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A Special Note to Those of You Who Thought 'Jessica Jones' Was 'Just OK'

By Dustin Rowles | Streaming | December 14, 2015 |

By Dustin Rowles | Streaming | December 14, 2015 |

I know that most of you loved Jessica Jones. I am thrilled that you connected with the series and the characters, and with what was a legitimately heinous and original villain. Tennant was unreal. I am not here to rain on anyone’s parade or kill any buzzes. We all have different opinions, we all experience things differently, and we connect with characters and themes differently.

If you loved Jessica Jones, this post is not for you. Likewise, if you haven’t seen Jessica Jones, nothing written from this point on should in anyway dissuade you from doing so. You should definitely watch it and make up your own mind. Based on the reception so far, you’re likely to love it, too.

This post is written exclusively for that quiet minority who watched Jessica Jones and thought, “Yeah, that was just OK.” And the reason why I’m writing it is because those of us with those feelings don’t have a place with which to share them. As one of the small minority, I’m afraid to say anything. In groups of friends where everyone is praising the Netflix series, I sit quietly and nod my head. On social media, I dare not speak of my true opinion, because I don’t want to be that guy. I don’t want to be the contrarian, or be accused of being a troll. I don’t want to be the downer at the Jessica Jones party.

But (*looks around, makes sure no one else on staff is looking*) … I was underwhelmed. Maybe it was because I got to it late (and by that, I mean, two weeks after everyone else) and the mountains of think pieces had created expectations that series wasn’t equipped to meet, or maybe because I watched it over the course of two weeks instead of two days, I didn’t experience it the same way.

I had a lot of problems with it.

For instance, I liked the character, but I thought Krysten Ritter was overly dour. Given her experiences, it’s probably too much to expect her to be delivering Deadpool-like one-liners, but I found her to be completely joyless, even in her quest for revenge. I preferred Malcolm and Trish, the latter of whom I hope gains her own super strength and takes on an even bigger role next season. Likewise, the Jerry/Wendy/Pam divorce subplot felt extraneous or, more accurately, an interesting central plot for one episode, but not a subplot to most of the series, particularly with the way it petered out (for obvious reasons) after the confrontation with Kilgrave. I kept expecting that there’d be more subtext to the relationship between Jerry and Wendy, or a backstory that would allow us to invest in the outcome.

I love Mike Colter, but Luke Cage had no spark. When Trish commented about the intense chemistry between Luke and Jessica, I wondered what show she was watching. Both Luke and Jessica make for one half of an interesting couple, but they’re the same half.

Also, I get that Will Simpson is presumably being set up to be next season’s Big Bad, but the way that subplot transformed and then trailed off was disappointing.

The biggest issue I had with Jessica Jones, however, was that it was a long, 13-episode series that never really took a break from Kilgrave. Granted, Tennant’s character was the best reason to watch the series — he was captivating yet repugnant, alluring yet vile — and the themes about rape and domestic abuse resonated loudly. To give an emotional and physical abuser the powers of mind control is straight up evil.

But Jones is a private detective, and I thought the show could’ve done a much better job of wrapping the series-long plotline around some smaller cases with more immediate stakes. Something to keep us pushing Netflix’s next arrow at the end of each episode. With the entire focus on Kilgrave, if often felt like 12 episodes of table setting for one episode of payoff.

This is something that Damon Lindelof has taken issue with, as well. “The biggest issue [with the series is that] the episodes are indistinct,” he said in an interview with Variety. “The idea is that you can give each episode its own internal flavor and character,” he said of his approach to The Leftovers, but that’s not the way Melissa Rosenberg approached Jessica Jones (come to think of it, Dexter seasons were also often structured like a 13-hour movie with arbitrary breaking points). There was no distinction, no internal flavor. Just a dreary 13-hour pursuit of one man.

The X-Files had mythology episodes and case-of-the-week episodes, Veronica Mars bookended each episode with the season-long arc. Even Justified took a lot of breaks from the main arc to focus on smaller stories to keep us invested. Jessica Jones was just Kilgrave, Kilgrave, Kilgrave. Hope — who killed her parents in the riveting pilot episode — ultimately felt like a MacGuffin. Jones spent ten episodes trying to trick Kilgrave into doing something that would get him indicted on criminal charges before deciding, “Aw f*ck it. Let’s just kill him instead,” something she had been in the position to do several times before Hope stabbed herself in the neck.

The meandering structure of the series sucked out too much of the air. We knew Jessica wasn’t going to “win” until the final episode, so each episode was primarily characterized by the misdeeds of Kilgrave. Who would he kill, and how would he did it? Jessica never got to claim any victories until the end, and even then, she was nonplussed. There was no victory lap. It almost felt perfunctory. The last three episodes? They were a mess.

I’m not down on the series as a whole, and “Just OK” given the talent and possibilities involved is certainly enough reason to watch another season, but I feel guilty — almost ashamed — that I don’t share the same level of enthusiasm for the series that most do. It is my hope that by reaching out to the rest of you, we can be a small community who can support each other in our time of need.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.