Welcome back to my retrospective. I previously fanboyed over the first season of Daredevil and now it’s time to dive into the next series to premiere; let’s talk about the first season of Jessica Jones. Jessica Jones was a fairly new addition to the Marvel pantheon, at least in comparison to Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, so Krysten Ritter was pretty much the first person to ever play her in any capacity as far as I know and the casting was perfect right from the start. Ritter is so good at playing mean characters that it’s a bit surreal to see her being bubbly and happy in interviews. Her ability to play edgy and troubled characters suited her since this show wasn’t exactly light hearted.
A Show About Trauma
While the superhero genre doesn’t shy away from topical issues, let’s face it, it’s best known for people in colorful costumes punching each other through walls. Jessica Jones was a show that was entirely about topical issues relating to rape, gender, childhood trauma, etc. In fact, it’s kinda hard to call it a superhero show at all, despite the main character having superpowers.
Like the comic it’s based on, the show focuses a lot on Jessica’s struggle to overcome being a pawn of the series’ villain, Killgrave. The show does not shy away from letting the audience know Jessica is a victim of rape and its depiction of Killgrave’s mind control powers often invoke the very real issue of gaslighting. When Jess talks about Killgrave, it’s often shown in a light not dissimilar to a toxic relationship and that’s entirely on purpose.
It doesn’t end there, however. Jessica’s sister through adoption, Patsy Walker, is shown to have suffered from being raised by a stage mother and, as future seasons would show, the Hollywood casting couch. She has her own pain and trauma to struggle with before we ever get to the series itself. Her mother was both emotionally and physically abusive, which coincided with Jessica’s story through many parallels. We also get introduced to Jessica’s neighbor Malcolm in this season. He starts off as her drug-addled neighbor who initially seems to just be there to show how quirky and run-down her apartment building is but we soon learn his drug addiction was orchestrated by Killgrave and we get a very harrowing character arc as he struggles to overcome his addiction. It adds yet another real world twist to Killgrave’s machinations. Jessica’s lawyer, Jeri Hogarth (on loan from the Iron Fist comics), is played by Carrie-Ann Moss as a hard-nosed attorney who cheats on her wife, causing emotional suffering in another form. It’s interesting this comes form one of the supporting cast members who is otherwise an ally to Jessica. Hogarth is not the only character coming from a different comic series, however; Will Simpson (aka Nuke) shows up and, much like his comic counterpart, suffers from PTSD and turns to experimental drugs from the military that turns him into a super soldier (as one does). Let’s also not forget that this show introduces us to Luke Cage played by Mike Colter whose trauma comes from the loss of a loved one due to Killgrave’s actions as opposed to being a direct victim himself (at least initially). This adds to the various ways in which Killgrave inflicts trauma. When we meet him, Luke is still trying to get over the death of his wife as he starts an intimate relationship with Jess and that leads to a lot of dramatic tension as Jess was responsible for the his wife’s murder while under Killgrave’s control. Seriously, by the end of this season, almost everyone has been screwed over by this guy.
Speaking of Killgrave
Who knew the tenth Doctor could make for such a terrifying villain? He is a very detestable villain since, instead of taking over the world or doing something else super-villainy, his entire goal seems to be living his life however he wants… which includes abusing those around him, particularly women. His very existence dictates that everyone he meets will be an unwitting pawn. He has the power to remove a person’s will, which makes him a walking metaphor for abuse, addiction, and oppression; since he hasn’t known anything but that for most of his life, it’s as easy as breathing for him and almost as important to his survival. He goes through his daily life, carelessly destroying people in order to suit his needs and has no grand super villain scheme beyond that. For instance, if he wants to watch a soccer match on a nice TV, he’ll simply walk into a wealthy family’s home, take over their minds, and watch the game while not caring that he ordered the children to stay inside a closet where they will most likely stay for several hours, soiling themselves. Harming others is just a way to achieve every desire and he doesn’t understand anything else. What’s more disturbing is that David Tenant is a naturally charming actor who is given a few legitimately funny lines and a tragic backstory. The audience can understand why Jessica might’ve felt sorry for him at some point and want to reform him, which puts us in her shoes. We are swayed by Killgrave just like everyone else and once he does something horrific, we feel the betrayal. When people talk about the villains featured in Marvel’s Netflix franchise, there’s a reason why Killgrave is mentioned alongside the Kingpin. Unfortunately, Killgrave is mostly the only villain featured in the first season, which leads us to…
The Netflix Problem
If you read my last entry in this series, you’d know that the Netflix Problem is when too little story is stretched out across too many episodes. The Marvel Netflix shows often had this issue and the first season of Jessica Jones, as great as it was, suffered from it. I’m not sure if this is a hot take or not but I feel that if you were to edit the first season down to about six episodes, it’d be perfect.
