With Marvel’s The Defenders, almost upon us, Matt Waters is here to catch everyone up on the four individual shows of the Netflix-verse that got us here, acting as a primer for newcomers and a refresher for those with fuzzy memories. Next up is Jessica Jones. Heavy spoilers, obviously
Jessica Jones actually predates the entire Marvel/Netflix venture, originally developed for regular television at ABC by Melissa Rosenberg. In their infinite wisdom, ABC eventually passed on the show, and after contemplating taking it to cable TV, Rosenberg and Jessica Jones were ultimately recruited into Marvel’s new roster of adult-oriented drama series.
Slightly reworking the series to fit the new house style, Rosenberg crafted a noiry detective show decidedly more mature than the average superhero property, a decidedly feminist story addressing PTSD, rape, abuse, sexuality and addiction.
Given its underrepresented subject matter, there was a strong chance that the show would have gotten a decent amount of attention regardless of its ties to Marvel, but thanks to Daredevil‘s debut several months earlier to critical acclaim, all eyes were on Rosenberg and her Jessica, Krysten Ritter.
While sharing some DNA with Daredevil, Jessica Jones established itself as a unique entity, being at once more fantastical and even grittier, grimmer in tone but with a brighter colour palette and supporting characters with bleaker backstories but more upbeat charisma.
But what the heck is it actually about? What do you need to know before watching Defenders? To answer these questions we first need to meet the cast, many of whom will be popping up in Defenders.
Retired superhero/private detective.
Jessica’s family died in a car crash when she was a teenager and she was adopted by Dorothy Walker as a PR stunt. Discovering she had superhuman strength following the crash, Jessica protected her adoptive sister, Trish, from Dorothy’s abuse. As an adult she considered a career as a costumed superhero but this brief endeavour came to an abrupt end when she was found by Kilgrave and made his slave for a year. After breaking free she began to drink heavily and became a private investigator.
Jess’ adoptive sister & radio host.
A former incredibly successful child star, Trish endured abuse from her mother and developed addictions as a result until Jessica intervened. As an adult she hosts Trish Talk, one of New York’s most popular radio shows. She has a state of the art security system installed in her apartment and takes Krav Maga, determined to not let anyone hurt her again. At the start of the series she and Jessica haven’t spoken in months.
Bartender with unbreakable skin.
Jessica is immediately attracted to Luke and the two engage in a sexual relationship, unaware of each other’s superhuman abilities, but bond over them after. Things are complicated when Jessica realises she killed Luke’s wife while under Kilgrave’s influence. Luke is somewhat standoffish, wishing to avoid unnecessary attention. Says “Sweet Christmas” out loud.
Villain with the power of persuasion.
As a child, Kevin Thompson is horrifically experimented upon by his parents in an effort to cure his terminal illness. He develops the power to make people do whatever he says as a side effect, meaning he literally never learned how to deal with rejection, remaining in an eternally petulant state. He abuses his powers to a horrific degree, living a life of luxury and leaving a trail of emotionally broken victims. Obsessed with Jessica.
Cop. ‘Not’ Trish’s boyfriend.
A former member of a shadowy special forces unit. One of Kilgrave’s many victims, he attempts to murder Trish and is horrified when he thinks he’s succeeded. His extended apology to her turns into a relationship of sorts, though he demonstrates some worrying control issues that cause her to think twice. Has a prickly relationship with Jessica.
One of the city’s top lawyers and a named partner at Hogarth, Chao & Benowitz, Jeri hires Jessica to deal with particularly difficult cases and clients, overlooking her problematic methods. Hogarth is a total shark who seems to only care about her own reputation. In the process of divorcing her wife and having an affair with her assistant. Her firm hire Foggy Nelson in season 2 of Daredevil.
Living next to Jessica, Malcolm is frequently found stumbling around high and seeking peanut butter. It is revealed Malcolm was a social worker before Kilgrave made him a drug addict. Bonds with Jessica and acts as a little-brother figure and confidante. He also strikes up an unusual friendship with Robyn. Extremely charming.
Detective Oscar Clemons
One year from retirement.
A Hell’s Kitchen policeman playing the standard “too old for this” role, Clemons is initially suspicious of Jessica but ends up being a key ally as he can legally sanction any video evidence of Kilgrave’s abilities.
Kilgrave’s latest victim.
Jessica is hired by the Shlottmans to find their missing daughter, Hope, and this investigation leads her to realise that Kilgrave has returned. Tragically, Hope was ordered to murder her own parents upon being rescued and thus spends most of the series in prison for double homicide. Jessica does everything she can to prove Hope’s innocence, seeing her as a physical embodiment of her failure.
Hogarth’s assistant and lover.
Pam works for Hogarth and has had a crush on her since the first time she watched her dominate a case in court. The two began an affair shortly after and after Jeri’s wife finds out the two go public with their relationship. Pam initially seems naive but proves to have a little more going for her as the show progresses. Accidentally kills Wendy at the end of the season and faces life imprisonment.
Hogarth’s soon-to-be ex-wife.
