Netflix’s ‘Jessica Jones,’ a female detective with a super twist

21 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

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

One of my big complaints about the first three episodes of Jessica Jones was the handling of Malcolm, the private detective’s drugged-out neighbor. The villain in the gripping Jessica Jones, the latest Netflix and Marvel collaboration, is not a super-being with ambitions to destroy or conquer the world.Marvel and Netflix have unleashed their latest comic book collaboration, turning the “Alias” comic into a 13-episode TV series “Jessica Jones.” And folks are going mad for the deeply dark noir show.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. 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.

But in all seriousness, it’s doubly refreshing to see innovation in the superhero realm, especially when the culture is so saturated with this kind of story. 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. 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 superpowered person who can telepathically make anyone do anything he tells them to do. He abuses his power of mind control to get whatever he wants: good wine, good food, fancy clothes, money, sex, distraction, total obedience, Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter). 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.

The scenes between Jessica and Luke weren’t superfluous and only there for the shock value, either. (Although, I appreciate any justification for working “Sweet Christmas!” into the dialogue.) While there is a genuine mutual attraction between the two heroes, there’s something much more complicated going on just beneath the surface. But let’s work our work way back to the truth about Malcolm from the start of the fourth episode, “AKA 99 Friends,” because there was a lot going beyond that. 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. 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.

Times review, Mary McNamara labeled “Jessica Jones” as the first real foray for Marvel into prestige drama: “Jessica is not standing outside mortal experience looking in; she is drowning in it, and fighting her way out.” And McNamara’s not alone in enjoying the new comic book creation. As Kilgrave’s victims increase in number, Jones works with an attorney to create a support group that operates very much like a rape survivors meeting. Daniel D’Addario from Time said that the new TV character was “Marvel’s most nuanced heroine yet.” And praised Jones further, writing, “The most interesting moment in the first six episodes comes when Jones is asked how many more like her there are out there. “How many more what, private eyes?” she replies. 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. I would understand if her motivation was to save someone else from Kilgrave’s psychic hold, but since that isn’t made clear, the search for the photographer feels kind of random.

Jones, Marvel’s most interesting character yet, won’t be defined as anything so boring as a superhero.” David Sims from the Atlantic praised the “sublime darkness” of the series. He can approach a man on a subway platform wearing a Zegna coat and say to him, “You want to give me your jacket,” and the man will hand over his jacket. Stating that the latest Marvel hero “might be its most flawed, but she’s also its most fascinating, and her show marks an evolutionary leap forward for the brand’s expansive collection of movies and TV shows, deftly exploring themes of trauma, abuse, and prejudice. 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. Considering that her search leads directly to a big story twist, my more cynical side is thinking that the only reason Jessica undertakes it is to get to the reveal, but when the twist is as effective as this one is, does this nitpicking matter?

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. But there’s also the strong suggestion that Jessica may have hurt her friend while under the control of Kilgrave. (Readers of the comic book will no doubt see some parallels forming.) What’s most interesting about Trish, with her strong desire to go after Kilgrave through a radio interview with Hope Schlottman, and that (Hell)cat-like reaction to the unsolicited touch from a fan, is that she works as a foil to Jessica, who’s coping methods she sees as destructive. 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. 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.

Jones taps into an uneasy alliance of women in her life to take on Kilgrave — including Matrix franchise co-star Carrie-Anne Moss as a ruthless lawyer. 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. 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. As the show begins, Jessica Jones is a wreck, still recovering from months spent in Killgrave’s thrall, doing his every bidding, which included copulation. A little history: Jessica Jones takes place in Hell’s Kitchen; the same seedy New York neighborhood that served as home to Netflix’s first Marvel series, Daredevil.

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. 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. Now that the media has picked up Hope’s story, there is some widespread doubt about the girl’s explanation for why her parents are dead. (Weren’t the radio clips we hear painfully hokey?) Jessica wants to change that, and she sees Trish’s profile as a means of doing this.

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. 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. 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. In the aftermath of Killgrave, his victims can barely believe themselves, haunted by what happened and sick at the ease with which they were made to betray themselves.

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. 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.

Thankfully, Jessica is around to stop the cop from actually completing his mission with the help of the surgery-grade anesthesia that she stole from the hospital… TANGENT: What is the point of Malcolm as a 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.

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. Matt Murdock in Netflix’s “Daredevil” is the only other hero in the Marvel movie and TV universe that constantly grapples with doubts about whether or not he should be a superhero. 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.

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. If Audrey is under the Purple Man’s control, she needs to visit him every once in a while, since Kilgrave’s voodoo only works for 10 or 12 hours at a time. 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.

He’s an adult bogeyman, one who forces viewers to pay attention to the lives he destroys, disturbs, and invades, rather than an all-powerful bad guy who encourages audiences to forget about collateral damage in the thrill of huge explosions that have vast theoretical body counts but hurt no real people, just extras with a line or two. There had been a bus accident in Hell’s Kitchen — one of the first mentions of the neighborhood after Daredevil turned the phrase into a drinking game, repeating it so often. (Drink every time someone says “Kilgrave”?) Only one person was reported to have died, a woman named Reva Connors died, leaving the official status of the Purple Man vague in the wake of the crash. In the transition from the big screen to the small, Jessica Jones has created a terrifying villain who is just the right size to keep you up at night. 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. Because of the angle in the photo of her, Jessica would be able to more or less figure out from where the picture was taken, but that doesn’t really help her.

The guy appears to be the philanderer that his wife suspects he is, staying out at an odd hour of the night and carrying flowers, but it’s a little more complicated than that. 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. With the widening context of his power, Kilgrave is becoming a more frightening villain than ever, possibly the worst in the MCU to date, because of how relatable his particular brand of destruction is. 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.

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