Jessica Jones – Is it all that good?

So the new superhero series holds an outstanding rating on Netflix… surprising surprise?

But it’s not just Netflix who claims high status of it’s own new original series – it is indeed critically acclaimed and proving increasingly popular, perhaps in contest to join its high rivals Game of Thrones, Orange is the New Black, and of course, Breaking Bad, in which the lead of Jessica Jones, Krysten Ritter, also stars as Jesse’s drug addict girlfriend, Jane.

Produced by the powerhouse coalition of Netflix and Marvel, this is an exciting creation. But is it all red stars and shiny tomatoes?

Yes it’s thrilling, painfully addictive and a feminist’s paradise, but there are also fundamental flaws in this new product of the golden age of television.

The idea is interesting – original as would be expected by Marvel but believable, perhaps the concept brought by Netflix, shown by the realist humour of Master of None. So no green monsters, blue scales or flying iron machines. Marvel have decided to play this one low key, and it adds a new dimension.
Having said this, when the extraordinary does happen, it is completely out of place and almost laughable. When you seem to be watching a normal detective drama and the protagonist suddenly flies off screen, it seems absurd. You see right through the effects, and the believable atmosphere proves counterproductive. In scenes where Jones erupts in anger using her supernatural force to cause disruption – the flow is clumsy and there is a lack of energy making the whole thing feel fake. Perhaps the believable and the extraordinary are incompatible in this way, or perhaps Ritter’s acting abilities can not accommodate for this unique combination, although on the whole I found her performance convincing. Whatever the case, something isn’t quite working here.

And the name ‘kilgrave’. It comes again to balancing the believable detective drama with the superhero marvel spectacle. And some things like this get caught in the middle. Although mild attempts to redeem itself with references to the absurdity of the name, it was too little too late. Like trying to laugh off your own embarrassing story – awkward and useless.

As would be expected from the makers, the visual style of the series is impressive – not overly artistic but professional and smooth. One of the main aspects that marks the progression of television series.

One thing to which I must give credit is the groundbreaking gender representations. Yes the lead is a female superhero (which itself is a breakthrough, particularly for Marvel who have a disturbing resistance for female leads) and she’s not wearing lycra with large breasts obscuring the view of anything else onscreen. Don’t be mistaken – Jessica Jones is beautiful, but in her own darkly intriguing, Gothic and evilly sarcastic way. So unlikable yet so irresistibly likable.
But in addition to all that, the real story of the series surrounds her fighting control of a powerful man. Physically and mentally, this man controls people, particularly women, and it is Jessica Jones who will fight this control and liberate herself and fellow women. So it is all about feminism after all. Furthermore the one person Jessica really cares about is her best friend, Trish. It’s this simple and meaningful female-female relationship which is at the center of the narrative and drives it forward throughout the series.
There are other male characters – Malcom is a weak ‘side-kick’ character, first dependent on Jessica’s help and later her company. Ruben is a pathetic wet fish, controlled by his sister and hopelessly in love with Jessica. By contrast, Luke is a strong male character, but in the beginning is used by Jones – she has sex with him (very evidently in control) and leaves early in the morning without any obvious emotion or attachment. In the main center of the narrative, he is missing – insignificant. In the end, he is saved by Jones.
The puzzling character therefore may be Simpson – he is both a strong and significant male character. Perhaps this signifies a rejection of male help. She maintains throughout that she doesn’t want his help – she can do it alone, without men. And when he does assist her in the plan, he becomes a blocker to the protagonist and her goal and in the end he is defeated.

And finally for my favourite character, Hogarth. Not only is her homosexuality yet another example of female strength and independence reinforced by the interesting triangle between her ex-wife and her lover, but she is a brutal, powerful, strong-minded female. And may I say some of the best acting in the series – Carrie-Anne Moss acts with such brilliant effortlessness and compelling strength.

She is closely followed by Britain’s much beloved David Tennant as Kilgrave. He is a perfect fit for this psychopathic mind controller after much more solemn roles in BBC dramas.

Kristen Ritter is undoubtably a good fit in terms of her looks. However, in one or two specific examples I was a little unsure about the credibility of her acting. I thought she did the repressed melancholic PTSD act very well indeed, but her extreme emotion – anger, fear etc, I felt wasn’t completely natural. Despite this, her charisma and likability onscreen is undeniable. She manages to play an alcoholic and miserable pessimist and still wins the support of the audience. So for that she is successful.

One main problem I had with the series was the unrealistic nature of some events. Moments where you think ‘that would never happen.’ And it’s not the superheros and mind-controllers that I’m talking about. Examples are the idea that Hogarth, a strong-willed, independent and extremely intelligent woman would be convinced by Kilgrave to open the cell to let him free in order to convince her ex-wife to sign divorce papers. Likewise, after Jones was taken into prison after having supposedly committed mass murder and ripping a head of a body, Hogarth acts normal around her after she was released, her first response to receiving a text from her as ‘thank God, has she finally found something on Wendy’ referring to Jones spying on her ex-wife. Other examples include recovering miraculously from injuries, as well as recovering surprisingly well from news of death etc.

So the series is not perfect. I feel that it hasn’t quite found it’s place between realism and surrealism. The balance between Marvel and Netflix. There is a touch of comedy, or at least irony, that hasn’t quite found a confident voice yet. But it’s got great ideas, promising characters, a strong cast and is revolutionary in terms of gender roles. Perhaps future series will show it finding it’s place more securely, and I’m sure this series will continue strong.

 

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