Reviews: Jessica Jones 2015
Season 1 review: Great central conflict, lots of plot twists drive the show
Jessica Jones’s first season takes some great ideas and does a lot it can with them. Jessica is a private eye who just happens to have superhuman strength, and she only uses it to do things like open locked doors, jump to difficult-to-reach places, and fight if necessary. She’s not a superhero; she just has a superpower. Kilgrave is a man with mind control powers. He has no grand ambitions of being a supervillain, but merely uses his powers for very petty desires, such as stroking his ego, getting rid of people he finds annoying, and having sex. He’s essentially a superpowered creep, and nothing more. What we have here is a recipe for some great conflict and character interaction. And that’s what we get, as Jessica is led to pursue Kilgrave to get rid of a nagging guilt and prove the innocence of one of his mind-controlled victims. Kilgrave had kidnapped a woman named Hope, mind-controlled her into having sex with him, and then later killing her parents in an attempt to get her charged with murder and unable to testify against him. Jessica wants proof that mind control is real, so Hope will be found innocent of murder. That’s the initial conflict. And it keeps changing, as the plot twists keep coming in the 13 episodes that make up the currently available season. Each twist takes the story in a new direction. At first, Jessica tries to get close to Kilgrave while avoiding reach of his mind control powers, while he, totally aware of this, tries to catch her or manipulate people close to her. When he finally catches her and forces her to live with him, that changes things. When she manages to capture him, that changes the plot again. Another major plot twist changes Jessica’s goal from “capture Kilgrave and get proof of mind control” to “kill Kilgrave because he’s gotten too dangerous”. The stakes keep changing, the conditions keep changing, and the motivations keep changing. It keeps things fresh. The show is based on a comic book, but fortunately, it tosses out stupid elements of the comic that would have changed the story or made it more implausible. For example,
- In the comic, Jessica could fly, albeit for short periods of time before she gets horribly ill. That’s gone.
- In the comic, Kilgrave’s name was literally Killgrave, and he had purple skin and hair. That was replaced with “Kilgrave” being a corny nickname he gave himself, and his appearance is that of a regular person.
Sad to say it, but... Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy (Spoilers)
This review has been edited because my first version came off as me being too much of an asshole for my own good. Now, I never was dedicated to this show. Seriously. I watched the whole first season though, so that should be enough to allow me to judge it. It just has this atmosphere I hate. Right off the bat, it feels like our heroes have already lost, and it only gets worse from there. Even the victories like Jess killing Kilgrave, they feel too hollow to matter to me. And worse yet, the show gets so caught up in its own cynicism that sometimes it just feels too empty for me to care. And the ending caused me to break down screaming at my television, due to the major empowering moment Jess could have gotten being taken away from her by the fact it does not feel like it matters. And honestly, Kilgrave is not the draw to the show he could have been, as a villain played by friggin' Tennant. I never liked the idea of making villains too monstrous for an audience to understand, and I could never really get into the mind of Kilgrave. I love villains where I can really profile them, figure out their motives, their personality traits, their sanity levels, etcetera. But Kilgrave, I cannot do that with. It is a case where I am just so immersed in the world of villains that when I come across one that I do not find complex or interesting, it just feels wrong. I mean, his plans amount to "make Jessica feel like shit for leaving me, be as cruel as possible to everyone, and maybe drink some coffee". His motives? Hardly existent aside from an attraction to Jess. Overall, it feels like a waste of a good actor and what could have been an intimate, dangerous, yet complicated threat. There is a huge gap here from the OG review that I am far too lazy to fix. Pros:
- Good acting all around,
- David Tennant.
- Luke Cage is pretty awesome. Can't wait for his show.
- A well-told story.
- Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy.
- A female protagonist who is too much of a victim for someone like me, a young white male who has had no real issues in life, to understand. And yes, this is acknowledging my bias.
- Casting David Tennant? Cool. Tennant being an irredeemable villain who, despite starting awesome and complex, turns into a generic and evil sadist? Less cool.
- The fact the ending just feels like Jessica lost. Even if I could not give a damn, I still want my hero to, at the end of the day, be a hero.
- The altogether un-heroic tone. Even Daredevil, dark as it was, had this feeling of "he's gonna save the city." This show? Even if Jessica gets rid of Kilgrave, it doesn't accomplish anything. She'll still be traumatized, she won't gain my sympathy, and I won't be back for season 2.
