Tom: Hi guys, nice to talk to you all about this show. Glad to be here.
Zachary: For the record, Tom is a long-time friend of mine from way back in Version 4 of ScrewAttack (y’know, that old site I never shut up about back in the day.) He’s also a bit of celebrity on that site, aren’t you?
Tom: "Celebrity" is kinda stretching it. I just post a bunch of stuff on the site and people seem to enjoy it. But I guess 1 or 2 people may know me. If that counts as a celebrity, so be it.
Zachary: g1 Features seems to argue otherwise.
Anyway, word of caution to those about to read this conversation: there’ll be some spoilers for both Daredevil and Jessica Jones, as well as a few for the MCU in general. If you haven’t seen either show, I recommend watching them first.
Tom: If you haven't seen either of those, what are you even doing here? Go watch them. Don't get spoiled. They're on Netflix. No excuse.
Zachary: One of my cousin’s friends openly told me she didn’t have the time to binge with her insurance job. Just a precaution.
Tom: NO EXCUSE! I DON'T CARE IF YOU HAVE A JOB AND RESPONSIBILITIES AND ALL THAT STUFF! GO WATCH IT!
Zachary: But that’s enough of that. It’s time to start with the basics. Tom, what’s this show about, for those who are still curious?
Tom: Ok, so Jessica Jones is Netflix's second show set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but don't worry, besides some talk about the damage the end of The Avengers caused, it’s barely connected. Jessica Jones, based on Brian Michael Bendis' Alias comic (which is great, go check that out), follows the titular character. A former superheroine who after a tragic incident leaves the superhero-ing behind to become a private detective. However, when the person responsible for that event seems to have returned, it’s up to Jessica to find him and finally stop him. That's about as far as I can go without spoilers, and that description really does not do the show any justice, making it seem more doldrum than it is.
I’ll say this much: even if the show seems like standard “film noir” at first, keep with it. Even the first episode’s conclusion is pretty shocking.
Tom: The series combines plenty of things. Detective noir, superhero, and psychological horror are all part of the mix, and its works great together. There really is nothing like it on screen.
Tom: Certainly nothing is done like it in terms of comic book adaptations, especially in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where Daredevil was already pushing plenty of boundaries, and Jessica Jones responded to that by pushing those boundaries of a cliff.
Zachary: It’s also interesting to note that Jessica herself isn’t your standard superhero. The typical image is that of either a goody-goody (Superman) or an asshole (Frank Miller’s Batman). Jessica Jones is neither of those: she cares, but she’s also lewd-mouthed, aggressive, an alcoholic, a trauma survivor and sassy. She really a hero by circumstance, not by choice.
Tom: Yeah, part of it is the trauma she underwent, though as we go through the show, we do get to see she's always been a bit of a smart-ass. Granted, a lot of the Marvel heroes are, but Jessica Jones mixes this with a good dose of cynicism as well, but it’s never annoying or immature. It does feel part of the character, and part of that also has to do with Krysten Ritter's performance, who's great in the role.
Zachary: I actually know someone who argues that she over-acts. I don’t quite think that.
Tom: Completely disagree. There are a few people in the show that over-act. One of them is David Tennant, but he does it to great disturbing effect, and the twin characters, who are both really, really annoying and are my one big complaint of the show. Can't even blame the actors, who were probably asked to act this way, but it doesn't feel natural compared to the world they inhabit.
Zachary: Interesting. We’ll get back to that later.
It’s also interesting to note that Melissa Rosenberg, the show’s headliner, stated once in an interview that she wanted to make Jessica a broken character. She wanted the audience to feel conflicting emotions about her, i.e. completely unsympathetic at times. I’d say it worked to that effect, as there were some moments where I thought, “Geez lady, what crawled up your butt?”
Tom: Well, she very much is a broken character in the comics as well, and when you go through the tragic event that she went through, you can't blame her for acting and feeling the way she does. You don't wish that on anyone.
Can we take a moment to address the first elephant in the room? The fact that the show’s being praised for being dark and gritty has led several of its detractors to complain that Marvel fans hold the MCU to an unfair double-standard, especially in relation to something like Man of Steel.
Tom: I feel as long as it fits the character and world, I have no issue with the gritty tone. Man of Steel gets bombarded with the criticism for its gritty tone (which some people like) because many feel it doesn't fit a character like Superman. Jessica Jones and Daredevil, and yes, Batman and Suicide Squad, do fit that tone. I can see why it might be viewed as a double standard, but as long as the tone fits the character, I am completely ok with any of the companies doing it.
