Jessica Jones: Season 1 Review
Warning: this review contains spoilers for the entirety of Jessica Jones Season 1. You have been warned!
Reviewed by Ollie Gregory.
Jessica Jones is Marvel’s second foray into the dark and gritty side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, only available on Netflix. After Daredevil received a remarkable reception from fans and critics alike, Marvel realised that this new style of show was a way they could explore some darker themes and ideas which aren’t present in the lighthearted PG-13 feature films. Jessica Jones attempts to emulate the success of Daredevil, while also trying to be its own show, trying to prove that the Netflix-Marvel deal is not a one-hit wonder. Does it achieve everything it set out to do? Well, that’s open for debate.
Now originally I was planning on splitting this review into two parts, one about the first half of the season and one about the second, but I realised that I didn’t feel comfortable doing this due to one of the show’s biggest flaws. A lot of the episodes (We’ll touch on the ones that don’t later) sort of blend into one. As much as I don’t want a ‘freak-of-the-week style’ show, there were a lot of episodes where nothing really happens.
Despite this, the show is able to keep you interested through its range of interesting characters. Jessica herself is someone you instantly gravitate to. Sure, she’s got powers, but she’s clearly far more of a human than the likes of Captain America and Iron Man. Sometimes the show is heavy handed in its approach to alcoholism (Look guys! Look! She has a bottle in her hand! What an alcoholic!) but other than that the character is consistently engaging. Despite moaning quite a lot and being quite the arse, she’s a likeable character who you want to succeed.
The character is believable, and as the show slowly uncovers her history you realise why she is the way she is. The revelation that Jessica killed Luke’s wife is an interesting one, and the flashbacks to her childhood involving Trish Walker add a number of layers to the character. Her thirst for justice makes her a character you can root for, whilst her pessimistic attitude makes her a character you can relate to. She’s also funny, but not in a smarmy Tony Stark way, which again makes you hope she gets what she wants.
Alongside Jessica are a plethora of side characters, arguably too many. Jessica’s best friend Trish Walker (Rachel Taylor) is a far better character than Daredevil’s Foggy. Despite this, I felt a little disappointed in the way her character developed. While she started as a no-nonsense woman with thirst for justice, as the season progresses she becomes less independent and more of a damsel in distress, thanks in part to Will Simpson. The same could be said of Carrie Anne Moss’ gender-swapped character Jeri Hogarth, who turns from a strong lawyer capable of standing up to Jessica into an idiotic character with a lack of self-esteem. Surely the opposite should happen?
The show also introduces one half of the Heroes for Hire, Luke Cage (Mike Colter). Luke was one of my personal favourite characters on the show. At times he feels a little bit thrown in, and just sort of turns up and then disappears for a while, but I suppose that is what makes the time we get with his character that bit more special. Colter’s performance is exactly what you’d want from someone playing Luke Cage, and leaves you awaiting his return in 2016’s Luke Cage (I think they should just call it Cage personally).
The character of Hope, putting aside the painfully frustrating name (So much for subtlety), is also a welcome addition. Erin Moriarty plays her well, with the character effectively representing a young Jessica. Hope is really the driving force of the earlier episodes, with everything Jessica does being for her, and both the scene where she shoots her parents and the scene where she slits her own throat, are shockingly brilliant. Another interesting victim of Kilgrave’s is Malcolm (Eka Darville). Starting off as little more than a drug addict who lives near Jessica, his character progression is arguably one of the most interesting, as we slowly learn he is one of Kilgrave’s spies, and that Kilgrave took control of him out of pettiness after Jessica saved him. Kilgrave completely ruined his life, turning him into a crack-reliant mess of man when prior to this he had so much potential. Malcolm’s recovery, ending with him becoming Jessica’s assistant at the end of season one, is a fantastic arc, and one of the highlights of season one.
That’s not to say every side-character is great. For starters, Will Simpson (Wil Traval) is just the worst (Well not the worst. We’ll get to the worst). He’s okay at first, as the evil brainwashed police officer hunting down Trish, but as he becomes more and more important he becomes more and more of a nuisance. His whole story is just one bit of convenience on top of another, and even when he ‘Nukes out’ he’s not that enjoyable. He’s also part of the reason the character of Trish becomes so much less interesting. The only thing that’ll make his return worthwhile is if he has the American flag tattooed on his face.
Above Will Simpson on the list of characters that make you want to throw a brick at the screen is Robyn. Colby Minifie plays the character to utter perfection in the sense that you find her as annoying as the show wants you to. The question is, why? Why does the show have this character who is clearly only there to annoy you? She’s not evil, the show even tries to make you feel for her by killing her brother, but there’s no way you’re supposed to like her. She whines, and she moans, and she squeals, and she cries, and she is on the screen far too much. Other than releasing Kilgrave, which is incredibly stupid, what purpose does this character serve? She never redeems herself, she doesn’t have a satisfying death, she just makes every scene she’s in painful to watch. Who on Earth thought this character was a good idea?!
Fortunately, despite getting a number of characters downright wrong, the show gets it right when it truly matters. David Tennant’s Kilgrave (AKA Purple Man) is a phenomenal villain. Credit where credit is due, Tennant’s performance is mesmerisingly brilliant. So much so that at times I wanted to do as he said. He’s charming but psychopathic at the same time. My only complaint would be that they showed him in the flesh too early. Throughout the first episode Jessica is haunted by him, having hallucinations about him, but he isn’t really there. Maybe spend the first few episodes like this, five if you’re really going for it, exploring how damaged she is and hold his first appearance back for quite a bit.
