Jessica Jones: Season 1 Review
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Anyone looking to Marvel’s latest Netflix series, Jessica Jones, for a traditional costumes-and-capes tale is bound for disappointment, and that’s a wonderful thing. One of the aspects I love most about comic book superheroes is the way in which various creators use that iconography over a variety of genres. Based on the 2001-2004 series Alias by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos, the show’s titular “hero” is a former super-powered crime fighter turned film noir-style private investigator. It’s a dark, unsettling, and absolutely spellbinding affair that expands the limits of what we think of when we think of Marvel heroes.

The series picks up long after Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) has hung up her spandex. She still has super strength, but rather than fight crime, she spends her time taking pictures of unfaithful spouses for cash—and spending that cash on as much liquor as she can consume. Her only semi-functional relationships are with her adopted sister, Trish (Rachel Taylor), and the neighborhood bartender, Luke Cage (Mike Colter). Even those are threatened when the mind-controlling villain, Kilgrave (David Tennant)—whose enslavement of Jessica years earlier led her to this dark place—returns with his sights set on a reunion.

Marvel has already earned some accolades on Netflix for their gritty take on Daredevil, and they’ve gone even further in that direction here. No one wears costumes, and only the villain bothers with a codename—and is routinely mocked for it. There are no millionaire geniuses or sci-fi gods running around. These are essentially ordinary, flawed people who are dealing with superhuman abilities on top of life’s general difficulties. These are the people who fall through the cracks while the Avengers fend off alien invasions.

Ritter plays Jessica with all the rough edges intact. She’s abrasive and self-absorbed but with just enough humanity rising through the pain to keep us rooting for her. The more we learn about her past and how deeply Kilgrave violated her in body and spirit, the more invested we become in her need to find some kind of safety. Colter provides an equally sympathetic portrayal of Luke, who keeps his power and near-invulnerability on the down-low for fear of where it could lead him (though we in the audience already know that he’s headlining Marvel’s next Netflix series).

On the other side of the coin, Kilgrave shows just how terrifying a simple concept can be when run to its extreme. He can make you do whatever he tells you—whether it’s as banal as giving him an expensive jacket or as horrific as abandoning a toddler on a freeway. What’s even worse, as the series repeatedly points out, is that he makes you want to do it. Kilgrave is the ultimate narcissist, not interested in ruling or destroying the world so much as making he sure that he gets what he wants whenever he wants with no care for consequence. It’s a credit to Tennant’s performance and natural charm that the villain is simultaneously so horrible and yet so fascinating to watch.

As they did with the movies, Marvel is building these street-level superhero series on Netflix toward an eventual team-up, and Jessica Jones has to work both as its own show and as the next link in that chain. Thankfully, they chose to lean more heavily toward the former need while still servicing the latter, and the result is a nuanced look both at how superheroes might function without the glitz and at how people cope (or don’t) after an extraordinary trauma. The jury’s still out on whether Jessica Jones can beat all her demons, but there’s no question that the show bearing her name is a well-earned success.

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