When Daredevil debuted and became one of the studio’s biggest critical hits to date, everyone kind of assumed the rest of Marvel’s Netflix slate would follow in that same vein. If that had been the approach, it would have been fine — Daredevil was great, and most fans would welcome another show on that same track of gritty action and blood-soaked vigilantism.
Hate to disappoint you, but, having seen the first seven episodes, I can tell you that’s the exact opposite of what Marvel has done with Jessica Jones. If anything, the story of a retired superhero turned private eye is the anti-Daredevil. It’s absolutely nothing like the hit saga of Matt Murdock — and that’s exactly what makes it so great.
Jessica Jones sets itself up and plays out like something more akin to a psychological thriller than a superhero series. It’s almost hard to fathom that Jessica Jones and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are technically within the same continuity. This is a world of psychological abuse, sex, violence and manipulation. If anything, it’s arguably an even darker corner of Hell’s Kitchen than what we were introduced to in Daredevil. Where Matt Murdock at least retained a level of hope in what he was doing, Jessica Jones is barely holding on to her own humanity.
Weirdly enough, Jessica Jones succeeds by arguably reducing the stakes in comparison to Daredevil. Matt Murdock is trying to save his city from the Kingpin. Jessica? She’s basically just trying to save herself, along with a broken young girl who gets caught up in the wake of Kilgrave’s obsessions. This is a much more personal story than Daredevil, as we dig deep into Jessica’s life and the ways Kilgrave has basically destroyed it. Though it does have some occasional action, the first seven episodes don’t bring anything nearly as breathtaking as that hallway fight from Daredevil. But nevertheless, Jessica Jones is arguably the more compelling tale of the two. Instead of an origin story, this plays more like a character study of a broken hero trying to face her demons ... or, well, demon, as the case would be.
Where Daredevil is bone-crunching, Jessica Jones is brain-warping. Jessica has the ability to kill someone with a single punch, but brute strength doesn’t do you much good against a villain who can control your actions with a single word. Jessica’s nemesis, Kilgrave, haunts her life and haunts her dreams as she desperately tries (and fails) to escape the reach of his manipulative powers. Based on Marvel villain the Purple Man, Kilgrave is brought to methodically creepy life by David Tennant. The show often parallels him with the devil, and it feels like an apt comparison. He’s pure, unadulterated id. Kilgrave is nothing like any Marvel villain we’ve seen before, in the best possible way. This is a selfish creature who has never been deprived of any want. He doesn’t seek world domination, or anything so ambitious. He just wants Jessica.
But, despite all the differences, Jessica Jones feels perfectly at home in the Hell’s Kitchen of Matt Murdock & Co. They’re completely different types of stories, but the world feels wholly consistent. We already knew they could do it on the big screen, but the fact that Marvel has proven itself capable of creating stories with this type of nuance in long form bodes very well for the remainder of the studio’s Netflix slate. Marvel has succeeded in both differentiating and uniting its brand in one masterstroke.
If they can tell a slow, psychological story like Jessica Jones, and tell it well, it makes you wonder what the company can’t do. This is a comic-book show that, for all intents and purposes, is an absolute long shot to even exist (a point proven by the fact that Jessica Jones has been kicking around development hell for half a decade, before Marvel incorporated the character into the Defenders lineup).
Marvel has built its brand on respecting the canon, and much as Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: Winter Soldier pushed things into new directions for the MCU, Jessica Jones takes the TV side deeper down the rabbit hole. Sure, major network fare like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will still be there to mirror the flagship stories — but Marvel is looking way beyond that now.
With Luke Cage, Iron Fist and The Defenders (not to mention Season 2 of Daredevil) still in the offing, we’re more excited than ever to see what Marvel comes up with. Jessica Jones is the kind of show that could win awards, and more than that, deserves to win awards. It didn’t need to take a page from Daredevil’s playbook, because it wrote its own.
As if it wasn’t already obvious: Marvel isn’t just making good comic-book shows anymore. It’s making good television. Period.