Jessica Jones Season 1 was released in its entirety on Netflix, and, if Twitter is to be believed, is the best Marvel show yet. Like its Marvel/Netflix predecessor Daredevil, Jessica Jones is dark and gritty, and despite the overuse of those two words to describe TV, film and comics these days, is absolutely riveting. Needless to say, there are going to be major spoilers for the show here, so be prepared.
Jessica Jones is one of the lesser-known characters in the Marvel Universe and her sidekicks and villains are as well, but by the time you finish this series, you’ll wonder why you didn’t jump on the Alias bandwagon. If you’re unfamiliar with the comic, Alias is a comic book series from Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos that was released in 2001 and was one of the titles in the MAX series that Marvel started after breaking with the Comics Code Authority. It’s seriously R-rated and is pretty much the perfect import for a paid subscription service.
Our Jessie is a complex character. In the comics, she is a former superhero named Jewel (it goes way deeper, but do take some time to go down that click hole) who went through a traumatic experience and gave up her superhero status to become a private investigator. So what happened to make her give up her costume? Her mind was manipulated by a villain named the Purple Man, forcing her to do unspeakable things. In the show, we begin about a year after the Purple Man, a.k.a. Kilgrave, took over Jessica’s mind and made her do whatever he liked, including murder. Here are the things that really makes it stand out.
1 – It’s Packed Solid With Marvel Easter Eggs
Marvel’s TV and Cinematic Universes have been very connected and Jessica Jones is hardly different. However, there are not only Easter eggs here, but there are mysteries that might hold clues to future shows in the Netflix Marvel lineup. You could do a whole article on the little nuggets of comic awesomeness that we find, but let’s start with the overt references. First up we have all the references to the attack on New York with mentions of the “super folk,” “big green guy” and the “flag waver.” Jessica talks about having 99 friends who are “gifted,” the term we use in the show for having super powers. (She seems to be facetious, but it’s certainly a possibility. We still don’t know exactly what gave her those powers, just that they happened after a car accident.)
We have Luke Cage’s wife Reva Connors (from the comics), and Patsy “Trish” Walker. The reason that name sounds familiar? Patsy is a comic book character that started out in teen comics like Miss America and ended up as Hellcat. Trish actually makes the biggest reference to the comics when we see her show her superhero costume design for Jessica, an almost exact replica of the Jewel costume. She even suggests Jewel as a superhero name, but is quickly shot down. In the show, Trish has a past as a child star from a show called It’s Patsy! She wore a red wig on the show, a reference to her hair in the comics (More on her later). Even more fun is the line from the bartender when Jessica goes to apologize to Luke where he jokes about her having his babies. Well, in the comics, she does.
Then we have more subtle mysteries, like a reference to Hammond Labs, where Robbie Baldwin interned. (He later becomes Speedball.) We have a picture of Stan Lee in the police station that eagle-eyed fans found in a clip a while back. There is a reference to another P.I. named Angela Del Toro, who is White Tiger in the comics, though we never see her. Then we have Will Simpson, goofy bleached blond cop turned rogue super soldier. He’s part of a program by a Dr. Koslov (who’s name isn’t ringing a bell) that involves red pills as uppers, white pills to balance you out and blue pills to bring you down. That seems to be a very clear reference to Frank Simpson, aka Nuke, a failed super soldier who takes red, white and blue pills. He also has an American flag lighter which we see in the show, and is a character from the Daredevil comics; but since these shows are crossovers and leading to a team up in The Defenders, this is hardly a surprise.
We even see Daredevil‘s Claire Temple from in a fairly significant episode, even making reference to Jessica talking to Matt Murdoch. (She doesn’t say his name.) Oh, and Luke Cage says his famous line “Sweet Christmas” twice! Twice! I applauded, and it was a really weird time to applaud in that one episode. Okay, fine. It was a sex scene. Maybe it was a good time to applaud.
2 – Sidekicks and Secondary Characters Could All Easily Have a Spin-off
Often in shows with such strong lead characters, we see the secondary characters fading into the background. Not so here. Let’s start with Trish. Aside from the aforementioned child stardom past, she’s got an abusive mother and an addiction to pills. That addiction (spoilers again) was from the drugs her mother gave her to keep her thin and full of energy as a young starlet. She even slices Trish’s arm with a Teen Choice Award that she won. Jess walks in on their mother forcing Trish to throw up the pizza she just ate because “the camera adds ten pounds.”
With that groundwork laid, it’s no surprise that this successful now-radio talk show host has massive security in her house, including a safe room (a great set up for many scenes). It makes perfect sense that she’s been training in Krav Maga, says repeatedly that she wants to be a hero and wear a cape, and that she volunteers for missions. She does end up as Hellcat, after all. The show has shown us a spectacular reason for her training and I could easily watch her do her thing in her own show. (Rachel Taylor’s resemblance to Elisha Cuthbert is freaking me out, by the way.)
