It should come as no surprise that I, like many other devoted nerds, spent the weekend binge-watching Marvel’s latest Netflix series, Jessica Jones. Thirteen hours of my life gone, but they were still thirteen hours well spent on what I feel is Marvel’s most fully realized character to date. And yet I’ve come away from Jessica Jones with a sense of unease. Maybe it’s the aftereffects of nearly two days spent diving back into the world of Hell’s Kitchen, but unlikeJessica-Jones-1-1200x674 the mostly triumphant victory of Matt Murdock by the end of Daredevil, Jessica Jones maintains a bittersweet tone from the opening theme right up to the closing shot of the series.

If you need a brief plot synopsis: Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is hired by the Schlottmans to find their daughter Hope (Erin Moriarty) after a dramatic change in behavior and disappearance. While investigating Hope’s case, Jessica learns that Kilgrave (David Tennant), the man responsible for her abduction, trauma, and PTSD, is still alive and using Hope as a pawn in a horrific plot to reunite with the one plaything that got away. Though her first instinct is to flee, Jessica is convinced by her foster-sister, Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), to save Hope and fight back.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil this one for you. This article isn’t really a review so much as it’s me needing an outlet to process how I feel about the series. I’ve seen a lot of people commenting on how “dark” the series is, which isn’t untrue, though the dry wit and sarcasm shouldn’t be overlooked. But what struck me after the first few episodes, what continues to linger in my thoughts days after viewing the show, is how real it felt. This series doesn’t have the flashiness of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, nor does it have the action-heavy prowess of Daredevil. What Jessica Jones has is authenticity. It’s raw and it doesn’t shy away from showing you the ugly side of the little corner of the Marvel Universe Jessica inhabits. By the end, you feel like you’ve been raked over the coals of Jessica’s complicated, messed-up life, but in seeing her for who she is, warts and all, and what she’s overcome, you have a better appreciation of what showrunner Melissa Rosenberg and the Jessica Jones cast and crew have accomplished. The series is unapologetic in its depiction of a flawed female character who just happens to have superpowers, but it uses the genre and the series format to talk Schermata-2015-10-23-alle-21.00.36about the far more relevant topics of rape, abuse, and recovery.

Part and parcel to this character portrait is the story from which it was adapted. Based on Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos’s comic book series Alias, Jessica Jones is a former superhero turned private investigator after her enslavement under the thrall of Kilgrave (aka The Purple Man) – a powerful mind controller – leaves her traumatized and suffering from PTSD. In putting her life back together, she finds herself uniquely qualified to handle cases involving Marvel’s mightiest heroes though she still seeks her peace at the bottom of a bottle. The Netflix series, however, takes the Purple Man story and removes the greater Marvel Universe in order to frame Jessica within the reality of a post-Avengers world. Gone are her first forays into the superhero game as Jewel, though the series does a clever nod to her comic book past, and what we’re left with is a woman struggling to pay the bills and keep the demons at bay only to find that the Devil has come back into her life.

I can’t say enough how impressed I am at the show’s very deft handling of rape and abuse as part of the narrative. Jessica’s arc throughout the series is that of a woman in recovery. She’s been violated in both mind and body because of Kilgrave and the series treats his mind control abilities as just that, a violation. In trying to track down Kilgrave, Jessica inadvertently creates a support group for other people he’s controlled, including her neighbor Malcolm (Eka Darville). The way the group share their experiences, the language they use, reads exactly like a support group for people who have experienced sexual assault or abuse. Jessica and Kilgrave both act as metaphorical representations of silent victims and rape culture, respectively. Because of her abilities Jessica continues to blame purple manherself for not being stronger, for not fighting back. What’s the point of having these abilities, being able to punch a guy through a brick wall or leap from the sidewalk to the rooftops in seconds, if you can’t stop someone as psychotic as Kilgrave from harming you? It’s why Kilgrave’s power, and the consistent disbelief in that power, is essential to the story.

In the Marvel Cinematic and television universes thus far most, if not all, of the “gifts” displayed by heroes and villains have been clearly visual. Everything they do has some element of spectacle to it, but Kilgrave’s power isn’t easily observable. It’s a suggestion or an order that you’re compelled to carry out and it doesn’t matter to him how you feel afterwards. He’s an infection and his presence lingers long after he’s done with you. The fear that Jessica shows at the idea of Kilgrave still being alive is the same fear people experience after being attacked and the assailant isn’t caught or gets released. Every street corner becomes a potential point of attack, every person a possible threat. Your trust in the world, in people, has completely crumbled because, even if you survive, the person that did this to you is still out there and they still have power over you. Unfortunately, prosecuting something that has to be experienced to believe is rather difficult and that’s only if you can get someone to believe that it actually happened. It isn’t until Jessica fights back (literally, in the show’s case) that she understands Kilgrave has no power over her. That’s not to say that everything ends up being sunshine and lollipops, because it doesn’t, but there is a valiant effort being made on the part of the Jessica Jones team to treat this type of story with the respect it deserves. Also a huge round of applause goes to Rosenberg and company for taking the Mad Max: Fury Road route and not showing Jessica being raped by Kilgrave. It would have been exploitative and unnecessary had they gone through with it. The writing in the series, however, is so strong and the character of Kilgrave set up so well that all we need is to hear Jessica give voice to her pain for us to believe her.

