Jessica Jones: "AKA Ladies Night" - Can't Stop the Movies
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Jessica Jones: “AKA Ladies Night”

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Jessica Jones, private investigator, harbors scars from a past she avoids talking about and drinks to get through the day.  But when the parents of a missing girl come to her office looking for help Jessica is forced to confront the purple demon lurking around the corners of her consciousness.  Andrew and Ryan look at the first episode of Jessica Jones, "AKA Ladies Night".

A view askewI haven't hid my distaste for many of the Marvel films released over the last six years.  For every Ant-Man we end up with Iron Man 2 or Age of Ultron.  They've got horrifically inconsistent characterization with Captain America being a gung-ho hero in one film, a total dope in the next, and a moody man of conscience in yet another.

So I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Marvel's Daredevil.  Freed from the constraints of Kevin Feige's vice-grip over Marvel Studio productions Marvel's Daredevil was free to craft a moody, funny, and violent take on the Man Without Fear.  I wasn't as impressed with the fight choreography at first, but as each episode went on the technical craft grew as the character relationships became more complex.

When I found out Marvel's Daredevil was one in a series of shows designed to create a sort of small-screen version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe I grew a tad paranoid.  That paranoia grew as Jessica Jones was announced as the follow-up to Marvel's Daredevil.  As Ryan knows, I was a huge mark for Brian Michael Bendis, the comic writer who created Alias which starred Jessica Jones, and gave us an in-depth look at PTSD through the lens of a drunken, violent, foul-mouthed, and painfully insecure former heroine.  It wasn't a "dark for darkness' sake" comic but one which wanted to grapple with Jessica's serious psychological issues and just what that meant for someone with superpowers.  Now that I've watched the first episode I have to admit I'm still a bit skeptical, but some of the issues I had with even Bendis' stellar writing on Alias have been addressed in Jessica Jones while introducing some awkward twists.

I'll get more specific as we continue on, but how did you respond to "AKA Ladies Night"?RendezvousI have to thank you again for introducing me to this comic series, it quickly became one of my favorites for all the reasons you mentioned along with the dialogue and look of the comic as well.  I was not as skeptical as you when the four character-oriented shows were announced (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist) because I was too freaked out about Netflix getting into my hopes and dreams.  These "street level" characters are my favorite Marvel heroes and I would rather follow them than a romp through Asgard with Thor or Hulk smashing up a city.  I loved Marvel's Daredevil and thought it improved when the Kingpin became as big a star as Daredevil was on the series.  So I had hopes for Jessica Jones and the first episode surprised me.

I was surprised at how "slow" it was and I put that in quotations because I don't want it to seem like I am saying that as a bad thing.  I teach my students in class all the things that a pilot should do and Jessica Jones didn't do many of them.  The show barely gave a road map about what it will be from then on, didn't introduce the characters in 2 or 3 quick minutes and didn't make you love the heroine.  What it did do was give you the tone it was going for and that seems to be psychological thriller/noir.  The one pilot thing it did do was hook me into wanting to watch the next episode, but for having a great idea on what the show is, I am still in the dark on that.Purple is the color of my one last loveNewer Andrew cutout commentaryThat's an interesting point because the way these Netflix Marvel shows have been run neither Marvel's Daredevil nor Jessica Jones have much of a traditional pilot.  In Marvel's Daredevil that worked to its advantage since we were thrust straight into the action.  With Jessica Jones it led to an uneven forty-five minutes or so before clicking into deadly focus in the last five minutes or so.  Some of Jessica Jones' idea of noir was painful with the Krysten Ritter's voice-over relegated more to exposition instead of giving us a glimpse into her mindset.

On that note, I'm not sold quite yet on Ritter's performance.  It's hard to sell even good voice-over so I don't want to hold that against her too much.  But there's a level of detachment from her actions in the more exciting parts of "AKA Ladies Night" which don't quite jibe with the way she approaches other scenes.  We've already got one level of disconnect because of the voice-over, but Jessica by way of Ritter is barely interested in taking action.  Sure, that's part of the point of this first episode is to put Jessica in a position where she puts herself back in harm's way or runs, but Ritter's disinterest in most of the other actions in "AKA Ladies Night" made this moment land with less of an emotional punch than it could have.

That said, she does an amazing job with the low-key moments in "AKA Ladies Night".  Ritter doesn't play Jessica with the kind of fighter's instinct combined with self-destructive impulses which marked the character in Alias.  Instead she plays Jessica as an exposed nerve in quieter conversations, dancing around subjects and using the environment to keep her body from being too exposed.  Ritter's subtle work there fits in well with the decision to write Jessica as someone who needs to constantly ground herself in her environment when she starts feeling an anxiety attack coming on.  I loved Ritter's work in these moments and am curious if the rest of Jessica Jones will play to this lower key or not.

