Posts Tagged ‘jessica jones’
Luke Cage’s biggest leg up on Jessica Jones, its predecessor and the launchpad for its title character, is who and how it cast. Though it emerged as the most acclaimed of the 2010s’ superhero TV shows, Jessica dumbed down and flattened out its lead as she was portrayed in the comics by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos, turning her from a good-hearted but self-destructive and entertainingly profane fuckup into a one-dimensional, glowering, sarcasm-spewing, hard-drinking, hardboiled-detective stereotype. This gave talented actor Krysten Ritter little to do but shoot people dirty looks in the same outfit for 13 episodes. The less said about David Tennant’s hambone turn as Killgrave, her telepathic abuser and nemesis, the better, as his scenery-chewing, mustache-twiddling performance did a tremendous disservice to the serious issues of rape and trauma the show attempted to address. (That attempt got it a lot of credit, more than the execution deserved). Carrie-Anne Moss and Robin Weigert were involved in a love-gone-horribly-bad storyline that had some bite to it at first, until the plot required Moss’s character to free a maniac in order to get a more favorable divorce settlement, a logical low point for the series (which is saying something). Everyone else in Jessica’s cast had the bland competence and attractiveness of cast members added to a CW show in its third season.
Cage, by contrast, boasts Jessica’s standout guest star Mike Colter as the title character (originally created by Archie Goodwin and John Romita Sr.), a wrongfully convicted ex-con granted bulletproof skin and super strength in an prison experiment, but who’s now trying to live low as he hides from his enemies and continues to mourn his late wife. Colter was the liveliest, most magnetic presence on Jessica Jones (at least until Rosario Dawson showed up in the final episode); here he’s given the spotlight all on his own, and he absolutely shines in it. It’s not just that he’s a convincing street-level superhero a la Charlie Cox’s Daredevil or Jon Bernthal’s Punisher, or that he’s equally adroit at conveying Luke’s sense of squandered opportunities and paycheck-to-paycheck struggling — it’s that this show requires him to be a romantic lead, in a big way. Despite Ritter’s humdrum performance, his romance with Jones generated a whole lot of heat. In this episode alone, whether he’s gently rebuffing the advances of a law student whose son gets his hair cut at the barber shop where he works or flirting and, eventually, fucking as-yet unnamed cop Misty Knight (Simone Missick, every bit his physical and chemical equal), he makes Luke seem as effortlessly charming as James Bond, finding a way to make each of his flirtations feel plausible and irresistible for both parties. Only a handful of actors in a generation have the blend of good looks, good-natured warmth, and genuine physical danger that such a part requires to really work. As one of the barbershop regulars puts it, “You either got it or you don’t.” Colter’s got it.
I’m reviewing Luke Cage for the New York Observer, starting with the pilot episode. You never can tell with pilots, especially for the Marvel/Netflix’s long-feeling 13-episode seasons, but this was better than Jessica Jones’s pilot, which by the low standards of that series was actually one of the better installments.
Longtime friend of the blog Elana Levin and her cohost Brett Schenker invited me on their Graphic Policy Radio podcast to discuss the season finale of Jessica Jones, as well as the whole season itself. It was contentious and fun. (Spoiler Alert: I’m Officer Simpson’s Bad Fan.) Give it a listen!
Given the depth and power both the writing and Ritter brought to the material involving trauma, which remained the series’ strongest point throughout the run, it’s tremendous shame it didn’t extend to other areas of the show. This is especially the case for Tennant and Kilgrave, whose constant, transparent evil lets real abusers, able to hide or temper it, off the hook: “See, we’re not like that!” That the show is dealing with a difficult and horrifically underrepresented subject ought to obligate it to do better than “good enough”; recognition alone is the start of a conversation and the bare minimum of merit, not the be-all and end-all. While nothing here was offensive or insulting, nor was anything inspired or inspiring. Considering the potential, that’s a crime. Case closed.
I reviewed the season finale of Jessica Jones for Decider. This was a very frustrating, disappointing series.
Here, I suppose, is where we’ve got to grapple with the most unsurmountable problem the show faces: the flat performances of its two leads. With only one episode to go, my earlier reservations about the work being done by Krysten Ritter and David Tenant have blossomed into full-blown dislike. There’s almost nothing to Ritter’s acting here beyond dead-eyed, monotone sarcasm, pitched up into anger or down into tears at appropriate moments. Tennant, in turn, is a scenery-chewing gentleman villain, unrelated to and unrecognizable from any comparable figure in real life.
The gravity of the situation is consistently undercut. This begins almost immediately, right there in the restaurant where Hope stabbed herself to death and four others came within a hair’s breadth of hanging themselves. Jessica wants to orchestrate a cover-up in order to avoid entangling the cops in Kilgrave’s web, but her goofball neighbor Robyn, who unleashed the telepath as part of an extremely dumb plan to get to the bottom of her brother Ruben’s death, isn’t having it. “We tell our truth,” she says, “for Ruben.” Then, referring to Hope, whom Jessica has shrouded under a tablecloth, “For tablecloth girl.” Nothing says “We take this seriously” like a cutesy nickname for a distraught woman who just slit her own throat! I get gallows humor, but this is too much too soon, and it jibes with neither Hope’s death nor Robyn’s horrifying close call.