luke cageIf you feel as though I’m focusing too much on one aspect of the series, then guess what, you’re in my head. What a lovely place, right? But, yes, there’s so much more to Jessica Jones worth exploring. Like I said, Jessica is the most fleshed out, multi-dimensional character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From the get-go we understand that Jessica is a hard-drinking, shit-talking, hot-headed asshole of a person (she fully admits to it!) and the series never shies away from showing those aspects of her personality. She’s also tempered by her fierce loyalty and the love she has not just for her friends and family, but for people in general. And in keeping with the show’s unapologetic nature, she’s a sexually active woman who likes having sex and isn’t looked down on by other characters for it. Probably because the supporting cast features characters of varying personalities who have their own hangups to deal with instead of getting all up in Jessica’s business. Well, some of them at least. Looking at you, Robyn!

This is also a gender balanced cast, which gives the creative team ample room to explore their characters, specifically the women in the cast. With four female leads and several more supporting members, Jessica Jones manages to shine a much needed spotlight on women as complex people capable of doing right, wrong, and everything else in between. Carrie-Anne Moss, in my opinion, gives the second greatest performance in the show as Jeri Hogarth, a lawyer with a moral compass practically smashed to hell. There are very few redeeming qualities about Jeri, but Moss finds a way to make this manipulative, stuck-up, shark of a human being somewhat sympathetic. It’s an understated performance, to say the least, but my God does Moss get a lot of mileage out of an icy stare. The confidence the show has in its audience to invest in some awful characters is tremendous. None of these people are pure of heart and mind – but, then again, who is really?

Another piece of the show’s excellent writing and storytelling is in the ethical dilemmas it places Jessica in as she decides how to confront and bring Kilgrave to justice. The eighth episode, “AKA WWJD”, addresses the issue head on, taking its time to really put Jessica in a moral quandary about Kilgrave and his abilities. If someone can control minds, is there a way to harness that power for good? What if considering morality and justice didn’t occur to this person? Would you sacrifice your personal happiness and devote the rest of your days to keeping a sociopath on the straight and narrow? Even if that sociopath is the source of your greatest pain? Are you obligated to at least try? It’s a brilliant way of exploring what it means to be a hero and the entire series is peppered with these decisions that actually have consequences for Jessica and the people around her. It also helps to set the show apart not just from the other Marvel movies but also from its predecessor, Daredevil.

For obvious reasons, Jessica Jones isn’t Matt Murdock, but what’s really fascinating is where the two differ on a philosophical level. Despite his vigilante leanings, Matt still believes in the necessity of justice even if one needs to go outside the law to achieve one’s goal. His personal struggle throughout Daredevil surrounds whether or not he can fight the monsters of Hell’s Kitchen and still remain the good guy. The show rewards Matt for his efforts, finding an optimistic outlook in the emergence of Daredevil. Jessica, however, doesn’t share Matt’s idealism. Her world is, more than anything, about survival. There are no grand visions of saving the world, or Hell’s Kitchen, as far as she’s concerned. Instead, her primary focus is on getting paid so she can pay her bills and use the leftover cash on a cheap bottle of whiskey. Her job makes her a voyeur into the sordid lives of others, which doesn’t leave you with the rosiest outlook on humanity even on the best days.

daredevil-season-2-news-jessica-jones-crossovers-the-defenders-release-more-netflix-545795And yet, for all of Jessica’s cynicism, she still aspires to be heroic. When we first meet Jessica, she’s a broken person struggling to get through the day without suffering another panic attack or flashback. She certainly doesn’t see herself as a hero. But when she chooses not to run and commits to saving Hope from Kilgrave that’s when we get our first real look at the Jessica who almost donned a spandex jumpsuit and called herself Jewel in order to help others. Unfortunately, she never got the chance to prove herself before Kilgrave showed up, but in taking back control of her life, Jessica finally starts to believe in her own ability to be the hero. It’s another element of her character that separates her from other heroes in the MCU. Most of the Avengers emerged fully formed in who they wanted to be and how they would apply their abilities with little hesitation. Jessica questions herself constantly, but the voice of opposition comes from people like Trish and Malcolm, people who see her for the hero that she is and do their best to foster that confidence in Jessica as well.

Jessica Jones is definitely worth your time. Don’t worry about binge-watching it either because I’m certain the conversation surrounding the show is in no danger of dying off any time soon. While I didn’t really touch on the humor of the series, trust me when I say that there are some choice comedic moments that keep the show from completely going down the grimdark path. I especially love Jessica and Trish commenting on Kilgrave’s choice of name for himself. “I mean, Kilgrave? Was Murder Corpse too subtle?” And even though David Tennant is playing a character who is just the worst, he still manages to bring his quippy charm to Kilgrave, which does its job of making you question your own moral compass.

So, go! Go watch Jessica Jones and get excited for the Luke Cage series! And Daredevil season two! And Iron Fist! And the Defenders! Just be excited!

 

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