Jessica Jones Season 1 Review

Jessica Jones Poster

This review contains spoilers.

This reviewer has very little prior knowledge of Jessica Jones or Luke Cage, although he is familiar with the Purple Man from early-era Daredevil comics. As such, these reviews are against the material as presented on television. And on that note, Marvel’s knack for turning little known heroes and heroines into amazing small screen series cannot be understated.

Like its movies and series before, Marvel’s success continues to hinge upon top notch casting decisions. Krysten Ritter stars as the titular character, a former super hero turned private investigator with a tragic past. Ritter perfectly captures the essence of a woman tired of the altruism of the superhero gig, and has nothing to show for it but scars caused by the violent shattering of good intentions. Foul mouthed, sardonic and utterly jaded, Ritter successfully blends her comical wit and slyness from Don’t Trust the B– in Apartment 23 with the dramatic talents she proved to possess in Breaking Bad.

Most of Jones’ work involves the typical, misanthropy-inducing sleaze that comes with the occupation; gathering dirt for clients to ease their divorce proceedings. Jessica’s lowness is further highlighted by her more successful associations. These include her adopted sister, famous talk show host Trish Walker, and high-powered-high-profit Attorney Jeri Hogarth who is the source of most of Jones’ dubious clients.

However, Jessica haunts her past as much as it haunts her. She all but stalks Luke Cage, the owner of a local bar, for reasons of her own. And the rest her time is spent as inebriated as possible. Yet her path changes trajectory when she’s charged with locating a missing girl named Hope Shlottman (Erin Moriarty).

This chase eventually crosses paths with Kilgrave, better known as the Purple Man, a sociopath from Jessica’s past with the ability to control minds. Determined to hurt Jones’ for the pain of her abandonment, Kilgrave uses his powers to frame the kidnapped Shlottman for the murder of her parents.

David Tennant plays the role of Jones’ tormentor and nemesis Kilgrave. While Marvel’s movies seldom possess the time to carefully cultivate their villainy, their small screen work truly makes their bad guys amazing to behold. Just as Vincent D’Onofrio did with the Kingpin, Tennant makes the Purple Man shine with his warped sense of morality and refusal to accept responsibility for the actions partaken by those under his control. Driven by injured pride and obsession, Kilgrave returns from Jones’ past to try and reclaim what is “his.”

PosterPurpleManMarvelOne of the best elements of Jessica Jones has to be the unorthodox approach to handling the origin story. Too many comic-derived works take the Fantastic Tales approach of laying out the source of a protagonist’s abilities and heroic drive very early. And often rehashing it again and again whenever a new print starts or whenever a fresh introduction is required for new and expanding readership.

Rather, series creator Melissa Rosenberg wisely chose to wrap Jones’ past in two layers of mystery at least; the origin of Jones’ powers (to be discussed later) and Jones’ sordid history with Kilgrave and Cage, which is the center stage of this season.

For Jessica, Hope and a cast of other characters (including Eka Darville as Jones’ drug-addicted neighbor Malcolm), being a Kilgrave-survivor is a point of psychological intrigue. Kilgrave’s abilities raise unspoken questions regarding the nature of free will, as his victims are conscious and aware of their disturbing, involuntary actions, often voicing regret and remorse even as they obey. Yet the most horrible aspect of it is the sense of relief some of Kilgrave’s victims feel, assigning responsibility for their acquiesce to the man in charge. This psychological phenomenon is a carefully explored hypothetical that fairly puts the series in the realm of true science fiction.

Indeed, Kilgrave’s influence is felt absolutely everywhere and by everyone, no matter how much they try to elude him to deal with their own subplots. Those threads are a point of brilliance for the show. All the major characters are luckless enough to be caught by the Purple’s Man’s entangling web, which no one passes through without injury or consequence. And every subplot save one ties back into the centerpiece. Chekhov’s gun is observed and obeyed but the results aren’t without twists that shock and surprise.

CageOf those subplots, perhaps the highest praise could be paid to Mike Colter as Luke Cage. Like Jones, he is haunted by his past; a dead wife (at Jones’ hands and Kilgrave’s command), which led to a stint in prison where he achieved his powers of indestructibility. The original character is often classified as part of the blaxploitation era of the 70s, but care and vision had been given to the role’s reconstruction since then to stand above and beyond stereotypes.

