Thoughts on Writing – Analyzing the “Jessica Jones” TV Show

(Warning: I’ve only watched the first three episodes, and I have tried to avoid major spoilers, but read at your own risk).

Recently, my husband and I started watching Jessica Jones on Netflix. I was introduced to the show while browsing through a CNN article that mentioned that David Tennant (Doctor Who’s tenth doctor) was playing Killgrave, a Marvel villain with mind control powers, and that the main character, Jessica Jones, has a few super powers of her own. Despite the article mentioning that this particular show is considerably darker than the other Marvel shows (and ooo-boy, it is), the super powers sounded interesting, so I tentatively (Or Tennant-ively, if you like puns), decided to give this show a try.

And yes, it is dark.

The main villain of this story is actually evil. Downright despicable, cruel, manipulative, and abusive.

And you know what? As a writer, I’m impressed. I haven’t seen very many shows lately where the villain was actually a pure bad guy. Now, I’ve only seen the first three episodes of Jessica Jones as of writing this post, so maybe Killgrave has a soft side–maybe. And granted, my weekly go-to show has been My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. The bad guys there don’t tend to last long before being converted by the powers of friendship.

Anyway, I generally lean toward villains who have logic behind their actions, who are at least a tad bit sympathetic. They tend to be more interesting, and you want to root for them at least a little… even if the hero is likely to win. (Janice Hardy has a great article on sympathetic villains).

In the first season of Heroes, Claire’s father is all set up to be the big bad guy. But he has good reasons for his actions… even if he doesn’t always make the best choices.

In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zuko is out to capture Aang… but he’s trying to prove himself as having honor by his father’s standards, and he slowly comes to the realization that honor isn’t what he thinks.

In the Thor movies, Loki steals the show. He’s not a good guy, obviously, but he’s probably the most entertaining of the characters, and I found myself rooting for him more than any of the other characters. (Granted, I’m not much of a Thor fan. I like Captain America, and I’m super-excited to see the upcoming Civil War movie.)

Really, these are all very different shows from Jessica Jones. I’ve never read the comic (this show is the first I’ve heard of her character), but this Youtube video does  a pretty good job at summarizing how the comic is vastly different from many of the other comics in the Marvel universe. Quite simply, Jessica Jones was meant for an adult audience, with the freedom to explore heavier topics that are typically shunned in mainstream comics and TV shows.

Regardless, the first episode of Jessica Jones blew me away. I loved analyzing the show.

Sure, it’s darker than I normally prefer, but the creators set that tone right from the get-go, so the darkness doesn’t come as a surprise. Take a look at the opening line of the show (as paraphrased from my memory):

“New York City may be the city that never sleeps, but it sure does sleep around.”

This line is not only memorable (because it delivers a twist on an old saying), but it sets the tone for the rest of the episode.

Jessica Jones is a private investigator who makes her money by helping disgruntled spouses find proof if their husband/wife is cheating on them. And the show doesn’t mind showing exactly what those couples are doing. Right from the beginning, we know that there’s going to be on-screen sex.

Setting the tone at the beginning helps audience members who aren’t interested know whether or not they want to keep watching.

Having the gritty setting at the beginning also allows the show to naturally segue, piece-by-piece, into revealing that Jones has been psychologically (and sexually) abused by her former captor, Killgrave.

The first time we hear him, his dialogue is a bit ambiguous. We don’t know if he’s really there of if she’s having a flashback, but we do know that dark blue lights are going to be a symbol of his influence. (As a side note, I loved some of the artistic options of this show. Some of the scenes can seem to be a bit slow… but the tension is mounting, the hotel hall is lengthening, and you wonder who, or what, lies just behind that door…)

The artistic choices also helped address one of my initial concerns about the show: Would David Tennant be able to portray the villain without reminding the audience of the Doctor? Granted, we’ve seen the tenth doctor have a few rather dark-sided moments, but nothing like this.

I needn’t have worried. The first few times we see Killgrave, his face is in shadow. The lights change to a dark blue-violet, and we mostly just hear a few lines of dialogue. This is an excellent choice to build up Killgrave’s character before we actually see his face. Then, in the second episode, when we finally see Killgrave, if only for a moment, we’re not exactly picturing the good-hearted Doctor.

That’s another thing this show has been doing well. Instead of showing the villain outright, we first see shadowy glimpses of him. We hear his voice. There’s a moment in the third episode where he delivers a long line of dialogue that is amazing, in part because it’s a threat we know he’ll actually follow through, but he’s entirely off-camera.

We have two major things going for this villain: the show teases us, only showing his face on occasion. We’re never quite sure if he’s going to be standing around the next corner. This is great for building tension. Second, he’s perfectly capable of doing his evil deeds. We see the results of his actions, and we know he will do terrible things. The show hints at it first, then shows us bits and pieces. The only question is who he will target next. As such, the writers have proven that he is a threat for the hero.

The villain, terrifying as he is, makes the hero so much stronger (and not because she has super strength. Killgrave is capable, he’s dangerous, and Jessica has stakes. The whole first episode is about drawing her into this conflict. She has a traumatic history with the guy, and every reason to run.

The show has to prove why she doesn’t.

It does. It does by pushing the villain’s already evil deeds to a whole new level (Seriously… Killgrave is evil. Just watch the first episode).

Jessica can either run, or she can confront him.

Better yet? The show makes it possible for either to make sense for her character. Either she’ll run, and we expect Killgrave to follow, or she’ll fight, and we’re biting our nails hoping she doesn’t dig herself in too deep.

