‘Jessica Jones’ Episode 1: The Worst in People

21 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Jessica Jones’ Struggles In Life — But Triumphs On Screen.

While immediately engaging, “AKA Ladies Night,” the first episode of “Jessica Jones,” sometimes leans too hard on its title character’s alienated, hyper-cynical worldview.On Friday, Netflix premieres the first season of “Marvel’s Jessica Jones” — and one of the revelations of this interview with executive producer and showrunner Melissa Rosenberg is that there’s a chance the show might film a second season before a planned “Defenders” series.

Backstage at her first New York Comic Con, Kristin Ritter appears blissfully ignorant to the nerd swarm she’s about to walk into. “I’ve been in hiding,” she says in a deadpan tone familiar to anyone who has seen the short lived sitcom Don’t Trust The B in Apt 23 or Season 2 of Breaking Bad.The first thing you should know about Marvel’s new superhero show Jessica Jones is that it doesn’t require the viewer to know or care about superheroes. She seems like every other angsty crime fighter on film and TV, until you learn why she’s so wracked with PTSD she drinks herself into a stupor most nights. The pilot’s pseudo-hard-boiled (read: moodily under-lit) style and intricate narrative, with multiple overlapping subplots integrating by episode’s end, is mostly an effective continuation of the Hell’s Kitchen-focused, adult-oriented brand of drama that Marvel Comics and Netflix first tried with “Daredevil” earlier this year.

The drama is part of a cycle of Netflix-Marvel shows that includes “Daredevil” and an upcoming Luke Cage series starring Mike Colter, who also appears in “Jessica Jones” alongside star Krysten Ritter. Jessica Jones doesn’t shy away from Marvel lore — it takes place in the same post-Avengers Hell’s Kitchen as Netflix’s previous Marvel show, Daredevil, and you’ll catch stray references to characters like the Hulk. Turns out, Jones (played by Krysten Ritter, known from ABC’s Don’t Trust the B—— in Apartment 23) is recovering from her time with Kilgrave, another super-powered person who can telepathically make anyone do anything he tells them to do. The reason being two fold: the gender of its namesake, the first female fronted superhero in the Marvel media oeuvre and, perhaps equally as important, how little a fuss it makes about it.

A typical comic book villain-style narcissist and psychopath, Kilgrave — played with elegant, bratty menace by Doctor Who alum David Tennant — kept Jones as his enforcer and plaything until a chance bus accident took him out and broke his hold on her. By the way, this interview is safe to read if you haven’t seen the show yet — and it’s also worth pointing out that you don’t need to have seen any other Marvel TV shows or movies in order to enjoy “Jessica Jones,” which is reviewed here. Unlike its network counterpart, CBS’s Supergirl, Marvel’s Jessica Jones’ not-so-hard-boiled detective in a hard boiled world never overcorrects or succumbs to highlighting its importance, coming by its feminism naturally rather than having a tertiary character provide flippant commentary.

If you’re disinterested in piecing together the increasingly dense continuity that links blockbusters like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Guardians of the Galaxy to a half-dozen interconnected TV shows — or just sick of the world’s ongoing infatuation with big-budget superheroes — well, you have something in common with Jessica Jones’ superhero protagonist. She also has friends, like Malcolm (Eka Darville), a nosy neighbor who pops over whenever he wants, and Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), a radio host, but Jones doesn’t seem to like any of them. So, instead of a speech about why being a girl is just fine, Jones and the rest of the female fronted cast (which includes Canadian Carrie-Anne Moss as a high price lawyer who is cheating on her wife with her secretary) are shown struggling with their own empowerment in a world populated by abusive men. Her first reaction — a blind panic that involves trying to scrape together as much cash as possible to get as far away from her Hell’s Kitchen apartment as possible — seems ripped right from the playbook for survivors of abusive relationships.

Loki has been the evil half of the equation in two Marvel films, giving the audience time to familiarize themselves with him and his wicked, wicked ways. A veteran of network (Birds of Prey) and cable (Dexter) television, as well as the screenwriter behind all five Twilight films, Rosenberg says she pitched television studios a show about a female superhero Tony Soprano. As Kilgrave’s victims increase in number, Jones works with an attorney to create a support group which operates very much like a rape survivors meeting.

She bluntly explains to viewers (through voice-over narration) that she is O.K. with the thorniest aspect of her job as a private detective: she profits from other people’s suffering. “New York may be the city that never sleeps — but it sure loves to sleep around,” she says. “Not that I’m complaining: cheaters are good for business. When the series starts, she’s a hard-drinking, piece-of-work private investigator who does a lot of work solving mysteries involving other masked heroes.

