Sunday, November 20, 2016

Exploring the Marvel Netflix Shows: Part Two (Jessica Jones)

This is a continuation of my exploration of the Marvel Netflix shows (for part one click here).  I'm a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and out of all its current expressions the Netflix shows are my favourite--the ultimate highlight of the format.  The fan service surrounding these shows lack collated, contextualized, and expository material, so what follows addresses those elements.


Jessica Jones (November 20, 2015)

The show, the second to feature a female lead (following ABC's Agent Carter in early 2015), hit the airwaves after Ant-Man and before Civil War.  Jessica Jones is the least known and newest Marvel character to be given her own series; her comic book debut was in 2001's critically acclaimed Alias  (created by Brian Michael Bendis).  She’s an interesting choice given that there are better known female heroes based in New York, along with the fact that her comic book arc leads her away from being a hero.  That said, with her connection to the other Netflix characters, as well as the reputation of the Alias comic, it was an understandable risk.  The story of the season is inspired by the comic without being a direct adaptation (much like the first season of Daredevil).  The inclusion of the character of Luke Cage makes a lot of sense given that, on her own, Jessica Jones was unlikely to be familiar to casual viewers.

Melissa Rosenberg was picked as the showrunner and five of the eight writers had worked with her before (the exceptions being Hilly Hicks, Edward Ricourt, and Jenna Reback).  There was no writer carryover from Daredevil.

Credited Writers (with selected credits)

Melissa Rosenberg (The O. C.Dexter, Red Widow, and Twilight; Scott Buck, Iron Fist’s showrunner, is another Dexter alum, as is Scott Reynolds below; Micah Scraft, Jenna Reback, and Dana Baratta worked with Rosenberg on Red Widow)
Micah Schraft (The Tomorrow PeopleRed Widow, and The Secret Circle)
Scott Reynolds (Dexter and The Following)
Hilly Hicks Jr (The Big C and Chicago Fire)
Dana Baratta (Red WidowPrivate Practice, and Life is Wild)
Edward Ricourt (Now You See Me)
Jenna Reback (Red Widow)
Jaime King (three short films prior)
Liz Friedman (XenaThe O. C., and House)

1 – “AKA Ladies Night” Melissa Rosenberg
2 – “AKA Crush Syndrome” Micah Schraft
3 – “AKA It’s Called Whiskey” Liz Friedman & Scott Reynolds
4 – “AKA 99 Friends” Hilly Hicks Jr
5 – “AKA The Sandwich Saved Me” Dana Baratta
6 – “AKA You’re a Winner!” Edward Ricourt
7 – “AKA Top Shelf Perverts” Jenna Reback & Micah Schraft
8 – “AKA WWJD” Scott Reynolds
9 – “AKA Sin Bin” Jaime King & Dana Baratta
10 – “AKA 1,000 Cuts” Dana Baratta & Micah Schraft
11 – “AKA I’ve Got the Blues” Scott Reynolds & Liz Friedman
12 – “AKA Take a Bloody Number” Hilly Hicks Jr
13 – “AKA Smile” Jamie King, Scott Reynolds & Melissa Rosenberg

Notable Easter Eggs

[I've noted which episodes these occur via brackets--so (1) refers to episode one]

There are far fewer easter eggs than in Daredevil (I listed twelve for the first season, whereas here there are only six).  Luke Cage mentions Pops (1), who appears in Luke Cage (invented for that show); Luke jokingly mentions "Melvin" (1) eating wings at his bar, which could be a nod to Melvin Potter from Daredevil (the Gladiator in the comics); the subplot of the Eastmans trying to kill Jessica (4) is a direct reference to The Avengers; Jessica recommends PI Angela Del Toro (6) (aka White Tiger) to Luke Cage (the character first appeared in Daredevil and also has connections to Iron Fist); Hammond Labs (10) is a reference to the superhero Speedball; the first reference to IGH (12) occurs (reasonably speculated to be stand for "Inhuman Growth Hormone"), which is hinted to be responsible for Jessica, Kilgrave, and Luke Cage's powers (as seen subsequently in Luke Cage)--the company is also connected to Koslov (the doctor who provides Simpson with his pills)
Characters appearing from other shows: Claire Temple and (technically) Luke Cage

Total number of overt and subtle nods to the other Marvel shows (including characters noted below): Daredevil: 4, Iron Fist: 2, Luke Cage: 2, Agents of SHIELD (AoS): 0

There's no set-up for Daredevil season two (which followed), albeit there's acknowledgement of Matt Murdock's activities.  The show does feed into Luke Cage quite well, although there's surprisingly little carryover from Jessica Jones into that show.