About the best thing you can say about Jessica Jones’s tenth episode is that Carrie-Anne Moss and Robin Weigert have a horrifying fight scene. With encouragement from Kilgrave and an accidentally lethal last-second rescue by Pam, Jery and Wendy’s vicious divorce turns violent, with the doctor attempting to make emotional “death by a thousand cuts” the lawyer dealt her all too literal. The assault goes on for an uncomfortably long time, with Wendy counting out every slash of the knife against the body of the woman she once loved more than anything. She winds up dead with a glass table embedded in her skull, staring forward with dead unseeing eyes at the woman it turns out she didn’t see clearly in life either. The superhero genre is powered by the use of violence as metaphor, a spectacularly physical way of speaking the unspeakable, and this is as good as the show has ever gotten in that area. Too bad the rest of “AKA 1,000 Cuts” fails just as spectacularly.
The biggest problem with the episode is structural. Since it begins with Kilgrave locked away safely in his soundproof, hermetically sealed, electroshock-equipped prison cell, we know that he’ll have to escape by the time it ends. I mean, there’s five more episodes left in the season, including this one, when he gets locked up, right? If he doesn’t get out, what are they gonna be about, Trish and Simpson getting engaged and picking out items for their wedding registry? And if he has to escape, that requires someone on the other side of the glass to do something to help, either by going inside and falling under his control or letting him have access to the outside and control whoever he wants—in other words, doing something unimaginably stupid.
There’s a certain irony to “AKA WWJD?”, the title of Jessica Jones’s eighth episode. Asking “What would Jessica do?”, it then does something the series has consistently failed to do throughout the season so far: something (anything!) surprising. Often unpredictable, frequently subtle (at least by superhero standards), it’s the show’s best episode so far, by far.
Still, Ritter fares better than David Tennant, who leaves no scenery unchewed in our longest glimpse of Kilgrave in action to date. His ranting and raving in the squad room where he confronts Jessica is 100% Boar’s Head ham. The false humility, the sudden rages, the skin-crawling professions of love—some of this is the writing’s fault, no question, but every choice he makes in trying to sell it is rote and predictable. Contrast this with Vincent D’Onofrio as Daredevil big bad Wilson Fisk. From his physical comportment to speech patterns, he was a wholly original creation. The performance ran the risk of alienating the audience by doing something superhero stories rarely do: forcing them to watch something they’d never seen before. Tennant feels like a copy of a copy of a copy of a mash-up of a Bond villain and Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter by comparison. Meanwhile he’s supposed to hold down half of this show’s emotional bargain. Like Hogarth’s wife Wendy, you don’t have to take this deal.
I reviewed the seventh episode of Jessica Jones for Decider. Sorry, Whovians.
“You are a hard-drinking, short-fused mess of a woman,” Luke Cage tells Jessica Jones. “But you are not a piece of shit.” Thesis statement! Yes, Luke has reason to reassess the latter part of that description later in the episode. But either way, this line from “AKA You’re a Winner!”, the season’s sixth episode, tidily sums up the show’s vision of its lead character: Sure, she’s an alcoholic asshole fuckup, but she’s got a heart of gold! If this is an interesting archetype for you, great, go with God. If not? You’re in for a slog.
One sentence did more to damage my appreciation of Jessica Jones than any other. It wasn’t anything any of the characters said, or even anything a TV critic wrote. It was something mysignificant other said to me as we watched “AKA The Sandwich Saved Me,” the show’s fifth episode. “Does Kilgrave need to speak to people directly to control them?” she asked. “Seems like it,” I replied. Her response: “Then why don’t they wear earplugs?” I believe that’s what Mortal Kombat calls “FATALITY.”
I reviewed the fifth episode of Jessica Jones for Decider. More like Justokay Jones, amirite?
The title character herself is not getting any more interesting. While the handling of abuse and trauma is as incisive as ever, so too does Jessica remain a glowering hardass stereotype in every other respect. Some of this is down to the writing, which sets her up in cliched scenarios like the ol’ sad shower scene (I don’t know about you, but I’m rarely sad in the shower—my bouts with melancholy usually take place on the couch) and forces her to deliver wooden lines like “Not tonight, Hogarth. Not tonight.” But, and I hate to say this, some of it is Krysten Ritter, who seems more and more miscast as the series continues. As good as she was in Breaking Bad, investing a supporting character with a mainline dose of audience empathy, she’s doing very little with this part beyond glaring, sneering, and occasionally sitting in silence. Sure, they can have her do a Pete Venkman twirl on a street corner or cry a single Frodo Baggins tear when she discovers her junkie neighbor Malcolm has been Kilgrave, but like when she trashes the room she’s been lured to by her anti-gifted client for an assassination attempt, the emotional displays feel forced since her affect is otherwise so stonefaced. If this show is ever gonna soar, something’s gotta break.
