McDonald’s…is what was on my mind.
I wasn’t craving a burger from there, or any food, actually. It’s just that those commercials they used to have for the Arch Deluxe burger suddenly popped in my head around 10:30 last Friday morning. For those who do and do not remember, McDonald’s began a very expensive campaign circa 1995-1996 promoting a new item on their burger menu. The Arch Deluxe was the name of this new burger. The TV commercials touted the debut date of the Arch Deluxe as the day “McDonald’s grows up”. With adults as its target audience, it ultimately flopped and produced more wood than Groot and Ron Jeremy combined. Perhaps the world just wasn’t ready for the Arch Deluxe. Perhaps the timing was wrong.
Yes, those now-vintage Arch Deluxe commercials were on my mind at 10:30 in the morning. The same time in which I was in the middle of the third episode of the first season of “Marvel’s Jessica Jones”. If you consider “Marvel’s Daredevil” to be the mature-themed Big Mac, then “Jessica Jones” is the adult-oriented Arch Deluxe that actually succeeds with its target audience (and then some) where its defunct edible counterpart failed miserably. This is, by far, the most pitch-black, explicit, cynical, much-needed slice of pie that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has offered thus far. Spending two days viewing the 13-episode season made me reassess the MCU’s potential and praise it for embracing that potential.
PLOT: Taking place in New York City post-2012’s “Marvel’s Avengers”, Jessica Jones is an established private investigator who works from out of her own run-down apartment. Her business is “Alias Investigations”, a nod to the character’s first appearance within the comics. Portrayed by Krysten Ritter, Jessica has a cynical wit and a perpetual facial scowl that screams, “Dude, I don’t have time for your $#!&”. By her own admission, she’s rude to everyone she meets. A fact that’s compounded by her painful past and the fact that she has superhuman powers. She has superhuman strength, resistance to injury to a degree, and limited flight.
She’s a hard-drinking, super-powered sleuth who avoids getting too close to men and is more comfortable with purely sexual relationships. She engages in such a relationship after meeting bartending ex-con Luke Cage (portrayed by Mike Colter) at a nearby watering hole. During which she discovers that Luke is also superhumanly powered, with super-strength and “steel-hard skin”. She eventually develops feelings for Luke and learns of a past connection to him. While they continue their sexual romp, the purple-suited antagonist known as Kilgrave (portrayed by Scottish actor, David Tennant) exploits his own superhuman ability in hilarious, but utterly despicable and sadistic ways. He’s a mind-controller, able to verbally override willpower so that anyone in his presence does whatever he commands of them. But he has to be careful with his choice of words. He once noted that he figuratively told a man to “screw himself” and that man literally lodged a screw into his own head.
His latest victim, college student Hope Shlottman (played by Erin Moriarty), is what sets off the plot. Her disappearance prompts her parents to hire Jessica to locate her and bring her to safety. Jessica finds her, and mission accomplished, right? Ahhh…not so fast. What happens next is quite the shocker and took place in the first episode to boot. The thread in Hope’s disappearance and what lead her parents to Jessica is Kilgrave himself, who most certainly has an ax-to-grind with Ms. Jones as you’ll see in later episodes.
Rounding out the rest of the cast, Carrie-Anne Moss plays Jeri Hogarth, a powerful attorney who works as both an ally and frequent employer of Jessica. Clarke Peters gets all “Lester Freamon” and plays NYPD detective Oscar Clemons investigating anything relating to Kilgrave. Despite Jessica’s pessimistic gray worldview, she does have at least one person she calls her best friend. That friend is radio host Trish Walker (played by Rachael Taylor), a former child star with an abusive parent who took in Jessica during childhood. Australian actor Wil Traval plays Will Simpson, an NYPD sergeant with a deranged Americana outlook and a black-&-white morality that contrasts starkly with Jessica’s gray outlook. Lastly, Eka Darville plays Jessica’s drug-addicted neighbor Malcolm.
MY TAKE: With “Jessica Jones”, Marvel has succeeded in pulling something off that neither they nor the film studios to whom they lease their characters haven’t been able to do until now: Having a female character in the starring role and making it work. Some may have been expecting the Black Widow to be the first to have her own feature film, some might have been expecting the Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel film to follow. No, it had to start with Jessica Jones. She’s good at heart, but she’s not a nice person. She’s crass, cynical, stubborn, but deep down wants to believe that there’s a hero in her. She’s not an all-American girl, she’s not the hero you deserve. But she’s also not the hero that you’d expect either. She wants to do something better, but by the end she’s understandably reticent in regards to the responsibilities that come with the role of a hero. Though, to be honest, it’s pretty obvious from the jump that Jessica Jones is a hero. Her name has the classic alliteration to it.
They don’t reveal exactly how she received her powers, but they indicate that it may something to do with the IGH corporation. That same company paid for her hospital bills after her parents and is similarly sounding to MGH, which in the comic book stands for “Mutant Growth Hormone”. But considering that Marvel Studios can’t include the word “mutant” in any of its live-action programming, the “I” in “IGH” must stand for “Inhuman”.
Ritter’s Jessica Jones has a witty rejoinder for nearly any comment and isn’t shy about speaking her mind. When she first meets Luke Cage, she frequently lets him know that she’s not flirting, but then it cuts to a sex scene of her riding him vigorously. Speaking of which, we heard for months that this series would include explicit sex. While no female nudity is shown, the scenes themselves speak volumes almost mostly because of their mere presence in this genre. After learning that they both have powers, the sex becomes more intense with Luke and Jessica. They tear apart the bedroom and there’s even a scene where Jessica uses a buzzsaw on Luke’s stomach to test the limits of skin’s durability. Jessica’s not the only character having sex on-screen. Trish Walker is later shown avoiding a phone call from Jessica because she has her beau performing oral sex on her (albeit from under the covers).
