Following the success of Marvel’s Daredevil, I was ridiculously excited for the release of Jessica Jones. Not only was I dying for more of the same depth of content that Daredevil brought, but I also couldn’t wait to see another solo female-led project (only Marvel’s second, after Agent Carter). In fact, when I started my binge, I was anticipating that same level of intricacy, symbolism, and a plot begging to be strategically analyzed, that I picked up my old habit of taking notes during the show.
Despite my excitement and a delicately organized Evernote folder, I abandoned my note taking after two episodes. It wasn’t that I lost interest – the show was incredible, and I was fully hooked. It just didn’t have that same depth that I had seen and loved in Daredevil. Where I was previously questioning the meaning of morality, the place for vigilante justice, and the motives behind seemingly inherently evil and good characters, with Jessica Jones, the theme seemed to be more “shock and awe” than intricate detailing. This isn’t to say that Jonesisn’t artfully directed and filmed. It is. In fact, this was one of the factors where I do consider Jones on par with Daredevil. In particular, the use of color in both shows adds tremendously to the narrative without being explicitly obvious.
But where Daredevil had me questioning my perception of morality in a world ruled by heroes with super powers, Jessica Jones felt more like a very long crime procedural. Rather than analyzing the underlying themes, or deciding who in the show was wholly good versus wholly evil, Jones kind of makes the assumption for you: “This is Kilgrave, he’s evil”. And the audience runs with it. There’s really no questioning this, although there seems to be an attempt to get the audience to sympathize with Kilgrave when we’re shown his tortured past. But, as Jones herself points out, bad parenting isn’t exactly an excuse for torture, rape, murder and the like.
So clearly Jessica Jones wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. And that’s totally fine – in retrospect, I really shouldn’t have come in to the show expecting it to be a carbon copy of Daredevil. Leaving that comparison behind, it became a lot easier for me to fall in love with Jessica Jones.
As I mentioned earlier, this is only Marvel’s second female-led solo project in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Representation tends to be a struggle, and when I find a character with whom I really identify, I tend to glom on to them. Such was the case with the title character, Jessica, played expertly by Krysten Ritter. Her character acts as a rejection of the notion that female characters must be “strong”, without flaws, the exact antithesis of the Mary Sue. In Hollywood, there is seemingly no middle ground for female characters: they are either idealized, whimpering shells of characters used for self-insertion (think Bella from Twilight) or they show no weakness, have no backstory, and serve to show that “girls can be just as strong as boys” (think Tauriel from The Desolation of Smaug).
Jessica Jones is at neither end of this spectrum. She is strong (like, literally strong, she broke a sink), but she also has a sordid past. She’s independent and sarcastic, but has an incredibly capacity for empathy (as shown in her friendship with Trish Walker). She drinks, she starts fights with guys in bars, she loves her best friend, she cares about bringing her abuser to justice, especially after he uses the same tactics on another innocent girl.
Jessica is many things, and this is part of why she’s so relatable. The other factor in her relatability doesn’t necessarily stem from her character, but rather from her circumstances, and her reaction to Kilgrave.
I think the biggest reason Jessica Jones resonated with me, and with quite a few other women my age, is because every girl has a Kilgrave. He is the epitome of the manipulative guy, trying everything he can to maintain control over a girl he considers to be property. And in the end, this relatability is a double edged sword for the show: even though I could identify with Jessica and Kilgrave’s manipulation of her, and even though I sympathized, it made the viewing experience uncomfortable to say the least. Having that relatable experience doesn’t make relating to it any easier to deal with.
The show is dark. It covers lots of dark topics, like rape, abuse, control and power. But part of why TV is so enjoyable is because it provides an escape from experiencing those things in real life. You don’t want to come home at the end of hard day at work and relive every aspect of what made your day so shitty. And similarly with Jessica Jones, it’s difficult to come into a show expecting to see a relatable female super hero, and then subject yourself to 13 hours of triggering instances of abuse.
And even though it’s difficult, even though I probably won’t be doing a full rewatch of Jessica Jones, even though I had to watch this show at a slower rate than any binge show before… I still highly recommend it. It’s tough to watch, and I recommend not binging it all at once. I took it a couple episodes every day (three at a maximum). I spaced it out with happier shows. I talked through the triggering moments with a friend, and worked through why I was feeling particularly affected by the show. And when I did all of those things, it was incredibly enjoyable. Jessica Jones is like nothing I’ve ever watched before, and I think that’s a good thing.