Zachary: Right. It’s like I said in my blog entry on how to do dark right (which you can find here): As long as you can build characters and a story that work with the aesthetic, go nuts.
Tom: Pretty much, and Jessica Jones does. The amount of sex in there is quite surprising, especially for a Marvel film. And while there's no nudity or genitalia, they go really, really far with it. The MCU Netflix stuff seems to have few rules. 1. No nudity, 2. No F-bombs, and 3. No Smoking.
Zachary: They actually lampshade the third rule, as an FYI.
But even outside of that, the gritty nature of the show gives range to the MCU. Considering that you’ve got a world where fantasy and light sci-fi co-exist with political thrillers and corporate espionage, it’s nice to see some hardened grit in there too. Makes the world feel more real.
Zachary: I’m sure the MCU will reconcile that eventually.
Tom: Well, there’s a The Defenders mini-series coming up once Luke Cage and Iron Fist are done. Speaking of which, do you want to go into Luke Cage, since he's a pretty big part of this series and is getting his own soon?
Zachary: We’ll touch on that more in the characters segment. For now…what did you think of the opening? Much like Daredevil’s it’s an interesting blend of heavy-handed and subtly dark.
Tom: The pilot is incredible. One of the best television pilots I've seen in quite some time. Sets the tone perfectly, and is very unsettling. Perfectly shows the trauma Jessica is going through and her attempts to face them, as well as having one hell of a final scene.
Zachary: I meant the show’s opening. You know, with the opening credits?
Courtesy of channel Marvel Nederland.
Tom: Oh yeah, those are neat too. Love the ending shot where it shows it's her eye, and can't go wrong with a nice guitar riff.
Zachary: Yeah. Though, like I said, it’s a little on-the-nose. It’s interesting how, to contrast Daredevil’s opening showing everything in bloody wax, including a blind angel, Jessica Jones goes for noir-esque silhouettes that end in the blinking of her eye. It’s cool, but it feels a little forced.
Tom: Feels a bit pointless to criticize something so minor. It gets the point across that she's a private eye. Simple as that. I mean, I love Breaking Bad, but its opening credits is nothing but the periodic table, a guitar, and some bongos.
Zachary: Fair enough.
Let’s talk about that opening episode, since you already brought it up. I agree that it has the most-shocking end-twist, even though I kinda called it before it even happened. Still, what a way to cap THAT off!
Tom: As already mentioned, one of the best pilots I've seen to any TV show in some time.
Zachary: Indeed. One of my big complaints with Daredevil was that it was a little slow to start. (I wasn’t fully sold until about Episode 3.) Jessica Jones, on the other hand, got me right away with Jessica’s opening monologue about how adultery lands her big pay-checks.
Tom: It gets pretty straight to the point that this is a show not meant for kids, and that's great. The show almost immediately gets going, while Daredevil took its sweet time, building up Wilson Fisk as a major figure. Jessica Jones does something similar, but gets to show off its villain in bursts in the first episode (though he's never physically there) and kicking right off with the 2nd one, and showing off just what kind of a character he is.
Zachary: Yeah. I was initially bummed out that they got to its villain so early on, but it ended up working in its favour; after all, Daredevil was pretty much a game of chess between Daredevil and Fisk. Jessica Jones, on the other hand, is a game of cat and mouse between Jessica and Kilgrave, with the line often blurring. It’s an interesting switch in formula.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about Kilgrave, since we’ve already touched on Jessica.
Tom: Hoo-boy, Kilgrave. It almost feels unfair to compare him to the other MCU villains, because TV obviously lets you develop more cause you get to spend more time with these characters, but man, Kilgrave is terrifying. A man with absolutely no moral compass whatsoever. Someone who does whatever he wants and ends whomever he wants simply because he can. Mind control has been done for decades of storytelling, but Kilgrave should be the last person to have such a power, and David Tennant, probably best known for his Doctor Who stint, absolutely nails it.
Zachary: The big complaint people have had about the MCU is its lack of interesting villains. To-date, the movies only have Loki and The Winter Soldier, while Daredevil gave us Fisk. But with Jessica Jones out, we can now add Kilgrave to that relatively small list.
