It’s rare for me to binge watch an entire season or series of television. I’d burn through the DVD box set of Lost I received each Christmas in as many hours as there were episode. I did the same with Firefly upon happening upon the cult classic through Netflix. I started Arrested Development one lazy Friday afternoon, and by Sunday morning was shocked to discover the third season ended prematurely, with no fourth in sight at the time.
But with those few exceptions, I prefer to pace my viewing, even when watching a series for review. So it was that midway through Marvel’s Jessica Jones, a friend and I popped in one of my beloved Blu-Rays of the old Adam West Batman series. As we watched an episode starring the series’ first and foremost fiend, the Riddler (pausing, of course, as we attempted to deduce the answers ourselves, this time to rousing success), a quote regarding the program’s premise suddenly sprang to mind. Using my personal Bat-Computer, I’ve scoured the web, but having failed to discover the source, I’m resigned to deliver an unattributed paraphrase: “The titular character was the butt of the joke that was Batman. He was supremely square, but such freed his villains to be hip, pop art icons that oozed cool effortlessly.”
Jessica Jones as a series is by no means a comedy, nor is Jessica Jones as a character square. But a similar dynamic is nonetheless at play. Sardonic as the joke may be, she’s squarely at the butt of it. I can think of few superheroes or heroines more broken than her. No little girl watching this show is looking up at Krysten Ritter and thinking, “When I grow up, I want to be like her.” If there were tie-in merchandise for said little girl’s parents to buy her for Christmas, it’d be a jagged shard of broken glass and a bottle of cheap whiskey.
David Tennant’s Kilgrave, alternatively, is supremely cool. With his power he can acquire anything his heart desires without effort or fear of judgement. The fact that he immerses himself in haute couture, as evidenced by his sartorial stylings, the décor of his domiciles, and his gourmet gastronomy, is not some misguided pretense to come off as cultured; he has no need to impress. Rather, his fashion sensibilities and refined palette prove him in possession of genuine taste, a trait altogether too rare today. In a world where the proletariat and peasantry praise Bergoglio for foregoing the so-called excess of his Prada-clad predecessor, we must turn to the likes of Hugo Boss and Kevin “Kilgrave,” if not for their moral sensibilities than at least for their aesthetic ones.
To be clear, Kilgrave is a truly evil man. He utterly fails Kant’s second formulation of the Categorical Imperative, treating everyone around him as means rather than ends without a second thought or an ounce of empathy. But at the same time, this is a devil for whom more than just Mick Jagger can sympathize. Given what he could achieve with his abilities, he demonstrates a surprising amount of restraint, preferring petty hedonism and anonymity to the political power and influence he could acquire. He’s more interested in luxury and love than world domination, rendering him realistic and relatable.
Moreover, he’s only spurred from simple selfishness to outright villainy when his amorous affections were spurn by Jessica. The subject of childhood experimentations he could not comprehend, he was cursed with powers he could not control. He was abandoned without explanation, forced to utilize his abilities as a matter of survival.
And even so Kilgrave still successfully resisted temptations to which most others would succumb. The nature of his abilities made concepts such as consent and reciprocation particularly elusive, but he strove for them nevertheless as best he could. His relationship with Jessica could easily have been helotry she accused him of, with him using her solely for his own sexual satisfaction. Instead, it was largely defined by his attempts to engender in her happiness. And to the extent to which he could curb the compulsion he exerted over her he did, and in its absence believed to sense in her a mutual passion. And when Jessica became immune to his influences he became all the more enthralled by her, desiring to earn the admiration which she alone could demonstrate.
Given the flawless execution of this complexly written character, David Tennant’s Kilgrave is the performance par excellence among Marvel’s live action villains, even more so than Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk. Unfortunately, he is the one standout among the three main characters adopted from the comics, with Krysten Ritter and Mike Colter proving to be bizarre casting decisions. Both have the acting chops, with Ritter embodying Jones’ rightful self-deprecation and self-loathing, Colter capturing Cage’s calm and confidence. But I’ve never fully bought into the argument that Hollywood is right to so fully divorce accuracy of appearance and adherence to the source material from the adaptation process. In that respect, Ritter is neither the girl-next-door or the knockout-bombshell that Jones has been varyingly portrayed as in the comics, while Terry Crews alone was born to play Luke Cage. Thankfully, the minor characters were better cast, with Rachel Taylor’s Hellcat and Wil Travel’s Nuke practically stepping out of the page.
There are a few standout episodes, such as AKA Sin Bin and AKA 1,000 Cuts, but none which match the level of Daredevil from earlier in the year. But if Daredevil was the television equivalent of The Winter Soldier, Jessica Jones is more on par with The Dark World: worth watching once to keep pace with the cinematic universe as a whole, but hardly the source of repeated viewings. As for me, I’m going back to my Batman Blu-rays.