The Tragedy, Humanity, and Irresponsibility of 'Jessica Jones'

Our culture writers watched Netlix's new Marvel show. They have thoughts.

Marvel’s newest TV series, Jessica Jones was released on Netflix this past weekend, and many people, including many of our writers, have watched many episodes. With its noir sensibilities, honest sexuality, female protagonist, and emotional stakes, the show is a huge departure from almost everything else in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Here’s what struck us about the show and what we think it means for the MCU going forward:

Rowan Kaiser: At the end of Jessica Jones’s first episode, she fails. She thinks she’s got her case-of-the-week figured out, but she absolutely doesn’t. She gets played, she fails, and she is devastated.

The fate of the world or the universe is not at stake, and good, because the only way that gets resolved is by completely defeating the villain. The higher the conceptual stakes, the lower the actual stakes — at worst, as in Avengers 2, you might see a sidekick bravely sacrifice his or her life.

But since JJ is about the story of a few people, living their lives, dealing with trauma, and trying to muddle through a confusing and difficult world, the possibility for failure exists. Jessica fails early and often.

Eric Francisco: I’m not going to pretend I know how accurate Jessica Jones addresses trauma recovery, so I can only speak to how claustrophobic and overwhelming it is to walk with the main character. And man, is it exhausting as fuck in the best way possible.

One remarkable thing about the show that hasn’t received much attention: It’s restrained in its action. Jessica Jones is not a ninja like Daredevil, so of course nobody should expect any kind of jaw-dropping, Hong Kong-style action set pieces (and I’ve got Into the Badlands now, so I don’t need that appetite satisfied in Jessica Jones). But Jeph Loeb wasn’t kidding when he said the Netflix endeavors would be street level, and despite being a kung-fu cinema fan I’m so into the no-frills punches and strikes that Jones and Luke Cage dish out.

I’m a cheerleader for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but I’m totally with Jackie Chan when he criticizes the movies for being cartoons. Daredevil took my breath away by giving me The Raid-style action, but Jessica Jones gave me something I never knew I wanted: Exactly none of that.

David Tennant as Kilgrave, The Purple Man, in Netflix's 'Jessica Jones'

Emily Gaudette: I think the blurring of the typical hero versus villain dynamic is interesting, because Marvel has been pretty black and white about good vs. evil (not considering Loki). The villains in the MCU are warmongers, giant aliens who want to destroy for destruction’s sake, and mutants bent on world domination. It’s all been Galactus-types so far, and not a ton of, well, Kilgraves.

Also, what’s the deal with Luke Cage’s hysterical “you let me be inside of you” dig, when we consider the fact that Kilgrave raped Jessica (though he wasn’t getting off on her fighting back, because he wasn’t even allowing her to do that?) Jessica has been equally physically involved (and emotionally involved) with heroes and villains, and she spends the series wondering where to place herself on the spectrum. What happens when the only difference between Jessica and Kilgrave is that Jessica is reluctant — though still tempted — to kill others?

As a contrast, Batman worries a lot about how entrenched he’s become in the Joker’s life, but the introduction of sex adds something to this dynamic. The Joker relishes his hold on Batman, telling everyone all the time that they could never kill each other, but Batman can’t really disagree. Kilgrave goes on and on about being linked to Jessica because of their gross experiences together, but Jessica stands her ground.

Sean Hutchinson: Midway through the second or third episode I suddenly realized that this isn’t the Marvel we’ve known. Jessica Jones is definitely not the kid-friendly Marvel blockbuster we’ve gotten used to, and I like that.

I really enjoyed how the early episodes manage to keep the Nolan-Batman level of anti-hero seriousness at the forefront while still being an interconnected Marvel property somehow. The show is downright dour at points, and that’s definitely something Marvel hasn’t excelled at on the big-screen. While Jessica may never cross paths with any of The Avengers — God knows what that would be like — it was the first time it felt okay to me that this different kind of hero was operating within their shared universe.

Everything else in the Marvel films seems like a copy of a copy in terms of tone and storyline, and while I didn’t really get into Daredevil it keeps me optimistic that Marvel will stay more adventurous on Netflix. Instead of aliens from other dimensions coming out of a giant laser beam shot into the sky, what makes Jessica Jones resonate so much are that the stakes are intensely personal. To me, the fact that the onus is on Jessica alone instead of her saving the entire world makes for a richer and focused story. I’ve only seen the first three episodes but I’m looking forward to finding out more about Jessica Jones in the rest of the first season.

Andrew Burmon: I think we have to at least entertain the possibility that Jessica isn’t really a hero at all. She makes it pretty clear to her friend that she doesn’t want to be and, by and large, she’s totally irresponsible. If she’s the hero this version of New York deserves, it’s fair to conclude that this version of post-Avengers New York is totally fucked. But I’m also unclear on timeline and culture here because I never saw the Stark Tower in all the big pans and people seem to really fucking hate mutants, which is kind of confounding.

There’s a message here about the Avengers being emotionally insulated from the ramifications of their decisions that seems worth dwelling on — albeit only momentarily.

What interests me most about the show is that Jessica Jones is only nominally superhero. She’s kinda strong (inconsistently it would seem) and she’s got Muggsy Bogues’ ups, but there’s nothing too outlandish going on here. She’s like small-time Peter Parker: “With a bit of power comes a small number of responsibilities.” Luke Cage’s powers are also largely irrelevant. They move the plot forward a bit, but they’re not terribly important. The only first-class mutant here is Kilgrave, which makes the whole thing pleasantly lopsided.

Let’s be clear here, Krysten Ritter is good and Jessica Jones is a compelling character, but Kilgrave is the best thing about the show. David Tennant is the best bipedal weasel getting cast in human roles right now and he just looks like he’s having a great time. He gives the evil of his character a little room to breath. It’s a stellar performance and his suits are a thousand times cooler than the spandex Marvel has dressed itself in up to this point.

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