The only differences seemed superficial. Kalinda is a woman of color. Jessica is white. Kalinda dresses better and uses her sex appeal more. Jessica doesn’t care much about her looks. Jessica’s lawyer friend doesn’t look like Julianna Marguiles. Jessica’s lawyer friend actually looks like Robin Wright from House of Cards. What also helps the comparisons between Jessica and Kalinda is the presence of Mike Colter in this series and The Good Wife.
Krysten Ritter stars as Jessica Jones. Her practice involves taking photographs of cheating spouses or finding dirt on people. She’s generally a loner who prefers to freelance and have no ties. She’s mainly a voyeur with a drinking problem. She’s not an alcoholic, but she likes to drink herself to sleep. Toward the end of the first episode, she reveals herself to have super strength. She also has the ability to jump great distances with great agility. It’s not revealed early, but she also has fast healing.
If you don’t know who Jessica Jones is, she’s a character in Marvel Comics who is relatively new. She first appeared in a series of comic books called Alias back in 2001, which were created by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos. Her origin is connected to Spider-Man and Daredevil, and eventually she became a member of the Avengers.
It’s odd that this series comes in the wake of CBS’ Supergirl because Bendis and Gaydos gave Jessica similar powers to Supergirl. Yet, Melissa Rosenberg adapted Bendis and Gaydos’ comics into this new property and perhaps in an attempt to distance this from that CBS show, Rosenberg diminished Jessica’s power, so in this version Jessica stays pretty grounded. She doesn’t fly and only jokes about having laser vision.
Carrie Anne Moss (The Matrix) co-stars as Jeri Hogarth, the high-powered lawyer at the big Manhattan firm. She has short, dark hair. She’s prim and proper, very stuck-up and arrogant. She can seem cold and aloof, but she is in love. Her problem is that the person she loves isn’t the person to whom she’s married. Jeri is married to a doctor named Wendy, played by Robin Weigert. Yet, Jeri is having an affair with her secretary Pam, played by Susie Abromeit. Jeri wants a divorce from Wendy but Wendy is not making it easy.
Rachel Taylor (pictured above) also co-stars as Patricia Walker or “Trish,” a talk-show host on a radio program. She’s a former child star who was an actor in a hit TV show. Her mother exploited her and now she resents her fame. It’s later learned that she’s Jessica’s adoptive sister who has known about Jessica’s powers and in various ways envied Jessica’s ability to fight.
Even though Rosenberg does what she can to distance this show from Supergirl, it is revealed that Jessica, like Supergirl, is an orphan who gets adopted by Trish’s family. Trish’s family does have its problems, but Trish encourages Jessica to be better than them and become a super-hero. This is all in flashback. Jessica did become a super-hero, but she gave it up by the time this series begins.
David Tennant (Doctor Who and Broadchurch) co-stars as Kilgrave, a man who has super powers too. Kilgrave’s power is that he can make people do whatever he tells them. If he’s physically close to you, whatever he commands of you, you must and you will do no matter what. He’s obsessed with Jessica, supposedly in love with her, and he wants her to be his slave, not just to utilize her super powers but he wants her as his companion, sexually and otherwise. This does paint Kilgrave as a rapist.
Mike Colter (Ringer and The Good Wife) guest stars as Luke Cage, a black man who also has super powers. He like Kilgrave and Jessica wasn’t born with super powers. He acquired them later in life, possibly when he was adult, whereas Jessica acquired her powers as a teenager. Luke only hints at how he got his powers as being a government or science experiment gone wrong. Somehow, he got away from that and is now running a bar in Hell’s Kitchen in lower Manhattan.
Eka Darville (Spartacus: Blood and Sand and Empire) plays Malcolm Ducasse, a next-door neighbor to Jessica in her apartment building. He becomes a second sidekick to Jessica after Trish. He’s actually more like Jessica’s Claire Temple. Claire Temple is the nurse in Netflix’s Daredevil, played by Rosario Dawson. Malcolm isn’t a nurse. He more had an interest in being a social worker, but that plan got derailed when he accidentally became a drug addict. Jessica helps him to recover and in return he helps her with the private-eye cases.
Erin Moriarty (Red Widow and True Detective) plays Hope Shlottman, a young track-and-field athlete who becomes the central private-eye case in this first season. She goes missing and her parents hire Jessica to find Hope. Jessica realizes that Kilgrave has taken Hope and is using her to lure Jessica back.
Along the way, Kilgrave manipulates and makes slaves out of so many people in Manhattan, forcing them to do horrible things up to and including murder. It’s all to get Jessica back. What drives the narrative is Jessica deciding that she can’t kill Kilgrave. She has to absolve all the people who have done horrible things because of him.
The problem is this premise doesn’t work. Jessica goes to Jeri to argue the legalities. Jeri tells Jessica that proving all those people who committed crimes for Kilgrave were acting under his mind control will be difficult. What undermines this premise is the show taking place in what’s commonly known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or the MCU.
As of 2015, there are 12 films in the MCU and the one that’s referenced here is the sixth film, The Avengers (2012). At the end of that film, there is a climactic battle in Manhattan where an alien invasion destroys much of the city. Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Hawk Eye and Black Widow fight those aliens to save the city and ultimately the world.
After all that happening in New York, the idea that mind control would be a hard thing to prove, the implication being no one would believe it in a court of law, is rather incredulous. It’s especially ridiculous because the villain in The Avengers was Loki who also had the ability of mind control.
It’s also more incredulous because not all of Kilgrave’s victims are killed. Plenty of them are still alive and could identity and put their testimony on tape to prove what Kilgrave did. Jessica even finds all these victims and confirms their testimonies. The problem with Rosenberg’s writing is not making that connection or bridging that gap.
There is another series that’s connected to the MCU. It’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on ABC. The role of the characters in that ABC show is to find people with super powers and possibly contain them. Trish does mistakenly speak out about Kilgrave on her radio program. This in reality would have alerted S.H.I.E.L.D., but that doesn’t happen and it’s another fail linking this series to the MCU.
Linking to the MCU does help to fuel Episode 4, but it undermines all the other episodes. In Episode 4, the show does introduce a character named Will Simpson, played by Wil Traval. The show wastes time with him, clearly building him up for what will be the series’ next villain.
I love Colter (pictured with Ritter above), but his performance in certain moments weren’t working for me, particularly in Episode 6. Luke Cage has this whole back story involving his dead wife, Reva Connors. It all comes to a head in Episode 6 and Colter has to get really emotional next to a city bus in a way that’s bigger than usual, and I just didn’t buy it. The writing of the scene, particularly the dialogue by Edward Ricourt, didn’t help matters either.
Absent all that, the writing and also cinematography are generally quite good. It’s very much of the look and tone of Netflix’s Daredevil, meaning it’s dark and quite violent. Daredevil prides itself on its martial arts and fisticuffs. This show instead prides itself on its growing sense of cruelty and gore, all at the hands of Kilgrave. From Episode 7 all the way to Episode 13, the bloodshed just increases in amount and intensity.
Some commentators have said that Kilgrave is currently the best villain in the MCU. At least, he’s the best villain since Loki, which again is a character who can do mind control. He’s probably considered the best because Tennant’s performance works so well and because this series really does explore his character with so much depth, and explores his power with equal depth.
Three Stars out of Five.
Running Time: 1 hr. / 13 eps.
Available on Netflix Watch Instant.