The fact that they were this explicit sets a milestone for Marvel: With these scenes, they answered the age-old question of “What happens when super-powered people have sex?”. Sex is used as a motivation for the other characters as well. Moss’ Jeri Hogarth is a married lesbian engaged in an affair with her younger and more attractive paralegal. Hogarth is cold, rational and enjoys having power. Despite her shortcomings in her personal life, she does seem to have a conscience in her protectiveness of Jessica.
The narrative has a film-noir influence and it gives flashbacks in little increments that don’t tell the full story, but score points with me for the accuracy of its anachronisms. For example, the flashbacks show a teenage Jessica in her room with posters of Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, indicating that it’s somewhere in the early 1990’s. Also, David Tennant’s Kilgrave was a bastard of the worst kind. When an actor portrays a despicable character to the point that I myself despise the character, that’s how you know an actor’s done his/her job. His atrocious actions by mid-season left me with such distaste that by the time we arrived at Kilgrave’s childhood flashbacks, not even that elicited any sympathy from me for the character. Mind control is a running thread through the MCU, and with “Marvel’s Jessica Jones” they dove head-first into just how bad it can get. Kilgrave uses his powers to manipulate whomever he pleases because people are just objects for his amusement. Like a typical villain, he uses his troubled childhood as a reason for his actions. But that’s a typical Freudian excuse.
What’s frightening about his power is that he could potentially control every person on Earth all at once. His power did seem to fade with time (not including any post-hypnotic suggestions), but wasn’t affected by distance or overreaching. It takes no effort at all for Kilgrave to control dozens of people completely and simultaneously, even without focusing on them independently. But more than that is how he uses his power. If you even slightly annoy him, he’ll tell you to go stand outside on a street corner forever (with no will of your own to break that command either). Hogarth considers the literal wealth of possibilities of having that kind of power when it comes to jury selection, and foolishly attempts to contain it for herself. Jessica, because of her own past experience with Kilgrave, believes that no good whatsoever can come from such a power.
Here’s some easter eggs/allusions I caught:
1.) Audrey Eastman, who hires Jessica to catch her cheating husband in the act, is played by Jessica Hecht. Like Krysten Ritter, Ms. Hecht also had a recurring role on AMC’s “Breaking Bad”.
2.) Trish Walker shares an almost identical name to Tricia Walker, the character appeared in the first two seasons of “House of Cards”, which is also a Netflix program.
3.) Will Simpson is an adaptation of Frank Simpson, better known as Nuke. Nuke’s a psychotic patriot with the American flag tattooed on his face. His first appearance was in an issue of “Daredevil”.
4.) Jewel costume. Yes, this is what Jessica Jones wore in the book when she was a costumed hero.
5.) They make an allusion to Kilgrave’s daughter, Kara Kilgrave, known as the Purple Girl in the comics. Of course, she was conceived when Kilgrave wanted some nookie and commanded a woman to have sex with him. His illegitimate daughter inherited his power, but put it to better use.
6.) Hammond Research Lab was mentioned later in the season. That was the place where Robbie Baldwin gained his powers as Speedball. To boost my own ego, I’m hoping someone at Marvel read this.
7.) Rosario Dawson reprises her role from “Marvel’s Daredevil” as Claire Temple, the Night Nurse. Odds are, she’ll be appearing in every Marvel series airing on Netflix.
8.) A Detective del Toro is mentioned as the person who referred clients to Jessica Jones. This is a reference to Angela de Toro, known as the White Tiger. This character was created by Brian Michael Bendis and also made her first appearance in an issue of “Daredevil”.
9.) In the book, Jeri Hogarth is actually a man (names Jeryn Hogarth) and works as the in-house attorney for the Rand family. Danny Rand, who inherited his family’s fortune, became Iron Fist and teams with Luke Cage to become the duo known as “Heroes for Hire”. Hogarth later became their attorney as well.
10.) Luke Cage does indeed say his famous catchphrase, “Sweet Christmas!”, but you’ll be surprised about the context in which it’s used.
Initially, I was pretty mixed about the casting. When I first saw Krysten Ritter as the title character, I thought she looked too young. She looked like an emo Guitar Hero gothic teen. My alternative choice would’ve been Sarah Wayne Callies. But the first episode quickly changed my mind. I can’t quite see the character making the transition to the big-screen for a feature film, but crossing over into other Marvel programming on Netflix is certainly feasible. She’ll most certainly be around for “Marvel’s Iron Fist” or “Marvel’s Luke Cage”. Speaking of which, I was worried they’d never find a good Luke Cage. For years, I envisioned only two actors playing him in his two most famous incarnations: Michael Jai White as the 1970’s Power Man and Terry Crews as the present-day Cage.
Mike Colter fits the bill and seems to have chemistry with Ritter in their roles. Their interaction on-screen is very close in capturing their identical dynamic within the book, in which they have a daughter together. Colter’s Cage even humorously makes light of the fact that they just had interracial sex. The fight scene between them was fun to watch. As were all of the fight scenes, actually. Even Trish Walker had a fight scene, giving us a potential glimpse at her as Hellcat.
Some may view “Marvel’s Jessica Jones” as too dark, too adult. Well, that’s the real world for you. While a good chunk of the super-hero genre’s popularity is due its escapist aspect, what makes Marvel’s on-screen characters work is how grounded they are in reality. They’re adults who have real world problems that their powers and skills can’t solve. Tony Stark and Jessica Jones are alcoholics; Matt Murdock is a blind lawyer seeking blind justice; Bruce Banner never properly dealt with his abusive childhood. Jessica Jones succeeds because it’s a about a woman with clear potential, squanders it, gets thrown into the role of responsibility, but remains skeptical of it.