Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Squawk Box: Man In The High Castle/Jessica Jones

I spent the back half of November and early December consuming the two shows I was most looking forward to- Marvel's Jessica Jones and Amazon's The Man In The High Castle- both of which more than lived up to their respective hype and both of which did what you want great television shows to do: they stuck with you, long after you finished watching them.

Set in an alternate universe where the Allies lost World War II, The Man In The High Castle begins in an America divided between the Japanese (the west coast) and the Germans (the east coast/Midwest) with a neutral zone (the Rocky Mountains, more or less in the middle.) When Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) is given a mysterious film by her sister who is then shot by the Japanese authorities, she soon discovers that the films are produced by the mysterious Man In The High Castle and show different versions of reality than the one they're in. Wanting to find the truth behind the films, Juliana heads to the neutral zone, taking over her sister's mission for the 'resistance' only to run into Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank), who is also trying to find out who is behind the films, while attempting to infiltrate the resistance- only he's doing it for the Nazis instead.

Meanwhile, Juliana's boyfriend Frank (Rupert Evans) gets brought in for questioning about Juliana's location and his past is used against him in the most awful way possible- seeking revenge, he secures a gun and is about to assassinate the Crown Prince of Japan when someone else does instead- leaving Trade Minister Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) and his high-ranking Nazi friend Rudolph Wegener (Carsten Norgaard) racing to prevent war between the two superpowers. By the end of the first season, conspiracies will have been unearthed, answers will have been found and one character is a step closer to unearthing the real identity of The Man In The High Castle.

I will admit this: the middle few episodes do drag on a little bit- but it's the subtle touches that really creep you out and haunt you. Like when one character asks what's floating in the air and the other replies that it's 'Tuesday, when they burn the cripples and the infirm at the hospital.' Or how everything seems serene and suburban except all the dudes in Nazi regalia greeting each other with friendly 'Sieg Heils!' The world that this show inhabits is chilling, not just because it's so well-created, down to the smallest of details, but because it's believable. If they're going to run into a problem, I think it will be how to bring the story to a resolution- which obviously depends on how many seasons they end up getting, but having read the book, I can tell you it's not a happy fun smiley ending. In fact, it's downright melancholy- which hasn't stopped some television shows, I know- but at the same time, it will be interesting to see how they square that particular circle when they come to it.

Jessica Jones on the other hand, grabs you and doesn't let go. The second of Marvel's television shows to drop on Netflix, Jessica Jones jumps right in and introduces us to the mess of a titular protagonist (played by Krysten Ritter) who is a Private Investigator in Hell's Kitchen, drinks too much, lives like a slob and is trying her best to piece her life back together after a hideous trauma at the hands of a man named Kilgrave, (played brilliantly by David Tennant) who has the ability to control minds. Jessica broke free from his control, but remains terrified of falling back under his influence again.

Taking a case of a missing girl by the name of Hope Schlottman, Jessica tracks her down only to realize that Kilgrave has returned- apparently from the dead and despite her best efforts, Jessica can't get Hope and her family away in time. She is about to run, but decides to take down Kilgrave once and for all instead and soon finds out that the cost of doing so is higher than she might have expected.

I don't even know where to start with how awesome this was... whether it's Tennant, who just oozes evil and amorality for most of the thirteen episodes until you find out why he is the way he is and then it just gets downright uncomfortable for a second, or Ritter, who wraps up her character's trauma and PTSD in self-medication, bursts of violence and sarcasm and lashing out against her friends and just stares through your television screen at you sometimes, that's how haunted she feels. This is a television show that could never, ever, ever happen on a television network- maybe on cable, but even that's a stretch. This show shows no fear in tackling issues of rape, assault and PTSD head on and it absolutely crackles with power sometimes.

As usual with Marvel properties, the other joy of Jessica Jones was watching plot threads and characters be introduced that you know will become significant down the road. Luke Cage (Mike Colter), Joe Simpson (soon to be the super villain Nuke, I'm guessing), Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) all- if the show stays pretty close to it's source material, which it seemed to do- have bigger things ahead of them and Luke Cage is getting his own show. Rosario Dawson returns as Claire Temple, the Night Nurse which ties the show back to Daredevil and keeps planting the seeds and threads, which are supposed to eventually culminate in a Defenders mini-series.

My Verdict:
Man In The High Castle- *** out of ****, it had a strong first season and sets up some interesting things for it's second season, but I don't know how long the concept and premise are going to carry them- but I'll keep watching as long as they keep making them.

Jessica Jones- **** out of ****, Marvel follows up Daredevil with a worthy successor...  I want to see more of Jessica Jones and can't wait for the next show up (which I think is Luke Cage and then Iron Fist?)

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