When Avatar was in production, the media gushed over its legendary special effects budget. Released to much fanfare, the reviews praised it, marveling at the phantasmagoric CGI of the planet Pandora and the blue-skinned Na’vi. So intense was the spectacle that some claimed depression that the film wasn’t real. The general consensus was that Avatar was amazing, so amazing that it kick-started Sam Worthington’s short-lived career starring in forgettable films like Clash of the Titans and Terminator: Salvation. As a viewer entirely unimpressed with the sparkly cinematography of Avatar, the thought of manufactured consensus occurred to me. Was the population truly enamored with a rehashed Dances with Wolves story with more invested in its post-production, or were they merely parroting the opinions of various media outlets?
Now comes A.K.A. Jessica Jones, the newest of Marvel’s Netflix series. The fawning reviews are here. Jessica Jones has “a top-notch cast, solid writing and great use of its New York location to invoke both classic noir and ’70s cinema,” claims Indiewire. Moreover, it’s “a show that shouts about the importance of power and consent.” NPR describes it as “powerful Netflix series” that “feels like an expression of female-centered empowerment.” CNN opines that Jessica Jones is a “superhero show for adults.” The Verge trumpets the series as finally revealing “the complex (super) heroine we’ve been waiting for” while “exploring how women can be powerful, multi-faceted masters of their fate.”
After viewing six episodes of Jessica Jones, I wonder if these people are paid to promote the show, if they’re parroting what they’ve been told about the show, or if they simply have terrible taste. I suspect it’s a scoop of all three, as Jessica Jones is a plodding mediocrity six episodes in. The titular character is unlikable, not complex; she’s a self-centered trainwreck who stumbles through life with a bottle in one hand. Her relationships are either strained or one-night stands. While reviewers have praised her as a “strong female character,” she’s actually a self-destructive lout. She’s not a good character; she is, as she at one point drunkenly laments, “a piece of shit.” There is a stark difference between being a developed character with agency and a snarky asshole, and Jessica Jones is most certainly the latter–though this seems to confuse the majority of reviewers.
Comparisons with Daredevil come naturally. Whereas Daredevil was an action-packed series of interesting characters and a plot that twisted and turned steadily toward Matt Murdock’s inevitable confrontation with Kingpin, the plot of Jessica Jones meanders and dallies to stagnation. The plots are convoluted and silly, which doesn’t surprise me considering Dexter‘s Melissa Rosenberg has a hand in it. Instead of being proactive and handling her affairs with her super strength, flight, and her P.I. skills, Jessica Jones opts to drink and toss out Millennial snarkbombs. This sluggish pace is likely because the show takes a single plot involving the Purple Man and stretches it out to be an entire season. Worse still, side characters add little except padded screen time, from the junkie neighbor to the lesbian trio and their love triangle of divorce dramatics. This lethargic pace is not the mark of a complex or deep series; it is the mark of mediocre writing, the kind that has the 30-year-old female protagonist toss out the phrase “bag of dicks” like she’s a 14-year-old boy trash-talking in Call of Duty..
As a specific example of this nonsense, allow me to explain how Jessica Jones plans to deal with her primary protagonist, a mind-controlling madman named Kilgrave. Instead of simply sneaking up behind him and clubbing him over the head (or, better yet, buying a gun and shooting him), Jessica Jones learns that Kilgrave once refused general anesthesia during surgery, opting for an epidural. She reasons that this will render his powers ineffective. Once this is established, the show s-l-o-w-l-y moves toward Jones stealing sufentanil from a hospital, requisitioning a dart gun from her sort-of best friend’s ex-military boyfriend, and drugging Kilgrave. Spoilers: the plot takes two steps forward and one step back as Jessica Jones, a woman with super strength and the ability to fly, is handily defeated by a group of hired thugs with tasers.
For what nerds are lauding as a strong female character, Jessica Jones seems anything but. She’s an unambitious loser who holds onto her relationships for what they offer her: sex, money, companionship. She’s a mess, as a Netflix series and as a character. It’s a shame Marvel couldn’t pull off another Daredevil, but they decided to put solid writing on the backburner in favor of lazy identity politics that uncritically gush over the “strong female character” trope. The media loves Jessica Jones, but I can’t get behind this mediocre series. Try again, Marvel.
Ryan says: I have some thoughts on this, too.
- The cat-and-mouse game between Jones and Kilgrave should really only have been half of the series series. This is a missed opportunity, as they could have used the other episodes to show us some of her work as a private investigator, instead of making her investigative skills an informed, but unconfirmed ability.
- I don’t know if they had like half the budget of Daredevil, or they just had shoddy editing/directing, but they seem to be doing their damnedest not to make it look like Jones has super strength.
- The portrayal of Kilgrave is a misfire. Kilgrave isn’t Fisk, we’re supposed to just plain hate him. For some inexplicable reason, the showrunner decided to give him a tragic backstory and, at times, made it seem like it isn’t his fault he doesn’t consent. By mid-season, I was rooting for his rehabilitation more than his defeat. We know Tennant can play creepy, so I’m blaming the writers and directors.