- Review: Jessica Jones (AKA Rape, TV, and Living After Trauma)
- Jessica Jones
- Netflix (2015)
- Favorite episode: “AKA WWJD?”
- Overall score: O (Outstanding)
Trigger Warning: Rape, Sexual Assault, Relationship Abuse
Jessica Jones dropped on Netflix last Friday (November 20) and, like so many/not enough people, I binged it pretty hard. I’m not into reading comic books, but I am into Wikipedia so I brushed up on Jessica Jones’ backstory and the surrounding hype before embarking on the 13-episode season.
**** to keep this review generally spoiler free I’m going to leave out major plot points [avoid if you want no level of spoilers, you adventurer, you]
Quick intro to Jessica Jones, private investigator and badass:
Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) got the power of super strength in a car accident that killed her family. She was a superhero of sorts for a hot second before (you learn early on in the season) she was under the fucked up mind control of a guy called Kilgrave (David Tennant). After the apparent death of that asshole, Jessica quit the superhero biz and became a private detective. The show takes place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and shares a backdrop as Daredevil, another Marvel-Netflix show.
SO, here are some of my lasting thoughts about Jessica Jones and why I think it’s a badass, feminist series:
Jessica Jones & Women in the Media
I learned two v important things via Twitter before starting the series: (a) Jessica Jones had a female showrunner, Melissa Rosenberg and (b) a badass female lead, Krysten Ritter. You might think those aren’t super hard qualifications, but there’s a hella huge gender disparity in the entertainment industry (and every industry, really).
Here are some stats and graphs later from the hardworking people at Women’s Media Center.
Not great, right? So, having a show with any sort of gender diversity is cool af. It’s not a guarantee for a perfect show but no show is perfect. The least anyone can ask for is diversity because we need diverse writers and diverse stories! White men do not have the definite human experience. And having diverse characters (women, people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, people w/ disabilities, and so many more) is more than just important-it’s necessary. But, unfortunately, it’s a battle that’s still being fought.
Jessica Jones & Living After Trauma
I think my favorite aspect of Jessica Jones is how it deals with the experience of living after trauma rather than living through trauma. I’ve gotten really bored/sick of tv shows/movie/books/etc. using trauma (especially sexual assault) as a quick plot device as opposed to a continued experience. I’m sick of characters getting one episode to work through any type traumatic experiences–mental or physical illness, sexual assault, abusive relationships, car crashes, etc. It’s not so easy to just move on.
It’s not so easy to just move on!
We see Jessica dealing with her trauma, with living after trauma, the best way she knows how to. Which for her means drinking and solving P.I. cases. This isn’t the healthiest or the most efficient route (or whatever) but it’s her trauma and her life.
We see Jessica struggling through her days (insomnia, alcohol abuse, risky behavior) yet helping the people around her. To me, this is one of Jessica’s most heroic traits. She’s fucked up but she still gives a fuck. That’s my kind of relatable feminist anti-hero.
I see Jessica’s recovery as rooted in her quest for agency. Kilgrave manipulated her, abused her, raped her, literally forced her to smile.
Jessica Jones & Depicting Traumatic Experiences without Sensationalizing Trauma
Jessica Jones addresses issues of rape and relationship abuse through analysis of power dynamics rather than through sexual explicitness. You never see Jessica’s sexual assaults but, as she puts it,
“Not only did you physically rape me, but you violated every cell in my body and every thought in my goddamn head.”-Jessica Jones
There’s been a rising trend (or has it always been this way?) of glamorizing and sexualizing rape on screen (Game of Thrones & American Horror Story, anyone?). I couldn’t get through the first couple episodes of Game of Thrones without wanting to take long, hot showers and simmer my disgust and feminist rage.
Don’t get me wrong–I definitely think we need a much larger dialogue about rape. & I think that dialogue needs to include more than the immediate, physical damages caused by sexual assault or any traumatic experience.
Kilgrave exemplifies a smorgasbord of abusive behaviors. Prior to the start of the show, he controlled Jessica for eight months. She did not and could not give consent, she was his puppet. Mind control aside, Kilgrave’s tactics are all too common in intimate partner violence. Kilgrave isolated Jessica. He took away her agency completely, like many abusers do. And when Jessica calls it “rape” he denies it, dismisses it. Kilgrave even says ‘I hate that word.’
The decision to not show Jessica being raped seemed obvious to me. There’s SVU and various crime shows (and real life) to depict gruesome analysis of sexual assault. We need stories about survivors, imperfect and lonng stories.
Maybe I’m hoping that having a series that shows that aftereffects of trauma will open up the cultural dialogue. Perhaps move the pop culture conversation from graphic sexual violence to resilient people living fulfilling lives after trauma.
As you can see, I have a lot of feeling about Jessica Jones. It has an awesome cast and crew, a classy noir-vibe, sassy yet poignant dialogue, and a costume design department that I connect with on a spiritual level based on their use of soft, dark clothing.
If you have the time, I highly recommend it. It’s not the perfect feminist narrative but I think that’s kinda the point. No one is the hero they wish they could be, but they doesn’t mean we can’t be great.