Remember when Daredevil premiered and everyone went “This is so dark and gritty! It’s so much more grounded and realistic than the mainstream Marvel Cinematic Universe”? Up until that point, Daredevil was the most daring piece of work Marvel Studios had done. It created a field of play in which more grounded and realistic stories could be told against the backdrop of earth-shattering events taking place in the movies. This wasn’t Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Agent Carter, which have turned into refreshing sci-spy action series that are perfectly at home with the style and feel of the movies, albeit with much smaller budgets. The world of Hell’s Kitchen owed a lot to the work of Brian Michael Bendis, who’s run on Daredevil from 2001 to 2006 is probably the most iconic since Frank Miller’s in the early Eighties. This was a darker, more violent world and Bendis’ approach to storytelling was more experimental, playing with chronology, tinkering with the narrative approach, loosening up the way dialogue was written and exposition was shared. The artwork, more often than not by Alex Maleev, also elevated Daredevil once again into one of the most respected and well-crafted comics of its time. The same year he took over Daredevil, Bendis launched the first Marvel MAX comic, Alias, which followed the uncensored adventures of alcoholic, PTSD-suffering, ex-superhero-turned-private eye Jessica Jones. It was dark. There was a lot of swearing. There was a fair amount of fucking. Some readers found it all excessive, but most of us found it to be an amazing expansion of the Marvel Universe into something more adult that didn’t succumb to easy titillation or exploitation. Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos created a new character that slotted easily into the Marvel Universe but also expanded it in ways unimaginable just a few years earlier. The Marvel/Netflix venture that gave us Daredevil now gives us Jessica Jones and right out of the gate it does for the MCU what Alias did for the comics; we now have a world of superheroes that doesn’t rein itself in to the PG-13 restrictions the other films and TV shows are burdened with. The first two episodes of Jessica Jones make as many leaps forward with regards to emotional, psychological, and sexual content as Daredevil did with the exploration of violence, guilt, and responsibility. The first two episodes, “AKA Ladies Night” and “AKA Crush Syndrome” are written by series creator Melissa Rosenberg and Micah Schraft respectively, and both demonstrate a maturity and affinity for the subject matter and characters that, if I’m honest, surpass the source material. Yeah, I know. Rosenberg wrote the Twilight movies. So what? The fact that she was able to make something workable out of those pieces of shit should give everyone plenty of hope for what she can do adapting a good book. But adapting isn’t really the right word for what’s going on here. Rosenberg has put together an overall story that is true to the source, but actually builds on it in ways that are much more realistic than what Bendis did with Alias. Part of that has to do with what other properties are available to work with. Alias was firmly entrenched in the Marvel Universe, with Jessica having ties to the Avengers and featuring appearances by Ms. Marvel, Captain America, and other superheroes. Jessica Jones the TV series doesn’t have that and is all the better for it. In fact, there are barely any superhero hijinks in these first two episodes at all beyond the occasional hint of super-strength and the ability to jump really high. By not being tied to the idea of becoming a masked vigilante, Jessica Jones is free to explore storylines that are more traditionally noir. She’s a Private Investigator trying to makes ends meet. We have Jessica’s voice-over introducing us to her world and sharing her thoughts. There’s a much more sensual and sexual quality to the characters: Jessica, her associates, her clients. This is the first time we really see Marvel characters not just in love and pining, or snarkily being sleezy but squeaky clean at the same time. No, Jessica Jones fucks. And drinks. And swears. A lot. And it’s like a breath of fresh air that I didn’t realize I needed. In fact, I’d say Jessica Jones does for sex what Daredevil did for violence in the MCU. The first two episodes are directed by S.J. Clarkson and they are master classes on style enhancing substance. Clarkson is an accomplished director, but here has upped her game immensely, using stylistic flourishes to enhance thematic elements in ways that both help to establish character and pay off narratively later in the series. Over the course of these first two episodes, we rarely see Jessica (Krysten Ritter) cleanly. There’s almost always something disrupting the framing of the shot, distancing her from the viewer, keeping her isolated, or making it seem as though we’re watching her without her notice. When she interacts with others, there are establishing shots, but the majority of the conversations are told through over-the-shoulder shots with one character’s shoulder obscuring most of the screen, leaving Jessica or whomever she’s speaking with sectioned off in a tight third of the shot. The focus is pulled in and out as scenes advance, forcing our attentions to exactly what Clarkson wants us to see for the sake of telling the story, but also to establish that Jessica exists in a world of shifting clarity. Sometimes what she thinks she’s focusing on isn’t what she should be. At the same time, that’s her whole purpose. To find that focus. To follow the leads. To solve the crimes. To find the missing girl. Ah yes. The missing girl. Back to the plot. When the series begins, Jessica is simply making ends meet as a PI, taking pictures of people cheating on their spouses in an attempt to put her own life in order. The opening scene of the series echoes the opening scene of the comic in a way that while familiar, sends the story in a completely different, but better, direction. She is then hired to find a missing girl; a daughter, a student athlete; someone who would never just abandon everything for a guy. But she did. And her parents want to know where she is. So Jessica takes the case. What she doesn’t realize at first is that what happened to Hope Shlottman (Erin Moriarty) is the same thing that happened to her, sending her on a path of self-destruction (and self-medication) over the prior year. Along the way we are introduced to Jessica’s not-boss, attorney Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), Marvel’s first openly gay main supporting character. She’s not a nice person, but she’s powerful. She’s