The Dark, Compelling ‘Jessica Jones’ Claims A Shadowy Corner Of The Marvel Universe As Its Own

If it weren’t for the Marvel name affixed to the title of Marvel’s Jessica Jones, it wouldn’t be immediately apparent that this was a show about superheroics. Terms like “noir,” “thriller,” and “gritty” are getting thrown around in reviews, as they should be. All three help to describe showrunner Melissa Rosenberg’s series, which operates more like a hard-boiled, psychological whodunit than yet-another superhero origin story.

It’s not like Jessica Jones started from scratch. Daredevil accomplished two significant goals for Marvel’s partnership with Netflix. First, it proved the Marvel Cinematic Universe could stretch beyond the reaches of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, both of which are tightly tied to the films. It also demonstrated the studio’s ability to support a microcosm within its interconnected world. Jessica Jones takes these accomplishments one step further. The series ventures into the niches of the larger universe without getting lost. Sure, vague references to “the big green dude” and others pop up, but they’re much less integral to the story than they were in Daredevil. It claims a shadowy corner as its own.

No world is complete with out an inhabitant, however, which is where Jones (Krysten Ritter) comes in. When the Breaking Bad and Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 alum was announced as the titular hero of Marvel’s second Netflix outing back in December, the news didn’t make too large of a splash at the time. But don’t think for one second that Ritter isn’t Jessica Jones. Sure, former Doctor Who star David Tennant takes a memorable stab at being a villain. But Ritter? Jessica Jones is all about Ritter.

Ritter’s Jones is lonely and never alone. She seemingly hates everyone and everything around her, yet holds onto enough of a kernel of her former self to give a sh*t. If you were ever caught in the middle of a bar fight, Jones is someone you’d want on your side. When it comes to cleaning up after, however, don’t count on her to stick around.

In comics, she’s mostly been written by Brian Michael Bendis, who created her with artist Michael Gaydos for the early ’00s mature readers-only title Alias. Bendis serves as a consultant on Rosenberg’s show, yet Ritter confidently makes the character her own. Not that it’s always clear who that character is. Jones hardly ever tells anyone she interacts with about herself or reveals much to the camera — voiceover narration and all. It’s only through the passage of time that, as she gradually opens up to Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), Jeryn Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), and Luke Cage (Mike Colter), Jones reveals anything of her past to the audience.

The same could be said for Tennant’s villainous Kilgrave, though only because the character hardly ever appears on camera in the first few episodes. He appears simply to be evil incarnate, unlike Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk in Daredevil, who was given an abundance of background (and sometimes an overabundance of it). Kilgrave exists as an occasional whisper, a dark blotch on Jones’ past who — whenever the lighting turns a shade of purple — pops in to whisper in the heroine’s ear or lick her cheek.

To date, most Marvel antagonists have either been purely functional or overly dramatic. Tennant’s Kilgrave, however, balances the necessary drama with an ample amount of creepiness. He isn’t there, and yet he is. This makes the character the perfect embodiment of evil for a noir-inspired thriller like Jessica Jones. Tennant’s performance is so convincing, especially geeky (and British) audience members can be forgiven for forgetting he was once a really nice Time Lord.

For the first time in a Marvel adaptation, the story doesn’t let on that everything is going to be okay. There are genuine moments of fear strewn throughout Jessica Jones — horror at the unknown, not to mention fear for what might happen next — and even MCU aficionados probably won’t know what to expect. That’s okay, because non-comics movie and television fans won’t know, either, and that’s part of what makes the series so compelling.

All 13 episodes of Marvel’s Jessica Jones premiere on Netflix at 3:01/12:01 a.m. EST/PST on Friday, Nov. 20.