Here’s How We JUST Missed Captain Marvel on Netflix’s Jessica Jones

24 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

In Marvel’s Jessica Jones, women get stuff done while men just talk about women.

Any forward momentum that the previous episode gave to the show’s Kilgrave-vs. While Netflix undoubtedly saw a surge of activity around the release of “Marvel’s Jessica Jones” this past weekend, the new original series also saw strong piracy consumption as well, according to data issued Monday by Excipio.This episode of “Jessica Jones,” which picks up seconds after the previous one, feels like a corrective for every little imperfection in the first two. While it could be years before we get another hit record from the British singer, the boss of Netflix’s new superhero drama is teasing a second season—but we might have to wait longer than expected to see it.

It has the distinction of being Marvel’s first property starring a female superhero, but it’s also a great show by any metric, balancing superheroics with an honest look at how people — and women most of all — cope with trauma. Only perennial piracy favorite “The Walking Dead” experienced more copyright-infringing viewing from Nov. 20-22 than “Jessica,” which grabbed 4% global market share compared with the 4.5% commanded by AMC’s zombie series. “Jessica” attracted over 663,000 unique IP addresses downloading episodes of its first season, which Netflix made available in its entirety across all of its markets worldwide. However, “Jessica” received roughly half the piracy activity attracted earlier this year by “Daredevil,” the first original series Netflix produced in collaboration with Marvel. For example: Jones doesn’t treat Hope Schlottman, the latest victim of Jones’s arch-nemesis Kilgrave, like a client that she also happens to care personally about. She becomes obsessed with the idea that she’s being watched, a suspicion that’s ultimately confirmed when she discovers why the obnoxious client Audrey Eastman really paid for her services.

While “Daredevil” also finished second overall in its opening weekend (April 10-12), the over 1.2 million IP addresses its episodes drew was good for 6.1% market share. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has steadily evolved into a thrilling workplace drama masquerading as a superhero show, while Agent Carter is a crackerjack period piece.

Subplots featuring a survivor’s group for Kilgrave’s victims, and a thorny, not-quite-romantic relationship between Trish Walker and Will Simpson, the cop who almost killed her, are relatively more involving. But there’s something else that Jessica Jones, and showrunner Melissa Rosenberg, is doing that’s a little less pronounced but just as thoughtful and effective. But this episode’s big revelations feel underwhelming since they only confirm the truism that being paranoid doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not out to get you. The Bechdel Test, conceived in a comic strip by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, is an exam that evaluates the presence of women in pieces of art like movies and television shows. When it comes to the wide scope of TV superheroes, including The Flash and Supergirl and even The Walking Dead (which has no superheroes but borrows plenty from the visual iconography of comic books), there’s just no question that they boast far greater tonal variance and storytelling deviation than there is on the big screen.

But there have been plenty of other instances in recent years in which we’ve watched women suffer through the violence of the experience — from Joan on Mad Men to Anna on Downton Abbey to Mellie on Scandal. Its purpose is to assess whether a given work passes a baseline level of sexism, by screening for one simple criterion: Two named women must talk to each other about something other than a man. Jones watches her client like a hawk, but never gets the gotcha moment she wants, not even when she catches Eastman shooting up mannequins in an empty warehouse. Throughout the show’s first season, we see Jessica (Ritter) talk to her friend and stepsister Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) about their childhood, about superhero-ing, and about Jessica’s troubled client Hope Shlottman (Erin Moriarty), among other things.

She becomes re-invested in her super-heroic calling after Cage says that he doesn’t stick his neck out for other people because that always winds up causing problems later on. Even with the rise of giant mega-franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, TV better replicates the experience of checking in with your favorite characters on a regular basis. Almost every superhero film since the genre began its rise to invincibility over the past 15 years has featured a plot that would destroy a city, or a nation, or, increasingly often, the whole world.

