WARNING: this post contains spoilers.
This past weekend, Marvel fans, Netflix addicts, and those with little interest in leaving their homes spent hours binge-watching season one of Jessica Jones. While the character’s better known superhero counterparts, like the Avengers and Daredevil, enjoyed notoriety long before their respective film and television adaptations came to light, Jessica Jones is a name that very few non-comic readers could claim familiarity with. That is about to change dramatically.
Created by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos, Jessica Jones has now successfully been brought to life on screen thanks to the screenwriting force that is Melissa Rosenberg. I didn’t know much going in except that Jessica Jones is the second in a series of planned shows that will build up to a Defenders crossover miniseries. I could have never predicted that Jones would become my new favourite superhero, and the face of what is possibly the best Marvel screen adaptation to date.
In 13 episodes, audiences are presented with a rare screen gem: a fully fleshed out female character who takes ownership of her body, outright rejects societal expectations of what she should wear (whether it be a costume or dresses), and exists to serve mostly herself and those who she loves. There’s no pretending in Jones’ world. She neither hides nor advertises the existence of her powers, and there’s no desire to play the hero or to be likeable.
While audiences feel as though they have a good grasp on the character a few episodes in, the revelation of Jones’ true fears and motivations is in fact a slow burn. A badass, heavy drinking private investigator who doesn’t always work within the confines of the law is what we see, but what we sense lurking under the surface emerges piece by piece due to an experience that haunts her every single day. This can all be attributed to the show’s villain, Kilgrave (David Tennant), who was previously able to use mind control to keep Jessica physically, mentally, emotionally and sexually enslaved for months.
I must pause to congratulate and thank the writers behind the series for their sensitivity towards the topic of rape, assault and PTSD. While others may have chosen to show the brutality of what Jessica experienced, the writing team’s respectable restraint allowed the audience to fully live with Jessica in the aftermath. Her fear and pain were felt in every intelligent, subtle way that the writers chose to reveal the horrors Kilgrave forced on Jessica. It’s still a tough watch to see a victim dealing with the everyday realities of life post-assault, but under the care of actor Krysten Ritter, the portrayal is one we cannot tear our eyes away from. It’s haunting but important.
Portraying a man so inherently evil who cannot seem to grasp the importance of consent in any form is no easy feat, however Tennant is a master of his craft. He’s all finely tailored suits and suave accent, but in moments of rage he quite literally turns into The Purple Man (another name that Kilgrave went by in the comics). The way in which Tennant disappears into the role of Kilgrave and owns his ability makes me wonder why mind control isn’t a power given to villains more often. In Jessica Jones, audiences have been given a true villain to fear, and Tennant’s extraordinary portrayal is no doubt going to go down in television history.
My biggest praise however, is reserved for the one and only Krysten Ritter, who up until this point has primarily been known for her portrayal of Jane in Breaking Bad and Chloe in the unfortunately short-lived series Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23. To counter a villain as powerful as Kilgrave, you require a hero far removed from the world of capes, tights and straight morals. While Jessica has no grand desire to save the world, she does have a believable and respectful wish to save herself from Kilgrave, and the lives of those he’s destroyed. That’s big enough for now.
I wouldn’t call Jessica Jones a superhero or a detective show, but rather a thoughtful and intense drama about relationships (good and bad). Ritter has no doubt found the role of a lifetime, and excels in her portrayal of Jessica. Whether she is faced with constant reminders of her past abuse, rolling her eyes at those who annoy her (which is pretty much everybody), or flirting up a storm with a very hunky Luke Cage (Mike Colter), Ritter’s Jessica is an electrifying force that lights up every scene.
Two supporting performances that really stood out were from Rachael Taylor as Jessica’s adoptive sister Trish Walker and Carrie-Anne Moss as Jessica’s occasional boss Jeri Hogarth. It would be easy to dismiss Trish as the strict and more put together sister, but she has her own issues that we get to watch and dissect. A former child star who has cut all ties with her pushy stage mother, Trish has risen to create a formidable career as a talk show host, all the while learning to push herself physically so that when the time comes, she can be just as useful to the world in the way that she wants her gifted sister to be. Though she may hinder Jessica’s plans at times, she is arguably the only one keeping Jessica from self destruction. There’s also plenty of sex-positive moments in Trish’s storyline to enjoy. It shouldn’t be a surprise these days considering how much sex is shown on television, but it’s satisfying (no pun intended) to see a woman receiving rather than giving head for once.
On the opposite end of the morality scale sits Jeri Hogarth, a powerful attorney who sometimes employs Jessica’s services. She’s smart, impeccably dressed and fiercely protective of her reputation as a lawyer. One aspect of her life is in complete shambles however, with her soon-to-be ex-wife unwilling to sign divorce papers and a girlfriend growing impatient with the proceedings. The fact that Jeri is a lesbian is just that: a fact. It never becomes a big deal and nor should it. Jeri is a compelling character because of her sharp wit, intelligence, ruthlessness and ability to be someone completely different with the woman she loves.
Super punching, super jumping and super sarcasm aside, Jessica Jones is so much more than her special gifts. Without the superpower element and connection to Marvel, Jessica Jones would still make an outstanding drama series in its own right. That’s just where its brilliance lies. Take away the smoke and mirrors, and you’ve still got yourself one of 2015’s best productions.