This past week, Netflix released Marvel’s Jessica Jones as the latest in its slew of original series that’s put the streaming service on the map in terms of quality programming. Starring Krysten Ritter as the title character, the show follows private detective Jones as she attempts to track down and destroy a mind-controlling man named Kilgrave. The series opens with Kilgrave forcing a young girl to kill her parents, leading Jones on a twisted, complicated goose chase around New York City as she hopes to implicate — not kill — Kilgrave in order to absolve the girl of her crime. Jones is helped by her local celebrity best friend Trish and the perpetually high next door neighbor Malcolm, in addition to engaging in a love-hate relationship with a lawyer named Jeri Hogarth. A brother and sister duo also live downstairs in a Tennessee Williams-esque family drama which further complicate the tangled web of psychological manipulation and torment. On top of everything else, Jones has superhuman strength and very good jumping skills to boot.
I had hoped by the publication of this column — the last of the year — I would’ve been able to finish the season and write a well-informed opinion on the series as whole, but as of these words, I have yet to do so. That being said, of the 11 episodes I have seen in their entirety, it’s clear Netflix has another winner on its hands — not just in terms of good drama but also in terms of provoking, progressive content that other shows should look to in the future. Jones — despite the fact that she wears no costume and doesn’t have a superhero name — is a superhero of female empowerment in a stubbornly male game.
On the periphery of the main story, men catcall and taunt Jones as she walks through Manhattan’s streets, to which she snaps back but moves on, unperturbed. She isn’t a victim, even as she’s punched and cut and tormented and thrown around episode after episode by various bad guys and assailants. She’s strong — both emotionally and physically — but not overtly. She has problems too; she drinks incessantly and also has deep-rooted trust issues.
At first, I felt her alcoholism seemed like an easy choice in terms of character development or keeping her from seeming too perfect or Wonder Woman-y. I felt the creators had to show some foible of the female protagonist to make her seem more “real” or more female, but I admit, this was my predisposed mind expecting the worst out of the creators. It’s almost laughable that I found this to be a fault of the show because eventually I realized that Jones’s flaws were exactly the type of characteristic I had wanted so desperately and wrote about last year in a column exploring why the industry hasn’t given us a female Sherlock Holmes. With Jones, we’re one step closer to treating female protagonists the same as men in terms of what they can do and what actions are deemed “acceptable” — both good and bad.
That isn’t to say that the show is without its faults. The pilot episode includes copious amounts of shots through things; canted angles through grates, windows and doorways. It seems to imply the act of looking at Jessica, just as she’s looking at her client’s targets. But even then, the choices seem childish and misinformed. Thankfully, the directors — of which three out of nine are female — cease these foolish stylizations and let the drama unfold as naturally and smoothly as possible considering the plot is outlandish and unbelievable. There are a lot of melodramatic moments and corny, contrived scenes of dialogue, but at its heart, Jessica Jones and the character’s crime-stopping capabilities is important to promoting female-led television and media.
That isn’t to say that every episode in itself is a man-fighting microcosm of feminist action and justice. On the contrary, the very premise of the show is built upon one woman’s propensity to be seduced and follow another man to the depths of crime and evil. Jessica is continually beaten and duped by Kilgrave, and nothing about her powers come from the fact that she is a woman. But that’s where the beauty of the show lies. It doesn’t feel injected with an equality agenda. We are not hit over the head by the diverse casting or characters. They simply live in this world, as they should.
The best example of this lies in the depiction of Hogarth — played by The Matrix’s Carrie-Anne Moss — who is an extremely powerful and successful defense attorney and one of Jones’s chief clients. Jeri also happens to be a lesbian embroiled in a difficult divorce with her wife of 20 years. Additionally, Jeri is sleeping with her secretary — an inversion of the male Mad Men trope that should not be lost on the audience, though I only consciously realized this role reversal when explaining the series to a friend. All these details are barely acknowledged within the show. Gay slurs or references to the women’s sexual preference are not exploited or used as devices to further the plot. Had the characters been switched and a man taken Moss’s role, nothing about the actual story would change. This, in itself, is the best thing about the whole series.
Jessica Jones inhabits a world that Hollywood should take note of — one where diversity need not be addressed as exceptional or out of the ordinary, but rather just reality. Plain and simple.
Minnie Schedeen is a junior majoring in cinematic arts and critical studies. Her column, “Film Fatale,” ran every Tuesday.