The following review is very light on spoilers, so please read on!
After the success of MARVEL’S DAREDEVIL last spring, many have waited with bated breath for the next installment in the studio’s Netflix universe. It arrives this Friday in the form of JESSICA JONES, a noir detective series that gets a lot darker and a lot scarier than anything Marvel has done before. And, as one might expect, it is excellent.
JESSICA JONES begins with the titular character (Krysten Ritter, Breaking Bad, Don’t Trust the B-) working as a private eye in Hell’s Kitchen. As is familiar to the archetype, Jessica is a hard-drinker, trying to escape demons from her past, while being excellent at her job. This feels a bit like Veronica Mars, a show Ritter did an arc in, and viewers think they know what they’re getting.
Not even a full hour in, though, JESSICA JONES takes a twist into new territory. It isn’t that the show abandons the early tone or style; it still infuses what comes after. But while the series begins rooted in a genre we’ve seen before, it expands the horizons of those bearing witness to the proceedings in short order.
Part of this is because JESSICA JONES is kind of a horror show. Kilgrave, a.k.a. The Purple Man (David Tennant, Doctor Who, Broadchurch), is the scariest villain I’ve ever seen in the superhero realm, and what he does is more disturbing than the fare fans are used to. This is not a Marvel series appropriate to watch with the kiddos. Instead, it features what appears to be an unstoppable bad guy who does things far worse than simple violence permits, making for a premise that will send chills up and down and back up your spine. He is terrifying.
Jessica also has a very rich backstory that is barely teased in the initial episode. We know she has undergone some trauma; that’s clear from the way she lives her life, trying to get past something that has scarred her soul. But the more we learn about her, the more it makes sense that she’s this screwed up. Some characters have reasons for doing destructive things and we forgive them for it, but for Jessica to even continue existing in the world as she does makes her far stronger and resilient than your average person.
This means Jessica’s abilities are not limited to the physical. Her superpowers are not the point of JESSICA JONES, and we get them in small doses, not showy sequences. It’s not even immediately clear what she can do, other than lift cars and jump high. Yet, those aren’t the most impressive things about her, which is a departure for a comic book adaptation.
Jessica isn’t alone in her world, much as she usually acts like she wants to be. She has a sort-of boss, Jeryn Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss, The Matrix, Vegas), an estranged friend, Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor, Grey’s Anatomy, Crisis), and a neighbor without boundaries, Malcolm (Eka Darville, The Originals). She also (sort of) meets a bartender by the name of Luke Cage (Mike Colter, The Good Wife) who is probably more compatible with her than either expects, and who will be headlining the third Marvel Netflix series next year.
Given the pedigree of the cast, made up almost entirely of actors I already admire and respect, it’s not a surprise that the performances are every bit as excellent as the production. Ritter has needed a vehicle to show her ranger for awhile, and this is it. Tennant completely transforms into a monster unrecognizable, and I’ll never watch him the same way again. The scenes with Colter already have me excited for his turn in the lead. This is high quality television period, not just for its genre or when compared to its peers, but across the entire spectrum. I would posit it is the pinnacle of everything Marvel has done thus far, and a promise of continued greatness.
All thirteen episodes of JESSICA JONES’ freshman run will be live on Netflix this Friday. I recommend you watch as many as you can this weekend, lest you be lost when your friends and co-workers are talking about this on Monday, as they most definitely will be.