What I like about Kilgrave, similar to Fisk, is that we have time to get to know him because, well, TV. Unlike Fisk, however, Kilgrave isn’t so much sympathetic in his evil as he is likably despicable. Sure, there are moments where you feel bad for the guy, especially once you find out his back-story, but for the most part it’s pretty hard to care about someone who’s pretty much “abusive boyfriend” personified. And he’s played that way too by David Tennant, whom, save Dr. Who and the fourth Harry Potter movie (which I liked), hasn’t really had much exposure to the West until now.
Tom: David Tennant has done some stuff here and there, and he's especially big in the UK, but this is probably his biggest role besides Doctor Who (and maybe Broadchurch). He's different from Fisk in the fact that his evil never manages to become sympathetic. I mean, they try to do so by showing his childhood, but even with that supposed sympathy, he remains an awful sociopath with no qualms of his actions or human life besides his own. Tennant absolutely nails all of this.
Zachary: If I have one complaint about Kilgrave’s character, it’s that we get a “Midichlorians” type of explanation for how his powers work. They do find a clever work-around so that it doesn’t feel forced, but it still bugs me how many additional questions it raises from attempting to answer a question that, honestly, should’ve been left a mystery. Not every question needs an answer, that’s what people hated about the Midichlorians in the Star Wars Prequels. Right?
Tom: To be fair, the comic explained it that it was him emitting pheromones. I have no issue with it being revealed where his powers came from, if only so we get to know more about his past.
Zachary: Yeah, but it’s still kinda lame.
I’m also surprised how the show openly tackles the villain’s relation to the hero. In Daredevil, Fisk was kept at the top of the chain until the end. We got to see his empire crumble right under his feet, until he eventually was defeated. Kilgrave, however, keeps torturing Jessica out in the open, to the point where we’re reminded time and time again that he has to die. It’s a neat twist, and I like how it’s eventually resolved, but the fact that it keeps getting hammered in to draw out the tension gets a little frustrating. I mean, how many people have to keep dying before Kilgrave is defeated?
Tom: Yeah, it goes to show just how scary his mind control powers are. Even though Fisk killed quite a few people, you could tell he has somewhat of a conscience and the ability to love (hell, that's a big part of his character). Kilgrave has none of that, all to fuel a twisted fantasy that he and Jessica are made for one another.
Zachary: I guess, but it does come off as padding on occasion.
Speaking of which, I guess we should talk about the supporting cast. But before we do, it’s time for elephant in the room #2: the complaint that all the men in the show are side-characters or flat-out dicks. Yeah, because we TOTALLY don’t see the reverse all the time, right? God forbid a show have interesting women at front-stage, no?
Tom: Well there's Luke Cage, and he's about to have his own show, so maybe they should stop whining. I mean, yeah, the main characters (Jessica and Trish) are women. Big whoop!
Zachary: It’s especially important because the MCU has been accused of sexism in the past. The fact that, for example, there are so few superheroines is bad enough, but many of the side-characters aren’t given much to do either. It’s like the MCU recognizes that women need to be interesting, but doesn’t fully understand what that means. That, and there’s that line in Guardians of the Galaxy that’s…let’s say “questionable”.
This is why it’s so important to have a show like Jessica Jones, in other words.
Tom: Well they also have Agent Carter, Agents of SHIELD’s main cast is like 60% women, and we're still getting that Captain Marvel movie. So while it’s been a slow burn, they're getting there.
Zachary: I know, and this is how it happens. One step at a time.
Anyway, we’ll focus on a select few characters of prominence, then cover everyone else together. We’ve already touched on Jessica and Kilgrave, so let’s move to Jessica’s long-time best friend: Patricia (Trish) Walker.
Tom: Fun fact: In the comics, her best friend is Carol Danvers, AKA Ms. Marvel, AKA Captain Marvel, but anyway, Trish. She's cool, I like her. I wish she was more in it.
Zachary: I think she gets ample time in the show.
Interesting fact about me: when I first saw her face on the bus in Episode 1, I thought she was just gonna be another J. Jonah Jameson: a smarmy asshole with a grudge against Jessica. How wrong I was.
Tom: Another fun fact: in the comics, she eventually becomes her own superhero, Hellcat. We saw some glimpses of that with her training, but nothing like it in the show except close to the end. Season 2, maybe?
Zachary: Maybe. The show does tease a second season in-show, but we’ll get to that when we talk about Simpson.
