Friday, November 20, 2015

REVIEW: 'Jessica Jones' - Jessica Gets a New Case that Reopens All of Her Deeply Traumatic Past in 'AKA Ladies Night'

Netflix's Jessica Jones - Episode 1.01 "AKA Ladies Night"

Jessica Jones is hired to find a pretty NYU student who's vanished, but it turns out to be more than a simple missing persons case.

Jessica Jones is unlike any other show or movie Marvel has ever done. It is the second of five series being released at Netflix. The lack of content restrictions has allowed these series to embrace much darker themes than the average Marvel project that is released for the broadest audience possible. It's such a great thing too that the series embraces these dark themes. The style and tone of this first episode is much bleaker than anything Daredevil did. That's impressive because that show was already dark. That's possible because Jessica Jones is centered around a character that Marvel has never really done before. In this instance, Jessica Jones is the hero of the story. She is not connected to any other male superhero who trumps her stardom. Sure, Luke Cage pops up in this series and will be the focus of his own show very soon. But this is very clearly Jessica's story. All the tragedy and bleakness of the narrative is a part of Jessica's world. That allows this show to explore some truly chilling and heartbreaking things. The end product is so much better as a result.

Jessica Jones has super strength. And yet, she is not using those superhero abilities in order to stop the world from villains with just as spectacular powers or nefarious ambitions. She has made peace with living the life of a private investigator. She tried being a vigilante for the city. That took her down one very dark and sinister path - which she is still coming to terms with. She was severely traumatized by her life as a public superhero. So now, she lives out her days investigating petty crimes for other people. People who's biggest concerns are whether or not their spouses are cheating. It's a life she embraces for herself. But she is also living one incredibly lonely life right now. That is painfully and beautifully made clear across "AKA Ladies Night" as her struggles in this world only get more complex and tragic.

Jessica isn't really hiding her powers from anyone. When a client doesn't like the news she has to give him, she's fine with punching his head through the window on her door. Her skills come quite in handy on the job too. It makes it easy for her to break in and to spy on people. She can just break locks and leap to the top of buildings. She can lift cars so that her target is afraid enough to take the court order she has to deliver to him. She is capable of doing all of this. It gives her life a purpose in order for her to survive in this world. It's her personality that isolates people the most. She definitely wants to live this lonely existence. But she also makes sure she is alone by using her words to push other people away. She's desperate for cases but also not willing to join a corporate firm full-time. This job offers her some control of her life. And yet, in private, she just drinks hard liquor, stays up all night long and enjoys casual sex. This is the life of a broken woman. All the signs are there of some lingering psychological issues. She embraces all of these qualities because she is just barely dealing with the action that led to her end as a vigilante.

But a new case threatens to open up all of these old wounds for Jessica again. She is convinced that the man who caused all of this pain for her is dead. That part of her life ended as well after that. Now, she is just barely coping. She takes on this case of a missing college student because she's glad someone at the police precinct referred the parents to her. She doesn't ask a lot of questions about who did that. But she comes to learn that it's the same person who caused all of this psychological trauma on her before. And now, he is doing it on another girl who doesn't have any powers. Jessica's first instinct is to run. This man destroyed her life. She needs to get as far away from him as possible. She tells the parents of the girl to do the same. This is just too eerily close to what happened to her for her to want to experience it all over again. This man is still haunting her every day. That is made clear whenever she is by herself trying to relax into a life. That moment is broken up by the appearance of purple and the man tormenting or licking her all over again. It's a trauma that becomes fresh in Jessica's mind in an instant. She can't go through that again and needs to put even more distance between her old life and this new reality.

And yet, running away means Jessica allows this young college girl, Hope, to be even further damaged by the mind control of Kilgrave. He has very special powers that can get people to do stuff they would never do. The power of suggestion is very strong with him. Jessica experienced it firsthand. That's why she struggles getting him out of her head. She knows that things will only get worse for Hope if she allows her to remain in his control. That's why she summons the courage and the strength to face her fears and go back to the hotel where so much of this damage happened. She doesn't find Kilgrave but she does find Hope. She is just laying there in the bed looking at the clock and sitting in her own urine. It's a very chilling image. Jessica is here to rescue Hope. And yet, Hope has been ordered not to leave the bed. Even though Kilgrave is no longer there, he still has this incredible hold on Hope. In the face of rescue, Hope still has to be carried out of the room kicking and screaming because she is no longer obeying his orders. That's just how powerful his influence is.

After that moment, Jessica has to step into the role of trauma counselor. It's a position she isn't comfortable in. She doesn't believe the expensive shrink she saw did any help at all. And yet, she still uses those methods in order to help Hope make sense of what has happened and to become aware that none of this is her fault. No matter what Kilgrave made her do, it was not Hope's fault. Hope is back in the loving embrace of her family. Jessica did that. But it also just sets up the even more chilling and terrifying final twist of the premiere. Kilgrave forces Hope to kill her own parents when they step into the elevator together. After that, she just tells Jessica to smile. That shows just how sick and twisted this man really is. He brings about so much pain and destruction and then expects his female victims to smile for him. It's a crushing final blow for the hour that shows just how severe this new situation is for Jessica. It's not like her first encounter with Kilgrave. Now, he is using his influence to destroy someone else's life. Jessica has to make the decision to face this evil again. It's painful. She doesn't know how she can stop Kilgrave. But the strength that she calls on in that final moment shows just how powerful she is as a character. She is still broken and unsure of herself. But now, she is also stepping up to deal with this threat once and for all.

Some more thoughts:
  • "AKA Ladies Night" was written by Melissa Rosenberg and directed by S.J. Clarkson.
  • Those opening credits are pretty cool. Sure, the music cues are a little overbearing at times - especially as the theme builds. But the imagery and the use of color in the piece feels like an homage to the comic books while still being very connected to the tone of the show.
  • Jessica's relationship with Luke is very flirtatious but both are also hiding some deep and intimate emotional pain. They use sex in order to avoid dealing with that trauma for a few moments. They get lost in each other for a little bit. That sex is more graphic than Marvel has even been before. But it's very much in service of the characters. It shows just how broken Jessica is. She has to show Luke just how far she can go and not break. That's sad which is a realization she comes to after the act finishes.
  • It's great that the Marvel universe now features a completely out gay character in Jeri Hogarth. Her story about having an affair with her assistant isn't all that original but it's also a new take on the subject.
  • Jessica reaches out to her old friend, Trish, who she pushed away after ending her stint as a vigilante hero. She is a reminder of the past. Trish knows all about what Kilgrave did to Jessica. She tried to help. And now that she is back in her life, that relationship is going to become much more complicated again.

As noted from previous series released all at once, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments section, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.