I recently completed a bit of an experiment. What if I, someone who has never read a comic book in my life, even when I was a kid, and who is openly hostile to superhero stories, watched a superhero show. How would it stand up? Does it work despite my hostility to the genre? Does the story stand up for those who bring absolutely nothing of the comic book universe to the table.
So I watched Jessica Jones, it part because it was only sort of superhero-y, without the ridiculous costumes. The film-noir aspects seemed intriguing and it seemed like a good entry point.
Last night, I watched the final two episodes. So spoilers ahead and the like if you care about these things.
Basically, I thought it worked OK. The show itself was mostly fine, not great. It gets by on great performances from the three lead actors and a great concept, although I worry where it goes from here. As many others have said, the Kilgrave story is fantastic because it shows not an evil genius or a tortured soul but just a reprobate sexual abusing asshole using his powers to do that. Combine that with David Tennant and it’s one of the most truly evil characters of all time. The scene chewing was significant and enjoyable. Several of the sub-plots worked generally well–the vile lawyer and the relationship between Trish Walker and the mother at the end.
But there were also some problems. Some of them are fairly standard–Jessica’s neighbors are universally horrible and I always cringed when they were on the screen. And while this was a fairly compelling season of television, how do you follow up on that season? The Kilgrave arc seems a lot more fitting for a Season Two. I understand going in this direction–the series wanted to be renewed after all. But since so little of the detective side of the character was revealed in Season One, it went from 0 to 60 in a second. What then is the story next season and how does it match this? I imagine part of it is going to be exploring the revelation of the secret company that had something to do with her superpowers, but that seems pretty banal. So we’ll see. Turning the gore up to 11 as it does at times, especially in the last few episodes, was pretty gratuitous as well, but whatever.
And as an outsider to the story, at times the series makes mistakes by assuming viewers already know these stories. There is the episode fairly early where the people try to kill Jessica because of some alien superhero attack or something that happened before the show started. This makes absolutely no sense if you aren’t familiar with this universe. Moreover, it’s completely unnecessary in the telling of this tale. The show goes nowhere with this history elsewhere. So that was a big misstep. The final episode, where Rosario Dawson shows up out no nowhere to help them, was also more than little too convenience and out of nowhere, but then I come to find out that her character is in some other comic book show and it’s a way to connect them. Well, OK, but just basing on it this show alone, it’s just a random drop-in. Ultimately, a successful adaptation has to properly explain everything to people who are not exposed to the source material. Jessica Jones only succeeds at that sometimes.
And then I wondered, is the superhero schtick really necessary for the show? Not that it’s necessarily any more a ridiculous set up than a western or science fiction show. But one thing I never liked about superheroes was that it seemed like good way to avoid realism, as well as to use really broad plot devices to make commentary about the present without actually engaging the present. So just on a personal level, I wonder if this show really needed the superhero devices. Mostly, the answer is no, although I do get it makes for some cool fight scenes and that has value. Kilgrave’s utter vileness doesn’t have to be expressed explicitly through mind control and Jessica’s powers really aren’t even all that important to the show. No matter though.
Anyway, maybe I’ll experiment with another such show in the future. I might watch Season Two of Jessica Jones, although it may depend on the reviews because I could see this going south real fast without such a compelling storyline to carry it through. It’s certainly no Wire or Mad Men or Breaking Bad or Deadwood–in other words, I don’t see ever rewatching the show.
For now, I am going to continue catching up on The Americans and probably start Justified to replace Jessica Jones. I should watch Season Two of Better Call Saul because I loved Season One and watched the first two episodes of the latest season before I went to Germany, but then fell behind and never bought the season on Amazon (and no, I don’t have a DVR). So I may wait for that to come out on Netflix rather than buying the season. Anyway, I know I’m way behind on my TV and that’s why I am finally going to start Justified, but it seems like my kind of thing.