As “Daredevil” season 2 continues to burn up the Netflix bandwidth across the globe, I take a look back at “Jessica Jones”, Marvel’s most recent new addition to its expanding MCU TV empire.
While “Daredevil” felt edgy, dark and different to the Marvel Cinematic Universe we’d had to that point, it still adhered to many of the usual tropes and traditions of super hero origin stories. Of course, it was incredibly well made with great performances and a real grittiness in its portrayal of a street level hero. For Marvel – and televised super heroics – it broke new ground but was still comfortably familiar. “Jessica Jones” takes what “Daredevil” started and takes it to the next level.
Damaged and suffering from her last encounter with Kilgrave, Jones is immediately a fascinating character and such is Krysten Ritter’s performance that there’s never the nagging impatience to see the hero ‘suit up’ as there tends to be (good job too, as she never does although there is a sneaky shout out to her costume during a flashback). Unlike the current incarnations of another famous superhero detective, Jones actually does quite a bit of actual detective work during the series, pursuing a handful of cases whilst trying to discover whether Kilgrave has really returned and if so, what his end game is.
In Kilgrave, “Jessica Jones” has something quite different, and it’s he that shapes and enables the show to be something very different from its stablemates. As different in feel to “Daredevil” as “Daredevil” is to “The Avengers”, “Jessica Jones” delivers a genuinely adult take on comic book superheroes, without ever needing to delve into posturing broodiness, grim/dark aesthetics or gratuitous violence.
The Kingpin provided a recognisable and formidable foe for Daredevil but he was also a clear indication of the reduction in scale from the cinematic spectaculars of Iron Man and the rest of the Avengers. This Kingpin, shorn of much of the fantastical elements of his comic book counterpart would have struggled to occupy any of the cinematic heroes for a single movie, let alone 13 hours’ worth of compelling drama. But Kilgrave is a villain who would trouble any of the Avengers, who – as two movies have shown – have a real problem when it comes to susceptibility to mind control. David Tenant is superb as the elegant villain, playfully trading on your goodwill for his past roles and lulling you into a false sense of security while simultaneously peeling away layer after layer of Kilgrave’s civility to reveal the vindictive, wounded ruthlessness that lies within.
The power and gravity of “Jessica Jones” doesn’t really become apparent until you’re about six episodes in, and for me it was around the episodes “AKA Top Shelf Perverts” (S1E07) and “AKA WWJD?” (S1E08) that the whole story shifted into high gear – and elevated it to being Marvel’s most adult and accomplished series to date. Some episodes are almost too tense to watch, “AKA 1,000 Cuts” being a prime example of how far the series is willing to go to show the vicious cruelty of its villain.
There are a few missteps along the way, of course. The whole super pill subplot feels more like world building than integral to the story being told but here, unlike in the movies, Marvel has the room to manoeuvre so the setting foundations for future events doesn’t get to clutter and overwhelm the narrative like it does on occasion in “Iron Man 2” or “Avengers: Age Of Ultron”. There are a couple of episodes, especially as we head to the finale, where things feel artificially slowed down and you feel the series might have benefitted from an episode or two of standalone cases near the beginning to allow for an irresistible momentum to build up to the finale but these are minor quibbles.
Although action isn’t the series’ primary focus, there’s still a good amount of superheroic acts going on. It’s true that some of the fights scenes tend towards the Mr T school of ‘throwing fools around’ but these aren’t meant to be slick, well trained warriors and anyway Jessica’s powers are better demonstrated in little moments rather than the knock down brawls, especially in early episodes.
“Jessica Jones” is the concentrated essence of long-form storytelling TV, the deliciously rich core that you’re left with if you were to discard all the case-of-the-week episodes which could have padded this out to the traditional twenty-six episode seasons of broadcast television. This is quality stuff and the Netflix corner of the MCU seems to be – currently – where the best Marvel work is being done.