Chances are you hadn’t heard of Marvel’s latest hero until the Netflix series dropped last weekend. Jessica Jones isn’t a household name like Spiderman or Ironman, but I think the boys club of comic book superheroes is about to get a run for their money.
Jessica Jones doesn’t wear a cape or a costume. Nor does she go by a silly name or hide behind a mask. As the series unfolds you realise that she’s already been there, done that and suffered for it, becoming jaded and chooses instead to work as a private investigator. The stylistic opening credits and first scenes set the gritty tone of darkness and isolation before we’re introduced to our heroine as she effortlessly tosses an unsatisfied customer through her office door.
The classic film noir influence is strong and Jessica’s resourceful P.I. skills remind me of Nancy Drew. You know, if Nancy Drew had PTSD, alcoholism and super strength.
Krysten Ritter is brilliant in the lead role, conveying about five pages of dialogue in a single glare and crafting a truly haunted character who desperately tries to forget her traumatic past through work and cheap whiskey. She’s a foul mouthed slob who punches first, asks questions later, takes no shit and tries her best not to care, for fear of being vulnerable.
Women on screen aren’t often allowed to be messy or flawed in the same ways that male characters are. A female character with self-destructive tendencies is branded “petty” and “self-indulgent”, while the exact same traits in men are viewed as a 'deep' commentary on the human condition. Flawed female characters are considered unlikeable and therefore unmarketable. But thankfully this is beginning to change and, to the delight of many, more complex women like Jessica Jones are gracing our screens.
It’s made clear from the start that something has broken Jessica down and stripped away her sense of self, and this is where the trigger warnings come in. At a time when almost two women are killed per week here in Australia, and many at the hands of a current or former partner, Jessica Jones presents us with a textbook abuser as the show’s main villain.
Kilgrave is by far the most terrifying character I’ve ever witnessed on screen, because for so many women and victims of abuse, he is real. That may sound like an outrageous claim to make about a fictional supervillain with the ability to control minds, but powers aside, it’s true.
Domestic violence and other forms of sexual or emotional abuse are about manipulation and control stemming from a sense of entitlement. Perpetrators of such violence often show an inability to empathise with their victims, believing themselves to be completely justified in their own actions.
Kilgrave doesn’t always need his powers to achieve this, as he frequently demonstrates gaslighting: a form of mental abuse which involves dismissing someone’s genuine feelings and manipulating them into doubting their own sanity. He’s deluded into believing his own lies and expresses childish petulance and excessive rage whenever things don’t go exactly the way he wants them to. Sadly, with our country’s domestic violence epidemic, far too many women and children have been trapped at the mercy of scarily similar circumstances without the added menace of supernatural mind control.
David Tennant portrays Kilgrave almost too well, convincingly playing an entitled sociopath who genuinely can’t understand that forcing the people around him to do whatever he wants is wrong, effectively ruining the crush I’ve had on him since my teenage years. No excuses can be made for this despicable character, but Tennant deserves some serious accolades for this role. He strikes an incredible balance between repulsive and compelling.
It’s implied early on that Jessica was previously under his thrall, helplessly attending to his every command until she was able to escape, but not without the consequences of PTSD; much like the many real-life victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. But, this show deals exclusively in the aftermath and sexual violence is never shown. This makes a welcome change from shows like Game of Thrones, which use rape as a lazy plot device to provoke a reaction without genuinely furthering the story.
The writers and directors have handled these confronting issues with subtlety and finesse, showing great respect to victims, fictional or otherwise. “None of this is my fault,” becomes the heartbreaking refrain of Jessica and the other victims struggling to cope with what happened to them.
The supporting cast is fantastic, with every character contributing something complex and diverse, whether you like them or not. Aussie actress Rachel Taylor is a god damn ray of sunshine in this show, as her character Trish acts as best friend and perfect foil to balance out Jessica’s erratic nature.
Jessica Jones features visually stunning cinematography with clever sets and props that do more convincing work than any CGI could. The first episode throws you right into the story so it can be a little confusing. Rather than explaining everything upfront they let you work it out as the story unfolds, which I personally like, but know isn’t for everyone. The subject matter is dark and the action’s intense. Whenever the tension mounted I’d cover my eyes or hold my breath. Embarrassingly I caught myself yelling at the TV more than once.
Jessica Jones is downright brutal and not for the faint at heart. Thankfully the snarky dialogue and touching friendship between Jessica and Trish balance out the bleakness with hope. But one thing’s for sure.
Jessica Jones is my new hero.
Jessica Jones is now streaming on Netflix.