Fragility and toughness form the juxtaposed themes of the pilot of Jessica Jones, which debuted yesterday on Netflix. I know nothing of Jessica Jones from the comics, and I haven’t read any reviews of the show, so this is an unadulterated first impression.
I couldn’t not think about the Veronica Mars pilot in the first few minutes. A female private detective spies on a tawdry hook-up as her voiceover provides exposition. We’re then transported to a hallway outside a dingy office where the textured glass proclaims the name of the business, Alias Investigations, not unlike the door to Mars Investigations. Then a client’s head comes through the glass and the similarity is, shall we say, shattered. (Doors are a recurring symbol, as well.)
It’s no accident that the word “Fragile” prominently adorns the cardboard that later replaces the glass. As our heroine moves through her day-to-day, there are multiple references to being breakable or unbreakable.
Krysten Ritter shrugs off the manicured, airhead persona that she has embodied in some other roles — including Gia in the other, aforementioned spy drama. She broods in tank tops and jeans and wastes few words, even on her apparent friends.
It’s only slowly that Jessica’s apparent super human (inhuman?) traits begin to surface. She jumps to the top of a fire escape, or throws something at the ceiling, only each time the action is just out of view, causing the audience to question what they’ve just seen. “That seemed like an awfully powerful throw for a woman of her build,” you think. We know it’s Marvel, and so we know she probably has powers, but we aren’t hit over the head with them.
Another element in which the show deals in subtlety is with its gaze. We frequently see Jessica dressing, undressing, getting out of the shower or — in a scene that would make some Game of Thrones characters blush — going at it with a bartender she just met. (More on that in a moment.) None of these shots, in my opinion, gives a sense of ogling Ritter’s body. They create, instead, a sense of intimacy with the character, like we’re seeing her raw and honestly.
How we first see a female character have sex, which tends to happen in pilots, sets the tone for how we think of her going forward. (I talk about this in posts on Fringe and The Americans.) We suspect, but don’t know, from this episode where the Jessica/Luke relationship is going. He’s a guy who she’s following around with a camera while he sleeps with some woman. We don’t know, actually, whether Jessica is spying on him or the woman. There’s a familiarity there, like she’s been on this particular assignment for a while. She knows the routine. Yet, on this one evening she decides to interact with Luke up close.
When they end up in bed, it’s a meeting of equals. Not one or the other of them dominates the equation unless you consider the fact that she walks out nonchalantly at the end an act of rejection. There’s more talk about break-able-ness in this scene, too. By the end, it’s clear that he’ll form an important element of the show, and not as just a booty call, and the level playing field between them will be key.
The plot of the episode revolves around Jessica trying to find a missing college student whose parents have driven in from Omaha to find her. Jessica realizes that the student has been taken by a man who once held her, Jessica, captive. So the case of the week is an entre to the series plot. Jessica believed this sinister man dead. Only sketchy details about him are offered, some in the form of shadowy hallucinations on the part of our traumatized protagonist.
Here is where we start to discover where Jessica’s fragility lies. It’s not in her physical form but in her psyche. She brushes aside her client’s offers to help fix her office door, to keep her safe in this dangerous city. Yet we see her panic in reaction to certain thoughts and learn that her recitation of street names is a device used to calm her mind.
Nothing is resolved at the end of the pilot, not the case of the week, nor any of the problems Jessica is experiencing. It’s a pilot designed for the binge-watching era, opening many doors and closing none.