Initially in ‘AKA Ladies Night’, there’s signs that Jessica Jones might not be the heavyweight that was expected.
The opening act is perfectly solid, but the show starts off, initially, like an above-average but still relatively generic procedural about a troubled detective. Jessica is given a case, it’s established she has inner demons thanks to some past trauma and a drinking problem – and, for a little while, it all feels a little less inspired than the terrific publicity suggested.
Thankfully, after that reasonably conventional opening act, ‘AKA Ladies Night’ soon shifts into something considerably more unique. It’s helped, in part, by a hugely encouraging debut from Krysten Ritter as Jessica, who nails both the sardonic and detached façade that is Jessica’s default setting, and the more brittle, damaged side of the character that frequently emerges.
Ritter’s casting wasn’t greeted with universal acclaim from fans, but it’s hard to doubt her ability to carry the series after her excellent, multi-faceted performance here.
Likewise, Mike Colter makes an encouraging first impression with a relatively substantial first appearance for future spin-off headliner Luke Cage, delivering a grounded and understated performance with a hint of a dark, complex past that’ll doubtless unravel across both this series, and Luke Cage the show next year.
As Daredevil proved, the Netflix format provides ample opportunity to create a central villain just as complex and interesting as the hero. The villain here is Kilgrave, professional creep with a particularly frightening set of mind controlling abilities, played by none other than David Tennant.
There’s very little of Kilgrave in ‘AKA Ladies Night’, but Tennant’s brief appearances are certainly memorable, making a genuinely chilling impression with scarce screen-time – after this premiere, I’m hugely excited to see Tennant given a more substantial role in forthcoming episodes.
It’s also a testament to the strengths as a whole that despite the relatively minimal physical presence, Kilgrave’s presence is constantly felt, hanging over the episode like a thick fog as the villain lurks in the shadows – in short, ‘AKA Ladies Night’ manages to make Kilgrave feel like an terrifying threat by using his frequent absence to his advantage.
With strong introductions for Jessica and Kilgrave, ‘AKA Ladies Night’ is also bolstered by a taut, compelling script. It’s clear that Jessica Jones isn’t afraid to delve into uncharted territory for Marvel, with a gritty story which explores incredibly dark themes that, if Jessica Jones follows through on them in subsequent episodes, will mark this series out as the boldest thing Marvel has done yet.
Aside from the relatively standard opening act, it’s a gripping fifty minutes of television that throws out a couple of twisted surprises, ending with a conclusion that chillingly establishes what’s at stake.
‘AKA Ladies Night’ starts slowly, but rapidly picks up momentum right up until the superb conclusion. With a strong cast, instantly compelling storyline and a lack of fear exploring some disturbing themes, it’s a confident start for what promises to be Marvel’s most adult series yet.
All 13 episodes will premiere at 8am on Friday 20 November 2015 on Netflix.
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