S01: When the Idiot Ball, The Scrappy, and Poor Communication Kills ruin a show
When I first started watching the show I found it amazing right from the beginning. The dialysis patient’s scene was heartbreaking and made me cry. Kilgrave was an effective, horrible villain I found particularly engaging, especially with his challenging background story. Then Robyn happened. At first she was a comic relief with some insight (‘you’re a very... perceptive asshole!’), then she became a one-note character, and after it became clear her brother was a bit slow and she was hit with some serious loss she became intolerable. Her concern for her brother sounded like she’d lost a close pet she would torment rather than a human being, and some of her lines made her sound incredibly creepy (‘Where’s his little heart? His little toes?’). Eugh. Aside from that, characters keep doing and saying idiotic things that a sane person wouldn’t. Malcolm telling Trish he‘s going to show her ‘something really bad’ and asking her not to scream was obviously idiotic (he could’ve just prepared her properly), but it became truly unbearable when Jeri and Simpson selfishly and stupidly throw in extra hurdles to finally ending the saga: the former for her own interests, the latter for petty revenge. (Full disclosure: partially based on personal experiences, I have a very strong dislike towards police forces, but I think Simpson still merits a whole lotta distaste.) And those are people over 30. That’s an Idiot Ball big enough to use as a pendulum for a clock tower they were carrying. That’s not even considering the dumb shit the support group (and Robyn, again) pulled that Malcolm didn’t stop. Problem is, without those actions it would’ve been much harder to bring the series to a non-anti-climactic ending. Finally there’s Kilgrave himself. Personally, I love ambiguous characters; it’s why I liked, say, Hannah from Dexter (and was one of the few who did, it seems). His backstory and ambiguous relationship with his parents made him fascinating, as well as his challenging willingness to do good when pushed in that direction, but this was essentially thrown out the window at some point in favour of regurgitating the efforts to rein him in. I found it fairly disappointing. Finally, there’s Luke. I liked Luke, I really can’t complain about anything with regards to him... except that, uh, I think Mike Colter is incredibly hot. As a charismatic villain on The Good Wife he was amazing, and the villainous factor kinda toned it down, but here he was definitely one of the good guys or at least neutral, and suddenly his scenes made me every now and then switch my attention from the drama to how hot he was. But, uh, yeah. That’s just me. So all in all, the series was engaging and moving, but up to a point, before its inherent flaws caught up with it and kinda dragged it down. 8/10
Episode 10: This Show in a Microcosm
Episode 10 showcases the best and the very worst parts of Jessica Jones. It has very strong moments, including the rawest glimpse of Kilgrave and Jessica's old abusive relationship in the series to date, Simpson's sliding off the slippery slope, and excellent character work from... well, no racism intended, every black character in the cast but Luke. It also features a genuine stakes-shifter of a conclusion that, for better or worse, sets up the tone of the rest of the show. However, it also features the culmination of two stupid, pointless subplots that have eaten up far too much time in the series already, and neither in a terribly satisfying way. Having served their purpose, that of elongating the overall plot in contrived fashion, they gracelessly disappear without further ceremony. I don't mourn their passing, only that they chewed up so much screentime in the process. And that, in essence, is the show in a nutshell: very strong thematic work, fairly strong character work, and an overabundance of pushy side characters who feel like unwelcome intrusions on both sides of the fourth wall. I often compare this series to its most obvious point of comparison, Daredevil. And Daredevil's lame pointless subplot at least had minimal effect on the narrative. Here, it takes over multiple times with disastrous effects, as though these character exist only to ruin good things while the villain gets by on pure blind luck. It reduces the built-up menace he's had all season. Obviously, that's not quite fair. Daredevil's core narrative is about two very different men going from completely unaware of one another to a deeply messy and personal rivalry, while Jessica Jones's is more-focused on the aftermath of an abusive relationship. But while Daredevil is essentially a crime drama, Jones is a mystery. This episode features the solutions to multiple mysteries. Most of them weren't all that great, unfortunately, but those were the lame side mysteries. If nothing else, the conclusion at least pushes the main plot to the forefront. I don't really like the conclusion, which, among other things, makes the last three-quarters of the series feel, in hindsight, a bit pointless. But I respect what it accomplishes from a structural point of view.
Two Good Ideas Stretched Too Far
Jessica Jones sells itself on two clever questions. The first is "what would happen if someone who had superpowers didn't want to become a superhero?" The second is "What would happen if you have a super villain who has no interest in being a super villain?" Jones is basically an exploration of these two peculiar types meeting up, and it is at its best when it sticks to it. The show didn't start well for me. Jessica Jones herself is gumshoe, so there is that perfunctory Private Eye Monologue every neo-noir show feels it has to stick in. It's redundant, and a little obnoxious. What's more obnoxious though is the one giving it. Jones is a jaded, alcoholic asshole. Most detectives in these things are, but at least they have a roguish charm to shave off the sharp edges. Jones has none. She's just rude. It's probably deliberately written this way, but ultimately this makes it a little too hard to sympathise with her, despite how justified her behaviour is in light of her circumstances. What sells the show is its fabulous villain. I normally hate David Tennant's goofy, pantomime approach to acting, but it works here a lot better here than Dr Who. Villains often benefit from being flamboyant and OTT, so Tennant was a good choice as Kilgrave. Kilgrave is an interesting supervillain in that he has absolutely no ambition for World Domination, and yet domination is the one thing he can do unbelievably easy. His superpowers essentially let him do whatever he wants, and yet all he really wants is to satisfy his immediate material needs and huge ego. For a man of such power, his reasons for confronting Jessica Jones are surprisingly pathetic. Plus he is one of the few comic book villains who is genuinely horrific in what he does, and the show makes no bones about the fact that he is a murderous rapist ("rape" being a word I've never heard uttered in a Marvel comic book movie). The show's biggest weakness is its length. There is only really enough material for 9 or 10 episodes, so the writers stick in uninteresting, flabby sub-plots involving a divorce case and incestuous neighbours. The home straight in the last few episodes become a real slog. Lacking the regular action of Dare Devil, the show struggles a bit, but its premise and villain are strong enough to deserve a look.