Marvel’s Jessica Jones – a Netflix Original. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably either watched this series, been told you SHOULD watch it, been told you HAVE to watch it, or had your life threatened unless you watch it RIGHT GODDAMNED NOW AND CALL ME SO WE CAN TALK WHEN YOU’VE WATCHED IT! Well, there are reasons behind the hype.
Massive spoilers ahead, but if you haven’t watched it yet, I can’t even look at you. OK there’s still hope. You can catch all 13 episodes on Netflix anytime. And a spinoff – Luke Cage – drops on September 30, 2016, also exclusively on Netflix.
This isn’t your typical superhero series. It deals with real issues that have a real impact, especially in the lives of women – rape, physical abuse, emotional abuse, gaslighting, alcoholism, addiction, survivor’s guilt, PTSD, suicide… and it doesn’t pull any punches. Show creator Melissa Rosenberg has crafted a masterpiece that is sometimes hard to watch – but so compelling, it’s equally hard to look away.
They waste no time throwing us into it. The very first episode, less than 10 minutes in… perched on a fire escape, private investigator Jessica Jones, portrayed to visceral perfection by Krysten Ritter (Breaking Bad), is surreptitiously taking photos of a couple making out through a window across the street. There’s a pause in the action. She closes her eyes for a moment. The colors of light and sound change – a man’s shadowy face swoops in; he whispers, “You want to do it. You know you do.” And she’s jerked back to reality by the adrenaline, eyes open wide, breath catching in her throat, whispering street names to herself, trying to hold it together. She downs a shot of whiskey from a thermos. Later, she is asleep at her desk, her hand loosely wrapped around an empty whiskey glass. The shadowy figure of a man shows up again, sweeps her hair from her cheek, licks her right across the face. She leaps up, awake and out of the chair. Deep breaths. “Birch Street. Higgins Drive. Cobalt Lane.”
The shadowy figure, of course, is Kilgrave.
In the Marvel Universe, some people have “gifts.” Powers. Jessica Jones, we come to find out, has superhuman strength, super-fast healing, and an ability to jump that borders on flying. Kilgrave’s gift, however, is much more terrifying. He controls minds, with just a couple of words. If he commands you to do something, you WILL do it. You will WANT to do it. You will NOT have the ability to NOT want to do it.
Jessica was under Kilgrave’s control for a long time. She managed to escape only when he finally compelled her to do something so horrible that her disgust for her own actions was strong enough to break through the sheer power of his compulsions. All at once, she was free from him… and utterly broken.
Fast forward to the present. Kilgrave isn’t happy that Jones got away. People exist for him, and him alone. So he does what any self-respecting sociopath would do. He re-enacts the scenario. He kidnaps Hope Shlottman, an NYU student on an athletic scholarship. Her parents hire Jessica to find her, at Kilgrave’s suggestion (of course). The trap is baited. Doesn’t take long for Jessica to realize it’s a set-up, but she HAS to save Hope, because she HAS to believe that she can save herself. She rescues Hope from the hotel room and reunites her with her parents, only to witness Hope shooting them dead in the elevator, acting out Kilgrave’s delayed command – made obvious when Hope turns to Jessica, saying, “SMILE!” in a chilling message directly from his lips to her ears, right before Hope regains control and collapses into hysterics at the realization of what she has been forced to do. And all Jessica can do – all we can do – is watch.
So, what now? Redemption? Capture Kilgrave, get him to confess his role in the Shlottman murders, exonerate Hope, and justice will be served? We all know that isn’t how things work in the real world.
Time and time again, she has opportunities to kill Kilgrave. But she “needs him alive.” Why? Because she still thinks she can save Hope. She is trying to fix her own past. And it’s infuriating to watch, because the more collateral damage Kilgrave throws at Jessica, the more obvious it becomes that it makes more sense to cut these losses and prevent future harm, instead of pursuing the long shot of fixing an already broken situation – especially once the DA offers a plea bargain that Hope says she can live with. But she won’t let go. She can’t. Jessica is stuck.
Why is this?
Well, as strong as she is, Jessica Jones is dealing with a foe stronger than any other in all of storytelling – a mountain of obvious symbolism. They named her victim-by-proxy “Hope,” FFS. The one mental “tool” she has for dealing with PTSD (apart from copious amounts of alcohol) is to quote street names from her childhood – and then Kilgrave buys the damn house that sits smack dab on the corner of those streets. For the love of all that is fandom, they cast David Tennant as Kilgrave. You know, the guy who, for years – as the iconic tenth “incarnation” of an eternally-regenerating character known as The Doctor in the British cult sci-fi hit Doctor Who – had a freaking time machine called the TARDIS at his disposal. In S1 E8: AKA WWJD?, they even throw in a cross-genre-teasing line where Jessica points out to Kilgrave, “You’re not ten anymore!” – easily recognizable by Doctor Who fans as a coy reference to the fact that Tennant left the show in 2010 when his character, the Tenth Doctor, regenerated into the Eleventh Doctor, played by Matt Smith.
Given all of this cheeky overlap, it’s not completely out of the question that the whole reason she went to meet him at her childhood home in the first place, is because maybe – just maybe – he had the actual TARDIS there. She could dose him with sufentanil long enough to steal it from him, then go back to that street corner where they met over a year ago, and wring his neck before he ever had a chance to speak to her that first time. Problem solved. Past fixed. No need to walk through this trauma – down Birch Street, Higgins Drive, Cobalt Lane. Trauma all gone. And, you know, while she’s there, maybe she can beat the crap out of a couple of escaped evil daleks that strayed over from Doctor Who, or something.
But in the end, the only way to defeat obvious symbolism is with even more obvious symbolism. Hope decides to break a wine glass and cut her own throat with the stem, while Kilgrave commands four innocent bystanders to hang themselves. Now Jessica HAS to choose – she can either save the lives of the four people who are hanging, or the one woman who is more urgently bleeding to death. Save the future, or the past. There isn’t time for both. She chooses the future. Hope knew she had to force Jessica’s hand – to shock her into letting go of the past. Hope now dies.
“You can kill him now. Promise me.” – Hope
Obvious symbolism – this is a term usually used derisively, but in this case, it is absolutely appropriate for the story arc. The aftermath of all the traumas that women go through is usually kept quiet. Swept under rugs. Whispered about. Discussed in euphemisms. Implied, or not shown at all. Not in this series. Despite the clever lines, and the sarcasm, and the double-entendre, the empowering message of this series is NOT subtle, or coy, or polite. Perhaps it is time for women to stop being subtle when speaking these truths, and to start being more obvious. Maybe this is why we can’t get enough of this series. Jessica Jones IS the hero we deserve, AND the one we need right now. Jessica Jones is EXACTLY the hero that we want her to be.