‘Marvel’s Jessica Jones’ Season 1 Review: Marvel Turns to the Dark Side

'Marvel's Jessica Jones' is the dark, twisted comic-book show you need.

Marvel's Jessica Jones
Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones in Marvel’s Jessica Jones. (photo: Myles Aronowitz/Netflix) Netflix

(For our initial binge-reviews of episodes 1-4, look here. Spoilers ahead for Jessica Jones‘ entire first season.) 

Brady: It’s funny how the show acknowledges Jones’s origin story in the comics and then says, “Yeah, we’re not doing that.” Walker trots out a costume for Jessica to wear, which, if you don’t know the comic, is exactly the costume Jones wore during her brief tour as a superhero. Walker even suggests she use the same name, “Jewel.” Krysten Ritter says, “Jewel is a stripper’s name. A really slutty stripper. And if I wear that thing you’re going to have to call me ‘Camel Toe.’”

Vinnie: If you lived through the entire Spider-Man film fiasco that started in 2002 and ended in 2012 with a completely different Peter Parker and name, you know origin stories are not only unnecessary at this point, but driven completely into the dirt. Yeah, parts of Jessica Jones’ backstory are explained, but its parsed out over the entire season, adding mystery and weight. What Netflix is proving, especially in this outing, is that sometimes all an audience needs to get hooked is “this person has been through some shit, and can also lift cars.” Boom. Sold.

Brady: I’m completely with you. I’m pretty tired of origin stories in general. I’m glad Marvel had the nerve to mostly take a pass on Jones’s here.

Once again, Marvel also impressed me with it’s ability to leave not one moment wasted. Every single bit of this show leads to something. They did it with Daredevil and they did it again with Jessica Jones. In the early episodes, Vinnie and I were wondering how some of the family drama could possibly fit into the larger plot, but it all does. It makes sense.

Vinnie: I was most impressed how Melissa Rosenberg and co. wove Hogarth’s love triangle into the Killgrave story, because for way more than half a season that story felt like a narrative someone snuck in by accident. Plus, the “death by 1000 cuts” was probably my favorite example of a character taking Killgrave’s suggestion in a completely literal way with horrifying results. 

Brady: That was so, so dark. And a great example of how a dull character could suddenly turn fascinating in heightened psychology of this fairly insane show.

I don’t know how much I loved a lot of Jessica Jones’ supporting cast, with one exception: Rachael Taylor’s Trish Walker. First of all, I loved the subtle shout-out to the real weird history of the character in the comics (first a teen comic lead, turned supporting super hero), but I also thought she proved to be a legitimately useful foil to Jessica Jones. The sisterhood and bond they showed throughout the show helped you understand what motivated the misanthropic Jones to keep going, plus you could feel Walker’s palpable desire to kick as much ass as her adopted sister.

Vinnie: That last part was key, and it’s a testament to Rachael Taylor that you could feel from the beginning how pissed Trish was that a day-time talk show host isn’t very useful in a super-powered battle between good and evil. It made the moment when she took the red pill feel genuine. If that moment wasn’t earned, it would’ve played much more as “well, you’re an idiot.”

Krysten Ritter and Rachael Taylor in Marvel’s Jessica Jones. photo: Myles Aronowitz/Netflix)

Brady: Let’s get my fanboy nerd gripe out of the way. The show just did not think through super strength very clearly. Jessica Jones only ever throws down with two other super strong characters, Luke Cage and Will Simpson (Wil Traval’s intense cop). We don’t really know if Simpson is super strong, but let’s just err on the side of assuming he is.

Based on the first bar fight, it appears that Luke Cage is easily stronger. He’s just kind of slapping people around in a semi-bored way, while Jessica Jones is really fighting. She has an advantage, but it doesn’t seem huge.

Then they fight, and it seems pretty even.

The larger problem, though, is the degree to which Jones has trouble fighting regular guys. If she can rip padlocks off with one hand, her grappling power should be literally bone-breaking. Yet, in the scene in the pothouse, it takes her and Cage some real effort to beat the gang of loan shark thugs.

I know I’m nerding out here, but the inconsistency took me out of the action. There’s solutions to the problems super strong characters present if writers just think it through.