I do like that Trish isn’t just another damsel in distress. She’s kinda Jessica’s Mary Jane/Gwen Stacy, but where as those two are side-characters who keep getting in trouble, Trish can clearly handle her own. She knows krav maga, she has mommy issues that are well-explored, she genuinely cares about Jessica and helps her out, she’s outspoken about Kilgrave on numerous occasions and she even gets to kick ass every-now-and-then. She’s pretty much the kind of side-character the MCU needs more often: someone who isn’t merely window dressing.
Tom: We got glimpses of that with Karen Page in Daredevil as well, who initially seemed to go that Damsel in distress route until that moment with Wesley, and suddenly the tables were turned.
Zachary: It was kinda late with Karen, but fair enough. That moment with Wesley was quite something!
Anyway, I guess we can move on to Hope. Of all the victims of Kilgrave in the show, she gets shat on the most. She doesn’t even get the closure she deserves, which is really heartbreaking when you consider that many women in real-life suffer her fate on a daily basis.
Tom: Yeah, the show seems to love destroying Hope. Like, absolutely nothing happening to her is in any way good, and then it ends with her killing herself to give Jessica the motivation to end Kilgrave. Pretty brutal stuff.
Zachary: I also find it interesting that her name is Hope. Quite ironic given her situation (unless, of course, she’s meant to inspire hope in Jessica. Possible symbolism?)
Tom: Probably. Not much to add. She's very much the victim in the show, and one of the ones most affected by what goes on in the show, besides Jessica herself, of course.
Zachary: Speaking of victims, there’s also Sergeant Simpson. If Hope is the victim who becomes unstable because of Kilgrave, then Simpson is the victim who was already unstable prior, but becomes even more so after.
Tom: Once you learn who Simpson is supposed to be from the comics, it’s quite.....interesting. The character is toned down quite a bit and made more realistic, but yeah, he starts out unstable already, and seems to be doing fine until something in him snaps. We'll probably see more of him in whatever next season comes. I honestly found him a bit dull until you learn who he's supposed to be comic-wise.
Zachary: If I have a complaint about Simpson, it’s that he feels like sequel-baiting in a way. It’s kinda like Daredevil’s mentor: the show is intentionally leaving his stuff open for the next season. I don’t like when the MCU does that sort of stuff (it was bad enough with all the Phase 3 set-up in The Avengers: Age of Ultron). If you want to set-up future MCU stuff, just have a post-season credits scene. That’s what they’re there for, right?
Tom: Well you can do that, since Netflix basically renews everything, and with TV, you have time to let stuff breathe and be there to tackle next season. It also seems that whatever program he's in also has to do with Jessica's powers. It’s not so much a Marvel thing as it is a TV thing.
Zachary: I guess, it’s just annoying.
Next there’s Luke Cage, Jessica’s love interest. His back-story involving his wife is really sad, even though it could’ve probably been resolved more efficiently if Jessica actually was open about her feelings (seriously, what is it with MCU TV characters and keeping unnecessary secrets?) I’m also annoyed that Cage and Jessica don’t hook up in the end. I know that not all relationships need to be romantic, but this one feels wrong NOT being romantic. Possible season 2 baiting…again?
Tom: Well Jessica is not someone who easily lets people into her life. Heck, she pushed away her foster sister/best friend for a very long time. Of course she's not gonna open up to Luke immediately, especially something like "oh BTW, killed your wife. Sorry about that". I mean, it's annoying she kept it a secret for so long, but that's not exactly an easy situation to be in. As for the romance, maybe we'll see more of that in the Luke Cage show, depending on where it takes place continuity wise. Gotta say, for as hard it must've been with casting, Mike Colter absolutely nails Luke Cage, and makes me look forward to when he is the main character.
Zachary: Yeah, he was very good. And maybe it’s just me and my aversion to secrets.
The rest of the cast is great too. I like how Malcolm eventually becomes Jessica’s secretary, a nice change of gender roles there, and how Hogarth is a lesbian struggling with marriage issues (again, also interesting). And I also like how they’re all, in some way, effected by Kilgrave. And I was really happy to see Claire again. That was a nice nod to Daredevil in a subtle way.
Tom: Fun fact: Hogarth is a gender swap. In fact, the character is best known as Danny Rand's lawyer. Danny Rand of course being Iron Fist, which is the last of the 4 shows being developed.