I reviewed episode four of Jessica Jones for Decider. I’m not crazy about it.
Actually, the Kilgrave concept itself—in the sense that this story and this story alone is what the season will be about—is working much better as of this episode. Unlike Daredevil, which kept its protagonist and antagonist in the dark about one another for some time and featured many mini-mysteries along the path to their final confrontation, Jessica Jones has been all about the title character and her nemesis tracking each other down from the jump. The decision to focus so monomaniacally on the mano a mano conflict between the detective and the telepath could feel either fitting or forced; around the point where Jessica learns Trish plans to have her fellow victim Hope on her radio show and freaks out, it fell firmly on the former side of the line. “He’ll be listening to her and thinking about me,” Jessica warns her friend, a wholly appropriate reaction. After all, we’re talking about a stalker on one hand and the woman he traumatized on the other—of course they’d think about each other all the time. The narrative simply reflects this sad emotional truth.
Unfortunately, the complexity, nuance, and willingness to take chances with the genre has yet to extend beyond these two areas. Put it this way: Aside from her zesty sex life with Luke and her ongoing attempt to process what Kilgrave has done to her and others, is there anything about Jessica Jones as a character you haven’t seen a million times before? Whether we’re talking about private-detective tales or young-woman-in-the-city stories, this exact combination of sarcasm, alcoholism, broken friendships, and regret is as common as spandex in superhero comics.
Speaking of comics, I’m loath to compare TV shows to their source material all that much, but in Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos’s original Aliascomics, Jessica was much less of a hardboiled stereotype, exchanging the live-action version’s sardonic stoicism for the jittery, high-energy banter common to the writer’s work. The result was a lively, lived-in character who felt more like a real person trying and failing to live up to her extraordinary circumstances than a noir archetype peeled straight from pulp fiction. The point isn’t “The book was better,” it’s that what’s on the screen isn’t working, irrespective of what happened on the page.
Superhero stories geared toward adults always run the risk of trying too hard to establish their serious-business bonafides. But that seemed wholly unnecessary for this series, which is so deeply tied to Jessica’s rape and trauma that there’s no need to take things over the top elsewhere. By this point in the episode, we’ve established that Kilgrave stole a man’s kidneys and left him a suicidal cripple between abducting and raping multiple women, recklessly hijacking the minds of countless people along the way. Did we really need to watch him make a terrified little girl piss her pants in a closet to get the message that he’s a piece of shit? The suffering of children is a tool in the artist’s arsenal not to be used lightly, and while it’s clearJessica Jones is taking the trauma inflicted on victims of violence seriously, it’s less apparent that it knows not to gratuitously gild the lily.
Compare this to our first prolonged exposure to Daredevil’s big bad. When we meet Wilson Fisk, we already know he’s used his massive fortune—and his equally imposing physique—to seize control of New York City’s underworld and real-estate market alike. But instead of watching him throw his weight around (sorry), we see him awkwardly flirting with an art-gallery owner, first at an exhibition and then over dinner. This bold, mold-breaking choice humanized the supervillain in a way we’ve never seen a live-action superhero project attempt before. And the show stuck with it, too: While it never shied away from depicting the ugly brutality of Fisk’s gentrification plan, it also showed him to be a man with actual, honest-to-god friends, who cared about him as much as he cared about them. Ultimately, he and his gang were as much a surrogate family as Matt Murdock and friends, making the conflict between them that much more compelling. This isinteresting, folks, and it made for a compelling, unpredictable hero-vs-villain narrative.
Making Kilgrave an unmitigated monster is a legit choice, don’t get me wrong—it’s not like I’m clamoring to see the softer side of a serial rapist—but it’s cutting off Jessica Jones from exploring a rich vein of character and story. Imagine Game of Thrones if, instead of complicated figures like the Lannisters, the Hound, and Stannis Baratheon, all the antagonists were raw uncut psychopaths like Ramsay Bolton, Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane, and those crazy bald cannibals from Season Four. Their thoroughly black hearts make them entertaining enemies, but it’d be tough to sustain the show without a bit more shading.
How high can highlights take you? How much strength does a show require for its strong points to overpower its weak spots? How does the whole become more than the sum of even its most important parts? Jessica Jones, the hotly anticipated second series in Marvel & Netflix’s partnership, tells the story of a private eye, so perhaps it’s appropriate that it’s got me searching for answers myself. Its pilot episode, “AKA Ladies Night,” contains some of the most powerful moments and challenging themes in the entire Marvel oeuvre. I’m just not sure that’s enough to declare the case for its quality closed.
I’m covering Jessica Jones for Decider! I’ll be posting a review a day every day till I get through the whole season. First up: My somewhat skeptical take on the pilot.