Vinnie: I think this is a result of the show’s approach to superhumans overall, which actually for the most part is incredibly refreshing. It handles powers subtly, making it just another character trait. Like, “yeah Jessica is sarcastic, drinks a lot, and oh also can bend steel beams.” And that’s great, because it grounds the Marvel Universe. It topples comic books’ most complicated hurdle — how do you make gods relatable?

But you’re right, it’s hard to have your steel beams and bend them, too. Case in point: Episode 6, ‘AKA You’re A Winner!,’ when Jessica has a moment of conflict over leaving Luke behind in the marijuana warehouse. There shouldn’t be conflict! There shouldn’t even be a problem. Either Luke and Jessica can stop moving vehicles with their bare hands, or they can get ganged up on by six dudes with 2x4s. You can’t have both.

Brady: Exactly. Comics have had reasonable ways of dealing with these problems for years. Usually it’s more guys, bigger weapons or an innocent life threatened.

On Killgrave, this is going to be a weird comparison, but Killgrave really reminded me of Ed Norton’s character in The Italian Job. Both are cases of guys with access to enormous resources (for the former it’s money, for the latter it’s an amazing power), and they use it so unimaginatively. Far from making it less interesting as a story, though, it makes both more interesting. You spend the whole time wondering: what is this guy’s problem?

The nice thing about Jessica Jones is that Killgrave’s lack of vision eventually makes sense, the more you learn about him. This especially hits home in episode eight, “AKA WWJD.”

It also draws a comparison to Wilson Fix. I spent most of Daredevil thinking, “Why is Kingpin acting so timid?” It wasn’t until the very end that I realized he was acting timid because he wasn’t Kingpin yet. He was just Wilson Fisk. The events of the first series are what would turn him into the truly hardened crime boss.

Jessica Jones turns a similar trick, continuously making you believe that there would be some twist. That Killgrave must have a bigger plan. The twist was, in fact, that he didn’t. It was always just about the girl.

Vinnie: My one and only gripe about Killgrave, who was an A+ perfect villain all the way through, is they teased him going full purple and then didn’t pull the trigger. Give the people what they want, Marvel!

The Purple Man, just having fun. (Image: Alias #28)
The Purple Man, just having fun. (Image: Alias #28)

In all seriousness, though, the moment when Jessica finally snapped Killgrave’s neck was somehow the most satisfying and most disappointing moment of the entire season. Disappointing, because it means we don’t get more of Tennant’s Killgrave (although in comic books, “dead” is never dead). Satisfying, because Jessica Jones is the best example on comic book TV of a hero and villain having an actual, personal vendetta.

That was the cool thing about Killgrave. He was a complete bastard, and Jessica was just one of many characters who had a good reason for straight murdering him in cold blood. But he was also oddly sympathetic. His speech in Episode 8, ‘AKA WWJD,’ about how he never knows if people do anything because they want to or because he tells them was…strangely moving. Of course, then there’s the flip side — he’s using this logic to justify rape. It’s horrifying. And you feel horrified the whole way through for sympathizing. You feel, dare I say, totally Killgrave’d.

Brady: I’m glad they waited until the later eps to start showing Killgrave’s more clever side. Like, how he always has these subtle failsafes around. Or the ways in which he gave Luke Cage layers of commands, so he could lie convincingly to Jessica.

Vinnie: I also have to say, half the reason Killgrave is such an effective villain is the amazing job Krysten Ritter did as Jessica Jones. It would’ve been easy to play her as a victim, or as someone with no feelings. Ritter settled so well in the middle, as someone obviously terrified of Killgrave but not broken by him.

Brady: Hey, remember that time Luke Cage walked out of bar that just exploded, completely on fire? Have you ever seen a cooler shot in your life? No, it’s not possible. I am so jazzed for his show. Mike Colter crushed it as Mr. Cool Super Guy.

Vinnie: If I had the same powers as Luke Cage, I’d walk to work everyday on fire, just ‘cause.

Brady: By the way, I’m also guessing that thumb drive (filled with videos of kids being experimented on) that Jones gives Cage drives much of the plot for the next show.

Vinnie: I’m still surprised how much Luke Cage drove the plot of this show. I’m glad, though, because it proves this dark little Netflix corner of the MCU can do team-ups, and it doesn’t have to be this multi-platform juggernaut of a thing.

