Bleak, gritty and brutal, Marvel’s Jessica Jones is a much darker story from the Marvel Cinematic Universe that shows that it isn’t always possible to be a hero in the light and that sometimes, you need to become a monster in order to stop one.
Marvel’s Jessica Jones turned out to be a very different show than I was expecting, going one step further away from the more fuzzy, family friendly Marvel Cinematic Universe than even Daredevil did before it. Even though it occupies its own little corner of the shared continuity with Daredevil, it feels like something completely different, a place where it’s obvious that traditional heroism isn’t going to be enough to save the day. The titular Jessica Jones is a hard drinking, hard mouthed P.I. who begins the series just trying to get by after having her life turned upside down by a man named Killgrave.
The first thing I noticed about the show is that it’s a pretty slow burn, there isn’t a lot of overt use of super powers in the first handful of episodes and Killgrave himself doesn’t show up till a few in either. Instead, it is really character driven, giving us a look into the life of Jessica and the people who surround her, none of which are bright and rosy. Jessica herself is a character who struggles with her powers and how she should be using them, despite her desire to be a hero throughout the story.
But there are very few “good” characters in the moral sense, most being self serving and out for their own gratification, those few good people in the series act as the conscious of the main character who, while good deep down, struggles with taking the higher road when the quick and easy say might be the best one to take.
The characters are by far the best aspect of the series, taking front stage before the action and spectacle that usually are the meat and potatoes of the MCU. Their development and motivations are all the primary focus and a sideways look or an uttered line can have the same impact as someone running up a giant gun or a floating city. They’re all given time to breath and get into your skin. Killgrave especially comes across as possibly the most repugnant and villainous character the universe has produced, simply because the series, like Daredevil, has the time to develop him. That, and they don’t have the same content filter to cushion their blows.
There were a lot of different themes running through the 13 episodes series, but the one I most took away from the whole thing was its statement on heroism, and how it isn’t always as easy as black and white. In spite of her gruff demeanour, Jessica wants to be a hero, she wants to save people and feel good about herself. But at the same time, she is just a person who was dealt a crappy hand in life. She had a rough childhood and her powers came at great expense. In spite of this, she still wants to do good, and she might have if she hadn’t crossed paths with Killgrave.
After his eventual reveal and the shared history between him and Jessica is made apparent, Jessica spends a good portion of the series trying to take down Killgrave “by the book”. Not only taking him alive, but proving his powers to the world. She does this, not only to give herself some closure, but to save a young girl who went through a very similar experience to herself and is forced to shoot her own parents: The ultimate innocent, as even the show itself describes her. Killgrave’s powers, the ability to compel anyone to do anything by simply telling them to do it, make him almost impossible to contain though. And while people around Jess constantly urge her to end him permanently, she ignores them. Almost selfishly so, and even though the bodies continue to pile up around her, it is only when her “ultimate innocent” takes herself out of the picture that Jess grimly decides to put aside her morality and do what must be done.
By the end Jessica is seen by the people of Hell’s Kitchen as a hero, and yet she views herself as a monster, one as bad as the one she killed. Almost disgusted by the people calling her private investigation agency for help from the “hero”, as she obviously feels she has thrown that part of herself away. It’s a great note for the series to end on and shows that while the “kid’s movies” have quipping heroes save the day with little consequence, she has had to break herself even more than she was already broken to do what everyone but her felt was the right thing.
Morality is a great theme for the series as several characters are pushed into corners and made to do horrible things as a result. Some of them while they were “Killgraved”, others of their own free will. The series is filled with great, dark moments. While all of the parts were cast and acted brilliantly, David Tennant stands out as Killgrave, coming to the role with his easy charisma and an extreme denial of his actions being his own. He is a small and petty man whose words are his weapon, a throw away threat or angry word from anyone else turns into a terrifying realisation that that person will stop at nothing to act out Killgrave’s order.
The series pulls no punches, and while Killgrave makes people do some horrendous things throughout. Some of the worst actions from characters were all their own. It’s a bleak glimpse into human nature and a much darker side of the things that Marvel can put out, much like Daredevil before it.
It’s because of this that Jessica Jones feels so separate from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There are passing remarks to the Battle of New York (the first Avengers movie) and to Daredevil, but the pointy headed hero never shows up. And while some people might be a little sad not to see him, I personally feel his inclusion would have done nothing but weaken the overall arc of the series and the resolution of the story between Jessica and Killgrave, any role he could have played was filled by Luke Cage. While there are open threads left open for a sequel series, the Defenders or the Luke Cage series (that she will undoubtedly be a part of), this story needed to be as self contained as it was to keep the resolution of the story a personal one for Jessica and Killgrave.
I really do recommend Marvel’s Jessica Jones. It’s even better than Daredevil in my opinion and shows a much darker, more adult look at Marvel and their none comic properties. The series isn’t necessarily one that is always dropping little nods to the rest of it’s shared universe, but it works incredibly well on it’s own. It was the Netflix series I was most dubious about, and it’s turned out to be one of the best things to come out of the Marvel Cinematic universe.