Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Wisdom of Jessica Jones

I faced down a near-death experience this week.

Okay, that's blowing it out of proportion. I got my wisdom teeth out on Thursday. Lately I've been inexplicably obsessed with death, and I halfway convinced myself that I was never going to wake up from the anesthesia the surgeon would put me under with. I wrote a will in my journal, and left instructions that Taylor Swift be invited to my funeral. During a team meeting on Wednesday afternoon I leaned over to my coworker and whispered, "Just think, this time tomorrow I'll be dead."

Yeah, sometimes my sense of humor dips into the macabre.

Anyway, I got the wisdom teeth out, and clearly I did wake up. I've had remarkably little pain, and haven't even filled the prescription the surgeon gave me. Lots of yogurt and ice cream, that's the way to go. I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to eat at Thanksgiving (I assured everyone that if I wasn't able to, I would, quote, punch a table), but my mouth is healing remarkably well. Also, the main highlight of that meal is the mashed potatoes, and I'd be able to eat those regardless.

For purposes of recuperation I took the day off work today. Guess what else happened today? Netflix released the first season of its original show, Jessica Jones. I didn't plan this. Sometimes the universe is nice. I sat down with the aforementioned yogurt and ice cream to binge watch the heck out of this show. I am all about female powered shows. If I can't have a Black Widow movie I'll watch this in the meantime. #femalesuperheroes2015 


I started it in the morning and finished the series around eleven at night. I know not everyone had all day to watch this, so no spoilers until after the jump. You guys, it's five stars. There are so many things I like about this show: strong women, complex women, women passing the Bechdel test with flying colors, women relying on other women......    Haha, this is a great show for women, is what I'm saying. But there are other things too: the suspense is spot on. I love the use of color thematically, and that's not something I would normally notice. The pace is fast and every character makes mistakes. THIS IS WHAT I'M ABOUT. Main characters who never make mistakes are the WORST. 

But far and away what makes Jessica Jones one of the best new shows I've watched in years is the villain. David Tennant was already one of my favorite actors, but his performance here is breathtakingly good. Perfection. Heath Ledger in Dark Knight level. He stole my attention with his every entrance and demanded I care about what he would do next. This is ACTING. Krysten Ritter is also stellar as the title role. She ain't no maiden in need of defending, she is grown! (Someday I will stop quoting Hamilton, but today is not that day.) However she's also an emotional wreck who verges on being an alcoholic.

Maybe it's just me that instantly compared this show to Daredevil, Netflix's other original Marvel series set in Hell's Kitchen that was released earlier this year, but compare it I did. In my book, Jessica Jones is head and shoulders above Daredevil. I enjoyed Daredevil, but I never *loved* it. As I said, I watched Jessica Jones in one day. I got mad when I could tell it was wrapping up. "No!" I yelled at one point. "I'm not ready to be done with this yet!" Again, no spoilers until after the jump, but there are several reasons I enjoyed Jessica Jones more. This show is just as dark as Daredevil, perhaps darker. Certainly more  violent, or at least more violent when you're not expecting it. I'm the type of person who watched onscreen violence with fingers over her eyes, so if I can tell a dude is about to murdered, I try to look away. That was easier to do in Daredevil. Make no mistake, this is a violent show. (Also the early episodes have a lot of sex scenes, so be aware of that.) But as soon as I finished Jessica Jones, I was half tempted to start it again.

I'm now about to go into a more specific analysis, so don't read if you don't want spoilers. Let me urge all of you to go watch Jessica Jones, which is not your typical superhero show, and in which David Tennant gives the performance of a lifetime. I need more evil David Tennant in my life, stat.

Read about the plot, characters, and other fun stuff after the jump.


I haven't read the comics Jessica Jones based on, so I can't say how it compares to the original plot, story, characters, etc. I can only judge on the thirteen episodes Netflix gave us. Going in I knew nothing of the backstory, and I'm sure I missed many comic references. Bear with me, I only have so many hours in a day. Also, please forgive any mistakes made in comparison with Daredevil. I've only seen that series once through when it was released in the spring; my memory may be foggy (HAHHA THAT'S A DAREDEVIL REFERENCE) but I do the best I can.

Main characters
While both Jessica Jones and Matt Murdock (aka Daredevil) (hahahha all the Jessica Jones episodes start with 'aka' ..... I think I'm funny) are dysfunctional as all get out and suck at personal relationships, there are a few key differences. Matt Murdock is driven by a desire to save Hell's Kitchen, the neighborhood he lives in. Jessica Jones just wants to stop the people around her from getting violently murdered. She doesn't have a greater goal; I find it refreshing. I've seen enough movies about people who "save the world." Jessica Jones is "a hard-drinking, short tempered" woman who doesn't indulge in philosophizing or idealism. 

