When MARVEL said they were making a Jessica Jones series the first thing that goes through your mind is… who? Oh she’s Luke Cage’s wife… not to be sexist about it, just honest. Despite the success of the character’s solo miniseries she’s not what can be considered as a consequential character compared to the rest of the Netflix division. Against the success of Daredevil the expectations where important. And the question about what could the series offer under the shadow of its predecessor (and of its source material) was big. From the beginning there’s a tone familiarity to what made DD great. There is a more dramatic and focused scenario for a “superhero” story, as opposed to the flamboyant film entries. Nevertheless, the initial pessimistic reaction to the first chapter was “I hope they don’t focus only on Killgrave”… well they did, and that became the source for most of the series’ issues: monotony. The series is too lineal and doesn’t reach out enough as to fill its potential premises. Topics such as Jessica’s past, the underground world of powered people, Trish’s identity struggles etc. The overall feel of the series suffers and feels frustratingly limited.
Let’s discuss some of the issues deeper.
Character development: besides Jessica, and occasionally Trish, most of the characters in the series are monotonous and merely practical. Even Luke Cage is portrayed in an introductory manner. The supporting cast doesn’t fair any better. Some of them are terribly underdeveloped. The series is so focused on Killgrave that nobody has a chance to turn into anything but plot devices. Unlike DD where even the “bad guys” grow and expand (remember what a great character was Wesley?). Even Jessica herself, when compared to the origin material, lacks the reconciliation aimed by the comics. Killgrave is meaningful to the character; but Jessica’s “trauma” feels unrelated. The symbolism of Killgrave as an “ethical” stain on Jessica’s superhero life, which gives the relevancy to the relationship, does not exist in the series. It is replaced by classic TV drama.
HEROICS: we might as well forget that Jessica Jones is a series about a superhero. The role of this element is so downplayed that becomes nonexistent (besides the door opening). Regularly this would be an OK issue; meaning we don’t need the superhero theatrics in ALL of the MCU’s products. But for Jessica Jones its absence takes away not only the fun “fantasy-ish” action, that I do think is required but, more importantly, one of the attractive characteristics of the character is lost. The contrast between superhero and victim that the comics rely doesn’t have the same impact in the series. The characters, which without the heroics, follow regular drama series tropes. In comparison, Daredevil, even though it wasn’t that fantastic, gave great attention to the development of the character’s alter-ego. Which translated into great action pieces and impactful emotional growth. In the comics, the “harsh” and “broken” personality of Jessica is in fact born out of a reaction to her powers (or the failure to live by them). Whether it be about their source (i.e. her family’s accident and history) or how they are related to her “failure” as a hero; which culminates with her time as Killgrave’s captive. Overall, there were her powers that affected her personality and future.
Everything “down to earth” about the character’s story in the comics has its origins on her brief superhero career. Which made her struggles relatable despite the fantasy. Plus more interesting due their fantastic nature. The nonexistent nature of this “heroic” factor downplays the impact of the series leading character, and from there, of everything else.
Jessica Jones is by no means a bad series. It has high production values and quality; great photography and settings; strong performances by its leads; and, as a regular TV drama, it’s well written. But it fails to becoming something “special” due to its lack of general heroics and fantastic elements. What we’ve come to expect from Netflix are dramas that use the MCU’s setting for making its contents stand out; to use the fact that superheroes/villains are involved as a platform to create situations that could only occur in such a fictional world.