Jessica Jones is the next Netflix Marvel series. Her comic was called Alias, as is her small PI firm. Playing on the word Alias, each episode title starts with AKA, as in Also Known As, a term sometimes used for alias. I’m generally not wild about cute naming conventions for show titles. I get what they did here, but I’m not sure I see the need for the name trick.
There are a lot of ways you can go with superhero stories. That’s something Marvel is embracing with their projects. Winter Soldier was a thriller/espionage movie. Ant-Man was action-comedy. Avengers was a big action smash. Jessica Jones is sort of superhero noir project.
The first episode is called “AKA Ladies Night.” True to the noir ideal, Jessica frequently does a voice over, usually cynical and sarcastic. In this first segment, she muses that for the city that never sleeps, New York sure sleeps around, but that’s good for business. She talks about different clients’ reactions to learning that their fears about cheating are true. This is laid over her tossing someone through her office door, also something that fit the noir idea really well.
Jessica goes to see Jeri Hogarth, a lawyer who is clearly doing well for herself. Jessica does some work for her, although interestingly she turned down a job as the office full time investigator. Jessica is a very independent woman, we see pretty clearly early on. After some bickering, Jeri gives her one case- process serving to a club owner who has a lot of hired muscle.
In a few scenes, through good writing, acting, and cinematography, they quickly establish several things about Jessica. She’s very good at her job, she’s very isolated, and her personal life is a mess. She lives in a ratty New York apartment that is also her office. And she’s clearly under some serious stress, which she is not particularly successfully treating with alcohol.
She also has a softer side, somewhat against her will. When she hears noises in her apartment, she investigates, and finds out that Malcolm, her neighbor, is high out of his mind and thinks he’s in his own apartment. Rather than threaten him, which is in character so far, or beat on him, she helps him to his own place. She comes back down the hall to her own place after dropping him off, the door still broken, presumably from the incident we saw near the beginning.
In classic PI style, a case comes to her by way of a couple visiting her office. The Shlottmans are a nice couple from Omaha who are worried about their daughter, Hope. Hope came to New York to go to college, but has disappeared. As the mother and Jessica discuss Hope, the father fiddles with Jessica’s door. It’s sort of endearing- he’s worried about her having a broken door in New York. Jessica is a bit suspicious, but that’s her default setting, and she takes their case. After researching them online, she learns that he’s a general contractor, she’s an accountant, and the missing Hope is a track and field star.
Jessica follows up on a few leads, and demonstrates her people skills, or lack thereof, with Hope’s former roommate. The roommate says Jessica is worried over nothing, Hope got involved with a new boyfriend. Jess is not particularly polite, but gets some more information before working on her other case.
The process serving is a nice mix of tough guy (gal in this case) PI with superhuman powers. Jessica lifts the back of the man’s car off the ground to get his attention before going through the service. She bluffs about having laser eyes, which was amusing. Jeri isn’t thrilled with her methods, but doesn’t argue the results.
Later, Jessica goes to where she was taking pictures at the beginning of the episode, and ends up flirting with the bartender. The barkeep is Luke Cage, a long time Marvel character and star of the next Netflix series to be released. They even debate what flirting is. She impresses him with a few deductions and he is interested in her being a PI. All this leads to the first real sex scene in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The sex is handled well, and while there’s no doubt what’s going on, there’s limited to no nudity. I guess Netflix doesn’t follow the HBO model for these scenes. Afterward, she succumbs to temptation and snoops in his medicine cabinet. What she finds is a picture that’s going to have a lot of nasty ramifications later. Who keeps a picture in their medicine cabinet is another question. Jessica is spooked enough that she leaves.
While looking for the missing Hope (now that’s an apt phrase for Jessica’s life), Jessica makes a series of discoveries that unnerve her a lot. We slowly get the idea this is tied into whatever happened to her to give her the flashbacks we’ve been subtly seeing throughout the episode. Jess is rattled enough that she turns to an old friend she’s been somewhat avoiding throughout the episode- Trish Walker. In the comics, she’s Patsy Walker, better known as the superhero and former Avenger Hellcat.
Trish and Jessica have a complicated past, and Jessica seems to be almost more haunted by disappointing Trish than by a lot of what she’s been through. They argue a bit, Jessica bitter and withdrawn, Trish concerned and supportive. Finally, Jessica gets money from Trish, which she plans on using to flee the country. Yes, she’s that spooked. Trish is shocked when Jessica tells her, “He’s back,” clearly the man she’s been having images of throughout the show.
Jessica finally manages to find Hope, against her better judgement. Hope doesn’t want to be rescued, having fallen victim to Kilgrave, who we get a lot of hints about in this scene. Jessica fights through some bad flashbacks to get Hope out of the hotel suite she finds her in, and reunite her with her parents. This should be a happy ending. The ending is a major shocker I won’t go into here because of spoilers, but it shows how depraved Kilgrave is. This is really a dark show, darker and grimmer than Daredevil in my opinion.
What I liked: This is dark but wonderfully written, acted, and shot. Krysten Ritter does a great job of playing Jessica as powerful and strong but haunted and scared all at once. Mike Colter is also great as Luke Cage. This show does a great job of illustrating that superpowers do not make your life all shiny and perfect.
What I didn’t: Not much, really. We need to let the story develop to get a better idea who Kilgrave, Luke, and Trish are. I’m not quite sure why Jeri Hogarth got a sex change for the show, since the original character is male and nothing here really screamed “This needs to be a female character” to me.
I’ll give this episode a high 4 out of 5. It’s a great start to a complex hero story.