Saturday, November 21, 2015
The Mystery Of Jessica Jones Begins With "AKA Ladies Night!"
The Good: Good initial characterization, Decent plot establishment
The Bad: No incredible performances
The Basics: "AKA Ladies Night" helps to establish who Jessica Jones is an intriguing-enough, but not exceptional, way.
When Netflix announced that the next Marvel property it was developing for its streaming service after Daredevil was Jessica Jones, I - like many geeks - asked the question "Who the hell is Jessica Jones?!" The protagonist from the book Alias, no relation to the J.J. Abrams television show, was a seemingly obscure choice to develop for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as Jessica Jones is a third-string (or lower-rung) character in the Marvel Universe. She is, however, an ideal character for a gritty street-level hero story and that is what Jessica Jones is. Her story begins with "AKA Ladies Night."
"AKA Ladies Night" establishes the foundation for the mystery that will preoccupy the entire first season of Jessica Jones. As a pilot, "AKA Ladies Night" works hard to intrigue the viewer without giving it all away. The show manages to find the right balance between defining Jessica Jones as a woman with extraordinary powers and serious issues. The extent of her damage and her backstory is alluded to just enough to intrigue, but it's a much harder sell than pretty much any of the other Marvel openers.
Jessica Jones is introduced taking photos of a cheater having an affair on a spouse in the course of her work for Alias Investigations. Showing the photographs to the jealous husband leads to a conflict that results in Jessica Jones shoving her client through the glass window on her firm's door. Jones works for lawyer Jeri Hogarth as a freelancer for the law firm of Hogarth, Chao & Benowitz in Hell's Kitchen. Hogarth hires Jones to serve Gregory Spheeris with a lawsuit, which - given how well-insulated he is - is a herculean task. After stalking and photographing Luke Cage at his bar, unrelated to any case, Jones wakes up to her neighbor, Malcolm in her office/apartment eating her peanut butter.
She is visited by Barbara and Bob Shlottman, from Omaha, who hire her to find their daughter, Hope. Hope is missing, but still calls weekly, which leads them to believe that she has fallen in with a cult. After following the first leads on the Hope Shlottman case, she serves Spheeris and heads to Luke Cage's bar. After flirting, Cage and Jones end up back at his apartment for sex. Tracing Hope's credit card charges, Jessica Jones realizes that the man who controlled her and that she thought was dead a year ago is still alive and now has control over Hope Shlottman. After a visit to Trish Walker, Jessica makes a choice to find and rescue Hope.
Jessica Jones is an immediately intriguing protagonist from the moment she lifts up Greg Spheeris's car and observes that he gives people like him a bad name. She is super-human and not hiding it, but content to be overlooked by people who would treat her poorly. Jessica Jones suffers nightmares from the time she spent under the influence of the mysterious Kilgrave and she has a mantra ready to center herself when she has flashbacks. She is clearly not all together, but not as damaged as she was a year prior.
Luke Cage and Jeri Hogarth immediately leap off the screen as potentially fascinating characters peripheral to Jessica Jones's story. Hogarth is having an affair with her secretary, but otherwise seems principled and successful at her firm. Luke Cage seems insightful and the moment that Jessica Jones starts flirting with Cage, viewers have hope that something will come from their relationship. Jones and Cage are both extraordinarily characterized by the scene where Jessica Jones makes observations about Luke Cage's bar.
The mysteries abound in "AKA Ladies Night," starting with the question: Does no one in Hell's Kitchen have curtains?! The backstory is cleverly teased throughout the episode and it is interesting to watch a seemingly mundane case turn into a more exceptional story when Jessica Jones recognizes the restaurant that Hope was brought to. The series ties in very obliquely at the outset with the Marvel Cinematic Universe through references to
"AKA Ladies Night" has some "pilot issues," not the least of which is that in this episode it is unclear who, exactly, Trish is in the life of Jessica Jones. Jessica hits her up for money, but within "AKA Ladies Night" it seems like Trish could be Jessica's mother, sister or friend. That level of ambiguity is more frustrating than a hook to get viewers to come back.
That said, fans of science fiction and comic books will be somewhat unsurprised by the concepts of the characters in "AKA Ladies Night." Jessica's attacker is referenced and only briefly seen. His powers are referenced and genre fans will recognize that he is essentially the same as the villain from The X-Files episode "Pusher" (reviewed here!). Only briefly seen in flashbacks, Jones's enemy is heard issuing commands that others follow absolutely and the results, played out only in the episode's final moments, are horrifying.
Krysten Ritter establishes the character of Jessica Jones in a very watchable way. Despite how down on her luck Jessica Jones appears, Ritter brings a watchable quality to her in the pilot episode. None of the roles in "AKA Ladies Night" seem to be challenging to those involved - in fact the scenes with Carrie-Anne Moss stand out for how they fail to give her anything significant or deap to perform, but they make it work well-enough. Ritter and Mike Colter have decent on-screen chemistry in the episode as Jessica Jones and Luke Cage.
Ultimately, though, "AKA Ladies Night" is a tough sell to a neophyte. Were it not for my commitment to reviewing everything in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I'm not sure the first episode would have been enough to bring me in. However, having seen where the first season of Jessica Jones goes, the episode is an effective start to the mysteries of Jessica Jones and Kilgrave.
[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Jessica Jones - The Complete First Season, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season here!
For other pilot episodes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, please visit my reviews of:
"Into The Ring" - Daredevil
"Pilot" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"Now Is Not The End" - Agent Carter
For other Marvel movie, television season and episode reviews, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a listing of those reviews!
© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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