Here, stylist.co.uk editor Kayleigh Dray explains why Jessica Jones is the feminist superhero that comic book fans have all been waiting for…
The second season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones is being released on Netflix to coincide with International Women’s Day (8 March) for a very good reason – it’s a show created for and about women.
Each one of the 13 episodes within season two are filmed by female directors, and, while Marvel themselves do often have strong female characters in their shows and movies, this is the only Marvel creation with a female lead.
In short, now’s as good a time as any to get stuck into the Netflix series… but is it really as good as people say it is?
It’s no secret that the world of comic books and mainstream superheroes used to be absolutely DOMINATED by men. All of the recent big blockbusters – Avengers Assemble, The Amazing Spider-Man, Captain America and Thor to name but few – feature men as our heroes, with strange and unnatural powers.
The women who WERE featured in the super-verse tend to either fall into one of two categories.
There’s the ‘love interest’ - or, to put it more accurately, the damsel in distress (think Gwen Stacy and Lois Lane). And then there’s the ‘perfect’ heroine; her fight sequences are choreographed, her hairstyle was always precise, she’s clad in sexy spandex, and she always had the perfect quip or comeback for any given situation.
Then Jessica Jones (played by Krysten Ritter) came along.
She was the first Marvel comic book character to drop the F-bomb on paper, not to mention one of the few female protagonists we’ve seen on the toilet.
And, in the Netflix series, Jess lives in the grubbiest depths of New York City, where she drinks bourbon and works night shifts as a private detective. She is, by absolutely no means, perfect. Instead, she’s hot tempered, scrappy, sarcastic (bordering on rude), almost dangerously dependent on alcohol, has problems with intimacy, and pretty damned anti-social.
It soon becomes apparent that, much like the comic books, Jessica is suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). And, as a result, she has pushed away her friends and turned her back on her former life as a superhero. Gone is the traditionally sexy costume donned by the likes of the Scarlet Witch and Black Widow; instead, Jessica has chosen a baggy hoody, jeans, and trainers as her uniform. Makeup is minimal, if there at all, because Jess isn’t out to impress anyone - and she isn’t a sexualised character.
But that’s not to say that she isn’t a sexual character; in fact, in the very first episode, we watch her enjoy a steamy one night stand with Luke Cage (Mike Colter). She’s on top, she’s inc charge, and she’s receiving a hell of a lotta pleasure. And, much like the comic books, it’s suggested that Jessica embarks on this night of passion so that she can “feel something different, even if it’s bad”.
In short, it’s sex without love - something which filmmakers and TV production companies often forget women are capable of.
But Luke is just a minor character in the grand scheme of things; this show is about women, and there’s a positive bevy of female characters, all of whom have far bigger problems to talk about than some romantic tryst with a man. There’s Jess’s stepsister Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), as well as abuse victim Hope Shlottman (Erin Moriarty), devious attorney Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), worldly nurse Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson), and plenty more besides.
On the flipside, of course, there’s Kilgrave.
Played by David Tennant, the sinister character has the superhuman ability to command the wills of other people. Which means that, yes, his weapons of choice are coercive control and systematic emotional abuse.
In flashbacks, we watch as he forces Jessica into a non-consensual relationship, destroying her friendships and familial relationships, and, essentially, cutting her off from the rest of the world. And, in a firm reference to street harassment, we regularly see him order her to “smile” whenever he desires it.
Somehow, she manages to shake off his control - but the after-effects linger long after she escapes his clutches. And, in a world where rape culture is now the norm, it’s unsurprising that Jessica wears the internal scars of their relationship for many years to come.
As she puts it in the Alias comic books: “In my mind I can’t tell the difference between what he made me do or say and what I do or say on my own.
“The only reason I know I wasn’t in love with him is that I say to myself: How could I be? I hate him.
“That’s it. That’s what my sanity is holding onto: ‘How could I be?’”
In my mind I can’t tell the difference between what he made me do or say and what I do or say on my own.
It’s not until Jessica realises that she is not Kilgrave’s only victim that she finds the strength to come forward, to stand up to him once and for all.
But, when she accuses him of rape, he replies: “Which part of staying in five-star hotels, eating in all the best places, doing whatever the hell you wanted, is rape?"
Jessica’s answer is simple.
“The part when I didn’t want to do any of it. Not only did you physically rape me, but you violated every cell in my body and every thought in my goddamn head.”
Yes, the series is sometimes difficult to watch - and, yes, it broaches some seriously tough subjects, such as abortion, rape, domestic abuse, obsession, and addiction. But it does so deftly, offering a new perspective to trauma… and, through rendering a superhero powerless, starkly reminds us that abuse can happen to anyone.
And the show also offers a message of hope and inspiration. Through finally opening up about her experiences and recognising that she was not to blame, not to mention teaming up with her friends to Get Shit Done, Jessica finds the strength and will to survive.
Better still, she also finds the power to overcome her cruel victimiser.
Jessica’s success on screen has opened up an entire new world of superheroes for women everywhere: in 2017, Greta Gerwig gave us Wonder Woman. Just a few weeks ago, Black Panther introduced us to the badass women of (played by Lupita Nyong’o, Florence Kasumba, Leitita Wright) and Danai Gurira). And, in 2019, Brie Larson will be bringing Captain Marvel to life on screen, too.
All in all, the future is very bright for feminist superheroes. For now, though, we can’t wait to see how the resilient Jessica fares in the second series - and how her experiences will continue to shape her into the feminist defender we know she is.
You can watch all of Jessica Jones on Netflix now.
And it sounds as if the second season – which will run with 13 episodes – is just as gripping as the first, with Krysten telling Digital Spy: I’m excited to see what happens next for Jessica, and the end of season one left a lot of doors open and questions unanswered. Kilgrave was her reason for getting up every morning. Saving people gave her purpose.
“I wonder how emotionally taxed she’s going to be now. That opens a lot of doors as to who will come out and play. We all live in the same universe, so there are endless possibilities.”
Images: Netflix, Marvel