Cage appears in roughly a third of the series, but his application moves the plot forward without overshadowing or distracting from Jones, while imparting depth and intrigue on his own. Colter’s passion for Cage has inspired this reviewer’s increased interest in the character’s forthcoming series, effectively selling it long before production finishes.

Then there’s Jeri Hogarth, portrayed by Carrie Anne-Moss. While the role was originally that of a man, Anne-Moss engaged the character with a sense of powerful rottenness that makes Don Draper of Mad Men look utterly meek in comparison. Hogarth’s story involves a tricky divorce from her wife for the love of her secretary, the strains of which grow until they are masterfully woven into the main plot. Her self-interest veers on the edge of antagonism even, such as preserving a sample of Kilgrave’s DNA for future study, even as the consequences turn karmic. Despite the tragedies that are inflicted on Hogarth, these traits are unlikely to have been erased, and one cannot help but wonder if she may become a villain.

Cage and JessicaWhile Cage provides a complicated love interest for Jones and Hogarth the professional and legal expertise, emotional support stems from her sister Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor). Grateful for Jessica’s help in escaping the clutches of their overbearing, fame-oriented mother, Trish’s attempts to aide her sister invoke the ire of Kilgrave. It’s here that Walker’s story interlaces with Officer Will Simpson (Wil Traval).

Turned into a pawn for the Purple Man, Simpson regrets his attempt on the life of the popular talk show host, and he and Trish eventually begin a relationship while the try to help Jones. A former soldier, Simpson has applicable experience for such situations. But Simpson’s extreme methods prove frictional for the women, who need Kilgrave alive to prove Shlottman’s innocence. The polarizing situation eventually drives Simpson back into the arms of a group known as TGH, who supply him with drugs that cause his combat prowess to match the intensity of his increasingly unstable demeanor. Walker’s research into this issue casts light on the mystery of the origin of Jones’ powers, hinting that TGH was responsible.

TrishThe remainder of the main plot proceeds as follows. Kilgrave’s attempts to manipulate Jessica fail, despite trying to exploit her past and Jones’ temptation to convince Kilgrave to use his powers for acts of decency. Kilgrave is eventually captured, and Jones discovers that she’s immune to his powers. Homework reveals that Kilgrave’s parents, inadvertently responsible for his abilities after trying to save his life from a disease, have been monitoring the situation from afar. Jessica involves them to build her case to the police.

Kilgrave escapes by exploiting Hogarth’s desire for an amicable divorce, but only after he slays his mother. Simpson appears later and destroys the gathered evidence, believing it folly to involve the law. Hogarth leads Kilgrave to her wife, who is a doctor, in order to treat a wound. Through Hogarth, Kilgrave learns of the fetus (of which he is the father) that was taken from Shlottman and preserved for study. Disgusted, Kilgrave leaves Hogarth to face the vengeance of her wife, but is saved by her secretary. Freeing Shlottman by coercing a DA, Kilgrave offers the girl in exchange for his father Albert. However the deal goes sour for Jones. Shlottman takes her own life as Kilgrave escapes with his father.

Let’s pause in the recap for a moment. If there was any weakness in Jessica Jones, it was here in the tenth episode. Kilgrave’s final escape risked being one chase too many, one dangerous step beyond the limits of audience’s interest, fractured by the wasted efforts of Jones, Hogarth and Trish to prove Shlottman’s innocence. And for many viewers, the scene was nearly as heartbreaking as a murder in Game of Thrones. Although the final three episodes rebound the desire to continue, this particular episode felt prolonged and almost needlessly tragic. These two factors made the tenth episodes “AKA 1,000 Cuts” the most difficult to watch.

NukeThe skills of Kilgrave’s father are harnessed to improve his son’s abilities, while Simpson’s volatility proves too dangerous. Trish and Jessica are forced to subdue Simpson, who disappears. Kilgrave proves the depth of his new-found power by deeply programming Luke Cage to lure Jones into his trap.

