Marvel’s Jessica Jones’s series premiere “AKA Ladies Night” kicks off with Krysten Ritter’s voice over describing the seedy places (and accompanying bad behaviours) her P.I. gig takes her and we’re positioned firmly viewing the world through Jessica’s lens. She’s our quick-witted, hard-drinking, take no shit gumshoe — who has a few problems she’d probably rather not talk about.
Rather than setting up plot, the first episode introduces us to how Jessica experiences life. The dull light of day, the harsh shadows of night. Her strength, her fears, and the feelings she lets out when no one’s looking. It’s a lot of showing, especially at first — leaving the confirmation of a few key details for an interaction later in the first hour.
The show is positioned very specifically from Jessica’s point of view. For the first 30 minutes Jessica Jones is not only every scene, but she’s in practically every shot and the shots she isn’t in are from her point of view. Even after the first half-hour, Ritter’s Jones dominates screen time as we only pause from her momentarily to learn a little more about the women who surround Jessica: her corporate client, Carrie-Anne Moss’s Jeryn Hogarth, and her friend, Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor). The world of this show is Jessica’s world, the story being told, and the visual language of the telling, makes this very clear.
The framing choices help us understand how Jessica positions herself; she keeps others at arm’s length. She’s shot through windows, doorways, from behind the edges of furniture – keeping us removed even though we’re with her the whole time. When we do get close to her it’s when she’s at her most vulnerable. Jessica, most of the time, is on guard, remaining vigilant. Protecting herself, and keeping herself out of her head. That might be what all the alcohol is for.
And as we progress through the episode, and the case of Hope, the missing girl – we begin to learn what Jessica is hiding from. By the time Jessica is packing her bags, trying to get on a flight across the world to get away from this person, we’ve spent time with her. We’ve seen her on the job, out at night, we’ve seen her strength and her attitude, so when we see her terrified of something, we know it’s big.
That’s when the second effect of constantly framing Jessica through windows, doors, and from behind cars kicks in. As much as she’s holding herself removed, and the first hour creeps on – this visual language begins to mean something else as well at times, instead of it showing her holding herself removed, we wonder if she’s being watched.
As Jessica approaches the restaurant where she has a traumatic memory of time she spent with this man from her past (who you and I know is David Tennant’s Kilgrave), she’s shot from behind a car. After she realizes that this was the man she was tracking, she’s planning her escape, and we’re watching her through the inside of her bedroom closet.
Through Trish, we learn that “he” supposedly died. And through this conversation the show graciously comes out and names what Jessica is going through – she’s dealing with PTSD, still coping with her experience with Kilgrave just about a year prior.
Trish calls Jessica out on her impulse to run. Pushing Jessica to stay, and to fight. To be the hero she knows Jessica can be.
What I find especially effective is that when Trish gives Jessica the money to run; both options — fight or flight — feel within the realm of possibility for this character, but neither feels like the obvious choice. It’s not that she’s someone who wouldn’t care — but we do know that Jessica is scared, and justifiably so. At this moment we know it’s not likely that she’s going to leave New York because it’s only Episode 1, but we don’t know if that’s a choice she makes, or one that’s made for her.
We don’t know exactly what happened before with Jessica, but based on what’s happened with Hope, and Jessica’s reaction, we know that it’s something terrible, and we know Jessica didn’t make it out without some serious scars. But we do know that she chose to stay, and she chose to do something about it.
If this first episode is any indication we’re in for quite a ride. I can’t wait to dive into the rest of Jessica Jones’ story – and I hope you’ll stick with me for more Jessica Jones recaps and let us know what you think about the episodes the comments. If you’ve already watched them all (or many) please avoid spoilers!
Photo Courtesy of Netflix