Review: KRYSTEN RITTER Gives Command Performance in Stunning JESSICA JONES Debut Episode

Still from "Jessica Jones"
Credit: Marvel/Netflix
Credit: Alex Maleev (Netflix/Marvel)

Editor's Note: This review originally ran October 12, 2015. Given Jessica Jones' debut on Friday, we are revisiting the review for readers who missed it the first time around.

Jessica Jones Season One Episode One
Starring Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Carrie Ann Moss, David Tennant, Rachael Taylor, Eka Darville, and Erin Moriarty
Directed by S.J. Clarkson
Written by Melissa Rosenberg
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

After launching its first Netflix series, Daredevil, to massive success and near universal critical praise, Marvel TV is poised to add the second component to its Defenders Netflix line with Jessica Jones. An adaptation of Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos' hardboiled, super-powered female P.I. Jessica Jones has a tall order – expanding the street level world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe while also setting an individual tone. Fortunately, Jessica Jones - at least judging by the first episode – has a look and feel all its own, resting on the masterful performance from star Krysten Ritter, while also fitting right in alongside Daredevil and the precedent set by its grounded, gritty tone.

True to form for Marvel’s Netflix output, the first episode is a slow burn, building and stoking a small fire that becomes a raging inferno by the episode’s end. Jessica Jones thrives on rhythm – the rhythm of its noir-ish narration, the rhythm and chemistry between Ritter’s Jessica Jones and co-star Mike Colter’s Luke Cage, and the rhythm of a deep and building mystery that provides an astonishingly powerful hook. Indeed, in it’s running time, Jessica Jones episode one goes from feeling almost lighthearted to being perhaps the most gutwrenching and emotionally palpable episode of Marvel TV yet.

Much of that rests on the shoulders of Ritter, whose performance has been hyped by the show’s cast and crew for some time. And, to put it bluntly, you should believe the hype. Ritter swings from sassy and surly to unguarded and fragile at a moment’s notice, perfectly embodying a woman who has built a wall around her deeper self while also striving to rise above what are, judging by the pilot’s brush with her past, horrific circumstances.

Still from 'Jessica Jones'
Still from 'Jessica Jones'
Credit: Netflix

As for the rest of the cast, Carrie-Anne Moss is pitch perfect as Jones’s distant employer, attorney Jeryn Hogarth, while Colter’s Luke Cage is absolutely spot on. While David Tennant’s Kilgrave is only glimpsed in the briefest of flashes in this episode, his creepy, unquestionably evil presence is felt throughout. One of the most promising parts of the series is the potential for a truly powerful villain in Tennant’s Kilgrave.

It’s perhaps pertinent to warn viewers that Jessica Jones deals with some intense subject matter – trauma, PTSD, being a survivor of assault. But it handles these subjects deftly, with a thoughtfulness that belies its potential to make light of these circumstances or use them as a trope. There is a powerful moment between Jones and a fellow survivor of trauma in which Jones counsels her fellow survivor, telling her “It’s not your fault.” It’s a touching moment, but it’s also emblematic of Jessica Jones’s commitment to handling such potentially volatile subject matter with care.

Credit: Marvel/Netflix

While there are still 12 more episodes of this season for Jessica Jones to sink or swim, this first episode makes a strong case for Marvel’s first headlining female superhero – and yes, there are hints of Jones’s ill-fated superhero past in the episode. Carried heavily by a command performance from Krysten Ritter, Jessica Jones strikes a balance between self-aware noir and Marvel’s first flirtations with psychological horror. Moody but not overbearing, funny without being silly, and heavy with gravitas without being burdensome, Jessica Jones is poised to be not just another hit for Marvel and Netflx, but a landmark moment for female superheroes on TV.

Jessica Jones debuts November 20 on Netflix.

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