This year at New York Comic-Con, I was fortunate enough to attend Marvel’s Netflix panel, where Marvel TV head Jeph Loeb presented the cast of both Daredevil and Jessica Jones. While only a trailer for Daredevil season two was screened, Loeb thrilled everyone in room by letting us be the first audience to see the entire first episode of Jessica Jones! Of course, with great power comes great responsibility, so any and all reviews of the show have to be fairly brief and spoiler free, so as to not destroy anyone’s viewing experience on November 20th, when the show is released to Netflix. Therefore, with that in mind, here’s my take on what I saw.
I also have to preface this mini-review by saying I have never read a single issue of Alias, the Marvel Comics series on which the Netflix show is based. The only thing I knew about Jessica Jones going in was that she was a failed superhero named Jewel who hung up her tights and became a private investigator, then eventually married and had a child with Marvel superhero Luke Cage. I was also aware of her nemesis—Kilgrave, aka The Purple Man—and that the nature of their relationship is a brutal and controversial one, but nothing more.
That being said, possessing a cursory knowledge of the character’s background didn’t really affect my experience, nor is it really going to be necessary for newbies. The pilot does a pretty good job of setting up who Jessica is and establishing the world she inhabits (a dark, grimy, yet beautifully shot Hell’s Kitchen), but the super-powered aspect of the episode may baffle some viewers not knowing what to expect. Jessica’s nebulous abilities are presented very matter-of-factly and are used out of nowhere with zero explanation in what had been, up to that point, a compelling, mature, somewhat “procedural” private investigator show. So I’m fairly certain that, like Daredevil—which also shares the same seedy New York locales—Jessica Jones will utilize lots of flashbacks to Jessica’s pre-P.I. existence.
Another aspect of the pilot that could potentially throw off noobs, but something that I appreciated, was the dearth of exposition from writer/showrunner Melissa Rosenberg. The pilot wastes no time throwing characters at the screen and dropping us into Jessica’s unusual routine of drinking, physically dealing with angry clients who won’t pay up, sassing her way into jobs, and generally avoiding any emotional entanglements with other human beings. “I hide out in dark alleys and take pictures of people boning,” Jones dryly says to Mike Colter’s Luke Cage when he asks what she’s all about. It’s obvious from frame one that Jessica Jones’ life is circling the drain, and she’s a deeply haunted person suffering from a horrific trauma. Krysten Ritter’s star power is immediately apparent; she is magnetic in the part, imbuing Jessica with humor, wit, external power, and inner torment.
And that torment comes from a character we don’t even get to see in the episode – David Tenant’s Kilgrave. All we get of the notorious Purple Man are some sinister, goosebump-inducing whispers and a phenomenal visual device utilized throughout the episode to trigger Jessica’s terror and trauma. It’s beyond effective and if I am this scared of The Purple Man after watching what he does in this episode without even being physically present, I can’t imagine how chilled I’ll be when the always magnificent David Tennant actually shows up on-screen.
Visually and tonally, the show occupies the same dark and gritty territory as its Defenders companion series Daredevil, replete with bleak but beautiful Hell’s kitchen alleyways, neon signs, cold glass towers, crappy apartments, and grungy dive bars. However, it doesn’t feel like a clone of that show; Jessica Jones is doing something very different narratively, and seems like it will have a lot to say in regards to thematic elements like PTSD, women surviving rape and learning how to cope with all aspects of the aftermath, exploring the psyches of emotionally damaged people,etc. Jessica Jones also has a fantastic opening credits sequence set to a jazzy score with photography and special effects meant to invoke the striking, moody Alias comic book artwork of Michael Gaydos.
If I had to describe the first episode in one sentence, it would be – a slow, slightly disjointed burn to start, then a disturbing, intense back half which builds up a tremendous sense of dread and the threat of Killgrave to pulse-pounding levels. While not immediately awesome and attention-grabbing as Daredevil was, Jessica Jones—at least so far—looks like another winner from Marvel Studios with its intriguing blend of detective noir, superhero tropes, a burgeoning love story, and strong female characters.