It’s no secret that the camerawork of TV and film is a kissing cousin to the point of view in a story. Hell, when Quentin Tarantino released Reservoir Dogs, he explained that his non-linear plots and shifting points of view evolved to mimic the same freedom writers have with storytelling. After binge watching Season 1 of Jessica Jones and Daredevil for the first time on Netflix–yes, I know I’m late to the party–I realized both series take full advantage of their medium and enrich their stories with camerawork.
I’ll preface that my background in TV extends only to general fandom and three screenwriting courses in college. However, even with my limited expertise, it’s not hard to notice that the camerawork in both shows plays a part in their storytelling.
Warning: Spoiler-y content ahead
Jessica Jones jump started my fascination with camerawork due to its consistently voyeuristic camera angles. They quietly reinforce the level of guilt and justified paranoia Jessica experiences. My favorite example is the repeated view from Luke Cage’s bathroom where Riva’s picture lies in the medicine cabinet. At first we don’t understand the importance of Riva’s picture, but over time this shot, which seems more at home in a horror movie, evolves.
Even the brief glimpses of Riva’s face as she dies in Jessica’s flashbacks echo the subtle peeks through the bathroom door. The audience sees what happened to Riva, but doesn’t understand the full gravity of her death until more of the story unfolds. I can’t help but compare this with the traditional flashbacks to the accident that killed Jessica’s family, which feel less effective. The revelation of how Jessica’s family died is all but spoonfed to us. Perhaps this merely reflects that Jessica, despite her ongoing guilt, can handle this memory better than the more recent death of Riva at her own hands.
I feel the bathroom shots also accomplish more than just conveying backstory. At times, the voyeuristic scenes pay off with a lurking assailant or spy sent by Killgrave, but other times it’s Jessica’s guilt getting the best of her. We never know what to expect. The shots through the bathroom do both, hammering home Jessica’s guilt as well as cementing into place that Killgrave is always in her head, even if he doesn’t have power over her anymore.
I can’t wait to analyze how the camerawork will change in Season 2 now that Killgrave isn’t around to spy on Jessica. I do think the Hell’s Kitchen in Jessica Jones is different from the Hell’s Kitchen of Daredevil. Recovering junkies like Malcom and corruptions of the manic pixie dream girl like Robyn are just as likely to walk into the frame as the man of Jessica’s nightmares. I anticipate that the shadow of Killgrave will still haunt Jessica just as he did when he lost control over her, but to what extent, I can’t say.
Speaking of Daredevil, I couldn’t help but think that for a show that follows a blind main character, it sure does rely heavily on visuals. This is especially true of its martial arts choreography. My favorite example is the hallway fight scene in Episode 2 when Murdock goes to rescue a kidnapped boy from the Russian mafia. As many have already pointed out online, it’s a clear, well-shot nod to the corridor fight scene in Oldboy.
It’s possible to view this from another angle (pun intended). During the course of the scene, Murdock endures realistic fatigue before he reaches the captive boy. But like the hero he is, Murdock overcomes tribulation and reaches the child. It’s a great moment that also makes the audience feel safe. We know what to expect: the Good Guy wins! It also mirrors the course of the overarching plot for the Season, but not in a way we expect.
Yes, Murdock and company become exhausted as they get closer to their goal. But their goal is not to rescue someone. They plan to eliminate Wilson Fisk and free Hell’s Kitchen from his corruption and violence. As Murdock gets closer to Fisk and questions his own morals and capabilities along the way, we get in-depth looks into Fisk’s past, beliefs, and insecurities, all narrowing back to his boyhood and the moment he snapped and killed his father.
Unlike in Jessica Jones, this straightforward flashback feels more effective. It’s upfront and brutal, just like Fisk and his father before him. Although it’s arguable that Fisk’s innocence dies during this murder, his boyishness, however, endures.
His bond with his right hand man and best friend, James Wesley, his awkward-yet-honest romance with Vanessa, and the lengths he goes to keep his mother comfortable are dealt with the sentimentality akin to coming-of-age stories. The shots during these scenes are close, the lighting often gentle. The point is hammered home during the wardrobe scene in which Fisk puts on his father’s cufflinks and sees himself in the mirror, a boy covered in blood. Even when Fisk is at his most violent, he moves with tantrum fury, adolescent rage, and painfully intense closeups.
In terms of the plot, the boy at the end of the hall is Wilson Fisk. Murdock has to decide whether he will risk his immortal soul in killing this blood-covered boy, contrasting the rescue of the child in Episode 2. The camera forces us to recognize Fisk as a person. Not a good person, but a former victim of the same abuse Murdock wants to eliminate. At the end of the day, Murdock’s faith considers him just as doomed as Fisk for murder, regardless of context. It’s blind justice.
Despite contrasting camerawork, both shows deftly handle different themes of guilt. Jessica can’t help but look over her shoulder at the past, searching for what might come back from the dead to haunt her. Murdock doesn’t know if he can kill the man destroying his town for fear of a future of damnation. Both shows understand that to fully immerse their viewers in the emotional weight of its themes, point of view is key. We must see the light die from Riva’s eyes, or else Jessica is merely a suspicious drunk. We must see the boy Fisk once was, or else Murdock is merely procrastinating rather than considering his immortal soul.