I wasn’t an outspoken fan of Daredevil‘s first season so why would I dip another toe into the Marvel Television universe’s pond? Simply put, a female protagonist and film noir. Sure, they dabbled in Age of Ultron with flashbacks to Black Widow’s neutered past but she is basically a soldier-for-hire. I doubt her backstory merits exploration. For their effort, Jessica Jones is a landmark show for Marvel on Netflix: equal parts Jake Gittes, Sarah Silverman and Ellen Ripley.
In the hard-boiled title role, Krysten Ritter’s jaundiced intonations and narration immediately strikes a chord with any aficionado of dimestore Philip Marlowe novels (“New York may be the city that never sleeps but it sure does sleep around” is my particular favorite quote). At first, Ritter’s acting is a bit too pouting and sardonic but her Jim Bean-soused world-weariness begins to bewitch you. She is prone with weepy bouts of sadness which we aren’t privy to yet.
She’s a shutterbug with a touch of titillating voyeurism and a chockful of PTSD (the abstract, telepathic Kilgrave (David Tennant) is omnipresent in her mind). On the fringes of society, Jessica is a purveyor of several acts of sexuality which is envelope-pushing in its eros as Daredevil was with its bloodthristy brutality.
This is a sleazy private investigator yarn at heart and it’s roots in the Marvel universe are nearly subterranean on first viewing. Our tease at Jessica’s superhuman prowess is when she smashes her office door window with the head of a cuckolded client (and later when she tosses a boot at her copulating neighbors above her) but otherwise this seems more like Veronica Mars than crimefighter saga. It’s a slow-burn, jazzy opening to the series that might strangulate the tolerances of comic-book nerds alike.
Melissa Rosenberg doesn’t exploit the lesbian characters for Joe Esterhaz prurience. The fact that attorney Jeri Hogarth’s (Carrie-Anne Moss) proclivity is with women isn’t her solitary trait. Meanwhile, I feared that Luke Cage’s presence might cause the show to feel like it was a wedged lead-in to the Defenders team-up. However, Mike Colter’s biplay with Ritter is frisky and flirtatious. Their sex scene is an evolutionary set forward for Marvel to frankly confront human desires.
Moreso than the cinematic incarnations, both Walter Fiska and Kilgrave are more Machiavellian antagonists than the Frost Giants or Iron Man’s business-tycoon rivals. Kilgrave’s paralytic mesmerism of Hope (Erin Moriarty), a ravishing NYU student, is definitively scary (she urinates in the bed when she can’t voluntarily break his influence not to leave a hotel bedroom). Later on, it’s devastating when a brainwashed Hope pulls the trigger on her own parents.
It’s too premature to say this is one of the best pilots ever but it is certainly a darkly pulpy original and more enrapturing than Daredevil because Jessica is a slumming, flawed antihero to be in the sidecar of. She is insolent towards saving New York at large. Rent control and female free-will are her primary concerns but her streetwise savoir-faire is graceful enough to keep us in her thrall.
Rating: 3.75 out of 5