Then we have the lawyer Hogarth, who is so deliciously flawed that her scenes all seemed too short. She talks to Jess early on, making reference to the fact that she wouldn’t take on a case she didn’t believe in, and that’s quickly proven to be wrong. She’s all about money and the thrill of the job. Her marriage doesn’t come first (which will have disastrous results later in the show), she has no problem carrying on an affair with her much younger secretary, she ignores warnings about Kilgrave and nearly blows the whole thing. It’s fascinating to watch her stunning moral ambiguity unfold, and her comeuppance is both horrifying and strangely satisfying. That might sound bloodthirsty, but I watched this show for 13 hours straight. Can I be blamed for feeling a bit off?
Even the smaller characters like Malcolm, the almost-social worker whom Kilgrave turns into a junkie, start off as background and quickly turn into fully fleshed-out characters. He goes from watching Jessica and turning in photos of her for drug money to the moral heart of the show, leading a Kilgrave survivor group, dumping bodies in a river to save his friend’s life and being a shoulder for crazy neighbor Robin after she learns about her brother’s death. Even Wendy, Hogarth’s wife, which could have been a throwaway role, is a powerhouse, ripping our hearts out every time she confronts Hogarth about her coldness. Hogarth, you evil bitch! She loved you! Ahem.
3 – Super Flawed Characters
Jessica has already gone through hell by the time we meet her. She hasn’t spoken to Trish in six months, has gone through therapy and given it up after Kilgrave forces her both to be his companion and to murder Reva Connors. She’s having nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks. She’s drinking heavily. A few years ago, you would never have seen a woman like this as the lead in a show.
The main love story on a show wouldn’t have been between a foul-mouthed alcoholic and a bartender sleeping with everything on two legs. Will they/won’t they is hardly the draw here. It’s can they? Luke and Jessica are a mess, and that’s far more interesting to watch than a show that keeps asking if they’ll have sex when you know they will. Hogarth we’ve mentioned, as well as Simpson, but even Trish, who’s good at everything she does has a messed-up side as well. She may have conquered her drug demons, but she’s built a literal fortress around herself and is seemingly preparing for war.
Jessica isn’t above hurting people for her own ends, despite the fact that she wants to be a hero. She turns on Malcolm, using him to get the drugs she needs to stop Kilgrave. She throws Wendy onto the subway tracks, though she saves her at the last minute. She ignores her sister’s pleas for contact when it suits her and lies to the man she clearly loves about what she did to his wife. You might not actually like her if she was a real person, but not knowing what she’ll do to someone, even if she cares, is far more interesting to watch than someone more predictable.
Hope Schlottman, the central catalyst of the story, is a young woman forced into a relationship with Kilgrave, raped and forced to shoot her parents to death in an elevator. We don’t see her as a poor little angel, as we would with most shows. She tells Jessica to kill herself to make it easier (and spoiler alert, does this to herself to allow Jess the impetus to kill Kilgrave instead of locking him up). She pays to get herself beaten up to abort the baby Kilgrave left her with (which is a loose end they pretty much have to address at some point), and yet talks about taking a plea deal of 20 years in prison so she can complete her degree at some point.
Malcolm wrestles with whether or not he was already weak when Kilgrave got him. Kilgrave, whom we’ll talk about later, despite being pure evil, has a backstory and a sense of humor. He even makes network TV references. “Send the pictures, save the junkie. Sounds like an ad campaign.” Good to know that even psychopaths watched Heroes. Makes me feel better about my TV choices.
4 – Hell’s Kitchen Is a Character as Well
As someone who lived in New York City for many years, I can tell you that the city and each of its neighborhoods have a feel to it. The people, the buildings, the sense that everything is dirty and broken – this worked beautifully in Daredevil and does in Jessica Jones as well. Even walking up to the super-fancy Italian-turned-Chinese restaurant, you see an old, broken down radiator and dirt everywhere. Jessica’s apartment/office is in the worst part of Hell’s Kitchen and is littered with empty bottles of booze.
Her neighbor is a junkie who spends half an hour finding his keys. Her upstairs neighbors fight like cats and dogs. Even they give the city a bit of set dressing. Her neighbors are Robin and Ruben, twins with a possibly too-close relationship. Ruben is a bit simple and Robin both bullies him and takes care of him. She’s full of trite catch phrases and definitely a bit off. I had neighbors like the in Queens. They were fun. There are the local bars, the fire escapes, the snooty rich people who are forced to walk among the denizens of the crappier areas because, in NYC, everyone is piled on top of each other. There is even the douche-y bike rider who is super-pleased with himself for “saving the world” by not driving a car. So satisfying to see Jess take him out.
As with Daredevil, we get heightened visuals with gorgeous color saturation and angles, all the while keeping the city grounded in reality. NYC is a very tight space containing millions and millions of people and the shot composition shows that. We’re very often shown a scene as people walk behind poles and close walls, keeping the actor half hidden or slightly out of focus. Not Luke though. No one wants to see that man out of focus!