Marvel's Jessica Jones: Season 1
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Marvel's Jessica Jones: Season 1

Few cinephiles or comic book enthusiasts would argue that the perennial rivalry between the top two comic book super powers, DC and Marvel, has come down to Marvel ruling the movies while DC has all but dominated television. That is not to imply that both have a presence in both venues. It is a statement of the arena that has garnered the most success with the fans and critics. Marvel has ventured into traditional broadcast television with ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ and ‘Agent Carter.' Please note, with all TV series included on the Marvel side they do mark their territory by prepending ‘Marvel’s’ to each title. For the sake of brevity, this convention is omitted here. ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ‘is still going strong but ‘Agent Carter’ was canceled after two seasons. The place where the Marvel Cinematic Universe has succeeded in an episodic format has been as original programming for the premier streaming video service, Netflix. Beginning with a revival of ‘Daredevil’ these series are directly connected to the MCU through numerous references to events and character depicted there. The number of these interconnected shows continues to grow in numbers and acclaim. While the films have the tendency to concentrate on the global and even galactic scope, the Netflix properties focus on the down to earth, neighborhood drive themes, and characters. Among these is the exceptionally dark character of Jessica Jones, portrayed here by Krysten Ritter, the gritty, emotionally troubled young woman brought to life with incredibly intense realism.In the comics, Ms. Jones was a former superheroine that has given up the obvious use of her powers to run a one-woman detective agency, Alias. The constant grappling with serious emotional issues manifested in harmful behavior including heavy smoking and alcoholism. This tragic, misanthropic figure is migrated faithfully on this venue that is unencumbered by FCC oversight. The one concession made in the transition was to have Jessica refrain from smoking. Otherwise, Jessica Jones comes across with the delicate balance between a relevant code dedicating her to protect the innocent and the dark obsession that has nearly destroyed her life.

We first encounter Jessica while performing the mundane task of delivering a subpoena to a strip club owner, Gregory Spheeris (Juri Henley-Cohn) on behalf of her sort of friend and attorney, Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss). Jeri is creating on her wife, Wendy Ross-Hogarth (Robin Weigert) by having an affair with her office assistant, Pam (Susie Abromeit). In this series, there are very few examples of the moral high ground. Jessica has super strength and limited flight which is a continent in her chosen profession. Recently Jessica has become curious about a bartender, Luke Cage (Mike Colter). After confronting him and sharing a copious amount of alcohol they have sex. It turns out that Luke also possesses powers, superhuman strength, and invulnerability. Jessica is intrigued with a man she does not have to control her strength while being intimate, as made evident by the destroyed bed.

Jessica is approached by distraught parents, Barbara (Deborah Hedwall) and Bob Schlottman (Ian Blackman) who hire her to find their daughter Hope (Erin Moriarty). Hope had begun acting strangely before disappearing. It turns out that Hope was under the complete control of the ‘Purple Man,' Kilgrave (David Tennant). He has the power of coercion allowing him to override a person’s free will completely controlling them. The driving force of the story is that Kilgrave had controlled Jessica for a prolonged time forcing her to perform depraved acts including cold-blooded murder resulting in Jessica battling PTSD and wanting to extract her revenge on the fiend. Luke and Jessica begin working together to locate and neutralize Kilgrave. Their only hope was to surprise Kilgrave, subduing him by injecting him with a surgical-grade anesthetic. Pulled into helping them is Jessica’s best friend/adopted sister, Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), a highly popular radio host. As a person without superhuman abilities, the juxtaposition of Jessica and Trish highlight the negative impact powers have had on Jessica. It also provides incredible depth to the narrative by contrasting two young women raised together yet entirely different in outlook and physiological stability.

Many of the characteristics that have contributed to the unprecedented success of the MCU have been carried over to the Netflix portion of the franchise. The stories depart from defining qualities of the traditional superhero by not overly focusing on the powers. Her abilities do not define Jessica; at best they are a convenience, at worse, a curse. Much of the misery she has endured emanated from her powers driving her to eschew life as a public figure. With the appearance of so many far more powerful heroes Jessica’s former life is all but forgotten, a situation gratefully was forgotten. She is the personification of a dichotomy, a sullen, disaffected young woman that isolates herself assisted by drunken stupors. In contrast, Jessica is fiercely loyal to anyone she permits to get close to her. She would die to save Trish. Another heroic attribute is Jessica is adamantly opposed to standing idly by while an innocent person is in harm’s way, part of the etiology for her PTSD. When Kilgrave coerced her to kill someone it was more than she could bear and resulted in deep-seated emotional and psychological damage.

Realistic character development and dramatically driven stories have always been among Marvel’s strongest points. Both the heroes and villains fully drawn individuals with a spectrum of strengths and weaknesses. This extends to the second-tier character, for example, Jessica’s next door neighbor, Malcolm Ducasse (Eka Darville), was turned into an unwilling informed by Kilgrave forced to spy on Jessica and regularly report back to Kilgrave. Despite being unable to resist, he experienced heavy angst by betraying the only person to treat him with a degree of respect demonstrates the intense destruction to his victim’s mental well-being and self-image reinforcing what is observed in Jessica that Kilgrave can exploit the slightest self-doubts in a person’s mind turning them to his Machiavellian plans. Rarely are the psychological reasons for an antihero’s ambiguous moral stance explained in such detail.

Marvel material is shown on television never depended on relying on displays of superpowers. Back as far as 1978 with ‘The Incredible Hulk,' the use of abilities was strictly limited to one or two applications to punctuate the dramatic intensity of the episode. Consistent with Jessica’s disdain of them resulting from the self-deprecation that is fundamental to her core personality. She might strong arm a degree of ‘cooperation’ from a suspect of making an impossibly high jump to avoid a pursuer or suddenly seem to disappear. All plot points are directed to further the story and develop the characters. A common point with all of the Netflix series is the nearly complete lack of plot contrivances. The level of writing, uniquely stylistically direction and stellar performances outshine anything out there. It took HBO years to be recognized by such preeminent awards as the Emmys. Netflix manages to accomplish this with their earliest scripted programming. This is especially applicable with Jessica Jones. The audience is drawn immediately into the story and inexorable held there. The consistency between this series and the other Marvel properties on Netflix, as well as the MCU, is accomplished with subtle references and nuances. There are references to ‘The Incident,' actually the events of the first Avenger’s movie.

There is something that must be addressed concerning the DVD distribution of this series. At this moment the only way to obtain a copy is through sites in the United Kingdom. Since these discs coded for Region 2, it is necessary to purchase a region, free player. I have seen units capable of 3D Blu-ray discs for under $180. It is entirely reasonable to consider using a region free player as your primary device. Netflix was a reputation of waiting longer than cable or broadcasting networks for significant releases. The release of the ‘Daredevil: Season 1’ series didn’t occur until after the completion of the second season. The exchange rate is favorable, so the cost is often less than a full TV season in the U.S. In any case, this is a series that should not be missed. It holds up not just for fans of the genre but anyone interested in quality television.

Posted 12/30/2016

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