Delaying Kilgrave: The trouble with Jessica Jones’ antagonist

I’ve just finished watching Jessica Jones on Netflix, and while I loved the set-up and the world of the story, my feelings on Kilgrave as the antagonist are mixed to say the least. I love the graphic novels, and was surprised that a relatively minor character in the Marvel universe had been adapted into a full-length series. I don’t recall Jessica as Jewel in The Avengers, but her post-costume, shambolic story in Alias proved far more interesting and transgressive than most other heroes. I also love the dark, gritty version of Marvel’s New York realised in Daredevil, so I was looking forward to watching Ms Jones inhabiting this world the small screen.

*Warning – there may be spoilers ahead*

Krysten Ritter is just about perfect as the eponymous heroine – just the right mix of hard-drinking, fast-living toughness and frailty – with an apparently total disregard for what other people think of her. Mike Coulter is very well cast as Luke Cage as well, and I think his solo series – and part in The Defenders – will definitely be one to watch.

My problem comes with the realisation of Kilgrave. Not with the acting of David Tennant, but with the way the story developed around the character – and how it delayed the action and drama of the series.

An antagonist who can control other people’s thoughts is a tough act to pull off, but I think the rules of the world – and Kilgrave’s abilities – was handled well to begin with. What I found difficult was Jessica’s pursuit of Kilgrave and vice versa – it just felt like a delaying tactic. As the series wore on, I had the strange ‘draggy’ feeling where the audience knows the situation could be easily resolved by the antagonist or protagonist far earlier, but it’s not – often for seemingly spurious reasons. I was hoping Jessica would leave Kilgrave to one side for some episodes while other stories were explored, but it was not to be – resulting in the series narrative seeming over-stretched.

Jessica could have killed her antagonist early into the series, and vice versa. While he was clearly obsessed with her, it wasn’t really clear what his motivation was, or why he had singled her out for his obsession. With Jessica, there seemed to be endless maguffins on the way to tracking Kilgrave down (for the nth time), most of which felt like stagey narrative devices. The repeat of the endless pursuit, capture, escape, near-death experience started to pall after a while.

The series was also littered with gruesomely dispatched bodies – and the final straw for me was the completely inexplicable suicide of Hope Shlottman. There seemed no particular point to most of the deaths – especially Hope’s – other than to provide another corpse for the remorseful Jessica to step over in her pursuit of the purple-suited madman. And all this to gather ‘proof’ of his nefarious activities.

When she finally got to Kilgrave in the last episode, it made the series arc something of a damp squib, as it was the inevitable end-point, but we could have got there a lot faster and not missed anything at all.

I hope with subsequent series they follow the pattern of the comic more, and have stories over 1-3 episodes. A ‘precinct’ set-up like Jessica’s Alias agency suits that really well, and opens up the world for a far more interesting range of stories.

Marvel’s other TV antagonist

I devoured the first series of Daredevil on Netflix when it came out – and thought it was brilliantly done. Kingpin as Daredevil’s antagonist has a clear plan – and good reasoning for what he wants to achieve. He also scared the bejesus out of me (peculiarly because of the precise way he snipped his chives on to his morning omelette).

As with all superhero films and series, the only part of Daredevil made me flinch slightly was the moment he finally donned the costume. There’s never an elegant way to get around the faintly ridiculous costumes that some heroes wear – even when they refer to them with disdain and / or irony. Jessica Jones has that on her side – she has already dispensed with her costume in favour of a Joan Jett-esque rig-out and whisky bottle accessory which suits her much better.

On the whole, I think the alternative Marvel universe Netflix has created with Daredevil and Jessica Jones is a great counterpoint to the huge box office juggernauts of The Avengers, Iron Man et al – I just hope they keep the stories on track in future. It’s all eyes on The Defenders now.

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