Jessica Jones, the new series on Netflix, is Marvel’s latest foray into the televised (well, streamed) world of superheroes.  And honestly, it’s different.  Although the main character has special powers, that’s really not what she, or the series, is about.

Jessica makes her living as a private investigator, struggles with personal failures, and seeks comfort in old and new friends.  But wait, she’s a superhero: Why not work at superheroing?  Because Jessica suffered a trauma at the hands of a madman who can control other people’s minds… and it was so bad that she gave up superheroing. Yeah, she’s not the paragon of virtue with the “never surrender” attitude of a Captain America; she’s just a girl trying to get along, and so broken by her past that she only wants to forget it ever existed.  So she does her job, drowning her memories in booze and keeping everyone at a distance with her smart mouth and cynical attitude.

This is noir detective drama.  And it’s seriously great stuff. 

Jessica JonesWhat’s great about this is that her troubled past has turned her into the penultimate cheap private dick, a female Sam Spade with an office-slash-apartment, a junkie neighbor and a new love interest that she first saw when following a client’s cheating wife.  Jessica has incredible strength, and the ability to jump at least a few stories into the air—making her a lower level superhero, at least compared to the Avengers—but at times, the viewer can completely forget that.  Jessica herself downplays it (or teases people with it)… she uses her powers to help her do her job, and occasionally to defend herself or others… but mostly she gumshoes around New York City, pursuing cases for clients, researching on the web, grudgingly asking for help from her few contacts when she needs it, and solving the occasional crime.

Until the man who ruined her life comes back to New York, and makes it clear in the first episode that he’s out to get her.

This show pushes some powerful buttons, especially in the areas of fear, violation, helplessness, paranoia, isolation and the struggle towards recovery.  Because you can honestly feel for Jessica: You see how she struggles with a ruined life, trying to put it back together in a way that’s pretty lousy, but does the job; you fear for her tenuous struggle for sanity, her desire to just forget it ever happened; and her terrifying realization that it might happen, all over again.  But despite her fear, she is just as motivated by a rage over her own violation that will show no mercy, to her or anyone; she wants the man who ruined her life, and is determined to prevent him from doing that to anyone else.

And yeah, superhero or not, you definitely get the idea that she’ll kill him if she thinks she has to. And Jessica is just unstable enough that you wouldn’t want to be in her way if she made that decision.

You don’t get much more noir than that.

With a wonderfully believable cast of supporting characters, people doing their best to cope with a world that has superheroes (and supervillains), clever writing, dramatic tension, powerful action and devious twists and turns, this show will leave you captivated, actively looking in every corner of the frame to see if something nasty is lurking there.  This is what an adult superhero show, a show about the real-life ramifications of such a dangerous lifestyle, looks like.

 

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