Matt Murdock wears a mask, has a superhero name, and all that jazz. Jessica Jones is having none of that nonsense, especially the costume. Matt Murdock  worked hard to develop his super senses. Jessica Jones is trying to escape from that life. This is a superhero show that doesn't focus on the main character's super powers. She has them, they play a part, they are by no means what makes Jessica so tough. One gets the feeling that if Jessica Jones wasn't up against Killgrave, you'd never know she had super strength at all. Which brings us to category number two:

Wilson Fisk was the main villain of Daredevil. He also wanted to save Hell's Kitchen. He just wanted to do it in a way that seemed to get a lot more people killed than one would perhaps find palatable. Fisk was one of the most complex characters in the show; he and his right hand man had my favorite dynamic on the show. Fisk will murder you to death with a car door, then go back to admiring art, fine wine, and his beautiful lady. He had a screwed up childhood. (What self-respecting villain didn't?) No super powers, except he is a huge guy with few moral qualms and an arsenal at his disposal.

I already mentioned that David Tennant's performance completely makes this show. But let me say a few things about the character he is portraying. Killgrave is his name, and mind control's his game. "The name's a little obvious. Was Murder Corpse taken?" He says things, people do them. Doesn't matter how unspeakably horrible these things may be. Think Ella Enchanted, but ultra violent. He is vindictive, vain, and vicious. Oh, and obsessed with making Jessica fall in love with him. 

Villains, to me, have always been the more likable and interesting characters. Flaw in my moral fiber, I guess. I fell head over heels for Kilgrave. He's horrible. Sadistic. Sick. Twisted. A murderer with no regard for human life. ALL OF THE BAD THINGS. He scares the living daylights out of me. But he's so flipping charming, has an accent, and quotes Dante. Captivating. He's my child and I wanted to hug him. This tumblr post sums it up nicely:

So I'm in love with him, and that's how it is. I don't have any excuses, although he doesn't get tired of citing his. You see, his childhood was screwed up in the worst way with scientist parents conducting endless mental tests on him. It's later revealed these tests were to save his life from a medical condition he was born with, but I never quite bought why they had to be so cold and unemotional.)

(Also, in one of the tests the dad says 'Eric doesn't cry when he gets put in the sin bin.' Who says that to a child? It turns out sin bin is a rugby term. What the freak, rugby?)

Side Characters 
I don't have much to say about Daredevil in this section, except both Daredevil and Jessica Jones have a street-smart old black dude who gets murdered kind of out of the blue. What the heck, Marvel? It's basically the same guy, except one is a cop and one is a journalist. Let the street-smart black man live!

Matt Murdock has his best friend Foggy. Jessica Jones has her best friend Trish. The main conflict between the first duo is that Matt has never told Foggy he's Daredevil. The main conflict between the latter is, well, there's a lot of conflict between the latter duo. But Trish has known about Jessica's powers since adolescence (Jessica is Trish's adopted sister). I liked the evolving relationship between Trish and Jessica. At the beginning of the show they haven't spoken for months. In the climatic finale these two hardcore ladies are the ones who show down with Kilgrave. THIS IS THE KIND OF CONTENT I AM HERE FOR.

Jessica Jones also features a used-to-be-drug-addict, a crazy twin sister who gave an alarmingly Game of Thrones vibe in her relationship with her brother (he gets a suitably Game of Thrones style death), a lesbian lawyer, her wife, and her lover. Oh, and Simpson. Or Sampson. Smithson? Whatever the heck his name was. This dude is a cop who fell under Kilgrave's mind control and tried to kill Trish. Then he comes over and is like, "Sorry I tried to kill you :(" and all of a sudden it's all aboard the sex train for him and Trish. Turns out he's part of a military medical study, but the meds are driving him out of control and he soon alienates everyone. Basically he's Riley from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And I HATED Riley from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Love Interests
Daredevil had that nurse, Claire, who was on again off again with Matt Murdock. She seemed cool. I think she was the same nurse who shows up to save Jessica Jones' love interest, although I didn't care enough to check IMDB, and I didn't catch this until she'd said her name about five times.

Jessica Jones meets this guy Luke, who owns a bar. Almost immediately they start having sex. And this continues for several episodes. To me this was the weakest point of the series; I didn't buy their chemistry at all.
 "I own this bar and you drink for free." "Let's have sex!" 
"Turns out I have super tough skin and I'm, quote, unbreakable." "Let's have sex!" 
"I have a dead wife!" "I murdered your wife under mind control!" "TIME FOR SEX."

There is a subplot with Luke's dead wife. She had a video file with information on Kilgrave, so Kilgrave had Jessica punch her so hard her heart stopped. As one does. Luke spends a couple episodes mentioning his dead wife as much as possible. (I don't remember her name because Luke literally calls her 'my dead wife' all the time.) Jessica reveals she killed her. Luke leaves, much to my relief, and doesn't come back for a long time. 

