I finally finished Jessica Jones a couple of weeks ago, nearly 3 months after we fired up the first episode. But hey, better late than never right? I was hoping to finish my post on this series before Daredevil season 2 comes out tonight (Friday 3/18), well it comes pretty darn close!
Before I get to my top 10, I have to highlight its fantastic opening credit sequence. The design for series’ opening credits have been impressive from what I’ve seen so far, but this is still one of the best.
It certainly sets the tone of the series, which is inherently dark and bleak. It’s definitely not a feel-good show, but that’s to be expected when the protagonist suffers from PTSD. It’s not perfect and I have to admit it took a while for me to really get into it, but my patience was rewarded and now I’m anticipating season 2!
Here are 10 reasons why Jessica Jones’ series won me over:
1. Slow burn mystery, more of a noir than an action-packed superhero series
Right from the first episode when Jessica is hired to find a missing NYU student, it’s clear this isn’t your typical superhero series. I love noir films which often feature a femme fatale, and this one certainly has that vibe. Creator Melissa Rosenberg (who had written for Dexter as well as the Twilight franchise) said in an interview that she’s influenced by Chinatown and Humprey Bogart films. I love detective stories so the fact that I’m a bit superhero fatigue made this series far more appealing.
2. A psychologically-complex & flawed super heroine
I love that we see our heroine having a regular job and we don’t see her use her abilities right away, so we see her more as a person than a larger-than-life character. She’s NOT one-dimensional, thank goodness, and the show takes its own good time in revealing who she is and what she’s about.
I like what this writer of BBC Culture said about Jessica: “Finally, we’re getting superheroines with the kinds of flaws common in the last decade’s male superheroes – and anti-heroes. Catwoman and Elektra didn’t seem like real women because they didn’t have complicated, human personalities to go with their sexed-up superpowers. (Catwoman is too meek; Elektra is too angry.) Jessica Jones, on the other hand, is an alcoholic commitment-phobe.”
“I need to update my resume. Would you put day drinking under experience or special skills?”
It took me a couple of episodes before I actually warmed up to Jessica, but that actually adds to the appeal in the long run. I didn’t immediately like her because honestly, Jessica likely doesn’t care about being liked or admired and that made me respect her right away and finds her more and more interesting AND relatable as the series went on.
3. A solid, taut script that gets better as the season progressed
The strong, silent type isn’t just for the male protagonists. Miss Jones doesn’t say much but when she does, in the format of voice over or dialog, it’s always laden with sarcasm and somber tone. But that’s part of her charm!
“Pain is always a surprise, I try to avoid land mines, avoid caring, I can even see it coming. But until it hits you, you have no idea what pain is.”
The storyline of the series is complex, just like our heroine, and there’s always more than meets the eye. It’s always tough in any series to maintain audience interest from one episode to the next, but at the end of each episode I’m always intrigued to find out what happens next. It also handles the backstory of key characters (Jessica’s and Kilgrave’s) in an effective manner that it doesn’t bog us down with details by giving us just enough flashback to see why they are the way they are, as well as explains some of the relationships within the series.
4. Intriguing main cast
I actually had never seen Kristen Ritter before, though I know she was a regular cast-member of the hit series Breaking Bad. I have to admit it took a while for me to warm up to her as the heroine, but as I mentioned above, I think that’s intentional. It’s actually a testament to her convincing performance that I wasn’t immediately sympathetic to Jessica, but after about a couple episodes in, I was fully invested in her journey. Ritter is beautiful but in the show she’s made up to be tough, even crude, and she wears the same rugged clothes of denim & black leather jacket the entire season. The fact that she’s vulnerable is part of the appeal. You could even say a broken person after what she’s been through, but that makes her real and relatable in some ways.
Mike Colter as Luke Cage has quite an instant impact on screen. I mean, look at him. The second the 6’3″ muscled-man with a disarming smile and irresistibly deep voice entered the screen, I was like ‘who’s THAT?’ But Mr Colter is more than just eye candy for the series. Just like Jessica, he’s also got superhuman powers in that he’s practically indestructible. But he’s also got a dark past that’s later revealed to have a connection with Jessica’. He’s got a scorching chemistry with Rytter (but what girl wouldn’t?), which made for some torrid love scenes. I wish he’s on more episodes but I’m thrilled to hear he’s getting his own spin-off series that might actually premiered later this year!
5. An unconventional-but-effective villain
When I first heard that David Tennant was going to be the villain I was a bit skeptical. I mean, it’s not that I didn’t think he’s a good actor, but I just don’t see him as menacing at all. But the show did a nice job building up to the moment we finally saw Kilgrave on screen after we’ve learned the horrendous things he’s done to Jessica and others. He has the unique ability of mind control, enabling him to get victims to do anything he wants, including killing themselves.