Other than that though, the show does the character justice. His backstory is a brilliant one, revealing that he is in essence, a boy trapped in the body of a man. He isn’t an evil mastermind, more just a petty child who wants whatever he can’t have. It’s brilliant really, with the inclusion of his parents and his relationship with them being a shocking twist that left you not really knowing what to believe. The show also doesn’t hold back in terms of making him a monster, with him leaving a man on permanent life support for the sake of having a second kidney, which he didn’t even need.
But Kilgrave also shows one of the biggest flaws the show has. It doesn’t quite delve into some of its ideas enough. The idea that Kilgrave let Jessica go free, and didn’t actually tell her to kill Cage’s wife, sound great as ideas, but the show doesn’t really pull it off. Jessica does notice she’s free, and goes to kill herself, making one of Kilgrave’s main motivations him misremembering something. Would it not have been more interesting if he’d let her free and she hadn’t realised? She’d kissed him, or even had sex with him, and while she at the time believed it to be rape, when he tells her that he wasn’t in control of her, she realises he’s telling the truth. She was so conditioned to doing whatever he wanted that she did it without being told, making him believe that she truly wanted him. It’s little bits of wasted potential like that which stop this show become one of the true greats.
Yet despite this, the show does offer a really interesting look into rape and sexual abuse. It doesn’t really pull any punches, and from reading about it online, many victims of this type of abuse feel Jessica Jones perfectly represents what it feels like to both be a victim of abuse, and someone who abuses others. Marvel really tackles these themes head on, to the testament of the show. The way mind control acts as a metaphor for rape is a brilliant concept, and the show doesn’t hide the nitty gritty bits. It says things how they are, giving the show a really adult feel,
This is also true with the sex scenes between Luke and Jessica. They show a far more adult side to sex, and they’re really powerful scenes. This is a show about adults. Sure, Robert Downey Jr is 50, but none of the Iron Man or Avengers movies seem to be about adults. Just the way the characters interact with one another in Jessica Jones shows that all the characters you see are grown-ups, and it gives the show a real sense of maturity.
There were also some times where the show turns pretty grim. One that will always stick with me is from the episode titled 1000 Cuts, where one of the characters attempts to give another character 1000 cuts. This may not be the most gory or brutal of scenes, but it is incredibly unpleasant to watch. There’s also things involving Kilgrave, such as children being locked in a cupboard and wetting themselves, or men trying to put their head through a wall, which are unpleasant just to think about. Even some things that are just mentioned, such as Kilgrave telling someone to go and screw themselves, make the viewer feel awfully uncomfortable.
Despite many of the episodes blending into one, there are a few that really stand out. Episode 9, titled AKA Sin Bin is probably my favourite episode of television ever. Yes, I said it. I absolutely loved everything about that episode, could barely blink during it, and just couldn’t wait to put the next episode on. It was Jessica versus Kilgrave, and we got to see a Kilgrave who even without his powers, was able to manipulate Jessica. Even though he was locked in a box and Jessica could electrocute him at any time, he still seemed to have all the power. She tortured him through the use of the videos, by calling him Kevin, and still he wouldn’t crack. Kilgrave’s escape was a little contrived, but the way it worked seamlessly, and ended with Jessica realising she was now immune to the Kilgrave virus left me wanting more.
I feel the reason the last three episodes couldn’t live up to episode 9 was due to a lack of story. Even at the very end, the show felt like it was treading water. There simply wasn’t enough story material to last a whole thirteen episodes. Had they done as I said, kept Kilgrave as only hallucinations for the first five episodes, had AKA Sin Bin been episode 10 or maybe even 11, put less focus on the annoying twin sister, the series’ conclusion could have been terrific.
One of the reasons I feel it’s easy to talk about the bad parts of Jessica Jones is because there’s so much great stuff. The cast is great, the themes are great, the majority of characters are great, a lot of ideas are great, there’s so much greatness going on, but before the show can quite reach that level of phenomenal television, it blinks. Something frustratingly unnecessary happens. They stop paying attention to the main story to show the incestual relationship between two twins while we wonder whether the show is trying to be funny or they have Jeri Hogarth, a so far fairly intelligent character, release a perverted psychopathic mind controller just so she can get someone to sign her divorce papers, or they have Jessica snap Kilgrave’s neck in the season finale, rather than rip his tongue out. (Seriously. How on Earth did no one working on the show suggest that? And if someone did, why the hell didn’t you do it?!)
Honestly, I really enjoyed Jessica Jones but I can’t help but get angry when I think about what it could have been. It is unfair to call it wasted potential, because the show is engaging and I’m glad I watched it. It earns my seal of approval, and I recommend it, even if only for David Tennant’s performance. It’s better than the vast majority of TV shows out there right now, but it falls short of being one of the true greats (Breaking Bad). It feels like with just one more edit of the script, the show could’ve been truly fantastic, which I suppose you could regard as a compliment. Personally, I feel it isn’t quite as great as Daredevil, but if you don’t watch it then you’re definitely missing out.
P.S. The show would receive an 8.5 without Robyn. That’s how bad she is!