(Also, the Purple Man is in it too.)
Jessica Jones is kind of a horrible person.
The story works well as a metaphor for overcoming an abusive relationship. Unfortunately, it only works on that level. Even if you take the allegory away from the Narnia, you have a story about a talking lion and some kids. Jessica Jones is just a garbled mess as a narrative.
Stuff I liked:
Episode One was taut and tense and compelling, and the best hour of TV I’ve seen in years.
Luke Cage: Sweet Christmas, he was great. He’s oozes charisma, he’s used in moderation, he’s interesting and sympathetic.
Trish: What a Hellcat! She gave a superb performance. She was best when she was her own person and not acting like an off-brand wannabe Jessica Jones.
Stuff I didn’t like:
Jessica: As a rule, I like shows with female protagonists.
I was hoping for Season One Veronica Mars.
I got Season Six Buffy.
Remember what I said about Luke Cage. Jessica is the opposite of all that.
I tend not to like anti-heroes anyway, but I stuck with Breaking Bad to the end, because it was interesting. I don’t want to diminish the trauma suffered by the real-life survivors of abuse on whom Jessica is based, but this is a story that’s designed primarily to entertain and I found the lead neither interesting nor sympathetic.
"For thirty years you dreamt you were a hero, and condoned a thousand petty lapses--because a hero, of course, can do no wrong."
David Tennant: He’s part of the problem. I was nervous about watching the show, because I knew the subject matter. I had heard it had been toned down for TV, so tentatively, we began watching.
At least he was interesting, but I have mixed feelings about liking him more than Jessica. As a character, I mean. They’re both reprehensible, but at least he’s interesting when he’s on the screen. And I think that might actually be an interesting and possibly legitimate choice. It’s easy to sympathize with the charming rapist, and just as easy to ignore the words of his victim if she’s not as articulate or somehow marginalized. That’s a great message for a public service announcement, but a lousy choice for entertainment.
I’m not sure where they were going in trying to make him sympathetic halfway through the series. Probably because abusers often suffered abuse of their own in the past? It didn’t work, because the first impression we have is him compelling Hope to murder her parents, just to send a message to Jessica. Regardless of what happened twenty years in the past, you own that murder, dude.
The show can never decide if he’s a master manipulator even without his powers, or a ten year old boy who never had to grow up. The answer is, he’s neither. He’s an abusive ex-boyfriend with superpowers, and there’s nothing more to him than that. The dichotomy works within the context of the allegory, but it collapses if you want to look at it in any other way. (And when did he learn how to read lips?)
Kilgrave’s name: “Kilgrave” sounds like a name. It sounds like some Eastern European name anglicized at Ellis Island. It’s unusual, but I didn’t think it was fictional. (Notably, more people in America have Kilgrave as a last name than have mine.) The characters on the show find it so unbelievable that they dismiss out of hand any possibility that it might be real. Also, they use the same joke twice.
It’s not as funny as you think it is, and it doesn’t even make sense. Corpse and carcass aren’t synonyms with grave!
Will: I liked Will (and didn’t figure out who he was until they showed us the pills), but he existed only to serve the allegory as a different take on an abusive ex-boyfriend. But Will has a goddamned point. Kill Kilgrave when you have the chance! Only Hamlet is allowed to dither this much when planning a murder. Jessica was carrying around that syringe as early as episode two, as part of her ridiculous Rube Goldberg torture room plan. She should have been hefting a cinder block, and thrown it through the window when she saw Kilgrave for the first time. It would have saved a lot of innocent people, depending on when she got wise, Ruben, Hogarth’s wife Wendy, the next door neighbor and Will’s buddies, the courier, the guys in the penthouse, Kilgrave’s mom, Kilgrave’s dad, those he ordered to die if he didn’t return, presumably many others. Hope would still be in prison, but she’d still be alive.
I could also have done without Trish’s “He was a good man, once” defense at the end. I get it, TV show.You don’t need to spell it out for me. Teeth had a more favorable opinion of men than this show.
Hogarth: Oh, I loved Carrie-Anne Moss in this role. At first. The show doesn’t trust us to figure out anything on our own, so she heavily foreshadows her heel turn by speculating about all the things she could do with Kilgrave’s power. Jessica sputters in righteous indignation. (She cares because she was personally wronged.) Later, of course, she gets her comeuppance, as do all who question Jessica.