As for the other characters, most of them I liked. Malcolm goes through the most change, especially when he started as a stereotypical junkie. As for some of the other characters, like I mentioned before, I really didn't like the twins. It felt like they stepped into a completely different show, and it just didn't work.
Zachary: Really? They didn’t bother me too much. I was actually surprised that the female twin doesn’t stay a bitch for too long and actually has a role in the show, even if minor. Regardless, the show has a great cast, no?
Tom: Yeah, the cast is great. Props to Marvel that everyone is perfectly cast. And of course, it's always nice to see Carrie-Anne Moss in things.
Zachary: I guess this leads to the third elephant in the room, going off how we’d set it up earlier: is Jessica Jones feminist?
Tom: I'd say so, yeah. Almost unabashedly so. Certainly in the industry, and it tackles so many issues related to women that it would almost be weird if it wasn't feminist, be it about consent, physicality, etc.
Zachary: And let’s not forget, dysfunctional lesbianism.
I’d say so too. Which is nice, especially considering the genre. I also like how, unlike-say-Supergirl or Wonder Woman, it doesn’t rub it in your face either. It’s very subtle with its feminism, in other words, which is interesting given that Melissa Rosenberg got her big break writing the Twilight movies before this.
Tom: Well, it’s film, and she did the best with what she had. In TV, she’s probably best known for being one of the lead writers on Dexter, with the show taking a noticeable dip once she left.
Zachary: For our readers out there, I’ll say this: screenwriting is a weird business. You’d be amazed where some of the greatest in the business started off.
I guess the last thing we can touch on is the fight scenes. What’d you think of them? I thought they were okay, but they lacked (perhaps intentionally) the refined finesse of Daredevil and some of the films in the MCU.
Tom: They did lack the punch of Daredevil, if only that he is both a ninja and not necessarily a superhero in the sense that he can get quite hurt (and does so often). Jessica, and Luke as well, are both super-powered characters, making you feel less scared of their safety and impact, since you know they have the upper hand. There's nothing in this like Daredevil’s corridor fight, or the fight with Nobu. It’s serviceable for sure, but compared to Daredevil and other MCU stuff, not great. But, luckily, that's not really the point. It’s really more about the psychological battle, rather than one of strength.
Zachary: Right, which is why it was clever that they kept the harbour confrontation in the last episode kinda small in scope. A big brawl would’ve been a bad choice.
Tom: Agreed. Daredevil had a very bombastic ending. Jessica Jones was more scaled down, but nevertheless managed to have quite a bit of impact.
Zachary: Jessica’s final line to Kilgrave was awesome, by the way.
Overall, would you say that Jessica Jones is, or isn’t, worth watching, and why?
Tom: Regardless of how much you're tuned into the MCU (heck, I met someone who really liked this but never saw any of the films or Daredevil), or even how much you're into superheroes, yes. Absolutely. Know what you're getting into, cause this is as dark as Marvel will probably get in terms of live-action content. It’s filled with great performances, great set pieces, a really terrifying villain, makes for a fun watch, and more importantly, there's no other show quite like it. So yes, Jessica Jones is worth watching in my book.
Zachary: I agree. It’s got its problems, it drags on occasion and the fight scenes aren’t great, not to mention it teases a second season unnecessarily, but it’s about a close to a true representation of the themes it presents as it ever will.
Is it as good as Daredevil? Maybe not. That show was far tighter narratively, even if it did drag at times. But it’s more interesting and faster for sure, with plenty of solid thrills and freak-out moments that can only come from something like this. And while I doubt anything the MCU will ever do from now on will top seeing Iron Man fly around for the first time, or even watching the Avengers take on New York City, it’s nice to see that the MCU is still taking chances.
I give it a 4.5/5. You?
Tom: 4.5/5 sounds about right, yeah.
A big thanks to Tom for agreeing to talk about this show with me. Hopefully it’ll help those still on the fence to decide if Jessica Jones is worth their time (y’know, assuming the spoilers weren’t an issue.) Any closing statements, thoughts, plugs you want to make?
Tom: No problem. NOW GO AND FOLLOW MY STUFF ON G1 FEATURES! That's where I do most of my things.
Zachary: Indeed. Tom is still quite active on ScrewAttack under the name MadHero15. Go check out his podcast and movie blogs, where he chats with his close friends about upcoming and past releases. Also, join me next time (whenever that is) when I discuss something that’s, hopefully, much smaller.