Killgrave comes back into Jessica’s life at the end of the very first episode and the rest of the 13 episodes are mostly dedicated to stopping him. Nuke, as mentioned above, is a prominent figure in the season and we do get at least one episode where he’s the bad guy, but after a single fight, Jessica beats him and it’s back to going after Killgrave. This wouldn’t be so bad but Killgrave has no grand scheme as I said before, which is great for a short story but not for a long one. Towards the end, he tries to become more powerful after kidnapping his scientist father but even that isn’t really enough of a story to warrant 13 episodes. What’s worse is that there are multiple episodes in which he gets captured and escapes, not because he’s clever but because otherwise intelligent people turn into idiots so that the story can continue. In many cases, there’s no logical reason for the characters to be this stupid, especially since many of them display a great deal of intelligence otherwise. For instance, one episode involves Jeri Hogarth pretty much allowing Killgrave to escape so that he can help her divorce proceedings and another episode has Jessica’s crazy neighbor leading a mob into her home which ends with Killgrave being set loose for the umpteenth time. That leads us to another problem when it comes to the pacing of this season: the co-stars have a lot of subplots and almost none of them are interesting.
Jeri’s divorce and the affair she has with her subordinate is a good way to flesh out her character but having a multi-episode arc surrounding this subplot nearly turns the show into a soap opera at times. I don’t care that Jessica is hired to chase the future ex-wife across town to get her to sign divorce papers; what’s worse is that the subplot ends with Jeri setting Killgrave loose and that just so happens to tie up all lose ends with an odd moment of stupidity from Hogarth. Going back to the crazy neighbor upstairs, the character was introduced as having an incestuous/abusive relationship with her twin brother. Aside form that, this character insults and threatens everyone around her so she isn’t exactly a ray of sunshine, which wouldn’t be bad if she only showed up once or twice. Later, Killgrave murders her brother and Jessica is forced to hide the body. That leads to a subplot involving the crazy neighbor looking for him. Now, we as the audience are already aware of what happened so there’s no mystery there and while the subplot could be interesting if it revolved around a sympathetic character, we’re given someone who is entirely unlikable instead. This subplot ends in a similar manner as the Hogarth divorce subplot as the crazy neighbor somehow convinces a Killgrave victim support group to break into Jessica’s apartment to kill her. This, of course, allows Killgrave to escape once again since he was tied up in her room at the time. The crazy neighbor character has no charisma at all but somehow, she convinces a group of people to murder Jessica because the season would’ve ended otherwise. It’s hard to really get invested in some of the middle episodes because of this since it’s evident the writers were spinning their wheels until they could get to the climax.
Again, Daredevil didn’t have this problem since the show introduced the main villain later in the season and had other bad guys in the meantime. This show got us to Killgrave in the first episode. With Jessica being a private investigator, they could’ve had the first 3 or 4 episodes with Jess solving various cases before the Killgrave reveal to pad things out. Now, the Nuke episode I mentioned earlier was pretty good, especially since Jessica rarely got the chance to get into an actual fistfight. There were a few others that had promise: one episode dealt with Jessica and Luke Cage teaming up to fight drug dealers and another that had a woman hiring Jessica under false pretenses so she could kill her because she hated super powered people. These little stories could’ve been developed much more and expanded upon but they were all resolved fairly quickly in favor of less-exciting plots.
Despite its pacing issues, Jessica Jones’ first season was a solid show that tackled a lot of heavy issues and was well acted by everyone involved. I haven’t mentioned it yet but I really dug the neo-noir vibe, which was really evident in the intro (I really like the theme song to this one). Everything said and done, the first season of Jessica Jones was a good follow-up to the first season of Daredevil and it introduced Mike Colter’s Luke Cage who is the subject of the next part of this series. Until then.