I'll not lie, Luke is hot. In one scene he takes off his shirt for no discernible reason and his six-pack is the real star of that scene. Also, I am all for portraying interracial couples, even though I didn't love Luke/Jessica. I read an article a couple years ago that pointed out although white men can date black women on television, you seldom see a black man dating a white woman. Jessica Jones: breaking down racial media norms since 2015. 

The Color Purple
Didn't feature at all in Daredevil. 

Great book by Alice Walker

One of my favorite parts of the early episodes of Jessica Jones-- creating tension through subtlety is my jam.

(Did I create this section just so I could make the Alice Walker joke? Yes. Yes, I did.)

Plot   (not of Daredevil, just Jessica Jones)
You can breakdown the Jessica Jones episodes into three sections. The first phase is the exposition. Jessica Jones is a PI. Trish is a former child star. Luke is hot with unbreakable skin. Stuff like that. Although we know that Jessica is hiding/running from someone who used to control her, we don't know who. We hear his voice in snippets; we never see his face. In the first episode Jessica rescues another young woman, Hope Schlottman, from this same mind control. At least, we think Hope is rescued from the mind control, until she shoots both her parents dead in an elevator. Whoops. :/  

Hope is presented as one of the driving characters behind Jessica's quest to end Kilgrave, but I never liked her. She sits in prison being excessively unhelpful, waffles on whether or not she is going to take a plea deal, and then fatally stabs herself with a piece of glass to provide motivation for Jessica. I'm not being facetious, she straight up tells Jessica she hopes her suicide will motivate her. Have you considered other methods of motivation besides, you know, fatally stabbing yourself with a piece of glass? Idk, just a thought. Honestly I forgot Hope was even a character quite a lot. Basically whenever she wasn't onscreen.

Phase two of the episodes starts in episode five or six, when Kilgrave steps out of his purple shadows and directly into my heart. Okay. I'm sorry. I'll try to keep my love for this despicable piece of trash on the DL. This "plotting" phase is my favorite, as we try to guess what Kilgrave is planning. Kilgrave gives murderous commands without dropping his smile. He sees what he wants and he gets it. If that happens to be you sticking your right hand into a running blender because you marginally inconvenienced him , I have bad news for your right hand. But for some reason he is unable to control Jessica, and he is sure that he is in love with her. These episodes do an excellent job of building suspense and setting up the dominoes one by one. I could tell something was being built, but not what the final pattern would be. Exactly how I like it.

Kilgrave continues to murder bystanders in an effort to communicate with Jessica, culminating in her moving in with him to stop him from killing others. He thinks this is true love, and promises not to control her or touch her without her express consent. He requests that she join him for dinner. She doesn't come down for several days. Kilgrave sitting at the table and telling his staff: "I can't stand this sitting around and HOPING people will do what you want!" Baahaha.

Also, the episode "AKA WWJD" is PERFECT. Jessica has moved into her childhood home with Kilgrave. It's not just the house that's the same; he's restored everything he possibly could to make it the same house, down to the cds on the shelves. She's there of her own free will, but she knows Kilgrave will have the staff murder themselves if she leaves. Later she does leave, and her annoying next door neighbor goes all suicide bomber. But before that, Jessica takes Kilgrave to a hostage situation and has him rescue the hostages. Instead of having the hostage taker blow his head off,  Kilgrave turns him over to the police. 

"What if you could use your power for good?" Jessica asks him. I wanted this angle to be explored more. Hell, I wanted this angle to punch all the other plot points in the face and spin off into a new show called Jones & Kilgrave: Dream Team where Kilgrave and Jessica banter while stopping crime. I mean, Kilgrave made quoted Star Wars and Jessica called him on it. I WANT MORE OF THIS QUALITY CONTENT.

Anyway,  Kilgrave honestly seems to appreciate the perspective Jessica is offering and wonders if he can balance the scales. He asks her to help him learn to be a hero. However Jessica instead chloroforms him and drags him off to a prison of her own, bringing us to phase three.

Phase three: the climax (AKA Let's Kill EVERYONE)
Jessica has Kilgrave locked in a hermetically sealed cell out in the middle of nowhere.It turns out that Kilgrave's power is a virus. (This seemed stupid to me, like mitochorlians determining your Force count, but whatever.) So he's powerless. And he gets an electric shock every time Jessica wants to give him one, because the cell's floor is covered with six inches of water, and I guess this is the first idea that came to her. Idk. Everyone on the good guy team takes turns waltzing in and staring at Kilgrave through the glass while arguing with Jessica about what to do. (He slowly writes 'HELP ME' on the window in ketchup and MY SWEET BABY CHILD I WILL LOVE YOU FOREVER.)