Hogarth was interesting. Her character is very opaque, and as a viewer, you never know what's going on inside her head. Jessica is also inscrutable, but I didn’t get that impression of inner life. But when Pam asks her why she was at Wendy’s (after Kilgrave commanded her to take him to someone she trusts), she doesn’t tell the obvious lie (“He told me take him to a doctor and Wendy was nearby”), instead, simply floundering like a goldfish outside of its bowl.
Malcolm: I hate Malcolm so much.
He’s a convenient eunuch who only exists to tell everyone how great Jessica is, because it looks like bragging if she does it herself. (Still, you can see her lips moving when he’s talking.)
How to cure a junkie.
Handcuff him to a toilet overnight.
|"Bless you, Jessica Jones!"|
Fortunately for Malcolm (but unfortunately for the viewing audience), they have another secondary black character so that Malcolm can live, but Marvel doesn’t have to forgo its policy of killing a black dude to give the white characters a little extra motivation. (RIP, Ben Urich)
Comic Vine called Jessica “A brilliant PI who is always two steps ahead of Kilgrave” but she couldn’t figure out her own neighbor was tailing her for weeks? Didn’t think to look in Hope’s purse? I don’t think she’s a terrible detective, but there is no evidence to suggest she’s brilliant, either. I just hate this kind of fanboy bullshit. “I love this character, so she has to be the best.” My impression is that she’s good enough to make a living at it, and that she leans heavily on her powers. Not that that’s necessarily a dig. You use what you’ve got, and she’s got perseverance and a willingness to do the legwork on top of that.
(On a side note, while I love the character, I don’t think Veronica Mars was especially brilliant either. She was as successful as she was because she was underestimated because of her age, or she was plying her skills against other teenagers, who don’t have as much experience as adults. But she leveraged what she had to make it work. Usually. )
The protagonist-centered morality: I really do hate protagonist-centered morality. Everyone’s virtue neatly corresponds to how much they like Jessica.
Trust me, I’m a PC: The virtue of other characters can easily be measured by how readily they trust Jessica. Night Nurse, I’m looking at you. Those cops three feet away are looking for you? Sure, I’ll help you escape, person I just met.
A subset of this is how characters friendly to the protagonists readily accept the reality of mind control, saying, in suspiciously similar phrasing, that hey, aliens/invulnerable skin exist, so why not mind control. I think the implication of the similar phrasing is that this only conclusion a reasonable person can reach, that if one impossible thing exists, all impossible things must exist. Any other response is just being arbitrarily skeptical or obstinate.
I don’t think the conclusion is self-evident. It’s reasonable to consider the possibility, but accepting it unconditionally is just as ridiculous as dismissing it out of hand. It’s a minor thing, but I found it very annoying.
“Go to hell.” “Already been there…”
No. Never say that again. That is the worst, most boring, predictable line, and it’s delivered badly. That’s like plagiarism on an academic paper. It’s an immediate failing grade right there.
At this point I was extending the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they were going something very subtle here, and maybe the tough gal act was supposed to seem unconvincing, because her experiences had left her an empty shell and her bravado was a façade painted blood bright over rotten wood.
As I watched more, I rejected that hypothesis. Krysten Ritter is just kind of a lousy actor, and the dialogue is occasionally just atrocious.
Also, when the real housewife of New York City blames Jessica for getting her mom killed in the Chitauri invasion, she calls Jessica a freak. I wanted to insert a supercut of every time someone calls a superhero a freak, but, while I’m certain such a thing exists, because it’s such a lazy cliché that pops up in every movie, I was unable to find it. So here’s a screenshot.
What takes the cake is the scene in the diner. It's the worst kind of too clever by half bullshit that sounds like it was written at a You Too can write like Joss Whedon weekend workshop
That’s accurate in the context of the story, but man, it’s the dream of every narcissist to have it be true when she says it really is all about her. Characters in a story don’t make choices, the author makes choices for them. The creators of the show contrive to put them in a situation, so that they can tell the story they want to tell. The authors here have conspired to give us a story where their glib, boring, unlikable anti-hero is the only one that matters. (It’s also worth noting that almost every major failure comes from another character not doing what she says. Jessica Jones can never fail; she can only be failed.)
The story is contrived so that she must always have the moral high ground.
