From the opening moments of Marvel’s Jessica Jones it’s apparent that Netflix has another great drama on it’s hands. A splendid example of what a naturalized superhero series can do in the hands of talented people committed to crafting quality stories and experiences. Much with the same cinematic stylings we saw with Marvel’s Daredevil, Jessica Jones finds a welcome place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and in Netflix’s ever growing catalog of bold original content.
The series tells the story of the titular character, Jessica Jones, a private investigator working out of Hell’s Kitchen New York. (if that sounds familiar, we last saw Hell’s Kitchen in Marvel’s Daredevil earlier this year) Jessica is an alcholic hardass, with a heart of gold… and bitting cynicism. She works cases dealing with the dregs of humanity, employing hard edged means to get the job done. Taking cases that may fall through the cracks or require a different kind of skillset … oh,and she has super powers.
That right there is where the naturalized superhero series, the Marvel Cinematic Style, comes into play. This show does an amazing job of setting up the world it’s in, without making powers the fundamental focus. Jessica is someone who happens to have abilities far outside of the norm, but they don’t define her. She’s not a superhero trying to blend in, she’s a normal person who could be a superhero with the right motivation.
Sadly Jessica is damaged, haunted by a past both horrific and terrifying. She’s allowed this past to both define and destroy her, seemingly running from it with every aspect of herself she can muster. Her efforts as a private investigator more of the bare minimum she can do to scrape by and cope. She doesn’t, seemingly, want to do more than she is. She has embraced or resigned herself to a quiet little corner of Hell’s Kitchen where she hopes the past won’t catch up to her. All the while flashing on that past, between bouts at the bottom of a bottle.
Unfortunately the past is something none of us can ever escape. When we run, the past tends to find a way to return to us. We are all forever victims of our past in some sense. For better or worse. So it should come a no surprise that this series is about the past catching up to Jessica. About her dealing with, presumably, the darkest time in her life.
That past, without sugar coating it, involved her metaphorical and literal rape.
Jessica was, at one time, victimized by a man who seemingly possessed his own set of powers. The power to make you “do things”. She was kept as little more than a slave to his will. Forced to obey every command and instruction fully aware of what was happening. While fully aware she no one could help her, not even herself.
In terms of psychology, it’s an amazing set up. Here is a woman who is seemingly unstoppable with physical strength. Capable of jumping up the side of buildings and lifting the tale end of a car with the slightest effort. But all of that strength
and all of that power ultimately useless in the face of a man that can simply tell her what to do and when.
On some level the set up offers the inverse of the feminist angle this show offers at first glance. The idea of a take no prisoner female protagonist who is full capable of living her life independent of a male partner is contrasted and shadowed by the misogynistic angle of a man seemingly obsessed with tormenting and controlling her. While she stuggles to cope with what was done to her and how she dealt with it after escaping. Jessica Jones is simultaneously a comment on female empowerment and a discussion of the abuse faced by many woman. Two seemingly polar opposite developments entangled perfectly.
The show is dark and gritty. In some ways more so than Daredevil’s first season. That dark, gritty side offers the show a direction it can go that could allow for some amazing character development for Jessica.
The show is cinematic in scope and feel. Jessica’s struggles with post traumatic stress disorder and its impact on her lives and the people around her offer the gravitas of a compelling narrative grounded in a world the viewer can relate to. Her powers are and are not the driving force of the story. She has them, though should could just as easily not.
Ultimately, the show is good television. Well, if it were on television. It is a compelling and driven story that show cases the best of all involved. If the pilot is any indication, it will be one hell of a ride.