Marvel’s Jessica Jones
Episode 1.1 “AKA Ladies Night”
Created by Melissa Rosenberg
Starring Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Rachael Taylor, Carrie-Anne Moss, David Tennant
Premiere date: November 20, 2015
Marvel’s Jessica Jones starts off with a dramatic bang. Taking place in the same dark Manhattan of fellow Netflix seriesDaredevil that contrasts so heavily with the New York that Iron Man and the Avengers saved just a little while ago, the grit and overt noir feels more like something out of Christopher Nolan’s depiction of The Dark Knight. The difference here is that Ra’as Al Ghul’s Detective is 5’9”, female, and doesn’t need a mask to intimidate the baddies.
The first episode, “AKA Ladies Night,” does some interesting things when it comes to its depiction of women. Jessica Jones takes place in a woman’s world. The first ten minutes of the show is bereft of male-speaking roles. The next five introduces a father trying in vain to cope with his daughter’s missing status by attempting to fix a door, while his wife, deals with the business. The next male character you meet is likewise neutered: he’s a video artist. Number 3 is a pathetically portrayed Alpha Male — contrast that with the title super heroine in Krysten Ritter, a woman running the board room in Carrie-Anne Moss top-rate lawyer, and the missing female’s mother, who’s clearly running things at home. This is a wholly different paradigm for the Marvel Cinematic Universe that started off with the male chauvinist Tony Stark in Iron Man less than a decade ago. As comic book content goes, it’s a whole new bag.
On the surface, Jessica Jones is the love child of Buffy Summers and Veronica Mars. She’s a hard-headed, superpowered private eye with a calling and a mission. But there’s more here. Ritter’s long played the outsider, the rebellious femme, the one who doesn’t go along to get along, and in Jessica Jones, she brings the lessons from her earlier that thespian oeuvre to bare, while adding just enough vulnerability for a mainstream audience to find her human (enough) to bear. It’s worth noting that this vulnerability doesn’t come from some feminine mystique or general girl next door vibe. It’s tied to Jones’ PTSD for an as yet uncovered trauma. She’s a superheroine and her vulnerability is literal, rather than figurative. It’s her weakness.
As is important when it comes to comic book and other fiction that depicts the supernatural, there’s good foundation built around her abilities, so when she uses them, you’re more delighted than you are surprised. And that’s good. It something that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could certainly learn from with it’s consistent Deus Ex Machina twists. Then again Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is for kids and Jessica Jones is certainly not. It’s smarter than the work Marvel’s distributing on ABC and though there’s less in-your-face violence than something like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and it’s certainly more horrifying. Viewers will find themselves wholly disturbed when Jessica walks into a posh hotel room as part of an investigation and is confronted by a truly frightening scenario.
It’s not all awesome though. The writers seemed to require an obligatory sex scene in the pilot in order to garner viewers and proverbial water-cooler talk. The love scene, while free of nudity, is interracial, and it’s got some level of scandal based on its noisy vigor and innuendo about *breaking things* but it doesn’t add to the episode at all, and how we arrive at the scene is, well…
JESSICA: I don’t flirt. I just say what I want.
LUKE: And what do you want?
[Cut to loud and somewhat raucous love scene]
Give me a break. That sort of laziness is what gives comic books a bad name in the mainstream.
Still, it’s far from exploitive. Jones is a small-business owner in the criminal justice system, and is the walking embodiment of noir, even if the character herself is too cool to participate in the genre because she is indie to the core. That independence is attractive, because so much of this show breaks away from the Marvel of the big screen. Like Daredevil before it, it provides deep focus on the needs of just a few characters lives. That focus drives intimacy, and that intimacy makes me want to crawl under a blanket and watch the rest of the season in one sitting. Geeks and mainstream viewers are gonna be compelled to do the same. And that’s exactly what Netflix and Marvel want.