Nov 20, 2019
BINGE OR NO?: Marvel’s Jessica Jones
Jessica Jones made her comic book debut in in 2001 in the series “Alias”, which is the basis for the Netflix series. In the comics, Jessica Jones is a superhero who hangs up her figurative cape after the traumatic experience of being held under the control–both physically and mentally –of the villain The Purple Man. Now, she tries to keep her head down and work as a private investigator but quickly gets pulled back into the superhero lifestyle. The Netflix series mostly follows the plot of the “Alias” series with few major changes: Jessica Jones’s best friend is her adoptive sister Trish Walker instead of Carol Danvers/Ms.Marvel, The Purple Man is now known by his civilian name Kilgrave (with a spelling change), and Jones doesn’t interact with the other heroes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as often as she does in the comics.
The series has been critically acclaimed by critics (it currently holds a 91% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes), with special praise going to the series’ handling of PTSD and other trauma and Krysten Ritter and David Tenant’s respective performances as Jessica Jones and Kilgrave. There’s a lot Jessica Jones gets right but there’s also some stuff this rookie show can improve on before its inevitable season 2 starts.
1) Let Love Into the Air
In the comics, Jessica Jones quickly gets paired up with Luke Cage and the show wastes no time getting these superpowered kids together. Instead of following the “Meet, Date, Fall in love, Get Married, Have a Happy Ever After” traditional love story trajectory, the series has Jessica and Luke quickly become, uh, “fun” buddies when they discover that they are both gifted people.
Sexually, if you know what I mean.
The series made the right choice in launching the good ship JesLuke this way–they’re both processing grief, guilt, and trauma so it wouldn’t make sense to give them roses, chocolates, and kisses in the rain. I know they’ll have all the time in the world to set up the romance between Jessica and Luke next season or when Luke Cage stars in his own solo series but for now, it’s hard to believe that these two are supposed to end up together.
I don’t know if the problem is that Krysten Ritter and Michael Colter don’t have enough romantic chemistry or they’re simply not given enough screentime together to develop it. Currently, Jessica Jones has more onscreen chemistry with the man who forced her to love him than the guy she is choosing to fall in love with. I’m not asking for Jessica and Luke to gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes but it’d be nice to see them do something besides have sex or investigate a case together. Let me see this Lussica romance play out!
Seriously, what’s going to be that couple’s ship name? They have the least combinable names ever.
2) Avoid Cheesy Dialogue
Jessica Jones is being described as film noir-style show and they’ve got the genre down–bleak and gloomy outlook, deadpan voiceovers, a hardboiled detective, friends who turn out to be foes in disguise and vice versa. The only thing missing is a jazzy wail in the background as Krysten Ritter narrates mixes her metaphors about dames who had legs all the way up to here.
Well, we can always do that in season 2.
Krysten Ritter excels at snarky dialogue–her most memorable performances were the snarky drug addict Jane on Breaking Bad and the snarky titular bitch of Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23–but sometimes the show overloads on the snark and bitterness that it ends up becoming cheesy and cringeworthy. For example: the full trailer from the series has an exchange with Trish and Jessica discussing Kilgrave. “He isn’t here now,” Trish says. “Yeah? Well, he’s always here,” responds Jessica, pointing to her head. Jeez, I don’t remember ordering extra cheese.
The dialogue isn’t always terrible but when it particularly gets bad when Jessica puts up her sarcastic defenses to keep people away from her too strongly and too much. When there’s a snark overload, her barbs feel more clunky than piercing. It becomes eyeroll inducing, like when your bratty tween sister who just read Catcher in the Rye thinks she’s so cool because she mocked your love for Taylor Swift. Listen, I mock myself for loving Taylor Swift; that wasn’t a low blow or anything.
3) Subplots Should Not Be Subpar
Much like Daredevil, the bulk of Jessica Jones’s plot is about taking down the main villain so there’s not much room for subplots, which is a shame because sometimes the series needs to take a breather from its main plot. There are occasional glimpses to life outside of Alias Investigations but the only major subplot is about Jerri Hogarth’s marital troubles.
“She thinks she’s got problems?”
Jessica Jone’s sister show Daredevil did an excellent job of balancing the season’s major arc with episodic subplots. The subplots weren’t just random; they helped build the world and characters of Daredevil. Subplots helped illustrated how everyone had lives outside of attacking/defending Wilson Fisk. Jessica Jones would have benefited from taking a couple more breaks from the hunt for Kilgrave.
It’s disappointing to see that of all things and all characters to focus on, Jessica Jones chose a marriage on the rocks. Wouldn’t this have been the perfect opportunity to flesh out Luke’s character in preparation for his upcoming series? Or focus more on Hope Schlottman, the new character whose connection to Kilgrave kicks off the whole catalyst for the season?
4) Don’t Drop the Ball
Speaking of Hope, I wish the series did more with her character. Like Jessica, Hope has been damaged by Kilgrave and it would have great to use these two characters to show how people process trauma in different ways. Jessica drowns herself in alcohol and other people in her sarcastic one-liners but what does Hope, a completely different person, do to cope? The writers could have explored more how these two women can be so similar yet different.
Besides the obvious differences, I mean.
There was so much to do with Hope and the writers never took the opportunities and her character ended up being a waste. On the opposite side of the coin, the writers did so much to build up the character of Kilgrave–yay!–but they ended up dropping the ball in season finale, where there was a disappointing resolution to his character.
It was like the writers were afraid to leave anything unresolved at the end of their thirteen episode order so they ended up rushing plotlines that would have benefitted from being focused on for a couple episodes. Come on, guys! Don’t you the cardinal rule of writing? Always leave ’em wanting more.
5) Keep Laying Down Those Connections
This one isn’t so much a suggestion but an encouragement. Jessica Jones did a great job of setting up minor characters to be major players as the season progressed and I hope they continue this in season 2. You know a show did a good job when they literally make you gasp out loud and sit up in your seat as you watch.
Reacting to TV is the only exercise I get sometimes.
I can’t say too much because then this spoiler free review won’t be spoiler free but I want to praise the writers for being able to pull plot twists and shocks that actually make sense, even when you rewatch the series from the beginning. That’s pretty impressive stuff that certain writers (*looks in Ryan Murphy’s direction*) can learn from.
VERDICT: BINGE, BUT GO SLOW. There’s only 13 episodes and it goes a lot faster than you think and the ending isn’t as fulfilling as it could have been.