Over the next couple of weeks we'll be posting reviews for each episode of Marvel's Jessica Jones. Please be warned that these reviews will contain major spoilers for each episode so beware if you haven't seen it yet.
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Marvel's Jessica Jones
Episode 1: A.K.A. Ladies Night
There’s a room at the end of a corridor in a New York hotel. That room that might be occupied by one of the most depraved villains in the Marvel Universe. And a previous victim of his is about to walk into what she knows is a potential trap that could plunge her right back into the nightmare she escaped over a year ago.
Meet Jessica Jones, private investigator. She’s a downbeat, cynical, drunken, plain talking and pretty unlikeable investigator, it has to be said, but she pulls in just enough work to get by and to keep herself in cheap whiskey. The bulk of her cases focus on the sleazy and the dishonest, the adulterers and petty criminals, quite apt for the neighbourhood in which she’s based. Her shabby apartment doubles as her office, surrounded as it is by less-than-desirable neighbours: the rowing couple upstairs and junkie Malcolm next door. Jessica likes her own space. “You use sarcasm to distance people!” Malcolm accuses, and he’s right. She’s not what you might call a people person.
AKA Ladies Night is a powerful and magnetic opener for what promises to be a very different superhero series, one that presents more like a 30’s noir thriller, in fact. Melissa Rosenberg has created a set of strong female characters in what is traditionally a very male genre, while the show seems to nestle happily in the MCU, reaching subtly back to the cinematic adventures and more obviously forward to future Defenders series. Though not strictly following events of the source comics series Alias, there’s enough references to anchor the character of Jessica to Brian Michael Bendis’ vision – the series opens with a scene straight from the pages of Issue #1 while Jessica’s brittle and sceptical nature survive intact.
From the start the drama presents as yet another case-of-the-week detective drama with an interesting and quite enigmatic female lead. But it’s a long way from being anything of the sort and there’s more to Jessica Jones than meets the eye. Every now and then we’re reminded with a jolt that we’re in the Marvel Universe, a world populated by people with ‘gifts’. Jessica can leap several stories up to a window ledge and lift a moving car from the road. But why hide her superpowers away rather than go all in with the more famous, showy heroes: Iron Man, the Cap, the Hulk, et al. who are doubtless saving the world just a few blocks away? Perhaps the answer lies in her darker side, particularly those flashbacks to a menacing, whispering figure whose memory leaves her reeling and shaking and chanting her calming mantra of “Birch Street…Higgins Drive…Cobalt Lane…” Whatever happened in Jessica’s past utterly destroyed her, and nothing could be more unimaginable than facing that tormentor again.
First episodes need to establish key characters and this one is no exception. There’s Jeri Hogarth, a powerful hard-nosed lawyer who is also notable as Marvel’s first openly gay character and who’s cheating on her wife with her secretary. She’s happy to put cases Jessica’s way, as long as she benefits from the outcome; however, she’s less comfortable with extending help to others. Jessica also has history with top radio talk show host Trish Walker. Their relationship is fractious, but Trish is still concerned enough to want to protect Jessica when she learns that her tormentor may be back. Then there’s Hope Schlottman, the student whose disappearance is the catalyst for the horror that is about to unfold.
A key introduction is Luke Cage, like Jessica a future member of the Defenders, though at this point there’s no inkling that he is anything else than another surveillance subject for Jessica. Luke is as intrigued with Jessica as she is with him and their late night bar session leads to…well, let’s just say it’s quickly obvious why this series can’t be classed as another kid-friendly Marvel blockbuster! Jessica’s not proud of herself after her involvement with Luke, but she’s even more horrified after her discovery of a photo in his bathroom cabinet, one that leaves her staggering from his apartment and vomiting on the sidewalk. Luke is at the moment an enigma; for his own origin story viewers may have to wait till his own series airs in 2016.
David Tennant’s character Kilgrave barely features in this episode, appearing only in a few momentary flashbacks. However his presence is stamped all over this introduction to the world of Jessica Jones and long before the end of the episode it’s apparent that he is the reason that she is what she is now and that his return would be the worst possible thing that could ever happen to her. Therefore it’s with a mounting sense of horror that Jessica follows the clues leading her to the missing student only to realise that she is being drawn inexorably back to Kilgrave, a man whom she believed dead. From the moment that Hope’s parents show up in her office, Kilgrave has control of the situation and, without even appearing in person, he plays the pawns in his game to a devastating conclusion. As the lift doors close with a glimpse of the still-controlled Hope pulling a gun on her doting parents, they also close on any semblance of normality and security that Jessica may have clawed back into her life after her first encounter with Kilgrave. The brutal, horrific event that ensues leaves her no option but to confront her fears.