I guess I'll make the observation, because no one on the show will, that Jessica and Hogarth each sought to keep Kilgrave alive so they could manipulate him to serve their own ends. Jessica's goals are more altruistic than Hogarth's, but that doesn't change the fact that they're doing exactly the same thing.
There are little things I hate too. Like when Jessica sarcastically thanks Kilgrave’s father for correcting her phrasing (she said Kilgrave ordered the man to kill himself, whereas he tells her that he was compelled to cut his heart out). The thing is, not five minutes earlier, she exploited a loophole in the command given to Trish, who was ordered to put a bullet in her head. Jessica put a bullet in her mouth and satisfied the compulsion.
|Sanctimony and hypocrisy, two great tastes that taste great together|
Her plan was put together with an attention to detail you'd expect from the underpants gnomes, a million moving parts and a structure that make it collapse if any one item outside her control occurs. These include:
- Kilgrave’s updgraded powers function in a fashion differently than she assumes they do
- Someone shoots Trish, who is completely exposed
- Trish becomes compromised
- Trish is taken as a hostage (Not quite sure why Trish is part of this plan, frankly)
- Kilgrave brings a set of bodyguards comparable to the forces he’s fielded every time he’s expected opposition
- Kilgrave issues contingency commands to his puppets comparable to the ones he’s issued in every previous encounter
- Kilgrave actually thinks to test his control (“Kill this guy, would you?”) before walking right up to Jessica so she can murder him.
In the end, Jessica kills Kilgrave. I’m sure it’s cathartic, but under New York law, it’s also first degree murder, as it was preceded by torture. I’m not even saying it was a bad decision. If anyone was too dangerous to live, it was Kilgrave.
It would have better for Hope, Wendy, Ruben et al, had she come to this conclusion somewhat earlier. For Will, too, come to think of it.
The story that would come to define my tastes as an adult was noir, though I didn’t know the word at the time. Jessica Jones uses the trappings of noir, but doesn’t embrace the spirit, where victories are temporary and bittersweet. Nothing illustrates this better than the scene following the murder, when Hogarth, appropriately humbled and back in the fold, and thus, competent again, rope-a-dopes the prosecutor with a torrent of extremely weak flim-flam. I think I would have been able to accept the show as a flawed, but well-intentioned effort, if not for this.
Is it a bad show, or something I just don’t like?
I’m usually good about making the distinction, but I really don’t know. It seems that the dialogue is more reliant on clichés than is strictly necessary. The metaphors are not subtle. I don’t think Kristen Ritter gave a good performance, but many other people did, though I’m sure at least some of them made the Comics Vine mistake of liking the character and believing the actor gave a good performance. Figure what I consider its failings are 30% things that could be improved and 70% things I just don't like.
How would I fix it?
Fix the dialogue: Get a script doctor to tighten up the writing and get rid of the clichés.
Smarter writing: Kilgrave just gets dumber as the series progresses. A smarter adversary is much scarier, so write him as someone who has been using these powers for years, and knows how to get the most out of them.
Tone down the allegory: I sense this is a feature, not a bug for the creators of the program, but not everything needs to serve the metaphor.
Chuck the childhood sympathy arc: We know better by they time they get around to this. It doesn’t work in the aftermath of the first episode, and that episode is too good to lose.
Fixing Jessica: You can call her an anti-hero, a Byronic hero or what-have-you, but she’s an asshole. People want to be able to cheer for the assholes. You need look no further than Donald Trump for proof. A lot of people like seeing someone who is rude being subjected to some sort of disproportionate revenge, but I don’t dig that. If Jessica rips off the arms of the guy who cut you off in traffic, he’s the underdog there, and my sympathy switches to him.
I said at the beginning of the post that I didn’t find Jessica interesting or sympathetic. I could cheer for her if she were likable and boring, and I could cheer for her if she were unlikable but interesting. Obviously, you want to go with the latter, here. I think that means replacing Ritter with a better actor.
Make the morality less centered on Jessica: Give us characters who have legitimate disagreement on substantive grounds, not straw men. Give us good people who don’t like Jessica.
Finally, let Jessica own her mistakes: Have someone point out that her dad would still be alive if Hope’s freedom hadn’t meant more to Jessica.She went down like a punk when the therapy group stormed her place, and I knew exactly why. The writers had to once again contrive to a scenario where Jessica was not to blame for Kilgrave’s escape. Let’s see her alcoholism played for something other than laughs. Let her mess up, and deal with the consequences for once.