Review: Jessica Jones (Season 1, Episode 1)

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80%
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Promising

The newest superhero series from Marvel and Netflix, Jessica Jones kicks off to a superb start. With an exceptional lead performance from Krysten Ritter, as well as the guarantee of a frightening turn from David Tennant later on, this show is definitely one to watch.

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Time and time again, Netflix have been proven that their content is just as good – if not better – than anything you may find on an ordinary television network. Reaching the end of another stellar year, the streaming site has released the next series from its evidently fruitful partnership with Marvel Studios: Jessica Jones

While the brilliance of Daredevil caught many off guard earlier on in 2015 (some of us were still scarred by the previous live-action adaptation of the character), Jessica Jones is definitely a more obscure property. Based on the Alias comic book series, one of the much darker runs of Marvel stories, Jessica Jones reveals itself to be a different animal entirely compared to Daredevil and the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thankfully, it shows just as much promise.

Stephen S. DeKnight’s Daredevil concerned itself with the grey and the grit of Hell’s Kitchen’s crime; Jessica Jones, helmed by Melissa Rosenberg, delves even deeper into the shadows as it follows private investigator Jessica operating at night, surrounded by neon signs and dive bars. The real darkness can be found in the past that haunts Jessica however, along with the uncertain presence of this series’ mysterious and despicable villain, Kilgrave.

Krysten Ritter stars as Jessica, and from this first episode alone it’s clear that she’s perfectly suited for the role. After a great, albeit short-lived, stint on Breaking Bad, along with her turn as the eponymous Bitch in the unceremoniously cancelled Don’t Trust The B—- in Apartment 23, it seems Ritter may have found her calling. As well as doing a remarkable job of conveying Jessica’s whiskey-swigging, strength and impatient confidence, Ritter brings a certain understated vulnerability to the character. This by no means the only compelling performance in the premiere, with Mike Colter’s calm portrayal of local barman Luke Cage ensuring the audience that there’s more to him than meets the eye.

It’s the character of Kilgrave that is most intriguing however, a man with the apparent power to influence anyone’s actions to his will. Played by retired Time Lord David Tennant, Kilgrave never actually physically appears in this episode, but it always feels as if he is there, mainly due to Jessica’s PTSD. S.J. Clarkson, director of this episode, sets up some extremely disconcerting shots of Kilgrave calling to Jessica right over her shoulder, expertly building up the tension to the eventual reveal of his relevance to her most recent case, and the dire consequences. 

These aren’t the only shots worth mentioning; the whole episode looks fantastic. Clarkson uses New York City to her credit, both at day and night, and opts for some more unconventionally angled, stylish, shots every now and then, differentiating Jessica Jones from the other television series in the MCU. Framing the episode, Jessica’s narration also helps in distinguishing this show from its Marvel cousins, giving it an obvious noir feel, something that is immediately established from the jazziness of the piano that opens a striking credits sequence.

Despite Jessica’s superhuman powers and the general feeling of crime noir, this episode still feels grounded in realism to a degree. If you’ve ever wondered when superheroes have time go to the toilet, this series doesn’t mind showing you, as we see Jessica doing her literal business while on the loo. That being said, this pilot goes out of its way to show that Jessica does not in fact believe herself to be a hero, and ultimately involves her deciding whether she will face her demons or not. 

Penned by Rosenberg, “AKA Ladies Night” exhibits some excellent writing; the episode opens with the line “New York may be the city that never sleeps, but it sure does sleep around”, an inspired hook for the episode. Funny when it needs to be, the script also sets up the supporting characters really well. Jeri Hogarth, portrayed by Carrie Anne Moss, is introduced as a lawyer/occasional employer for Jessica, while Rachael Taylor briefly appears as the private investigator’s neglected best friend, Trish. These characters aren’t given an awful lot to do here, but their importance is clear, and it’s interesting to ponder what their roles in the endgame will be.

Though a brilliant start to the season, it’s not flawless. There a couple of on-the-nose lines here and there, and the episode is maybe a tad drawn out, clocking in at over 50 minutes. These minor quibbles don’t detract from Jessica Jones‘ opening episode in any notable way however, with it only feeling that the series will get even better as it goes on. The tension in this superhero/crime drama is sure to only increase in coming episodes, and hopefully Jessica Jones will ultimately reward its viewers, whether they choose to binge-watch in true Netflix style, or pace themselves.

Season 1 of Jessica Jones (2015) is available to stream in its entirety on Netflix.

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