When it debuted earlier this year, Daredevil, the first series in a partnership between Marvel Entertainment and Netflix, was notable in large part for its violence and dark subject matter. Even the most brutal action in The Avengers was nothing compared to the back alley beatdowns of blind lawyer/superhero Matt Murdock, and its villain Kingpin was more tortured than any bad guy you'd find in an Iron Man movie.
Jessica Jones takes things even further, and it's better for it.
This isn't a typical Marvel origin story about a costumed hero that's out to save the world. In fact, the titular heroine isn't interested in being a superhero or even a vigilante, really. By the time we meet Jessica (Breaking Bad's Krysten Ritter) she has already attempted that lifestyle and decided to give it up. We're introduced to Jones as someone who is broken, suffering from PTSD after events that we uncover slowly over the course of several episodes.
Whatever happened to her, we know it was bad. Bad enough to make someone who seems unbreakable more willing to run away than stand and fight when a villain from her past decides to drop back into her life.
She has super strength, yes, but she's more likely to use it to break a lock than a skull, and the series is more noir drama than action flick. Jones is a private investigator, usually tasked with catching cheating spouses in the act. Or, as she puts it, "I stand in dark alleys and wait to catch people boning."
She's like Veronica Mars if Veronica Mars drank a lot and could throw bad guys through a wall.
Things change with the return of Kilgrave (Doctor Who's David Tennant), a man she assumed was dead. Why does he terrify a woman who can lift a car with one hand? Because he can make anybody -- including Jones -- do whatever he wants simply by telling them. If he tells you to give him your car, you will feel an uncontrollable desire to hand over your keys. If he tells you to kill the man next to you, you'll immediately want to grab that man's throat.
When I say Jessica Jones is "darker" than Daredevil, I don't mean the lighting. Heck, more of the action here takes place during the day, and there are fewer fight scenes to bloody up your TV. Instead, the adult content comes in forms like sex and drugs. Sure, there's murder. Yes, there's a constant threat of violence and death (after all, if Kilgrave wants you dead, all he has to do is tell you to kill yourself). But there are much more insidious ways a mind controlling villain can torture his victims.
You can imagine, for instance, where a story that's not afraid of discussing sex will go with a controlling villain who makes a habit of spending time with young, attractive women. What toll could that take on you, both physically and mentally?
Have I mentioned that this is not a series for children?
Tennant plays Kilgrave wonderfully, making you uncomfortable with how utterly creepy one man with too much power can be. Ritter matches him with a performance that gives us one of the more complex and interesting superheroes we've yet seen on screen. Jessica Jones is tough yet vulnerable, selfish yet caring. She has a short temper and looks for the solution to some problems at the bottom of a whiskey bottle. Both her strengths and her flaws make her far more human than Marvel's film characters like Captain America.
Speaking of which, while Jessica Jones takes place in the same universe as The Avengers and its ilk, no knowledge of external movies or shows is needed to enjoy this series. This is clearly a world in which super powered beings are acknowledged -- and often feared -- but aside from an off-handed mention of "the green dude and his crew," you don't need to expect The Hulk to stomp through the city.
The show does, however, introduce Luke Cage, another Marvel character who will soon be getting a Netflix series of his own which, along with Jessica Jones, Daredevil and the upcoming Iron Fist will eventually lead to an Avengers-like team-up show in The Defenders.
Part of what makes Jessica Jones work is that it's less about action and more about mystery. There are plenty of fight scenes, but what keeps you going are the questions about Jessica's past and the challenge of stopping a man who can control your every action. Kilgrave isn't a villain that can be beaten simply by punching him a lot. He needs to be outsmarted, but how do you play chess with someone who can simply order you to make certain moves?
If you're reading this, then all episodes of Jessica Jones are now available on Netflix. Which means I'm probably frantically watching the final episodes that Netflix didn't make available to me (I was only able to watch the first seven of the 13 total episodes), because I'm desperate to see how this story ends. With Jessica Jones, Marvel and Netflix have crafted a world I want to know more about and a heroine I hope we get to spend much more time with in the future.