The first paragraph of this post has been updated with new, accurate release information for Daredevil, season 2.
Happy New Year everyone! Lots of exciting things coming up in 2016, with season two of Daredevil on Netflix at the top of the list. And, speaking of which, it appears that Daredevil now has a release date. Mark your calendars and prepare to spend March 18 glued to the television screen. While you’re at it, I also suggest you check out last week’s feature in Entertainment Weekly.
However, that’s over three months away, and there are still some dangling threads from 2015 to attend to, such as Jessica Jones, the second Marvel television series to hit Netflix. As you probably all recall, Jessica Jones premiered on November 20. Since it’s been over a month, I’m going to assume that everyone who intended to has seen the show by now, as there will be spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned! As always, please feel free to share your own thoughts in the comment section (which is now working again after misbehaving for a few days).
Jessica Jones managed to grab my attention right from the start, and around six episodes in, I was thinking to myself: “Damn, this show might actually top Daredevil!” On the one hand, I was happy to be watching high quality entertainment, but as a Daredevil fan I kind of like to think of my favorite character as the one to beat. 😉 In the end, I found that Jessica Jones failed to sustain that level of excellence past the midpoint (more on that below), and I still rank Daredevil as the better show, even taking my own personal bias into consideration.
Just like Daredevil, Jessica Jones is a fantastic looking show. The lighting, the clever use of color and the shadowy interiors mixed with the sharp contrasts of daytime Manhattan, gives this show a particular look that is right up my alley (the liberal use of purple, my favorite color, doesn’t hurt). After Daredevil, we expect nothing less than a high quality production from the Marvel/Netflix team, and that’s what we get.
In terms of the tone of the storytelling, Jessica Jones is easily as dark as Daredevil; perhaps even darker. There is less physical violence – which says a lot about Daredevil since its sister show also contains its fair share of blood and gore – but the psychological horror hits just as hard. Few things are more frightening than the loss of individuality, which goes beyond simply losing control, and Kilgrave is a truly menacing villain.
Krysten Ritter, who stars as the title character, is absolutely crucial to the success of this show, and for getting the tone just right. I will admit to being skeptical when she was first cast, but her ability to balance tough and vulnerable blew me away. Her Jessica is a character you find yourself rooting for, even as she neatly avoids becoming too likable. Not only does she have enough skeletons in her closet to fill a cemetery – with the restless demons to match – she often comes across as dismissive and abrasive in her daily encounters with others. We can easily empathize with her, but she’s never too eager to woo her audience and that’s quite refreshing.
What is also refreshing overall is the prevalence of female characters, with a diverse range of personalities, and agendas. Jessica is not the only one to be rough around the edges, Carrie-Anne Moss’s (gender-switched) Jeri Hogarth is cold-hearted and reckless enough to easily be mistaken for a bona fide villain, though without losing so much of her humanity that she devolves into predictable cliches. Trish Walker, whose character gets an interesting upgrade, is more typical as the best friend to cheer Jessica on, but she too turns out to be more than meets the eye.
Other minor characters turn in compelling performances. Not every subplot is well-executed – more on that below – but I found myself really enjoying both Malcolm’s and Robyn’s character arcs. I would imagine Robyn to be quite controversial, but I found her later appearances as oddly enthralling as her earlier ones were annoying.
David Tennant as Kilgrave obviously turns in a top-notch performance as a power drunk psychopath in search of his own twisted version of love. Daredevil’s Fisk was easier to sympathize with, but Tennant does deliver those additional layers of complexity that make this version of Kilgrave more interesting than his comic book counterpart.
The not so good
My single biggest issue with Jessica Jones, as much as I genuinely enjoy its many strengths, is that it’s about three or four episodes too long. It’s a rare thing to find any season of a television show that doesn’t hit an occasional rough patch with scenes or subplots that drag on too long, or fail to pack the intended amount of punch. Daredevil is certainly no exception. But, unlike Daredevil, Jessica Jones seems weighed down by the sheer number of episodes to fill. This causes Jessica’s ongoing rat and mouse game with Kilgrave to stretch on for perhaps one twist too many, and lose steam along the way. We’re also left with subplots that feel like filler. I found Trish Walker’s backstory and common history with Jessica compelling, but did we really need to check in with Trish’s mother in the present? There were obviously other ways to make sure that Jessica got that tip about who may have been responsible for her gaining her powers.
I have to admit to letting out a squeal of delight when Simpson said “Give me a red,” but any excitement was quickly put to rest by the fact that this new composite character just doesn’t make sense. I know there are people out there who are busy analyzing what exactly Simpson has to say about things like masculinity, but I think that’s giving him too much credit. I think that actor Will Traval does a commendable job with the material he has had to work with, but at the end of the day, this new take on Born Again villain Nuke is simply ill-conceived. When I was watching the show again with a group of friends, I found myself having to explain Simpson’s motivations, based on what I happen to know about Nuke from the comics, since these are far from obvious to the more casual MCU fan. I found Simpson to be a distraction that doesn’t actually add anything to the bigger story.
The above quibbles aside, I enjoyed Jessica Jones a lot, and consider it one of the best things to come out of the MCU thus far. These creators have taken a lesser known Marvel character and made her relevant to thousands of viewers who had probably never heard of her. Most of the characters are very well-acted, and give us a psychological thriller that stays with you. One of the most poignant scenes for me comes in the very first episode, when Jessica traces Kilgrave’s latest victim Hope to the restaurant where she remembers having dinner with him in the recent past. Her realization, the reactions of the waiter, that impending sense of doom… It’s a great scene.
This series also introduces us to Luke Cage, with whom Jessica starts a relationship, despite her better judgement in light of her tragic history with Luke’s late wife. Mike Colter gives us a take of Luke’s character that has definitely whetted my appetite for whatever is to come when he gets his own show.
Finally, I must admit that I had hoped for a Matt Murdock cameo. Not a Daredevil one, that wouldn’t have been a good fit for this particular story, but something very minor and law-related would have been nice. For instance, one super short scene where Matt and Foggy are briefly seen taking Jeri’s girlfriend’s self-defense case would have been perfect. At the same time, you have to respect the decisions that were made.
What did you guys think of Jessica Jones?