Monday, 8 February 2016

Geekery of the Weekery: Jessica Jones Part 1

Last year was a great year for television as far as I was concerned, thanks in no small part to Netflix.  Among the highlights for me was Jessica Jones.  I can't hope to do it as much justice as many have already written amazing pieces about the show - particularly contributors to The Mary Sue.  A quick Google search can turn up results on many different aspects of the series worthy of discussion.  Nevertheless, here are a few of my thoughts including why I think it's worth watching (in a two part blog post series because I got a little carried away writing this - easily done when you're a social science nerd like me!).  Warning: this post is vaguely spoilery, though I've done my best to avoid that.  Part 2 will be much more spoilery.

Trigger Warnings

Before I go much further however, I recommend this show with conditions not to be taken lightly.  This show needs several trigger warnings.  It is heavily psychological and no one should go in without some forewarning.  There are depictions of child abuse, a lot of violence, blood, and gore which is pretty brutal, but if you watched Netflix's Daredevil series, there is nothing in Jessica Jones that's as bad as that car door scene - you all know what I'm talking about... *shudders*

A trigger warning for suicide and attempted suicide is also necessary, but most importantly is a trigger warning for rape.  While viewers are thankfully spared from actually ever seeing rape happen, Jessica's whole arc is dealing with her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) brought on by her physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive former relationship with the villain of the show.


It's interesting the amount of commentary I've seen labeling Jessica Jones as a female dominated cast.  While sure, it has a female protagonist, by the numbers the cast is very much an even split (cisnormatively speaking admittedly), with just a little over 50% female characters including regular supporting actors.  It's not overly surprising that this complaint is made though, when you consider studies that show that a ratio of 17% women in a cast is seen as equal gender representation by men.  Or that when women speak for an equal amount of time to men in a class, the men perceive women to have dominated the conversation.  Unsurprising, but interesting and disappointing.

As far as other kinds of diversity go, the show is marginally above average.  Jeri Hogarth, was a man in the comics but written to be a woman for the TV series and thus brought some lesbian representation with her entanglements with her secretary girlfriend and divorce proceedings with her ex-wife.  Aside from Luke, Malcolm, and a special appearance later in the season, the cast is rather Whitey McWhiterson, and aside from its narrative on mental illness and substance abuse, everyone is very much able-bodied and fit conventional beauty norms and standards.

Complex Characters

What I love most about this show is the complexity of the characters and their developments.  I can't find any one-dimensional characters, though there have been complaints (from the same people that complain about JJ being female-dominated) that the male characters are one-dimensional.  I beg to differ.


Jessica may have superhuman strength and jumping abilities, but she's no super human.  She barely has her life together if at all.  A barely functional alcoholic dealing with PTSD, she struggles with mundane activities of daily life - never getting around to repairing her broken door, forgetting to charge her phone or replace the toilet roll.  She's not a perfect person and for me, that's part of her appeal.  She has superhuman skills but is refreshingly human and fallible.  Despite her cold manner, she is deeply caring.  She pushes people away from her and attempts to isolate herself to keep everyone safe from Kilgrave as she knows he's drawn to her.  But she fights to protect people and jumps in to bat for Hope when she lands herself in trouble with the law thanks to Kilgrave.


The supervillain with what I think is one of the silliest villain names ever.  Honestly with that name and David Tennant portraying him, it took me some time to take the character seriously.  This of course is part of the brilliance.  Looking rather unassuming and with a somewhat ridiculous name helped undermine Jessica's credibility and make her fear of him seem irrational to others (echoing how a lot offenders get away with their crimes).  Kilgrave is a victim of child abuse as revealed later on in the season.  Obviously this is no excuse for him behaviour, as Jake Peralta would say:
Thanks Jake! - but it goes some way to explain how his sense of morality got so warped.  He truly sees himself as the victimised good guy, a hopeless romantic destined to be with Jessica, and her rebuffs her just being coy.  He is the textbook definition of a Nice Guy TM but more about that next JJ post.


There are so many reasons to love Trish.  Just an ordinary human (with her own childhood traumas) with no superhuman gifts - or at least none that we know of thus far... there have been hints for next season but time will tell.  Trish is vulnerable and keenly aware of her vulnerabilities, but rather than give in to her fear completely (she does turn her house into a mega fortress with a panic room and all), she learns how to fight.  She is strong willed and feisty and calls people out on their bullshit.  She refuses to let Jessica push her away or face her problems alone.  One of my favourite of her lines was from her calling Will out on his bullshit when he pushes into her and Jessica's plans for Kilgrave.


Recovering drug addict, Malcolm is an idealist who turns his own trauma into a chance to help other victims of Kilgrave's mind control.  A man after my own heart, Malcolm is pretty much the only male character of the show I really liked.  Luke was cool of course, but I have a softer spot for Mal.  He struggles to make the world better even as he finds it difficult to cope and find faith in humanity.

There's also Hope, Jeri, Pam, Will, Luke, and other recurring characters, each with their own backstories, motives, desires and complexities.  But I'll stop gushing here or there'll be no reason to watch or read part 2 on Saturday!

Geek out!

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