By Joanna McCoy (@JoJoHugsTrees)
Netflix’s adaption of JESSICA JONES is precisely what female viewers have been waiting for. While I might not have read the original Marvel comic books, I can however say from experiences watching the mainly male-driven superhero films and TV shows that Jessica Jones does something that each of the others have failed to do thus far. Jessica Jones gives women more than just the "side-kick role," and places the female character front and center. In a world where most female issues come second to men’s, Jessica Jones deservingly shares the spotlight.
When we first meet Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), she’s retired her superhero antics for her private detective business, Alias Investigations. She’s suffers from reoccurring nightmares of a purple figure and attempts to wash them down with her trusted sidekick, a bottle of whiskey (or whatever else is in her vicinity). Jessica Jones is essentially someone who the neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen has chewed up and spit out; she’s an outcast trying to find her place in society again, all the while fighting her own demons. One could argue that Jessica Jones is a victim due to her rape and captivity at the hands of Kilgrave (David Tennant). However, I believe that Jessica Jones is anything but a victim; she’s a survivor. At the end of the pilot, upon finding out that Kilgrave is back and is out for revenge, she has the option of running away, but instead, she stays and vows to fight back against Kilgrave and to end his path of misery and destruction.
The issue of rape is one that is sometimes handled rather poorly on television and is often used as one of two things: a plot filler or as a driving force for the male main character to seek revenge. Either way, in my opinion, it’s a lazy and tacky storytelling route. These scenes often do make their way onto the screen and are, as you’d imagine, disturbing and difficult to watch. Now, what Jessica Jones does differently, which in fact was a conscious decision made by its creator, Melissa Rosenberg, was to not show any such scenes simply because she viewed them as lazy story telling and an insult to the viewer. Frankly, as a viewer, I could not agree more. The show alluded to them and instead decided to focus on the after effects, something which is hardly portrayed, perhaps unless you’re watching a show like Law and Order: SVU. People are generally aware of exactly what has happened, there isn't a need to always show it. Alluding to it and by watching her recover and move forward with her life, is the journey worth watching, and for Jessica Jones, an issue that was dealt with remarkably well.
Another issue that was addressed interestingly well was Kilgrave’s unnerving desire to tell women to “Smile.” While this isn’t something that men face on a day-to-day basis, it is for countless women. Although it is a small word, one that may seem harmless, depending on the situation, it unfortunately at times has a negative effect on women. Men normally don’t have to worry about walking down a street and getting catcalled. They don’t have to feel as objectified. Unfortunately, numerous women face this everyday. Cue the connotation behind the word, “Smile.” Although not always, when a man tells a woman to smile, he’s essentially telling her to act a certain way for him, for his pleasure. On Jessica Jones, when Kilgrave tells women, like Jessica, to smile, he’s not doing it for their enjoyment, he’s doing it because he has the ability to control them. He is able to make them do whatever he wants, despite what their wishes may be. On the show, by telling them to smile, he’s actually controlling their bodies. As we near the end of the first season of the show, Rosenberg uses this for Jessica’s final act of defiance against him. She gives him one last smile as she kills him on the docks finally reclaiming her body and preventing other women from being controlled by Kilgrave.
One theme that remains strong through the series is that of women owning their bodies and sexuality. Some of the most explicit scenes in Jessica Jones are raw, real, and show women who know what they want between the sheets. While most other shows portray the men as the ones who call the shots with the women going along with it, in Jessica Jones, both Jessica and Trish (Rachael Taylor) call the shots. They know exactly what they want, both between the sheets and from their partners, interestingly, the partners are more than happy to oblige. It can also be viewed as a way of Jessica taking back control and possession of her body after what Kilgrave forced her to endure. By reclaiming her body, she is portrayed not as another victim, but instead, as a survivor who is ready to move on with her life.
Netflix's Jessica Jones is unapologetic in its delivery and leaves viewers wanting more after the close of the thirteenth episode. Melissa Rosenberg has created a female driven show that can be admired by both male and female viewers. It’s poignant and its take on female issues is not only refreshing, but also overall, very well-done. While it does tackle female issues, what makes it so addicting for male and female viewers alike is that it addresses a hero facing her demons head on and attempting to move on with her life. Everyone has their own demons to face and hopefully at the end of the day, we can tackle them in true Jessica Jones fashion: without remorse and with a glass of whiskey by our side.