Ryan Commentary StampThe opening voice-over put me on edge "New York is the city that never sleeps but it sure does sleep around" was, to put it kindly, cheesy.  I noticed that the voice over was not as noticeable after that first part and I am hoping it stays unobtrusive or goes away completely.  I do like your description of Ritter's portrayal as an exposed nerve because it is how I would describe it as well. Ritter has always been good at playing the sarcastic, bitchy type but here she adds a level of PTSD and hurt that goes a long way to help describe her place in the world.  One last thing before shooting it back to you, do you think they are going to hit us over the head with how much she drinks is EVERY episode or just this first one.

Bare and aloneNewer Andrew cutout commentaryIt'd be nice if it was something which becomes a background piece instead of part of the dialogue or centered in the frame.  The constant alcohol consumption reminded me of some of the too-blunt cinematography choices.  When Jessica goes in to the restaurant and has her panic attack the sudden overexposed, frame skipping, behind the back camera made me roll my eyes instead of getting caught up in Jessica's anxiety attack.

The rest of "AKA Ladies Night" was great to look at.  I like how director S.J. Clarkson flooded Jessica's investigation with colored lighting and looked to be going for a sort of generic amber menace only to suddenly flood with purple and give us our first glimpse at David Tennant as Kilgrave, The Purple Man.  He was threatening, but kind of seductive, and the shift was so effective I enjoyed seeing how the lighting changed around Jessica perception throughout the rest of the episode.  There were also a handful of allusions to the Alias artists Michael Gaydos and David Mack with exceptional change from the comic in the way we see Luke Cage's (Mike Colter) bare back after sex with Jessica.  In the comic Bendis' approach to Luke Cage in the first few issues made me uncomfortable in how he seemed to take a sort of stereotypical approach to presenting a black man.  Melissa Rosenberg, who wrote the teleplay for "AKA Ladies Night", puts Luke Cage in a less powerful position and showed how he is as raw and exposed to the world as Jessica is, just in a different way.

I have some thoughts about how effective the ending is, but I'm curious to your thoughts on the relationship and if anything else jumped out at you.

Ryan Commentary StampMuch like Kingpin in Marvel's Daredevil, I like how they are slowly introducing Kilgrave.  The color scheme was wonderfully played and just getting a few frames of the character adds to the mystery and the foreboding of the character.  For some of the other characters, other than Cage, no one seemed to jump out at me.  The best friend didn't strike me as anything but bland now and I am hoping the lawyer subplot with her wife/girlfriend isn't going to be as bad and boring as it looks like it is going to be.  Speaking of that ending, how much did it make you want to watch the next episode?

All comes crashing downNewer Andrew cutout commentaryExcited more because of the tone and implications of the last few scenes than the narrative itself.  The end is already tense because of the dim purple room Jessica has to walk through to find Hope (Erin Moriarty) splayed out on the bed.  What happens next shocked me, not because of the sudden deaths, but because of the way Ritter and Moriarty treated the sequence like a sexual violence crisis session.  Ritter's tendency to play Jessica as aloof when in action is met with extreme resistance from the way Moriarty approaches Hope and the conversation forces Ritter to tap back into the exposed nerve aspect of Jessica.

So Hope is there, on the bed, looking for all the world like someone who was date raped.  There's Jessica, realizing her normal sense of detachment won't work.  What follows is a lifetime of trauma therapy condensed into five minutes, and how all it takes is one little reminder for the good you build up by talking to come crumbling down.  This is the sort of character beat we don't get in the Marvel films, and if Jessica Jones can tap into this level of emotional storytelling moving forward we may end up seeing Jessica Jones top Marvel's Daredevil.

Ryan Commentary StampThe best thing about those last few minutes was the sense of upcoming dread.  Jessica "saves" Hope from Kilgrave even though she fights her the whole way.  Hope knows that Kilgrave is bad for her but still can't help herself turning him into the boyfriend from hell.  What we then get is a scene where Jessica tells Hope it wasn't her fault and then a teary reunion with her parents.  If this was a typical forensic TV show, the story would end there.  The PI got her man, the victim was saved and everyone leaves the episode with warm fuzzy feelings.  I knew the source material and the way they were framing and scoring the scene told me that it wasn't going to be that easy.  The scene then became claustrophobic for me because I knew something bad was going to happen and the walls were closing in on me.  Was Hope going to die, was Kilgrave going to make his appearance?  I didn't know but the longer the happy ending continued the more tense I became.

When Hope then pulled out the gun as the elevator doors were closing, the other shoe dropped and I figured out how Jessica was really going to get thrust back into this world she hoped to escape and I was hooked on the show in the early going.  My wishes for the series going forward is that all the characters get fleshed out a bit more and have a purpose to the world of Jessica Jones, Kilgrave is not over used so he keeps his mysterious and scary aura and the show can keep balancing the shit thrown at Jessica with her resolve so it never feels like it is just piling on her for just because they can.  I am looking forward to the next episode and to see if we think they are continuing down the right path for the show.

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Next week: "AKA Crush Syndrome"

Posted by Andrew

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