The Marvel/Netflix partnership has proven to be an interesting one in the past three years. Beginning with Daredevil, it was clear that these series were not going to be family friendly affairs, an idea cemented further with the premiere of Jessica Jones in November of 2015.
Where Daredevil’s first season was incredibly enjoyable, and boasted by a superb villainous performance from Vincent D’Onofrio as Kingpin, it was very much a superhero origin tale in an R-rated fashion with an evil antagonist and a late appearance for the central hero’s costume. Jessica Jones arrived armed with themes involving post traumatic stress disorder, and explorations of victimisation, making for a brilliantly intense run of television, but it did so feeling different to anything Marvel had produced on screen to date.
Starring Krysten Ritter as the titular character, Jessica Jones makes myriad references to the “incident” from the end of The Avengers, but this is a very clear continuation of portraying Marvel characters on the darker side of the tonal spectrum, dealing with adult matters in a way that makes the series clearly unsuitable for younger viewers, even though we’re constantly reminded of a key action set piece from a 12A rated movie that has become a Bank Holiday favourite on the BBC television schedules.
At first it’s a little humorous to see Ritter playing a private detective, coming as it does after seeing her guest starring on Veronica Mars. In fact, tonally there are certain similarities to Rob Thomas’ cult classic, with brilliant use of noir tropes throughout, but where Thomas’ series had its high school setting, Jessica Jones is dark, and at times uncomfortably adult, complete with sometimes shocking bouts of emotional violence, not to mention its incredibly dark, urban setting.
Adapted from Brian Michael Bendis’ comic book Alias, itself published under Marvel’s Max imprint, a section devoted to more adult fare, the character is a perfect one to be produced under the more adult nature of the Marvel/Netflix partnership.
Running for thirteen episodes, the first season would be unapologetic in its frank exploration of themes and ideas such as female sexuality, PTSD and aftermath of sexual violence.
The Netflix/Marvel team got off to a brilliant start with Daredevil, but right away Jessica Jones would feel like a different series. For starters there is no build up to a cool costume, and while its central villain would have a superpower, it would be explored in a more devastating, powerful and disturbing way.
Daredevil ticked many of the boxes one would expect from a superhero series, or one with a costumed vigilante as its main star, the biggest difference being that it felt more R-rated than what had been done before, especially given that it wasn’t shy about being set in a universe that had been made up from PG-13 rated movies. Where Daredevil got the Marvel/Netflix universe under way, Jessica Jones would strip away the comic book aesthetic even further, with only one hint of a costume, and a heroine whose tortured persona felt more real than anything portrayed in a series from the genre before.
Violence against women is everywhere in Jessica Jones, but it’s never explored in a manner that feels exploitative. In fact, it’s very adult and real in a way that it sometimes frequently feels like a surprise to see that flickering comic book page logo appear at the start of every episode.
With Melissa Rosenberg as showrunner, whose credits include Dexter, there is a clear feminine feel to it that would be lost if the show was produced and had a lead writer who was a man. The series is taut, intelligent and does incredibly well by its female characters.
In fact, one key change from the comics sees Carrie Anne Moss’s character, Jeri Hogarth, change from being a man to a woman on a screen.
Centred around Jessica dealing with the aftermath of being manipulated and controlled by central villain Killgrave, whose power is being able to control minds by simply instructing people on what to do, the series runs the gamut of emotional horror and violence in a way that no comic book adaptation had ever done before. The central “relationship” at the heart of the series between Jessica and Killgrave is intense and deeply uncomfortable and the series is never afraid to push the limits on emotional terror.
For the majority of the run, the series scarcely puts its foot wrong; great heroine, great story arc, great villain, superbly portrayed romance between Jessica and Luke Cage (a star making turn from Mike Colter), for ten episodes the series is on fire.
Its only in its final hurdle that it somewhat falls apart. The most common criticism of the Marvel/Netflix series is that at thirteen episodes they somewhat outstay their welcome, and while it’s on fire Jessica Jones is the best series on the Marvel/Netflix output, it does run of out steam after ten episodes.
The series effectively peaks when Jessica captures Kilgrave, but then the series runs into the rut of having her on the cusp of nearly catching him, only for him to subsequently get away, and the series does this for the final four hours. It still remains very entertaining, but it does lose a part of its power the longer it goes on for, and by the time we get to the finale, the subsequent dispatching of Killgrave does feel somewhat anti-climactic, especially given the intensity of the drama and performances from Ritter and Tennant in the ninth and tenth episodes.
Despite this minor failing in its final hurdle, Jessica Jones does remain potent, brilliant stuff because the good far outweighs the bad. Just for bringing its themes to a series that is a Marvel production, and doing so in a very adult way, it deserves to be fondly remembered. Maybe next time it should just stick to ten episodes.