The best of the comic-book-connected series that I saw last week was Jessica Jones on Netflix. It initially reminded me of Sarah Paretsky’s V.I. Warchowski novels: a solitary female detective scouring the nights of the city to solve crime, often of a corporate nature, sometimes drinking herself to oblivion, interested in men and sexually active but in a series of failed relations and with a neighbour in the building that appears regularly to comment on the action, provide a change of tone, and not help. Warchowski used to get beaten up a lot in the novels too if I remember correctly.
Jessica Jones is smart. and sexual; she’s not afraid to ask for what she wants. She can take it, she says. Jessica’s drinking way more than what’s good for her, trying to forget something terrible that’s happened which is clearly indicated as some kind of rape though what we’re shown is a mental violation — to the point of physical possession and erasure of will — and with jarring but indistinct sexual overtones. So here we have a woman, just like men in the best noir’s, trying to survive in a dangerous world, drinking to forget someone who’s bruised her beyond repair, doing her best to earn a living, and screwing with whatever looks tasty and doesn’t cause too much trouble: It saves on the drink. The opening line in the series, spoken in voice-over, is a great one: ‘New York may be a city that never sleeps but it sure does sleep around. Not that I’m complaining. Cheaters are good for business. A big part of the job is looking for the worst in people.’
The voice-over, the tone, and the graphics all place us firmly in a noir world, one which interestingly seems like of an inverse negative of the up-to-now more successful DC series like Supergirl and The Flash; Arrow also, for though the latter is visually coded in noir, it’s a noir that looks to light and sunshine.
Jessica seems less mentally strong than Warchowski. In fact she’s been the victim of a man’s mindfuck — he took over her mind and made her do ‘things’– and then the episode reveals, discretely, some superpowers which we don’t yet know the extent of. It has a great noir look too, at least as imaginative at that of Daredevil and is more interstingly polysexual and multiracial than the series on ‘The Man Without Fear’. The object of desire here is who will be revealed to be Luke Cage, a hunky black bartender, made to seem lusciously desirable, who we are shown to have slept with a black woman before Jessica. The series is treading carefully on the politics of representation.
This seems a more complex series than Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow or even Daredevil; it’s less camp than Gotham, and a lot more enticing than Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The plot revolves around rescuing a young athlete from the same series of events that seem to have only recently crushed her and has a wonderful twist at the end.
Krysten Ritter has an intriguing look of crumpled intelligence. Her face seems poised in a state of smirky disappointment and can look very beautiful and also quite down-at-heel. Carrie Anne Moss appears as a two-timing lesbian corporate lawyer who sometimes throws crumbs of work Jessica’s way. The first episode moved really well, with the editing evoking a sense of a dangerous past impinging on the present, something that could be a memory but could also be a presence and in either way dangerous. It’s very sexy too, with the sex being a context for an exchange of tough-talking dares that reveal as much as they hide. I look forward to the following episodes.