selfish, but she also might actually have a heart somewhere in there, despite the fact that she’s cheating on her wife with her secretary. In another storyline, Jessica is stalking local hot bar owner Luke Cage (Mike Colter) for reasons we don’t really know just yet. But when he catches her snooping around she gives in to her main weakness, free drinks, and before long the two of them are in the most graphic sex scene in a Marvel production ever. No nudity or anything, but some violent humping and the controversial “taking it from behind” moment that caused so much controversy when the first issue of Alias was released. After the act, Jessica finds a picture of a woman in Luke’s medicine cabinet and in a fit of guilt, excuses herself. It’ll be an episode or two before we get the skinny on what’s up there. For now, though, things are awkward to say the least. Meanwhile, back in the missing persons case, Jessica makes a breakthrough, but it’s not one she wanted to make. In tracking down Hope’s whereabouts, she discovers that the source of all her pain, her failures, her trauma, everything that derailed her life, a man named Kilgrave (David Tennant) is not dead, like she thought, but has kidnapped Hope as a first volley in an assault on Jessica’s life/psyche/etc. Because Kilgrave also has powers, but he’s also not really sane. And with his power, that means horrible things are happening. Kilgrave has the ability to control people’s minds, not just making them do whatever he tells them, but making them enjoy doing whatever he tells them. It’s a subtle distinction, but one that really amps up the psychological torture element of what he does to his victims. And after escaping Kilgrave’s control six months earlier after what she assumed was his death, he’s back and Hope’s abduction is a message for Jessica. He’s coming for her. But he’s not just coming to hurt her physically. He’s coming to destroy her psychologically and emotionally. The success that Jessica has rescuing Hope from his clutches is short-lived, giving the final moments of the first episode a gut-wrenching twist that shouldn’t have taken us by surprise but does anyway. There’s something positively chilling about the way Hope turns to look at Jessica before pulling out the handgun as the doors close, trapping her parents in the elevator car with her. And then the gunshots. The way the closing monologue echoes the opening is a very nice way of allowing Jessica to realize that running isn’t going to help and she has to step up and find Kilgrave or he’ll haunt her forever. The second episode, “AKA Crush Syndrome,” propels the storyline forward quickly and efficiently in a way that undermines her developing relationship with Luke, puts her on the police radar, and provides a peek into what her best friend, talk radio host and former child star Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), has been up to in the six months since she reappeared. With her office a crime scene, police take the opportunity to go through Jessica’s things, discovering her surveillance photos of Luke. Bringing Luke into the investigation, even just barely, puts the two of them at odds, forcing Jessica to lie about her motivations. We still don’t know exactly why she’s watching Luke, but it definitely has something to do with the picture in his medicine cabinet – a picture of the only fatality from the bus crash that freed Jessica from Kilgrave’s control and supposedly killed him. In her pursuit of evidence that Kilgrave actually exists, Jessica sneaks into a hospital and steals the records of the bus crash. Following the leads takes her to the home of a former ambulance driver who disappeared that night. He’s being taken care of by his ultra-religious mother after he showed up in an alley missing both of his kidneys. There’s no salvation here, though. While his mother sees this as divine intervention, bringing her alcoholic son home, he just wants to die. This is a Marvel Universe that we really haven’t seen before. Even the darkness of Daredevil didn’t delve into the emotional devastation that follows in the wake of superheroics. In The Avengers, our heroes saved New York but they took out large swaths of the city and were called heroes. After the dust settled, though, it allowed the Kingpin to step in and buy up large parts of Hell’s Kitchen. Even that was on a less intimate level than what we get here. Just by responding to an emergency, Jack Denton’s (Ben Kahre) life is destroyed. There are no real heroes here; Just people trying to survive day by day. And just like in real life, hope is hard to come by, when the world doesn’t cut you any slack. Although for Denton, at least the doctor Kilgrave forced to perform the surgery had enough of a conscience to set him with a dialysis machine – although letting him die probably would have been kinder. It’s by tracking down Dr. David Kurata (Thom Sesma) that Jessica gets her first big break, discovering that Kilgrave avoided anesthesia during the operation, since the drugs used would shut off his powers. Kurata also provides corroboration that Kilgrave exists, which motivates Hogarth to take Hope’s case. But it’s not all grim and bleak. Along the way, we meet Jessica’s upstairs neighbors who provide some much-needed comic relief and we get our first major fight scene as Jessica shows up just in time to help Luke in a bar fight – during which their powers are revealed to each other: Luke is super strong and has unbreakable skin. His revelation to Jessica in the closing moments is both disturbing and sensual. I think everyone can see what’s coming next. Not only is the scripting solid and the direction exquisite, every performance in these first two episodes is just about as perfect as could be. Mike Colter’s Luke Cage is mysterious, but grounded. He’s charismatic enough that we’d want to know more about him, even if we weren’t comic book nerds waiting for his big reveal. The way Cage is going through women while keeping that picture in his medicine cabinet signals that something is up and he’s probably working through some psychological shit in a way similar to Jessica’s own alcoholism. Krysten Ritter simply nails this role. She’s sardonic and bitter, suffering from PTSD and self-medicating with alcohol. While even Netflix won’t let them get away with making her language as salty as it is in the comics, she still has a nice flair for the expletives and Ritter is able to switch from borderline shattered to strong-willed and defiant. Once again, Marvel casting has done an amazing job. I can’t wait to get into the next few episodes. We’ve got a lot of good stuff on the way. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.