After rendering Cage dangerously unconscious with a shotgun blast to the face, Jones enlists Nurse Temple (Rosario Dawson) to keep her friend alive while Jones and Trish pursue the Purple Man. With no choice and no one left to defend, Jessica tricks Kilgrave into getting close before snapping his neck. Hogarth uses the implausibility of the circumstances to get Jessica off the hook legally. After regaining consciousness, Cage flees. Jones is alone again with only Malcolm, while Trish, given aide by her mother, begins researching TGH…

Jess-Jones-PosterHowever, the plot line involving TGH was the aforementioned mystery that remains unresolved for now. The second season hasn’t been announced as of yet as Marvel’s The Defenders likely takes priority. However, it’s not impossible that Jones’ may make appearances in Luke Cage or the second season of Daredevil between now and then.

Compared to DaredevilJessica Jones feels the more superior show by a few increments. Daredevil was somewhat handicapped by the sheer number of villains it was saddled with, and had many faces and story lines to introduce or at least hint at, both for its own sake as well as setting up the forthcoming miniseries. Jones was more free to explore the character and her yarns against 1.5 villains, and as a result handled its material slightly better.

If the first season of Daredevil has taken care of all the heavy lifting, and Jessica Jones is any indication of what to expect from now on, then we have a lot to look forward to from Marvels’ television studios.

The State of Television (Part I)

Before you read this, I suggest putting on The Heavy’s “Short Change Hero” as recommended listening.

Tonight is the premiere of the third season of The Americans, an amazing show about the espionage fought on U.S. soil during the Cold War. A recap of the last two seasons will be available at the bottom of this blog post if anyone is afraid of spoilers. But in the mean time, here are some shows that you should be watching.

Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23

donttrustthebI was told that ABC has a tendency to cancel genius shows all the time, and Nahnatchka Khan’s creation was unfortunately on that list after just two seasons. Despite this, its 26 episodes are comic gold.

Krysten Ritter of Breaking Bad fame plays the title-suggested Chloe (who is somewhat reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly), while Dreama Walker is June, the more angelic of the two. Toss in a plucky/perverted neighbor, Eric André as the boy next door and at work, and James Van Der Beek as… James, Van Der Beek and his assistant Luther (Ray Ford), and you got yourself great combinations of comedy material.

There’s a couple of a great points to mention about Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23. First, events mattered. Something that happens, even from a comedy standpoint, would be mentioned or have an impact in future episodes. The characters grow, but never so far as to totally lose sight of the show’s premise.

Second, they almost never used running gags outside an episode. They were constantly coming up with snappy dialogue and great material that never got recycled or reused. In fact, I would say the most stand out character with the best lines came from Ray Ford, especially towards the end of the series run.

The first season is primarily spent with June trying to make rent while building a life in New York, against Chloe’s many scams and cons. In the second, June finally lands the business job she dreamed about in the private sector, while Chloe actually starts to learn about how to actually care about people, reluctantly of course. As the show came to an end, it was hinted that the third season may have focused on James Van Der Beek’s hunt to find his biological father, an element that was addressed in the last episode but not quite resolved.

In the show’s short life, you could tell that creator Khan had a knack for carefully evolving her characters without totally destroying the core premise. We’ll never know if this trend would have continued, but the approach left us with two great seasons as opposed to five to ten seasons that started great and began to decline, much like How I Met Your Mother. So if you’re looking for great laughs without a huge commitment of time, check out Don’t Trust the B on Netflix.

The League

the leagueFX’s series about a group of friends who run a fantasy football team will be coming to an end with season 7 this fall. For those who would be leery of sports comedy, the fantasy football elements are in the background, never something that overtakes the comic value of the show. Unlike Don’t Trust the B however, the show’s accumulation of running gags could fill a museum, making it somewhat difficult for the uninitiated to dive into the later seasons.

But The League is not short of acting talent by any stretch. Nick Kroll plays Ruxin, a Jewish lawyer with an uncontrollable sense of sarcasm. Mark Duplass is the smooth operator Pete. Katie Aselton plays Jenny, who is married to Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi), the league’s overly nervous commissioner and all around terrible drafter. Paul Scheer is Andre, the persistently teased chum whose success as a plastic surgeon barely makes up for his shortcomings in clothing tastes and clinginess. Jon LaJoie plays Taco… yes, that’s his name, the perpetually stoned musician and capitalist always founding a new, crazy business venture. Finally, Jason Mantzoukas plays Rafi, a hilarious sleazebag introduced as Ruxin’s brother-in-law in season 2.

