written by Jamus
Hello, Made Of Fail.
So a little while ago, I was approached by Dayna to review a show I’d never heard of – not from beyond the rumblings from Netflix, at least. After a discussion where she ended up accusing me of being a lazy moo and not knowing a good show if it bit me on the eyelids, I eventually agreed to become the newest reviewer for you fine people and to dive into something different – Marvel’s Jessica Jones. It should be noted that I’m going into this assignment with the perspective of a newcomer. Besides the fact that this is another branch of the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe, I know nothing about this show. No, I don’t know what a Jessica Jones is, and I don’t know what a Kilgrave is besides him being portrayed by a former Time Lord (David Tennant).
So now I resign myself to nestling into the couch, stiff drink in hand, safe from the sudden blizzard that arrived only yesterday and has stayed for an extra period of play as the opening credits begin to roll. The nerve of Dayna, honestly. Thinking on making me watch something that I might enjoy with crime and noir-ish overtones, and…oh. Oh, dear. That man has just been thrown through a pane of door glass, and now he’s being berated in a comical manner. Now the dead of night is already settled over New York and there’re mysteries to be solved, and…
Well, I might be here a while.
Let’s begin, shall we?
There be spoilers within.
So yes, I am a fan of the noir genre. I’ve even written some stories in the tone myself. It’s that sort of dark crime drama with a feeling of “you won’t see your hero come out clean, even if they win”. Naturally, this is why I was chosen to review the show (it certainly wasn’t my looks, after all). In truth, I went into the situation feeling skeptical: if this was a Marvel-made production, why would they be focusing on this heroine I’ve never heard of? Certainly, I wasn’t familiar with the Guardians Of the Galaxy either, but at least the film looked fun. I wondered why they weren’t making another new series about at least a B-list superhero, like Daredevil? That show did fairly well in my opinion. Let’s just stick to more of that, I thought. After all, I cannot speak to others’ experiences, but Jessica Jones is someone I’ve never encountered or cared to know more about, so becoming excited about the assignment was a tad difficult. I’m glad to say that these fears were unfounded, and that Jessica Jones has managed to draw me in enough to want to make me watch more.
First rule to a good story is an effective hook. Well, the gist is that Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is a private investigator working out of New York City. So far, so standard. She’s also an alcoholic. Well, that is hardly surprising – investigators will go out on their own because of issues which cause them to not play well with others: habits, history or whatever else. This is all well and good, but beyond the promise of “gifts” or “superpowers”, we’re not into extraordinary territory yet.
My second rule to a good story is that you need a damned good character to make you want to keep reading – or watching, as the case may be. Luckily, this is where it started to draw me in. The show wastes no time in colouring our new heroine not as someone on Supergirl’s tier, but as a deeply flawed human being. This is a sort of hero that I enjoy learning about, as I’ve sworn off investing in “Lawful Good” characters for well over a decade. I wouldn’t quite use the term “reckless”, but she is brash and brazen enough to say what she wants and act in a manner which generates results. Naturally, this blunt sort of attitude generates some definite friction with her contacts. She’s essentially bankrupt in the way of friends and seems damned determined to keep it that way – keeping everyone at arm’s length through harsh language, dismissive tone or simply blotting out an evening with a bottle. What got me though was that these mechanisms were done for a reason: she’s trying to suppress something, or escape from something else that’s caused some truly awful pain. Compelling enough for me. Let’s keep watching.
We’re quickly introduced to Jessica’s seemingly typical work day, which in this case was begging her attorney friend, Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), for a new case. Another good staple of the out-of-work P.I., but it helps illustrate something about the setup. Jessica is apparently very good at her job, despite her mannerisms and atrocious taste in whiskey. (Jim Beam? Really? Come on.) Her natural advantages over the average chain-smoking P.I. are made apparent in short order with a few “minor” feats – jumping to reach a scaffold, breaking the latch of a door with a single flick of the wrist, or lifting the rear of a speeding car like a boss. I really liked this portrayal of the woman’s super-powers. We’re not having the “I have incredible speed and power and I am a god amongst humans” schtick crammed down our throats or the “I suffer a horrible allergy to Earth macaroni” cliché being used as the offsetting negative this time around.
