BINGE-R #78: Jessica Jones + Annihilation
JESSICA JONES S2
Streaming Service: Netflix
Availability: All 13 episodes now streaming
The passing of time has not lessened Jessica Jones. Asked by a hypnotherapist to imagine a favourite place, the super-powered New York private investigator (played by Krysten Ritter) nominates a midtown bar. “Solid pours and free hot dogs,” she adds. Marvel has a suite of superheroes on Netflix, but Jessica Jones is the only one that’s essential. Debuting in November 2015, the first season introduced a protagonist whose powers – vast physical strength, flying that’s more “guided falling” – were overwhelmed by her trauma due to a nightmarish past when she was sexually enslaved and used as a weapon by Kilgrave, a despot whose very voice could bind the will of anyone he spoke to. Strength and vulnerability were so intertwined that holding herself together outranked doing good.
The program’s second season, with Melissa Rosenberg again serving as showrunner and every episode directed by a woman, is linked to the first. It ignores The Defenders, a supergroup of Marvel capes whose joint 2017 season reduced Jessica to merely a hard puncher and flinty commentator. Jessica is now known as a “vigilante superhero”, one of the increasingly common “powered people”, a development that adds to her alienation and allows a metaphor for racism to take shape. She still has a short fuse, a sardonic outlook and a preference for alcohol over therapy. Ritter has the role nailed, the alabaster skin and black leather jacket one of many contrasts she embodies. Shot from below, like a desperate film noir character, Jessica remains a compelling presence.
But the first three episodes of season two take their time. The focus is Jessica, her broadcaster best friend Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), and alternating employer/rival Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss); each woman is alone except for the others, each is struggling to come to terms with elements of their lives. The plot’s pulse is faint, slowly building around the company who transformed Jessica after she survived the childhood car crash that killed the rest of her family. There’s way too much snooping around darkened buildings, but the show accepts the character’s flaws for what they are and the past retains a debilitating undertow: Trish’s quest for information means she has to confront the filmmaker her ambitious mother served her up to as a 15-year-old child star.
If you haven’t watched the first season, go back and check it out straight away. It’s a Netflix must-see. But what worries me about the new season – apart from repeating the overly long commission of 13 episodes – is that it will struggle to match first season characters like Jessica’s fellow superhero, Luke Cage (Mike Colter), whose arc flattened beds and preconceptions, and most importantly a villain as complete as Kilgrave (David Tennant). Nightmarish in conception and chilling in execution, Jessica’s former jailer had a completely different form of power, one marked by contempt and cruelty. Every superhero needs an adversary who defines them, and that’s not going to be easy the second time around on Jessica Jones.
>> Old Shows, New Seasons: The third season of Netflix’s idiosyncratic romantic comedy Love drops today, so if you’re considering it check my review of season two [review here]; Stan’s Mozart in the Jungle, a whimsically revealing comedy about a New York orchestra starring Gael Garcia Bernal, has a fourth season available. Read the rundown of season three [review here] from the very first edition of BINGE-R.
Annihilation (Netflix, 2018, 115 minutes): I was gripped by Annihilation for as long as it only hinted at answers. Alex Garland’s follow-up to Ex Machina, which arrives on Netflix here two weeks after debuting in American cinemas, is otherworldly science-fiction that stokes a sense of impending dread with everything from horror movie creatures to the inscrutable gaze of Jennifer Jason Leigh. Natalie Portman plays Lena, a biologist and the wife of a soldier (Oscar Isaac) who returns from a secret mission without explanation or understanding. When she follows him Lena joins an all-female expedition (rounded out by Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez and Tuva Novotny’s scientists) to the Shimmer, a growing zone in a Florida swamp that no longer answers to humans or our scientific laws. Gene-splicing Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker and Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, the film makes transformation into a nightmare that reveals the underlying psychology. Portman’s brittle fierceness is illuminated by this new world, with its inexplicable duplicates and mutated cells, but the finale’s freak-out is ultimately tepid. Explanations are the ultimate failing in Annihilation.
New on Netflix: Bad Neighbours 2 (2016, 92 minutes) is that rare Hollywood sequel with a new take, flipping the gender of the university sorority bedevilling Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen’s married couple to female and making the mayhem relevant; the ground-breaking shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is dissected with detail in the intriguing documentary 78/52 (2017, 91 minutes).
New on SBS On Demand: The balance of fear and fascination is just right in Troll Hunter (2010, 99 minutes), a Norwegian found footage horror film about a group of aspiring filmmakers who discover a very special public servant; Martin Scorsese’s deadpan downtown New York comedy After Hours (1985, 93 minutes) with Griffin Dunne and Linda Fiorentino.
New on Stan: One of the masterpieces of Italian cinema, Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Conformist (1970, 109 minutes) is a strafing, stylised study of self-loathing and extremism set under 1930s fascism and starring the masterful Jean-Louis Trintignant.
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