Doctor Wendy Ross-Hogarth spends much of the series locked in increasingly ugly divorce proceedings with Jeri Hogarth. She provided a tremendous amount of emotional and financial support to get Jeri to where she is, only to be dumped for a younger, prettier model. Poor Wendy. She is inadvertently killed by Pam during a chaotic scuffle with Jeri. Poor, poor Wendy.
Robyn & Ruben
Jessica’s weird neighbours.
Robyn and Ruben live together despite being 30 year old siblings. Hilariously, Jessica thinks they’re a couple before learning this. Ruben falls for Jessica but is murdered by Kilgrave. Robyn is course devastated, and forms an unlikely friendship with Malcolm.
Perpetually exhausted nurse.
Still working at a hospital in Hell’s Kitchen as the show takes place between seasons of Daredevil, Claire appears in the final episode where she is the only one willing and able to treat an unconscious Luke. She bonds with Jess and continues to look very tired.
The Return of the Purple Man
Retired superhero Jessica Jones is hired by the Shlottmans to find their missing daughter, Hope. Reluctantly accepting the case, Jessica is horrified to discover that her former tormentor, Kilgrave, is behind the kidnapping. Jessica rescues Hope, but fails to stop her from murdering her parents on Kilgrave’s instruction.
Determined to save Hope from a life in prison, Jessica asks Jeri Hogarth to take on the case, but she of course dismisses the notion of mind control and demands proof. Jessica manages to get a confession from a doctor, convincing Hogarth.
Jessica confides in her adoptive sister, Trish, who tells Hope’s story on her radio show, condemning Kilgrave in the process despite Jessica’s warnings. Kilgrave sends a brainwashed police officer, Will Simpson, to kill Trish in retaliation, but Jessica intervenes. A remorseful Simpson and Trish begin a relationship, while Jessica pushes away her recent flame, the bulletproof Luke Cage, feeling guilty for killing his wife when under Kilgrave’s control.
After discovering that Kilgrave’s powers are halted by anaesthetic and following clues from a support group for Kilgrave victims formed after Trish’s radio show, Jessica formulates a plan to drug Kilgrave and imprison him in a soundproof chamber. Jessica intends to capture video evidence of Kilgrave’s abilities to clear Hope’s name.
Kilgrave meanwhile purchases Jessica’s childhood home and has it filled with exact replicas of all her furniture and belongings, declaring his love for her and that he does not want to control her. Not wishing for anyone else to die because of her, Jessica agrees to live with Kilgrave, hoping to obtain an audio confession.
When this plan goes awry Jessica instead knocks Kilgrave out and hurries him to the chamber after a previous failure. Simpson is critically injured in an explosion intended to blow up the house with Kilgrave in it.
The Sin Bin
With Kilgrave captive, Jessica torments him with videos of the experiments performed on him as a child, hoping to get him to confess or demonstrate his powers on camera. When this tactic fails she manages to track down his parents, believing they hold the key.
Instead, Kilgrave’s mother attempts to kill him out of remorse, causing Kilgrave to force her to commit suicide. Jessica intervenes before he can do the same to his father but he manages to escape in the chaos. Jessica realises she defied one of Kilgrave’s orders while he was getting away and that he has not been able to control her since she killed Luke’s wife, the trauma of that incident being sufficient for her to break free.
Rushed to hospital following the explosion, Simpson refuses treatment from anyone but Doctor Kozlov, who arrives and administers him a series of mysterious red, white and blue pills, healing him incredibly quickly.
Discharging himself, Will rejoins the effort to stop Kilgrave, but is clearly a changed man, murdering Detective Clemons and attempting to do the same to Jessica. Will is deliberately not following the intended drug regiment in order to gain superhuman abilities on par with Jessica.
Trish takes one of the red pills against Simpson and Jessica’s wishes, temporarily gaining enough strength to subdue Simpson, but is then hospitalised herself. Her estranged mother, Dorothy, visits and attempts to mend bridges with her daughter but is rebuffed until she reveals that she has files on IGH, the company Kozlov is affiliated with, stating they paid for Jessica’s medical bills following the car crash that killed her family.
Kilgrave & Son
On the run, Kilgrave forces his father to find a way to boost his powers in hopes of being able to control Jessica once more. He also brainwashes a returning Luke and forces him to try and kill Jessica, who is forced to subdue him with a shotgun.
Hope takes her own life, realising that Jessica’s mission to prove her innocent is preventing her from putting a permanent stop to Kilgrave.
Jessica and Trish attempt to stop Kilgrave before he can leave New York on a yacht, but he manages to halt Jessica on command, before threatening to take Trish with him. Realising Jessica would never allow this unless he really did have control of her once more, he lets his guard down, only for Jessica to snap his neck.
The series ends with Jessica returning to her ruined office and a flood of voicemails from hopeful clients. While she initially ignores them all, Malcolm answers one, declaring Alias Investigations back in business.
So there we are, Jessica didn’t get to be with Luke but killed the bad guy, Trish might have powers thanks to that pill she took, Malcolm beat his drug addiction and Simpson is out there threatening to become the questionable ‘Nuke’.
The sky is really the limit for our pessimistic hero in The Defenders, and I greatly look forward to seeing her cynicism come into conflict with the annoying mysticism of Iron Fist. But now it’s all eyes on tomorrow for Luke Cage!