By: Angel Garcia
Two mainstays of film noir are the tough-talking and the cynical private eye. One of the pleasures of Marvel’s Jessica Jones is that it unites both types in one thorny and fascinating character. The show, which features an exceptional performance from Krysten Ritter and sure-handed guidance from executive producer Melissa Rosenberg, is not just a contender for the Best Marvel-related TV Property- in a supremely crowded TV scene-it is one of the year’s most distinctive new dramas.
Due to being a rape survivor, Jessica Jones has a serious case of PTSD. She battles demons from within and without, using her extraordinary abilities as an unlikely champion for those in need… especially if they’re willing to cut her a check. At some point in her past, she fell under the spell of the mind-controlling villain Kilgrave. He’s obsessed with Jessica, who after being forced to commit one depraved act too many, managed to break free. Or at least break free from his mind control. But Jessica still lives in fear of Kilgrave, but also his choice to focus on her, Jessica continually agonizes over what it is about her that made her a target. Sometimes victims seem to send out vibes to predators that they are vulnerable.
Ever since she broke free of Kilgrave though, Jessica has become the proprietor and sole employee of Alias Investigations, and like all the best PIs, she drinks to excess, screws the occasional client, and has an almost poetic grasp of profanity. She just so happens to be strong enough to lift a car, able to leap a tall fire escape in a single bound, and can take more punishment than you and five of your friends are likely to dish out on your best day.
Jessica was taken in by Trish and her mother after her parents and little brother died in a car crash. Jessica made a promise to Trish when they were little that no matter what she will protect her. Even though Trish is constantly trying to help, Jessica refuses to keep her safe. But due to Trish’s good will and integrity to help Jessica she begins to take martial arts to help fight crime with Jessica. No matter how much training Trish gets or how well she can fight Jessica won’t let her even though Jessica doesn’t show it she loves and cares deeply for Trish and just wants her to be safe from Kilgrave or others under his control.
In her ongoing quest to make ends meet and tame the demons of her past, Jessica crosses paths with Luke Cage, a bar owner who, unlike Jessica, prefers to mind his own business. But slowly Jessica begins to have feelings for Luke and despite her actions, she doesn’t want to fall in love or have feelings for someone. As she gets to know Luke, she finds out that he has extraordinary abilities as well. His skin cannot be broken and nor can he get hurt so Jessica thinks about partnering up but is afraid Kilgrave might make him do something, so she tries to keep her distance.
To that end, the villain, David Tennant’s Zebediah Kilgrave, is the first truly terrifying villain Marvel has managed to deliver to the screen. Tennant, straying as far from his Tenth Doctor charm as possible, is as menacing off screen as on, and Jessica Jones delivers something completely unexpected: legitimate scares. He’s defined by his absence for much of these episodes, referred to in hushed tones, and popping in from the shadows as an illustration of Jessica’s occasionally dizzying bouts with PTSD.
We see the results of his monstrous actions far more than we see him, and the effect is more action to a horror movie than a Marvel project. The skeevy implications of what Kilgrave can do with his powers are explored to their fullest, and in this grimy corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where Avengers are alluded to only as the guys who nearly brought New York City down around everyone’s ears, and where nobody is coming to anybody’s rescue, he may as well be a god. Kilgrave isn’t a problem Jessica can solve with her fists, although you’ll desperately want her to.
The action in Jessica Jones is less spectacular than what we got in Daredevil,direct physical violence is far less central to the themes of the show. Instead, Jessica Jones is a legitimate thriller, trading martial arts or explosions for the kind of heart-pounding tension nobody ever expected from Marvel.
For all of Marvel Studios’ talk about moving away from the traditional superhero genre in recent years, they never quite accomplished it…until now, with this show, which might just be their best effort. You don’t have to like superheroes to enjoy Jessica Jones. In fact, it might be better if you don’t.