Regarding digging itself too deep… Jessica Jones continued to impress me by not restricting itself to being super-depressing or overly dramatic.

My problem with the first season of Agents of SHIELD was how over-dramatic it was, and with the second season, how it would linger too long in the depressing stage. Jessica Jones, on the other hand, resorts to situational and dry humor to help lighten the mood when necessary, and some of the moments are quite amusing. They’re placed at key moments to relax tension or bring you back from “eeps!” moments, without seeming contrived.

Plus, there are references to the rest of the Marvel universe (especially in the third episode) that helps tie everything together.

Overall, I’m really enjoying the show. I was hesitant at first, knowing that it would be darker than the other Marvel shows,but I’m glad I gave it a shot. If Jessica Jones continues as it has thus far, I think I’ll enjoy it… and I’ll be happily rooting for Killgrave’s downfall… a character I suspect that I’ll “love to hate.”

I hope you enjoyed this post. Have you watched any episodes from Jessica Jones? 🙂

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Thoughts on Writing – Analyzing the “Jessica Jones” TV Show

  1. I want to comment but I’ve seen all the episodes so I don’t want to spoil anything for you. Please update when you’re done.

    Question, have you watched Daredevil?

    • Might be a little while before we get through all the episodes. We tend to watch one a day when we have time. But yeah, I think this is a show where I don’t want spoilers. 🙂

      We haven’t seen Daredevil yet. Is it good? I’m not familiar with his character either.

      • In case you didn’t know: Netflix and Marvel comics reached a deal to produce 4 shows. They wanted to make more TV shows beyond Agents of SHIELD and still in the same shared universe as the movies. They wouldn’t get the rights to use the marquee characters so they decided to revamp a group of heroes called the Defenders – it’s going to be like a more street level version of the Avengers. They will be less “super” and operate on a more local scale.

        They started with Daredevil, the blind superhero/lawyer in the Hell’s Kitchen district of New York. There was a poorly received 2003 movie version of him starring Ben Affleck, but the comics version has been around a long time and he’s a pretty popular character. Kilgrave was originally one of his enemies. The writes in his series include Stan Lee, Kevin Smith (the movie director), and Brian Michael Bendis – who later would create the character of Jessica Jones.

        The second series is Jessica Jones, you apparently know a bit about her comics background – they didn’t change much. She has her powers and early in her career as a would-be hero she runs into Kilgrave, who is the worst person in the world for someone with her power to encounter. He controls her and uses his new super powered plaything to become even more powerful. In the comics he sends her on a suicide run to kill Daredevil who happen to be at Avengers headquarters at the time and the Avengers nearly kill her thinking she’s a villain. She eventually breaks out of his control and tries to avoid the hero life by becoming a private detective but her powers cause her to constantly get involved in strange things. It was part of the Marvel MAX line, a much more adult oriented series of books which made the stories a lot more gritty. The show continues in that tradition nicely.

        The 3rd series is for Luke Cage, you’ve met him in the JJ show as well. He’s from a comic series that started in 1972 and he’s been one of those popular but 2nd tier heroes for a long time. He and his partner Iron Fist operate as the team Heroes for Hire, bankrolled by a lawyer named Hogarth (who you also meet in JJ). Iron Fist is the focus of the 4th Netflix show. The two characters in the comics were attempts to cash in on the popularity of the “Blaxploitation” and Asian marital arts film of the 70s. They are basically Shaft and Bruce Lee. After those films lost their popularity the comic eventually ended with Cage appearing a few random comics as a supporting character. Author Bendis dragged Cage of the character heap and used him his runs on Daredevil, Alias (the JJ comic series) and Avengers, where eventually Captain America and Iron Man leave Cage in charge for a while. It’s a pretty big jump from being a racial stereotype character with the strangest catchphrase in comics (“Sweet Christmas!”).

        Once all 4 series have had their 13 episode runs there will a limited series called The Defenders will all 4 will team up. They are just building up the universe for it now. Daredevil is worth a watch, it came VERY well reviewed. It’s also on Netflix and is also only 13 episodes. It’s also on the darker side but not quite JJ level. There’s a lot less “adult” content, just gritty like a good noir/action series should be. Since it came first there’s a few things that happen in it that Jessica Jones builds off of. If you watch them out of order then nothing is ruined that I can think of. Near the end of JJ there’s a scene where a major supporting character from DD shows up but she’s well established enough in her introduction in JJ to understand without having seen DD. She serves as the link from the 1st show to the 2nd, Cage is in the 2nd and the 3rd, and I’m sure someone else will carry over to help introduce a link from the 3rd to the 4th.

        It’s an impressive amount of content they planned out and it’s rolling out very nicely. Netflix paid a lot of money to get the rights to it so they are committed to doing it right. The fact that they also get to be part of the cinematic universe means there’s a lot of people interested in it, and Brian Michael Bendis laid down the blueprints over the last 10 years. It’s really cool to see his take on these characters on the screen.

        • I should not type replies on my phone, I dropped random words in the middle of that all over the place. Hopefully it’s still coherent.

        • Interesting. I hadn’t known about their plans for having the four different shows with various tie-ins, but it seems to be working well for them. Thanks for the info. 🙂

          I’ve been enjoying what I’ve seen of Jessica Jones thus far. Had a couple moments where I was frustrated that the characters were causing themselves problems by not communicating well with everyone, but otherwise, the show is holding my attention. 🙂

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