Being a hero in the modern world is an almost laughable aspiration. No one person could ever solve the problems facing current and future generations, yet escaping into worlds where intelligent scientists turn into giant green men and dapper young men flying around in capes are heroes who can solve most of society’s problems is still a treasured pastime. But Netflix’s newest Marvel series, Jessica Jones, does not provide so straightforward an escape.
The series certainly begins with a bang, launching viewers into the confusing world that Jessica Jones, played by Krysten Ritter, inhabits. Jessica freelances as a private eye employed mostly by jealous spouses and icy lawyers, but she is special. Despite her slight frame she has superhuman strength, making her one of the secretly ‘gifted’ citizens of Hell’s Kitchen. The viewer slowly learns about Jessica’s twisted history: that she is recovering from a traumatic encounter with the mind controlling villain, Kilgrave, played by British actor David Tennant. Unfortunately for Jessica, Kilgrave has returned and suddenly the hard-edged, guarded loner has more problems to deal with than getting over the trauma of being under the control of a telepathic maniac.
At a first glance, Jessica Jones is the typical angst-ridden superhero. She hides behind the ratty hoodies, black leather jackets, and eyes rimmed with smudged black liner that seem to be the classic uniform favored by disillusioned youth in any universe. In some ways, her character is just as stereotypical as her costumes are. Like any young person bearing the burden of responsibility upon her shoulders, she is pitifully damaged. She downs countless bottles of whisky to escape from the pain of her memories, and seems to have just one friend to her name. She struggles with her relationships, constantly burns bridges and pushes the few individuals who love her away.
Yet Jessica is supposed to be our hero, the only one who can save us. She self destructs as she attempts to save those around her, and as the series continues the viewer realizes just what she is capable of. At times, Jessica seems more of the self centered villain than the selfless hero, a complex mishmash that Ritter portrays well. She is clearly comfortable playing a sarcastic woman who, as much as she hides is, might need just as much saving as the world around her.
Like with any good Marvel production, Jessica’s arch-nemesis, Kilgrave, is delightfully evil. Although Tennant’s character does not appear on screen until later in the season, he is omnipresent, haunting both Jessica and the viewer with his chilling voice and gaunt silhouette. And when Tennant does finally appear on screen it is a treat, making viewers wish he had come earlier. A far cry from the lovable Doctor he played on BBC’s Doctor Who, or the heart wrenching Detective in Broadchurch, Tennant’s Kilgrave is frightening in every sense of the word. Kilgrave is almost the evil embodiment of a certain trend in today’s very vocal and personalized world where individuals’ desires are paramount.
Aside from the complex characters and themes Jessica Jones presents, the series is also visually enthralling. Although there are many dark scenes—the world of Hell’s Kitchen seems to have abnormally short daylight hours—the cinematography is certainly interesting. Many of the shots are disorienting, taken from bizarre angles, and blurry, all with the purpose of putting the viewer in Jessica’s confused mind. They see the world through her alcohol-addled vision, building a sympathy for her character that takes precedent over any feeling of disdain that they might initially have.
Netflix is reeducating the world. It has shown us the beauty and pain of binge watching, and revealed to everyone the way that a Friday night should be spent. And with Jessica Jones, Netflix is trying very hard to tell viewers that heroes cannot possibly save the world when they can’t even save themselves. In fact, what really separates the heroes from the villains? Maybe in reality, as well as Hell’s Kitchen, the grey areas are too wide for these comforting labels. While watching Jessica Jones, you might not be able to slide people into such simple categories, but you will ask yourself what you would really do if you woke up tomorrow with super strength or the power to control minds.
Featured Image by Netflix Television