I was meeting with them right after the “Twilight” and “Dexter” runs were wrapping up, and I said I would love to do damaged female superhero along the lines of an Iron Man. In short, she’s a classic noir detective, in the vein of The Maltese Falcon’s Sam Spade or The Big Sleep’s Philip Marlowe, or more recent entries to the genre, like Veronica Mars (on which Krysten Ritter played a key role). Turns out I excel at that.” The show’s version of Jones is somewhat more obnoxious, and definitely more desperate, than the version that debuted in Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos’s sharp “Alias” comic book series. In Empire Strikes Back, there’s nothing but thin talk about Yoda and his power in the first part of the film, and when we do meet him, there’s a subversion of expectations. Melissa Rosenberg, who was the head writer on Dexter and wrote the scripts for the Twilight movies, created this show for television and sticks to the source fairly closely.

Ritter plays Jones as a relentlessly cynical, supremely damaged woman so tangled in her own dysfunction she can’t see how smart and heroic she often is. Jones drinks constantly: her office/apartment is littered with bottles, and she always seems to be a few inappropriate comments away from making a hung over fool of herself. Jessica Jones (the amazing Krysten Ritter) is still a former costumed superhero whose life was ruined when a villain named Killgrave (David Tennant, thankfully using his natural Scottish accent and not his crappy American one) took control of her mind and made her commit all sorts of horrible crimes, including killing a woman.

She has a reputation for being a hothead who gets results, as high-powered client Jeryn Hogarth (Carrie-Ann Moss) explains to Jones before reluctantly hiring her to deliver a subpoena to Gregory Spheeris (Juri Henley-Cohn), a strip-club owner who’s being sued by a brain-damaged dancer (and a bunch of high-powered businessmen who want to buy Spheeris’s property). Spheeris’s case isn’t the focus of “AKA Ladies’ Night,” but rather one of a series of encounters whose significance is only explained later on.

If you recall back those many months (seven) ago, Daredevil began with three episodes of talk about what Wilson Fisk was capable of and some physical evidence to support it. The show’s overlapping subplots are pieces of a collage that amounts to a simple, but engaging portrait of an independent woman struggling to assert control over her life. Rather than begin the plot with her character’s origin story, we are introduced to Jones via noir tropes: an overvoice tells us she’s a private eye in a post-Avengers Hell’s Kitchen New York. That struggle for greater agency is reflected in a predominantly female supporting cast who, like Hogarth, are either more in control of their lives than Jones or in greater need of rescue, like Hope (Erin Moriarty), a missing college student that Jones is hired to find.

This community of women provides an immediately accessible context for Jones’s struggles, and ensures that viewers never lose sight of the thematic stakes that ground Jones’s casework. We started off by saying ‘I’m not doing the honeypot.’ I will never do the honeypot.” Jumping in, Ritter cites her stature and the character’s wardrobe, a leather jacket and jeans, as an example of the show’s unforced feminist bent. Pointing at her slight frame, she says she was shocked when they asked her to play a superhero but “then I’m reading the comics and I’m like, oh, this is a really dark, damaged, edgey character.” “If you look at Wonder Woman or something, look what she’s wearing.

But the grand battle in that movie is far removed from the daily struggle of alcoholics, junkies, and poor folks to survive in the stories of Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Fisk, outside of Charlie Cox’s stellar Matt Murdock, was the best part of Daredevil, so it’s no surprise to see Jessica Jones take a similar approach to Kilgrave. Kilgrave is easily the most well-conceived and terrifying villain in Marvel’s cinematic universe — so much so that his introduction highlights how weak most of Marvel’s other villains have been. (Sorry, Loki.) In theory, he can have anything or anyone he wants — but he retains a particular obsession with Jessica, who he kept in thrall for months as a kind of escort. Jones’s answer comes in a sex scene that is edited so frantically that it comically emphasizes the violence of Cage and Jones’s lustful encounter.

For years, we’ve had these really great male characters on TV, and then there would be the female detective off to one side, wearing false eyelashes and supplying exposition. I want to be rad and tough, grounded and strong, and Jessica is that.” As she’s pulled away to prep for her debut alongside Netflix’s other Marvel heroes — Cage and Daredevil — at Comic Con’s main hall, Ritter gives another reason for her calm demeanour. “I’ve been acting since before the internet, and I still approach things that way.” she laughs, “All the other stuff that comes with it, I just learned to keep my head down. Thusly, the second episode of Jessica Jones wastes no time diving straight into the question of how Kilgrave can still be alive, when Jessica supposedly watched him die and saw a death certificate. But she’s still deeply haunted by him, in ways both direct (unsettling dreams and hallucinations) and indirect (cynicism, alcoholism, and a general distrust of pretty much everyone she meets). This show goes into some fairly dark places, and I would assume that there were conversations with Marvel about that, given that they have to protect their overall brand.

