Anti-spoiler warning: For the most part, I’m going to write assuming that you haven’t read the Alias comic books that serve as the source material for the show because there appears to be a good amount of overlap.
This is Jessica Jones. She’s a hard-drinking private detective in New York City. She’s tough, strong, and waits in dark alleys to take pictures of people boning.
Oh, and she used to be a superhero, but you really wouldn’t pick up on that last bit based solely on the first episode of Netflix’s new Marvel series, the second of four that it has planned. There isn’t a mask, only the briefest glimpses of powers and definitely no costume. Nope, much like the comic book from writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos that it’s based on, Jessica Jones leans hard on the noir imagery, leaving the superheroics to color the background.
But in an interesting way, the first episode is a fairly traditional superhero origin story. It just happens to be Jessica’s second.
When we first meet Jessica, she’s found a shaky balance in her new life. The skills she previously used as a crimefighter lend themselves naturally to a new gig as a private detective, albeit in a much sleazier way. The opening scene, in which an angry client learns from Jessica that his wife is sleeping with his brother, resembles the opening pages of her comic. That guy goes flying through the frosted glass door of her office with a headache and a bill to pay.
On top of her work “helping” individual clients, Jessica also has a pretty sweet corporate gig with Jeryn Hogarth, a high-power lawyer played by The Matrix’s Carrie-Anne Moss. This version of Hogarth is gender-swapped from the pages of the Marvel comics, where the character was a close friend to Wendell Rand, the father of Iron Fist. On the show, Hogarth is a consistent source of money for Jessica, even if the private detective resists making it even more consistent. She recently turned down a full-time job as the firm’s in-house investigator, and Hogarth voices some other concerns about Jessica’s growing alcohol use. But that isn’t enough to stop the lawyer from passing along the odd process-serving job whenever a strip club magnate needs to be taken to court, allowing Krysten Ritter to sparkle like her character’s “laser eyes.”
One of the characters mentions that Jessica’s “one of the them,” one of the few instances thus far in the Marvel universe of superheroes being recognized as a larger phenomenon. In the early days of the MCU, the films treated the Avengers as truly unique beings, but now we’re getting a broader picture of just how many powered people there are out there.
Also, Hogarth is cheating on her wife, but I’m not sure what that has to do with anything yet. Will Jessica be spying on her boss before long? I’m thinking “Chekhov’s philanderer.”
There’s also the matter of the guy that Jessica might be be stalking. Although he goes unnamed in the first episode, anyone with a Twitter feed knows that the target of Jessica’s insomnia-fueled stakeouts is none other than Power Man himself, Luke Cage. By the end of the first episode, it’s unclear whether Luke is donning a yellow T-shirt and busting up bad guys yet, but it’s easy to imagine that punches can’t be too far off. For now, he seems content keeping his bar clean and occasionally hooking up with lonely patrons, including Jessica.
Yes, there was a sex scene in a Marvel TV show! And a rather graphic one at that. (I was half-expecting Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” to start playing.) It comes with the territory, though. Netflix really couldn’t make a Jessica Jones TV show and not include, as Bendis describes it, “weird sex.” And it’s certainly weird in the sense that it’s not the kind of scene that we’d typically see on TV. The first tryst between Jessica and Luke is sexy and kind of talky, then a little sad. That might have something to do with the picture that she finds in his medicine cabinet, perhaps a connection to — paraphrasing — the case that just won’t let her go. Was Luke the subject of a previous investigation, involving the woman in the photo? What we do know is that whatever happened between Luke and Jessica in the past, most likely unbeknownst to him, is barf-worthy for her.
It’s a good thing that nothing gets rid of the taste of vomit quite like a new case. The main portion of the episode deals with a job that walks right into Jessica’s office. Barbara and Bob Schlottman have come all the way from Omaha to find their daughter, Hope, a promising track and field star at NYU. The girl has gone missing and quit the team, which sent up a red flag on her parents’ end. The police won’t do anything since there isn’t substantial evidence to suggest an actual crime has taken place. Oddly enough, someone at the station recommended that the Schlottmans take the case to Jessica.
Unrelated: What’s up with Malcolm? So far Jessica’s overly familiar acquaintance is unfunny at best. And kind of racist at worst.
Anyway, the search for Hope (ah!) begins at her apartment, where Jessica finds a pissed-off former roommate. Apparently, Hope took off without much notice, fawning over a boy. There’s always a boy. And it appears that this boy has tastes similar to another boy, one who likes to wear purple, dream-lick Jessica’s face, and bears a striking resemblance to the Tenth Doctor.
That’s a problem because throughout the first episode, Jessica has barely kept herself from flying off the handle as she traverses the streets near where she grew up. “Main Street, Birch Street, Higgins Drive, Cobalt Lane,” she repeats on multiple occasions. The fuel for these terrors and the flashbacks is Kilgrave, played on the show by David Tennant. We know that something happened between him and Jessica in the past, against her will, and all of the bad memories come flooding back when Jessica tracks Hope’s credit card to a lingerie store, a menswear store, and the building that formerly housed the Italian restaurant where they dined.
But all of this is impossible because, as Jessica’s estranged friend Trish Walker reminds her, she saw Kilgrave die. There was even a death certificate. There’s no way that he could have Hope, but Jessica has heard enough. She’s heading to Hong Kong the first chance she gets. When Hope’s credit card doesn’t go through, Jessica turns to the Trish, who tries to reason with her. If the cops are unable to do anything to help Hope, it’s up to Jessica. “You’re still the girl who tried to do something,” Trish tells her, referencing her super past.
That’s not who Jessica is anymore, though. Or at least, that’s what she thinks as she leaves town in a cab. She can’t help but divert the cab to a place from a past life, one she’s tried to forget. The chipper bellboy at the hotel recognizes her from her previous stays there, but we’re under the impression that she has a very different memory of those visits. Upstairs, as she walks down an all-too-familiar hallway, Jessica can sense something is wrong. She pulls the fire alarm to clear out the building, and in the room at the end of the hall, she finds Hope lying paralyzed on the bed.
He told her not to move. That was five hours and 21 minutes ago. Jessica has seen this all before, and she knows to get Hope out of there, even if it means physically carrying the girl out of there. With Hope back in the protection of her parents, it’s time for Jessica to resume her plan. Everyone, including the Schlottmans, need to get the hell out of the New York City and away from Kilgrave.
And just as the proceedings are beginning to look like a picture-perfect procedural ending, things go very, very wrong. Hope, still trapped within Kilgrave’s psychic grasp, shoots her parents in Jessica’s elevator, and the detective is too late to stop her. “Smile,” Hope tells her, channeling Kilgrave and sending Jessica running for the door.
No, this story doesn’t look anything like the origin stories we’ve gotten used to in the years since superhero movies took over pop culture, but in the moment that Jessica turns away from her awaiting cab, we see a hero created.
Or in her case, reborn.