There are considerable differences between how the first three seasons were executed verses the next two (I’ve seen all of season 5, and am waiting for the 6th on Netflix). The early episodes tended to have a more Seinfeld quality to them, where the jokes somehow folded into plot and contained a goes-around-comes-around quality to them. Taco also used to provide one musical piece per season that is… simply unforgettable and lyrically brilliant. You can check out one sample here, but be aware that it’s NSFW.

Seasons four and five have suffered somewhat though. While the opening and closing episodes are great, the middle of the these seasons have dried a little, with stories that don’t seem to pan out as one might hope. While incidents threaten the characters with change or growth, the circumstances often fold back on themselves and return them right where they started. On the plus side, Ruxin and Taco’s need to end each finale with incredible fanfare is a laugh fest that condones any weaknesses.

It is decided. Check out The League for great, easy laughs.

The Americans

The_Americans,_season_3So originally I was going to mention a few more shows in this blog post, such as Sherlock, Homeland and The Venture Bros, but I think I’ll save those for another time. Perhaps as part of another recap before the release of House of Cards season 3 on February 27th. I’ll flash a spoiler warning below so those who haven’t seen it know when to stop reading.

The Americans stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings. To the outside, they are a loving married couple with two teenage children and a travel agency business. But to Moscow, they are assets in the game of espionage, trying their best to steal technologies and brilliant minds from the Reagan administration. The show constantly dips into history, covering the shock waves behind the scenes of the assassination attempt against Reagan, and the ARPANET, which would one day become the internet.

The drama for the Jennings is unlimited, as their assignments vary from cultivating potential intelligence sources, to tracking and stalking to occasional high risk kidnappings. As if it wasn’t enough, their children Paige and Henry (Holly Taylor and Keidrich Sellati) have begun to suspect something about their parents, while their neighbor Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) is an FBI agent who inadvertently has been investigating them.

Spoilers to follow if you haven’t seen the last two seasons. If you haven’t seen the previous seasons, get going!

The first season was primarily a base building approach, meant to establish understanding of what and how the Jennings operate and the dynamic of their relationship. It also set the stage for Stan, who created a counter intelligence resource of his own within the Russian embassy by blackmailing Nina (Annet Mahendru). The situation eventually built itself into a circle where Stan nearly ended up capturing his own neighbors, but also shifted Nina’s loyalties there and back again after Stan killed a friend of hers from the embassy.

While the first season was very good, the second season was even better. The Jennings find themselves caught up investigating a murder that happened against another agent family, the Connors, all while pursuing a new stealth project the Americans are working. While Henry has a few acts of rebellion, it’s ultimately Paige who lashes out, wanting to join a church and growing increasingly suspicious of her parents. Nina works with the Russian embassy to turn Stan, but Moscow will either see Nina succeed, or have her punished for her earlier betrayal.

And the resolutions are chilling. An ultimatum is delivered to Stan to save Nina’s life, but Stan cannot bring himself to forsake his country. Thus, Nina is sent back to Russia for probable (though not confirmed) execution. The Jennings efforts were in vain as the stealth project was nothing more than an elaborate counter espionage operation. And if Paige’s concerns about her parents aren’t bad enough, it turns out that the murder of the Connors isn’t without comparison: The family had been executed by their son, Jared (Owen Campbell), who was being groomed as a homegrown spy for the KGB.

In the final episode, the Jenning’s handler Claudia (Margo Martindale) delivers an order and not a request. The Jennings are to begin preparing their children to become second-generation KGB agents. Because they are born in the United States, they would be eligible for secret clearance positions. The situation immediately begins to divide Phillip and Elizabeth at home as Elizabeth is unimpressed with American culture while Phillip, guilty from killing so many individuals, doesn’t want this life for his children.

The Americans airs tonight at 10 pm EST on FX.