Select Character Notes and Impressions

Personal history: I'd never heard of Jessica Jones until I learned about the series and went into it with zero expectations.
  • Jessica Jones: borrows a lot from her comic book origin in Alias, but remains an adaptation (she doesn't kill Kilgrave in the comics for one); overall I'd say the show version is an emotionally stronger character than her comic book counterpart (also more forthright and less paralyzed by her emotions)
  • Kilgrave: completely adapted for the show, with a new origin and lacking his purple skin, villain name (the Purple Man is a very old Daredevil villain (1964)), and his daughter (albeit there's a much nastier hint of that in the show); David Tennant gives a masterful performance and while his death (via Jessica) is necessary for the plot, I'm sad we won't see him again
  • Patricia Walker: Hellcat in the comics, she assumes the role that Carol Danvers (Captain Marvel) has in the comics as Jessica's best friend--as a character slatted for her own movie she was unavailable to Netflix; the show drops her comic book ex-husband (who would become Mad-Dog and has connections to Roxxon--similar thematically to the Simpson romance in the show); her comic book conduit to becoming a superhero (via Beast and The Avengers) is dropped (due to the rights for the former (with Fox) and the movies for the latter), but her enthusiasm to be a hero is straight out of the comics
  • Luke Cage: his origin is adapted (in the comics Reva is his fiance, not his wife, and isn't killed by Jessica); his character development in Jessica Jones is somewhat in stasis awaiting full treatment in Luke Cage; his romance with Jessica is a creation of Brian Michael Bendis (2001), long after Luke was created (1972); their first encounter (Alias 1) has been altered quite a bit, as in the comic Jessica already knew Luke and wasn't investigating him
  • Will Simpson: aka Frank Simpson in the comics (Nuke; originally a Frank Miller Daredevil  villain); he's heavily adapted and fleshed out from his one-dimensional comic counterpart; in the comics he's a super soldier serum character (like Captain America), but that's not confirmed (or denied) in the show (and seems unlikely); I liked the show version of the character and I think there's a lot more they can do with him (and his relationship with Trish)
  • Malcolm Ducasse: his comic book inspiration is white (Malcolm Powder); in the comics Malcolm also wants to help Jessica, but he's a far less serious character used primarily for comic relief; show-Malcolm's Kilgraved/drug-addict story of redemption is much more substantive and Eka Darville's performance is excellent
  • Jeri Hogarth: the only gender-swap in a Netflix series thus far and also our only known LGBT character (another change from the comics); Hogarth originates in and is primarily from Iron Fist (where she's slated to appear in the upcoming series); her storyline is served well in the series and her performance is excellent; there's no comic book parallel to her story here (although Hogarth does have an ex-wife, Thelma, who is referenced exactly once in the comics (Power Man & Iron Fist 110), as is his daughter, who doesn't exist in the show)
  • Dorothy Walker: adapted from the comics, where her domineering attitude is directed towards her husband rather than her daughter Patsy (albeit there's an utterly bizarre story where she promises the devil her daughter's soul in return for a cure for cancer and her youth, Defenders 89), another change is that rather than shepherding a child-star, she's a successful author; Rebecca De Mornay's performance is strong and she has great potential as a further irritant for both Jessica and Trish
  • Koslov: has no comic book precedent, but he's partly inspired by those directing Simpson's activities in the military
  • Claire Temple: there's no real character development, so it's just a cameo to tie the show into Daredevil (the tie-in serves as her introduction to Luke, but he doesn't even remember her in Luke Cage)
  • Samantha Reyes: created for the show and used much more extensively in Daredevil season two
  • Detective Clemons: an obscure Punisher character (2011) who is still alive in the comics
  • Reva Connors: Luke's dead wife in the show (she gets fully developed in Luke Cage), she's based on a character who dies at the hands of Diamondback in the first Luke Cage comic (they are engaged when she's killed)
  • Roy Healy: created for the show, Luke's bartender vanishes along with the most of the rest of the Jessica Jones references in Luke Cage
Hope Schlottman, Wendy Ross-Hogarth, Pam, Robyn, Reuben, Louise and Albert Thompson have no precedent in the comics.

Comic Book Story Influences

The origin of Jessica Jones has been modified, removing connections to Spider-Man as well as inserting the adoption element that connects her to Trish.  The core plot comes from Alias 24-28, with her battle against Kilgrave, although the show gets much darker than the comic.  Elements of Trish Walker's origin are adapted (Avengers 141-144, 147), while Will Simpson is radically changed--his experimental origin and pills are the same, but the fanatical patriotism and body alteration has been dropped, nor is he as simple-minded (Miller/Nocenti's version, Daredevil 232-237, is largely a critique of the Vietnam War and its contrast to Captain America and his form of patriotism).  The struggle to treat Luke Cage's injuries due to his unbreakable skin echoes a story in the comics (The Pulse 6), whose basic framework is used again in the first season of Luke Cage.

Critical Reception

Rotten Tomatoes (RT) score (critics/fans): 93/90
These scores aren't the be-all, end-all of assessment, but simply an indicator of critical and fan reaction.  I'd take the critical score with a grain of salt (AoS somehow has 100% each of its last two seasons).


Directing, cinematography, and the caliber of acting was excellent; I liked the music as well.  There's less emphasis on fight scenes, but while they're generally less dynamic I think they're well done.  The show is able to tackle serious issues without being preachy, which is quite an accomplishment.  David Tennant, much like Vincent D'Onofrio in Daredevil, steals the show as Kilgrave--making him a fully realised character rather than simply the "villain".  Krysten Ritter is superb, avoiding the trap of making Jessica purely a victim.  Mike Colter does a great job as Luke Cage, albeit he's almost too understated.  Rachael Taylor avoids being just the best friend and Wil Traval does a great job dealing with Simpson's fluctuating states (the pair's relationship is fascinating).  Carrie-Anne Moss and Eka Darville are also standouts--the overall quality of acting here is the best of any of the shows thus far.  No subplot fails and secondary characters all have clearly defined arcs within the larger story.


As a plot-point it takes some mental gymnastics to figure out why Simpson doesn't take out Kilgrave when he's watching Jessica's house.  The only other criticism I have is that Jessica’s desire to get into Supermax comes close to absurdity.  The most common complaint I see about the show in publications is "there wasn't enough action" (implying there's some sort of accepted ratio).  This is an odd criticism because the show's focus isn't about its hero punching her way to solve problems.  Jessica goes out of her way to use the judicial system to deal with Kilgrave, resorting to violence only as a last resort.

[If you spot any errors or omissions, please let me know!]

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)


  1. We watched Agent Carter and thought it was one of the best new shows on regular TV. We were unhappy it is not still on the schedule. Is there a similar show on now or the coming year?

  2. Nothing quite like Agent Carter, but there are three Netflix series coming out in 2017 (Iron Fist, The Punisher, and The Defenders)