Television: Jessica Jones, and why it’s my favourite superhero show (spoilers)

Or favourite “person with superpowers from a comic book universe” show, as it should be.

Jessica (Krysten Ritter) is one of the most reluctant heroes I’ve seen in recent years, and she is all the more brilliant for it. Netflix has mostly (sorry Iron Fist) been brilliant at creating heroes who seem real for their Marvel miniseries, and no one was more real than Jessica Jones. She’s a (debatably) function alcoholic with PTSD who’s fully aware that she often makes the wrong choices and damages her relationships with the people around her. She’s unapologetic, screwed up, strong and undeniably real. I know people like Jessica (minus the superpowers). Sometimes I am a person like Jessica. And it’s not just Jessica who seems like a real person.

There’s a lot of debate, particularly at the moment, about the portrayal of women in media. As far as I’m concerned Jessica Jones is one of those shows that just gets it right! The female characters in the show are balanced, being portrayed as neither paragons of virtue or she-devils, neither hyper-sexualised nor without sexuality, neither weak nor strong but a mixture of both. They’re shown as important characters in a complex narrative, no less or more important than their male counterparts. That, at least to me, is what true equality is all about; realising that regardless of race, gender or sexuality we are all different but equal. It’s a rare show that manages it, and Jessica Jones despite its dark setting pulls it off with aplomb.

Jessica Jones1

As if that wasn’t enough, this is a show that’s not afraid to deal with some very important-but-traumatic concepts; like the issue what constitutes sexual consent. The show’s main antagonist, Kilgrave (David Tennant), has the ability to totally control people’s actions by telling them what to do which, in turn, creates the unstoppable desire within them to follow his orders. Prior to the series, he uses this power to capture Jessica and force her to begin a sexual relationship with him, but she escapes after committing a terrible crime while under his control. This leads to a lot of highly symbolic discussions between Jessica and Kilgrave about whether what he did to her counts as rape (it definitely does). The show isn’t afraid to make obvious comparisons to real life, to women and men who weren’t believed after reporting crimes of all natures. It doesn’t pull any punches with how painful both Jessica and Kilgrave’s other victims’ experiences are, it simply shows the truth.

That’s not to say the show treats Kilgrave as a simplistic, “Mwahaha, I’m so evil” antagonist, which in many ways would defeat the point of the show. Like Daredevil before it, Jessica Jones has a complex villain. There isn’t the same amount of time invested into Kilgrave’s point of view of things; he’s quite clearly crazy and obsessive, but a traumatic backstory is revealed. As often seems to be the case with psychotic serial killers, his parents tortured him as a child, in this particular case performing multiple scientific experiments on him until his mind cracked, or at least that’s what he believes. When we later meet Kilgrave’s parents they claim the experiments were an attempt to control his powers and to keep him from hurting them. It’s never reveals who is right, instead leaving viewers thinking with Jeri Hogarth’s (Carrie-Ann Moss) excellent quote about the true story almost always being a mixture of different people’s point of view.

Kilgrave

Ultimately, that’s the part of Jessica Jones I love the most. It doesn’t give you the answers but instead makes you ask yourself questions. It takes difficult things to talk about and brings them out in the open for us to discuss as a society. In my opinion, that’s what all great art (and particularly great science fiction and fantasy) does. It gives you the power to see all of a situation, to mirror reality, and then make up your own mind. There aren’t many shows that I would suggest as required watching, but because of just how well it’s written, because of its undeniably brilliant treatment of very complex themes and because it is ultimately about very important issues that affect society as a whole, Jessica Jones is a must see.

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised in this blog, here are some helpful numbers

Rape Crisis Centre (AUS) – 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)

Rape Crisis England and Wales – 0808 802 9999

National Sexual Assault Hotline (USA) – 800 765 HOPE (800 765 4673)

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