstory? Double in. Krysten Ritter? Triple in. While I have never seen Daredevil, the show’s Netflix predecessor, I have seen a solid percentage of the Marvel films that have come out in the past several years. I’ve developed a trustworthy system with comic-based properties where I watch, enjoy, and then turn to the Internet or friends more educated in such matters than I to fill in any blanks in regards to the larger mythology. All of this to say, aside from some pacing issues we’ll get into later, I very much enjoyed Jessica Jones.
Jessica as a character hooked me immediately—a reluctant retired superhero turned private detective with PTSD who drinks too much and is sexually confident? You don’t see that every day. Season one largely revolves around Jessica’s antagonistic relationship with Kilgrave (David Tennant), who is perhaps one of the most terrifying villains I have EVER seen onscreen. Kilgrave’s power is mind control, and it is utterly horrifying to watch. He can force people to throw scalding hot coffee in their own faces with hardly the blink of an eye, and that’s relatively mild in terms of the horrors we see him enact on others throughout the season. Jessica’s PTSD largely stems from time she spent as Kilgrave’s prisoner, during which he forced her to commit murder and repeatedly raped her. In the pilot of the series, Jessica is approached by the concerned parents of an NYU student who are disturbed by their daughter’s recent out-of-character behavior. Jessica quickly deduces that Kilgrave is responsible, and, pretty understandably, her first instinct is to flee the city and never return. In the end, her conscience gets the better of her, and she rescues the girl, Hope, from Kilgrave’s clutches.
What happens next is what truly hooked me on this show. Jessica returns Hope, who does not initially react well to Jessica forcing her to break Kilgrave’s mind control orders, to her grateful parents. Success, right? Nope. It seems all is well, but Jessica—and the audience—are still a bit uneasy. Something isn’t quite sitting right; Hope’s rescue was TOO simple. As Hope and her parents disappear into the elevator of Jessica’s building, Jessica realizes too late that Hope is still under Kilgrave’s control, and is unable to prevent her from immediately murdering her parents. That’s the moment when I realized this show came to play.
While Ritter’s and Tennant’s performances are undoubtedly the driving force behind the show, the supporting cast is also fantastic. Luke Cage (Mike Colter), who will be the next recipient of a self-titled Netflix series, is Jessica’s superhero love interest, and their tumultuous relationship leads to some of the steamiest sex scenes I have ever seen. Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) is Jessica’s adoptive sister, and Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) is an attorney who often recruits Jessica’s help on difficult cases.
Jessica Jones has received a lot of attention for its frank and honest portrayal of sexual assault and PTSD, and for good reason. Around the middle of the season, Jessica says aloud the words we so rarely hear, even in sexual assault storylines: “I was raped.” The show does not shy away from it—rape and sexual assault are a crucial part of Jessica’s past. It would have been easy to gloss over (as I’ve heard they did in the comics) what exactly happened to Jessica in the months she was living with Kilgrave under his control, but the show confronts it outright. While she is not always the best at choosing healthy coping methods, the show shows her struggling on a daily basis with her past trauma, whether it’s in the forms of flashbacks, nightmares, drinking, or a coping mechanism of reciting the name of every street she has ever lived on when she feels herself starting to panic or withdraw.
My only real issue with the show was its pacing. I think it may have benefitted from a 10-episode season as opposed to the 13-episode one it produced. Around episode 7, the show makes the decision to have Jessica get very close to Kilgrave as part of an elaborate plan to defeat him once and for all. I quickly realized two things: one, Kilgrave is much scarier and works much better as a villain from a distance, and two, the show became a little bit frustrating and toed the line of unbelievable (ironic, I know, for a superhero show) when Kilgrave was repeatedly in the grasp of Jessica and her team only for them to repeatedly fail. For this reason, the show dipped for me a bit towards the middle and back half of the season. Also- major spoiler alert– while for all of these reasons I obviously understood the decision to kill Kilgrave in the season finale (from a writing point-of-view, it would have been absurd not to), a part of me was almost sad because he is such a spectacular, fascinating villain, and Tennant’s performance was so magnetic and multi-dimensional. It will frankly be hard to top in season 2, which has already been announced, but I can’t wait to see them try.