Enter the raw and turbulent world of Jessica Jones…
[Note: this synopsis pulls up plot points from episode 1 and the ongoing series and should be considered spoiler territory]
While the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been steadily building on the foundations of its big screen outings, their TV equivalents have only just started to get off the starting blocks.
Although Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been running for three seasons now, it’s the collaboration with Netflix that’s allowed a much darker take on the Marvel universe. Daredevil, which had previously been marked by an arguably less than stellar pre-Marvel film outing, came into its own as a Netflix original series. Allowed to develop across an entire season gave the series room to breathe. The grim and often shockingly violent elements that peppered the series were as also about as far as it could get from the primary colours of Iron Man or Captain America.
This adaptation of a much more obscure character from the Marvel catalogue presents a gamble as Jessica Jones doesn’t have the cache that Captain America or even Daredevil possess. At the same time, it presents an opportunity to expand the world of Daredevil (Jones operates in Hell’s Kitchen, like our horned hero) and continue the gritty feel of the former series.
Jessica Jones originally began as a character in a 2001 comic series called Alias scripted by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Michael Gaydos. The series established Jones as a private investigator – with a bit of a twist. Through some retroactive plotting, the super-human abilities that Jones possesses is revealed to have a complex history and she had originally begun a career as a super hero. How she ends up as a PI is gradually unraveled over the course of the series and revolves around an encounter with a villain known as The Purple Man aka Zebediah Killgrave.
The roughly hewn lines of Michael Gaydos’ artwork, with its reliance on a very murky colour palette, gave the series exactly the kind of noir sensibility that the script requires. It’s a much more grounded world which paints the everyday burdens and responsibilities that Jones has to deal with to make ends meet.
Alias was also a series that plays around on the fringes of Marvel’s universe of heroes and monsters and global threats. Here, the scale is much smaller and it’s this element of keeping on the outskirts of the world of super heroes that perhaps serves a TV adaptation so well. You’re not likely to have Thor just rock up every other episode and – like Daredevil – even talk of the more larger than life characters is kept to a bare minimum.
Jessica Jones begins with a title sequence that does credit to the dark textures of Gaydos and continues the noir-esque themes that the story delivers.
Meanwhile, Krysten Ritter does a perfect job at presenting a character that’s brusque and tough when required, yet is still a profoundly damaged individual. Luke Cage (Mike Colter) does a seamless transition from page to screen as the bartender/love interest of Jones. The quickfire banter between the two across the bar feels natural and captures the chemistry between the pair.
Meanwhile, the series deviates from the comic and introduces new characters to give Ritter more interaction and a broader world to work in. This includes Rachael Taylor’s Trish Walker as a talk show host/sometime friend that Jones appears to have a fractious relationship with. Ditto Carrie-Anne Moss, who plays Jeryn Hogarth – the no-nonsense attorney who sends jobs Jones’ way.
The opening episode serves as an introduction to Jones’ life and work and sets the scene swiftly before the story gets into full swing. Approached by the parents of a missing girl, Jones begins to unravel an increasingly disturbing turn of events that point back to the return of Zebediah Killgrave.
Faced with the option of whether to flee or fight, Jones is placed in a desperate situation that leads to a truly shocking and unexpected set piece in the final segments of the episode.
David Tennant takes on the role of Killgrave and, although only glimpsed in the first episode, his menacing presence casts a shroud over the entire proceedings and is genuinely unsettling.
Jessica Jones delivers something quite unique and extraordinary in terms of a more adult-orientated genre series. The fact that it’s a female-led TV series (bear in mind that there’s still scrabbling around to justify putting a female lead in any of the big screen genre outings) is also a welcome element that’s long overdue.
Perhaps just as important, the series opens up the boundaries of genre adaptations – in the footsteps of Daredevil before it. Viewers aren’t required to have a solid knowledge of decades of Marvel continuity to appreciate the characters or the plot. This gives Jessica Jones a much broader appeal and opens up the possibilities for further adaptations to come.
Season 1 of Jessica Jones is available now on Netflix.