We see the resolution of the case she was hired onto soon enough, allowing the story to progress with the deeper situation at hand: locating the missing girl from Omaha at the behest of her parents. This leads to the claiming of a credit card history, tracing the girl’s recent purchases and sending Jessica on a path to determine where exactly this girl has been spending all this money in such a hurry. Soon enough, however, the logic of this hunting of clues gets thrown aside for a second and we find Jessica in a dive bar with another “person of interest”. I found the sudden shift a little odd, but the reviewer voice in my head was suddenly hushed when I found myself pausing the stream to see if I’d recognized the bar as a nod to Daredevil‘s setup in Hell’s Kitchen. It wasn’t the case, but that’s a neat thought: a common dive bar where all the B-list superheroes or vigilantes all stumble back to from time to time, unknowing of each other’s own feats and trials. Might have to get Frank Miller on the horn, see if he’s heard that one before.
Speaking of sudden shifts, well then. The sexings are sudden in this first episode. My, that conversation in the bar escalated quickly – and yet, it works. It helps add another shade to Jessica’s character; she takes what she wants, when she wants. Right now, she’s thinking “why the hell not?”, and I can hardly think of a reason to condemn her for that. Although speaking of open displays of affection, I can’t say that Jeri’s earlier forays with the other ladies comes off as effectively. More on that later when I wrap up.
Things get back on track as Jessica starts to notice a disturbing pattern within the missing girl’s purchases and movements. They’re all remarkably similar to things Jessica had experienced herself – a purchase of lingerie, a night out at a restaurant, the forced smile, and finally a visit to an upscale hotel. Enter the identification of the season’s “Big Baddie”, Kilgrave. Details on the man are fuzzy, save for some disturbing flashbacks and a rush of realization in the third act of the episode. It is hinted at, however, that he has a remarkable amount of persuasion on the human mind – a potentially unstoppable superpower. I can only assume she’s sweating pure reluctance at this time as she walks towards the end of the hallway where the girl is kept, which is sadly fated to an awful conclusion.
In the end of the episode, the young girl is located successfully. Jessica is plagued by flashbacks and partial visions of the antagonist as she approaches what was Jessica’s own hotel room when she herself was ensnared some time ago. The girl from Omaha is reunited with her parents, and Jessica even takes the time to impart a few words of advice upon her; a young, traumatized individual whose mind has been utterly blasted from the event. Though, speaking of blasted, it isn’t long before a particularly eye-opening camera shot reveals the girl riding down an elevator with her elated parents, only to calmly pull a gun from her purse and methodically empty
its payload into her stunned mother and father. Jessica arrives at the main floor to find the carriage occupied by blood, two corpses, and the eerily placid young girl with an empty gun. “Smile!” she says, with a grin.
So at the end, the damage is done, and Jessica is making her way to the nearest taxi cab to escape the madness she’d just witnessed. Yet this is where I noticed something redeeming in the character not for the first time. She had several opportunities to simply throw up her hands and say “no” to the entire situation. Plenty of chances to jump on the nearest flight to someplace halfway around the planet and hardly bat an eye – she even had the envelope full of money to pay her way. Yet she stays. She hardens her face, and charges right back inside, vowing to do something about it.
Brash, haunted, maybe even abrasive, this heroine. But we can also add “determined” to this list. A good start. With Episode 1 in the bag, let me recap the Big 3 and the Little 3.
The 3 Big Good Things
- Protagonist is interesting, flawed, believable with a good dash of “don’t screw with me”, not overshadowed or unbalanced by superpowers. Awesome.
- Pacing is spot-on; slow enough to soak in the atmosphere, picks up rapidly towards the third act, great amount of tension in that final hallway. Sweet.
- Character is painted with a high amount of internal struggle, fighting against cowardice, only serves to colour her. Love it.
The 3 Little Bad Things
- Not enough to chew on for some of the supporting characters so far. Jeri’s flirtatious attitude and apparently sleeping around seemed out of place in this opening episode, so I’m not certain what the intent was on this one. Letting it slide, hoping that’s better explained later.
- Kilgrave seems almost…rushed? I get this feeling that we could have delayed the reveal of the Big Baddie for a few episodes yet, maybe worked on Jessica’s relationships or helped elaborate on her powers and then pull Kilgrave out when things have flowed on a while longer – when we know for certain that she’s ill-prepared to take him on, or we’ve built the mystery just a spell longer. When you’re staring down the main villain as a man with powers over the human mind and confounding elusiveness, it almost makes it feel like any other bad guy we throw in Jessica’s way is nothing more than a trash mob. Not sure how well this will be handled as the show carries on, but again – writing this off for now. The game is still early.
- Jim Beam, seriously? Listen to the man and trust him when he says they have “better stuff inside”.
So with that all in mind, we move on to Episode 2.
You’ll find the next review here next week on Made Of Fail.
Jessica Jones is available now on Netflix.