Rape is not just one of any number of ways Jessica could have been traumatized; the show is deliberate about the numerous implications of that specific violation. Sure, she chooses to help her neighbor Malcolm whenever it’s convenient, like when a biker assaults and then lectures Malcolm in the most cartoonishly obnoxious way (“I’m on my bike because I care about the planet!”). Something like The Dark Knight works on this level, because it ties its city-destroying stakes into what Batman is going through in his attempts to defeat crime, whereas the film’s sequel, The Dark Knight Rises, strains to link a new villain’s plot to a series of complicated character histories and ultimately struggles to make any of it personally matter to the hero.

This hour doesn’t throw references to the Marvel universe into the mix with the same ease that “Daredevil” did, with its comparatively well-integrated “Avengers” allusions. Talking about rape is necessary if we want to get better at understanding it, but rape on TV is more often than not treated as plot device to advance the story. In that show, viewers got the sense that everybody had superheroes on the brain, whether they were suspicious or fearful of guys like Thor and the Hulk. Jessica Jones becomes about a woman facing off against her trauma and the man who caused it, while The Flash is about a man reconciling himself with his tragic past, even as he’s trying to save the city he lives in. I’d certainly love it to be before but there are things that play into that—time, availability.” It, at least, seems as though there’s plenty of time to fit the boozy brawler before The Defenders.

This quietly effective sequence reminds us that the heroic measures Jones takes to stop Kilgrave are costly even if they’re not as over-the-top as the comparatively high stakes of the show’s pilot. A fair argument can be made for how the scene affirms how rape is ever-present in Game of Thrones’ reality, and to pretend otherwise for the sake of a main character would be disingenuous.

Compare Jones’s small, but moving altercation with Malcolm with the dramatic scene that caps “AKA Ladies’ Night.” When Hope kills her parents, Jones feels guilty for not having done enough to take care of her client. Should Marvel and Netflix move as swiftly on Jessica Jones as they did with “the man with no fear,” production could get underway for, perhaps, a late 2016/early 2017 release. A similarly heavy guilt weighs on Jones here when she pushes Malcolm into harm’s way, and uses him to sneak away unnoticed, though this time it doesn’t take a double homicide to make Jones feel responsible for her actions. He admits to Jones that he’s never felt so powerless as he did while under Kilgrave’s control, and she reassures him that he didn’t hurt Trish: “You’re still you.” That selfish conversation would be insufferable if we didn’t see how terrified Trish is of Will.

Another interaction we see between two prominent male characters occurs in episode seven (“AKA Top Shelf Perverts”), when Jessica’s neighbor Ruben (Kieran Mulcare) meets Kilgrave for the first and only time. How film can improve: Focusing more on character sounds easy, but it can be murderously difficult, especially when you only have a few hours to work with. Multiple television characters, especially in the last year, have undergone this plot point and acquired a new tragic dimension, but the act itself and the fallout is never truly examined. In episode 4, “AKA 99 Friends,” Simpson and Jessica’s neighbor Malcolm (Eka Darville) share a brief scene in which Simpson believes Malcolm is staring at Jessica. This sequence is shot in extreme close-ups at first, then in relatively long takes that emphasize Krysten Ritter’s heavy breathing and Mike Colter’s imposing physical presence.

Jones indirectly suggested that she’s using Hope as a means of taking care of herself when she told Trish that Kilgrave will be listening to Hope talk on Trish’s show “and thinking about me.” Secretly thinking about yourself when you’re thinking about other people isn’t the worst crime. The action scenes in “AKA It’s Called Whiskey” are similarly exciting because they allow viewers to watch characters making decisions without constantly second-guessing themselves.