Simpson/Sampson/Smithson wants Kilgrave dead. Jessica is determined to keep him alive, because he can get Hope out of prison if they can prove he can mind control people. (Again, I already forgot Hope was a character.) Jessica finds Kilgrave's parents about ten minutes after deciding to do so, even though Kilgrave had apparently spent years trying to locate them. They're at a Kilgrave Survivors support group, which is led by a former junkie who stopped being a junkie in the course of one episode. (Side note: there was a subplot where Jessica had to send Kilgrave a picture of her every day and she always sent selfies and there were so many jokes I wanted to make about, "Oooh, what filter should I choose?" and the like.) Dad says he is working on an antidote to Kilgrave's mind control.

So the parents show up at Electro Torture Land (fun for the whole family!) and enter Kilgrave's cell. Jessica hopes to video Kilgrave mind controlling someone as evidence for Hope's trial, and figures his parents will rile him fastest. Mom is for it, dad doesn't want to be dead. Bippity, boppity, boo, mom is stabbing herself to death with scissors, the electro shock wires have been cut, and Kilgrave vanishes from his watery prison. Excellent plan, gang. Couldn't have gone better. *slow clap*

Lesbian Lawyer is the rat here; turns out she cut the electric shock wires in a plot to help Kilgrave escape. What is worth unleashing this unspeakable danger on the world? She needs him to mind control her ex into signing divorce papers. Her new lady won't sleep with her until the divorce is final. "I'm Catholic."  I imagine her thought process went something like this: "I could continue to reason with my ex-wife like two adults, or I could unleash this murderer man on her to destroy her agency and possibly the world. WORTH IT."

So they go to ex wife's house, ex-wife is Kilgraved into knifing up Lesbian Lawyer, and the mistress accidentally kills ex-wife. (I swear I liked this show, but I'm not great with names.) Kilgrave is on the loose again. Tons of freaking people die. In the weirdest twist I never saw coming, Crazy Game of Thrones Twin lady twin leads the Kilgrave Survivor support group against not Kilgrave, but Jessica Jones. They literally charge her apartment and try to attack her. It was bizarre; I found it laughable. But this ends badly (who would've guessed), with the Kilgrave Survivor support group being mind controlled by Kilgrave to hang themselves. (Jessica saves them, but it's a close shave.) That is the opposite of what the goal of a support group is. 

Let's see, what else goes on? Hope commits her motivational suicide, Luke shows up again, Trish's crazy mom shows up with medical records revealing a shady research group, clearly setting up a villain for season two. A guy jogging in the park is Kilgraved into driving garden shears through his brain in what is one of the most gory moments of the show. That camera would not turn away. Dad is forced into helping Kilgrave improve his range of control; Kilgrave is frantic to extend this control to Jessica as he once did. After dad does all he can his arms and legs are chopped off and a lackey man shreds them in the garbage disposal. It's disgusting. When Jessica is looking at the dad's body he opens his eyes to give her one last warning and I swear the first thing that popped into my mind was, 'WALKING DEAD. THIS IS A CROSSOVER WITH WALKING DEAD. HE'S A FREAKING ZOMBIE." Yikes.

Samson/Simpson/Smithson gives his military drugs to Trish and she bludgeons with him a chair when he attacks Jessica. This is a good call as he had gotten in the habit of shooting people in the head after they told him what he wanted to know. I wasn't quite sure if he was alive or dead at the end of the series, but I'm personally rooting for dead.

The finale was satisfying. I still wish we got to watch Jones & Kilgrave: Dream Team, but as it was it felt believable. No new super powers were revealed, Jessica saved herself and everyone else, and Kilgrave didn't just suddenly turn stupid, as so many villains have done. (Hahaha during a phone call earlier in the series he starts monologue-ing and Jessica literally puts the phone down and walks away and he doesn't even notice.) I got a Buffy vibe from the finale as well-- Jessica's strength isn't from her super powers, it's from herself. Anything Buffy is a-okay with me. Strong women who kick ass and take names, while a stubbled David Tennant is deliciously terrifying? Sign me up for that.

Actually, this show has a lot of the good qualities from Buffy: complicated characters, complex relationships between the characters, each character has their own flaws and strengths. (Except Hope, whose strength is apparently fatally stabbing herself with a piece of glass. -_-) There wasn't much humor, but when it was thrown in it was a quick breath of levity and then on with the plot. "She *literally* threw me under the bus!" Each episode had a point and all the points connected cohesively. 

All in all this show is five stars. Original as hell. Breaks many of the superhero cliches. The protagonists are primarily women and people of color, aww yis. Creeped me out, connected its plot points in a logical fashion, and had tons of character growth. Basically I'm already planning to watch it again. I've never watched a whole series in a day before, and I've never watched a superhero series more than once. Unless more networks start serving up shows like Jessica Jones I doubt I'll do it again.

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