Marvel’s Jessica Jones is available to view now on Netflix, and as with Daredevil we’ll be providing (mostly) daily episode-by-episode coverage for those who want to follow it with us. Each instalment of these viewing notes will look at how the show’s plot, characters and story relate to the comic source material, providing background information and pointers for those who want to know more.
Please note that while we might occasionally reveal the way plots developed in the comics, we are trying to be sensitive to any surprises the TV show may have in store. These notes are written immediately after the episode is watched, so any speculation about the way the story may go is purely that!
All we ask is that if you’ve seen future episodes that confirm, contradict or otherwise twist things we talk about in this piece, please respect people who don’t have the luxury of binge-watching and please don’t put spoilers for future episodes anywhere in the comments. You can, however, swap spoilers in our ‘What Did You Think? post. Thanks.
Jessica moves into her old home with Kilgrave, which he has restored into a perfect replica of the time she lived there. He promises not to use his powers on her and hopes that she will fall in love with him of her own accord. Jessica keeps her promise to stay there and briefly tries to reform him. He allows her to leave temporarily, which gives her the chance to get the supplies she needs to drug him and throw him into the cell they originally set up for their abduction attempt earlier in the series.
Hmm. Well, this episode includes almost nothing that I can annotate from the comics (except to say that over there, Kilgrave’s real name is Zebediah Killgrave, not Kevin Thompson) but it has given me a lot to chew over. Particularly the question of why it’s suddenly not working for me like it was.
It’s not that I’m not enjoying bits of it. While any pretence of noir seems to have completely disappeared from the series, I quite enjoyed the nightmarish suburban-hell aesthetic of this episode, not least because you get the impression that Jessica isn’t the sort of person who’d be well-adapted to that sort of life. And certainly the change of pace (this episode took place in the day! With the sun out!) wasn’t at all unwelcome.
But at the same time, I feel like I’m watching a different show to a few episodes ago. Luke’s somewhat vague disappearance has untethered one of Jessica’s major narrative strands, but I’m not convinced it’s been replaced by anything as strong. It seems like Kilgrave is being brought into the main cast as a replacement, but that’s creating its own troubles for me.
In particular, spending so much time with Kilgrave has convinced me that David Tennant’s performance is actively defusing the tension it should be building. Leaving aside the fact that he’s playing the character almost identically to The Doctor, Kilgrave is the only person in the cast who’s cracking a smile or enjoying himself. All that means when I’m watching this episode, I’m going “This Kilgrave is a monster,” but I’m also going “This guy is hilarious.” That’s fine when your villain is Loki, largely because his strength is that you empathise with him to an extent. But Kilgrave is an unrepentant psychopath. I don’t know if I should feel good about how much fun he is when he’s on screen.
Left to consider explanations for this, none of the ones I can come up with really add up to good things. One is that it’s just Tennant’s natural charisma coming through in his performance, in which case he was probably the wrong choice for the role. The other is that he’s deliberately allowed to be funnier than everyone else, in which case I think they’ve made a mis-step. Kilgrave is demonstrably a psychopath, and while the charming, controlling psychopath is an archetype, it’s not one that I can reason would apply to Kilgrave. He’s never had to learn to use charm to control others. He doesn’t have to pretend to be your friend to get what he wants because he can get it instantly.
In fairness, the portrait of Kilgrave as an obsessive fixated on Jessica is genuinely unsettling, especially since he painstakingly re-created her house for no particular reason other than to try and exercise some control over her. It’s also welcome that the show took pains to point out that sex under mind control is rape (since I’ve seen people disagree with this in the past) and explain that this is the level of abuse we’re dealing with here. So it’s not like he’s completely devoid of negative qualities. It’s just that it’s very hard to separate the horrible things we’re told he does from the quite amusing things he does do.
For me, the only time Kilgrave hit the right mark between powerful, dangerous and destructive was the scene with Jessica’s neighbour, where some part of you got the impression that Jessica was, on some level, enjoying what he was doing. There, you could see the balance between the horror of what he does to people and the destructive joy he gets out of it. They didn’t linger on it too long, and that moment really landed as a result.
I think it’s fair to say that, after all that inconclusive rambling, that I find Kilgrave a compelling and interesting villain. I’m just not sure if it’s for the right reasons. Maybe that’s the point.
As for the rest of it… I enjoyed the look at Jessica’s origin (basically comics-accurate, but there’s probably more to come so I’ll hold off on it for now) and seeing Kilgrave’s childhood experimentation was interesting more for the fact that he was letting Jessica see him being weak than anything else. In the comics he’s a Croatian doctor-turned-spy who got his powers after being doused with chemicals. It’s safe to say they’ve taken the character in a different direction on TV.
I’m still not really sure what Simpson is doing in the cast of this show, though. I can’t believe it’s to entirely give Trish something to do, because by this point he’s off on his own. So far his role is to put Jessica in the difficult moral and emotional position of defending her abuser from someone who wants to kill him, so maybe there’s a thematic exercise going on there – but at the same time, she doesn’t actually want to defend Kilgrave, she just wants to keep him alive long enough to get Hope out of jail. If Simpson dies as a result of this explosion, maybe that’ll give Trish something to motivate her further (and that’d be an interesting reversal – the death of a man being used to motivate a woman into action) but beyond that he just seems to be… around.
Oh, that last moment, though? We’re back to the comics, where Jessica CAN fly. She’s just not very good at it.