In general, film is a far more forgiving medium for wild tonal shifts than TV is, because TV needs to keep viewers coming back, and thus it usually needs to establish a certain tonal baseline. Jones and best friend Trish Walker brawl their way through a handful of tense, involving scenes that aren’t especially well-choreographed, but do effectively make viewers feel the impact of body blows without being gratuitously brutal. Yet TV’s superhero shows still allow for the variance of Daredevil’s ultra-darkness, The Flash’s goofy earnestness, and the period sizzle of Agent Carter. In contrast, Marvel’s films tend to use the same story structure (three big action sequences, plus snarky quips), while DC’s (at least so far) have all been deeply, disturbingly dark without providing any real reason for their hyper-seriousness. The gauntlet of Kilgrave victims that Jones has to fight her way through is similarly wearying, but also imaginative enough to keep you wondering how Jones will escape her next opponent.

What tends to happen is that these studios think shifting the apparent genre of a film is enough to make up for its tonal similarities to other movies. The layered, character-driven drama makes this the best of the initial bunch of episodes, and the visceral, earthy pleasures also make it the most memorable. So if Guardians of the Galaxy is a space opera and Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a conspiracy thriller, it doesn’t matter if they share very, very similar tones. Hogarth’s estranged wife, Wendy (Robin Weigert), is a well-respected doctor who does charitable work, Patsy Walker’s mother Dorothy (Rebecca De Mornay) is a maniacal showbiz manager, and Hope Shlottman is a troubled scholar athlete — attributes that women characters rarely have onscreen, let alone all in one show.

If you try to watch a bunch of Marvel movies in a row, they’ll start to feel like the same movie, over and over again, with slightly different skins — right down to all of them featuring roughly the same climax. In 2015 alone, Marvel released the weird and sad Avengers: Age of Ultron and the (slightly) more intimate Ant-Man, only to reap disappointing box office returns for both (though it’s not like anybody lost money on either). For as much as rape has played a part in television this year — from Thrones to Orange is the New Black to Outlander, we haven’t been made to think too hard about its nature as a horrible act.

The subversion is that the confrontation happens between two women, with a man cowering on the sidelines: That’s echoed in the show’s ninth episode, “AKA Sin Bin,” when Kilgrave’s parents confront him and try to stop him from doing even more evil. His dad is afraid, cowering in the corner, while his mother faces the monster Kilgrave has become head on: Jessica Jones also underscores these choices in its aesthetics. The easiest way to start would be to hire iconoclastic directors and let them develop their own personal visions of what a superhero film should look like. But Kilgrave is a victim, too; his powers were forced on him by his parents, and we eventually find out that he has no idea how to live life without making people do his bidding. There are exceptions to this one; both Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger’s spins on the Joker are classics, and Alfred Molina made for a wonderful Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2.

But for the most part, villains in superhero movies (especially superhero movies from Marvel) are typically just another obstacle for the hero to get past in the big, CGI-infused climax. Kilgrave looks back fondly on their time together, and talks about doing the things she wanted to do, like staying in five-star hotels and eating at the best places. But when schools are creating consent classes because the topic is so poorly understood, the problem becomes all the more horrifying, not in spite of but because of its mundanity.

Whedon’s spin on superhero stories has everything a good superhero story needs — a superpowered heroine, an eclectic ensemble of characters, and a season-long structure that allows for minor confrontations with smaller villains in the buildup to a face-off with the “Big Bad.” In general, all of the successful superhero shows on TV right now borrow liberally from this template, and they’re all the better for it. (As the Atlantic’s David Sims has pointed out, The Flash has basically become Buffy with a super-speedster.) And Whedon’s chief influences in crafting Buffy and its very superhero-y spinoff Angel were 1960s Marvel comics. In addition to fostering tonal diversity, which allows for a greater swath of superhero stories, TV is also more interested in what it would mean to be a woman or a person of color with superpowers. Meanwhile, in the world of film, we’re 15 years removed from X-Men, and Marvel might start getting around to making a couple of movies about superpowered women and people of color someday now.

Also, make sure that the diversity of the characters isn’t merely an attempt to provide a token hero or two but is, instead, entwined with the storytelling on a very deep level.

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