Fun and games end when Jones tells Cage “I won’t break” and Cage boastfully replies “Yeah — you will.” That line is a fratboy-ish wink to comic fans who (spoiler alert) know that Cage has superpowers: impenetrable, diamond-hard skin. If only there were some sort of really obvious metaphor for that… The private detective isn’t exactly in a great spot when “AKA Crush Syndrome” begins. She’s strong enough to punch holes in walls, but has settled for a job chasing missing people and cheating spouses for paying clients, in between bouts with the bottle. The character was featured in a line of comic books from Marvel called Max — intended as the place for R-rated stories featuring superheroes, where the f-word and sex scenes could be deployed without concern. Her lover, or her best friend, or any random stranger on the street could be under Kilgrave’s control, which means it’s safer for everyone if she pushes everyone away.

There, Jones was the center of a modern, film noir-style detective story, spiced with flashes of super strength and connections to her old life as a hero. But eventually, she sees that he was right, and does essentially break, clutching at Cage’s bedsheets and crying out before she and Cage separate from each other. So Jessica Jones also introduces us to The Good Wife alum Mike Colter as Luke Cage, a bar owner with unbreakable skin and super strength who is scheduled to get his own series next year. The series wisely drops the luminous fuchsia skin tone that earned him the sobriquet “Purple Man” in the comics, but his color of choice remains key to his character. Outside of a few short-lived series like Fox’s M.A.N.T.I.S. and Spike TV’s Blade, there hasn’t been a high-profile, adult-focused superhero TV show centered on a black character, so Netflix’s Luke Cage could break some more ground.

It’s not just his wardrobe; it’s the walls and items in the rooms where he has spent time, as if his particular brand of evil can infect the world around him like a creeping illness. And given that — spoiler alert! — the comic books feature Cage married to Jones and fathering a child with her, there’s obviously lots of story to mine between those two characters. But he unconvincingly wrestles with Catholic guilt and daddy issues while Jones gets punished for her indecisive nature by drinking to excess and being dominated sexually.

It seems like the “Jessica Jones” themes and ideas you’re most interested have to do with control and autonomy, especially as they play out for a woman. Jones and Cage’s sex scene is shot and scripted in such a flip way that it suggests that she ought to be ashamed for wanting to experiment with him. Instead of offering up helpful info that will lead straight to the Purple Man, she turns her focus to Jessica, the only other person who understands what she’s just been through.

Though the episodes I’ve seen don’t come right out and say it, Jessica is clearly a rape survivor. (“There is the history of assault, yes, but we don’t depict it. It’s not literally on your screen,” explained Ritter in an interview with Variety.) That subject matter puts Jessica Jones into what tends to be dicey territory for television; in recent years, shows like Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, and American Horror Story: Hotel have attracted justified criticism for dealing with rape in a glib and superficial manner. Jones thinks to herself in this scene that Cage will only remember their tryst as the one time she “let him do whatever he wants.” Bendis and Gaydos break the scene down sequentially so that it focuses on the intense discomfort on Jones’s face. So even though Jessica managed to escape him, she’s still in his sights, but now she’s determined to stop him…. and help Hope, despite the fact that the girl told her to kill herself. (Not cool, Schlottman.) Both of those objectives require Jessica to actually prove that Kilgrave is still around, since Hogarth won’t take on Hope’s case unless she has proof of the bastard’s mind control abilities.

This encounter rankles because “Jessica Jones” is an ostensibly progressive show — Marvel’s second project dedicated to a female protagonists after “Agent Carter” — that shows strong women like Hope and Spence trying to stop callous, domineering men like Kilgrave (the former “Doctor Who” star David Tennant) from taking advantage of them. She can grapple with the horror and pain of her experience without letting it break her completely, and while she clearly has her issues, she’s also smart, tough, and courageous enough to push back. Some visitors might be inclined to read that as a statement about the thin, jaded woman inside — but anyone watching Jessica Jones will have a hard time reading it as anything other than an ironic counterpoint.

You normally don’t have that kind of real estate, but when you’re not on a network, you don’t have to break for commercials and tell people again what they just saw five minutes ago or what they saw last week. Shortly before the city bus had flipped, seemingly without hitting anything at all, Jessica had stumbled into the street, dressed up for an evening out and desperate to get away from Kilgrave, who pursued her. I mean, you don’t know if they’re following you, because it’s not airing [and there are no ratings] and you’re not getting feedback, but you have the time you need to lay it all out in a different way. It turns out that the driver’s name is Jack Denton, and he’s living (not so happily) with his mother. (That “Kilgrave”-“Kill me” moment earned a genuine lol.) Also, Jack is hooked up to a dialysis machine around the clock. The imagery of rape — I mean, how many shows have you seen where there’s an image of a woman with her clothes ripped off and she’s been violated and she’s on the ground and all of that?

Considering how well this universe is handling its villains, it’s moments like this that remind us that heroes are still the heart of Marvel stories. We have what’s important for our series, but that really relates to an important incident that connects him to Jessica, and there is so much more to learn about him in his show.

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