This is the way Rosenberg described Kilgrave in this interview, “What was most important with the villain was very much that he be multi-dimensional, that he not be a mustache-twirling, out-to-rule-the-world [villain]… [the crime] is more personal. It’s a more intimate wrong. I think it’s relatable in an individual way, whereas taking over the world, as well the stakes are incredibly high, it’s perhaps a little harder to connect to.”
Kilgrave ends up being one of the creepiest Marvel villains ever, a worthy adversary that is evil through and through. Hiring the affable British actor is brilliant as he seems harmless on the outset. He has the appearance of a polite and refined British gent, but his deeds certainly made me shudder in horror. He doesn’t care who he would harm, even children, and he does it in the most nonchalant way. Every time Kilgrave spends time with our heroine, there’s always bone-chilling tension in the air and her absolute contempt strongly radiates from the screen.
6. A strong supporting cast w/ interesting story arc
I love how one character may appear minor initially, almost like a throwaway character if you will, but then later on he/she ends up being integral to the plot. The revelation is clever and smoothly interwoven into our heroine’s journey, so it’s not just tacked on to add interest. Two of my favorite supporting cast are her BFF Trish (Rachael Taylor) and neighbor Malcolm (Eka Darville). Interestingly both are Aussies, but you wouldn’t know it from their perfect American accent.
Carrie-Anne Moss is pretty interesting as a ruthless attorney with her own issues with her lesbian divorce, and the conflict with her wife culminated into a chilling battle in the ‘1,000 cuts’ episode. Will Simpson (played by yet another Aussie, Wil Traval), a cop who became Trish’s love interest also ends up being a rather sinister character. I’m curious to see what arc he’d have in season 2.
7. A truly gritty and moody atmosphere
People use the term ‘gritty’ so liberally on movies or tv shows, but Jessica Jones truly has that somber, moody atmosphere and the set pieces in New York City looks appropriately dark and dingy look to it, it’s decidedly unglamorous to match our spunky and feisty heroine. It certainly matches her biting wit and sarcasm. But it’s not just in the looks alone, the show is uncompromising in exposing truly dark subjects such as rape, trauma, sexual assault, etc. It’s also pretty violent and bloody, including one seemingly inspired by the Se7en. I had to avert my eyes in quite a few scenes, but I don’t think it’s as violent as Daredevil.
The series is visually striking, with interesting camera work and spectacular sceneries of NYC. But the visuals never overshadows the narrative, as our eyes are always focused on the characters.
8. Believable relationships that aren’t always rosy
I’m always glad when an on-screen romance is handled well and I think Jessica & Luke Cage is a great example. They have a believable chemistry but right off the bat you know it’s a complicated relationship that will get tested time and time again.
You’re the first person I ever pictured a future with. You’re also the first person I ever shot in the head.
Jessica Jones, you are a hard-drinking, short-fused, mess of a woman, but you are not a piece of shit.
The theme of friendship is compelling in this series. It’s rare to see the protagonist’s BFF actually has an integral part in the story, she’s not simply a sidekick or the voice of reason, what have you. The friendship between Jessica and Trish feels realistic because they tell things as they are. They disagree and often bicker, but you know deep down they love each other and would risk their lives for each other.
9. A superhero film that isn’t concerned w/ heroics & spectacle
You could say that this is a superhero film for grownups given the dark subject matter. I think the fact that Jessica isn’t concerned about doing the heroic thing or saving the world is so refreshing. In fact she has a pretty grim view about people… “Humanity sucks and they don’t deserve saving.” She’s probably right, especially in her line of work as a PI, hired to spy on people doing horrible things. But what makes her a hero is that she does care about people, not the way Superman cares about the concept of ‘justice, truth and the American way’ but people she knows whose lives might be in danger, and she’s willing to put her own lives at risk to protect them. But at the same time, the morality isn’t simply black and white, sometimes the good people do bad things and our heroine herself deal with a lot of guilt and even self-loathing.
10. A killer finale to top off a strong first season
‘AKA Smile’ is the name of the final episode and it sure is a fitting title. The stakes get higher and higher for Jessica in the last two episodes and she had to do very difficult things to someone she really cares about. There’s also the Daredevil crossover that’s exciting for me as I’m a huge fan of that show as well. But given all the conflicts has been between Jones & Kilgrave, the final episode definitely gives a gratifying climax that’s suspenseful right up until the end. It’s also one of the most action-packed episode that showcase Jessica’s extraordinary abilities.
Well, that’s my top 10 review of Jessica Jones. I’d love to hear what YOU think of the series.