Brady: Crossover alert! I’m calling this right now: the main reason Will Simpson shows up in this show and continuously mucks up Jessica’s operation was because the showrunners are getting us ready for a huge crossover with Daredevil in Season Two. Daredevil #232 and #233 (1986) introduce the character of “Nuke.” Nuke is an updated attempt at a super soldier. He’s part cyborg and part completely amped up on speed.

I nearly lost my mind when Wil Traval spoke Nuke’s trademark phrase, “Give me a red.” The character takes red, white and blue pills to keep his energy jacked up.

In the comics, Kingpin uses his connections with the military to bring Nuke to Hell’s Kitchen and raise so much hell it will draw Daredevil out. It’s a short arc, but one etched in the minds of longtime fans of the character.

I predict a mid-season clusterfuck of a scene as Fisk pulls something similar, when Daredevil comes back.

Also, just as an aside: Fisk’s calling in of Nuke happens as the crimelord begins to become unglued after his wife dies. Just sayin’.

Vinnie: Just a PSA, the Nuke from the comics has the American Flag tattooed on his face. If I can’t get purple Killgrave, give me this at least.

Wilson Fisk gives Nuke his motivation. (Image: Daedevil #232)
Wilson Fisk gives Nuke his motivation. (Image: Daedevil #232)

I was glad Jessica Jones went this route with Will, because he was veering dangerously close to a cookie-cutter bad-guy-turned-good love interest. I was doubly glad that Trish was having none of his shit when he turned back up, obviously super-soldiered out of his mind. It almost makes up for the fact she let him into her apartment in the first place. Almost.

I did greatly enjoy these obscure little seeds the show planted over the entirety of the season, because they were just that…little seeds. Not to constantly bash the MCU films, but at time Avengers: Age of Ultron felt like a two-and-a-half hour trailer for three other movies. Here, in Jessica Jones, the Easter egg hunt is an actual hunt.

Brady: Failure to Crossover Alert. I’m tempted to use regrettable metaphors here, but suffice to say that I wanted to see Matt Murdock and/or Foggy Nelson on screen in this show very, very badly. I thought it was a given that we would at least see them pop up as attorneys at some point. I thought it would happen after Royce Johnson’s Sgt. Brett Mahoney popped up in the crazy Mexican standoff scene inside the police precinct.

Then I thought it would happen when Jessica announced, “I need a lawyer.”

Then I thought it would happen when Rosario Dawson went back to Jones’s apartment.

Then I thought we’d see them sitting next to her when she needed someone to defend her after killing Killgrave. But we got nothing. Just one obtuse mention by Dawson.

A browser cameo’ed, but not the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen.

Speaking of crossovers, when Jessica got to her most desperate, I couldn’t help but think: you know, this would be a good time to call in Agent Colson’s SHIELD team. I don’t think we are going to see that happen, though.

Vinnie: See, I go back and forth on this. Like I said, I love the subtle way the Netflix shows are building a small, contained little universe over about seven Manhattan blocks.

But the degree to which Jessica Jones ignored the rest of the MCU occasionally verged on ridiculousness. The entire plot hinges on no-one believing a person can have mind-control. Did they miss the news report of a sentient robot trying to destroy Earth by dropping an entire country on it? Even within the small, contained Marvel world Netflix has built for itself, you have to expect some crossover, right? Jessica is a private detective and former vigilante, but no word floated in of the ninja who has been beating criminals to a pulp within a block of her house? It’s always great to see Rosario Dawson, but I’m not sure if I buy Jessica not already knowing about Claire’s “special friend.” 

It’s a tough line to walk, but ultimately I think it’s necessary. True, I would have genuinely thrown my laptop to the ground in pure joy had Matt or Foggy walked in to defend Pam for the murder of Hogarth’s ex-wife. But that’s not what Jessica Jones, or Jessica Jones, was about. Ultimately, she was a character forced kicking and screaming to accept help, because she never wanted it. Truly, she never needed it. In Jessica Jones’ mind, maybe there is some blind asshole jumping around and getting himself into trouble a block away. But he’s not one of the two or three people she genuinely cares about. He might as well not exist.

‘Marvel’s Jessica Jones’ Season 1 Review: Marvel Turns to the Dark Side