So this dropped on Friday. I’m going to put my thoughts behind a cut, because it’s still new and spoilers, but also because Jessica Jones deals with some pretty heavy issues around abuse and violence.
The premise that the superhero can be more than just men in tights fighting each other has been frequently promised but rarely delivered on. The Marvel movie franchise in particular has largely been stuck in the Big Dumb Comic Book Movie which waves a hand at ideas like the Singularity and the Surveillance State in order to give its fight scenes a little more gravitas. Rise of Ultron and Winter Soldier were movies that read the cliff notes for Neuromancer and 1984 respectively. But that’s just a setup for the various characters to have Bad Ass Moments®.
Jessica Jones is a story about abuse and PTSD. This is different from Tony Stark telling us in Iron Man 3, “oh heck, I have PTSD.” In Iron Man 3, it’s nothing more than a minor complication that gets talked about in route to the Bad Ass Moments®. How can we make this hostage situation more fraught? Give Tony PTSD.
In Jessica Jones, the PTSD is the plot, and series villain Killgrave doesn’t make an appearance until the third episode. Killgrave’s super power is mind control, and Jones is a survivor of his manipulation. Each episode introduces us to more victims of his power. Killgrave’s actions by proxy embody multiple aspects of emotional abuse: gaslighting, guilt, and complicity with the abuser. Rather than handwave them away, the series tackles them head-on. And unlike many post-modern superhero movies, the series has yet to introduce any ambiguity regarding Killgrave’s villainy.
If there is any ambiguity, it’s in the way in which survivors and the culture around them attempts to make sense of what happened. In Marvel Movie continuity, the world has barely started to accept the existence of The Hulk. Killgrave’s victims suffer from doubt regarding his power. The rest of the world demonstrates a range of attitudes from skepticism to active victim-blaming.
What impresses me about this is that Jessica Jones is quite possibly the first Marvel tv/movie product to actually take its premise seriously. Part of that includes keeping the tights and capes off-stage.
There are other bright spots and weak spots for me. On the plus side, we have the lesbian Hogarths who are presented multiple times as a married couple. For me, this is science fiction becoming the new reality. (Although I admit, it’s been the reality in New York for a while now.) I’m a bit ambivalent about the sex scenes between Jessica and hero-but-not-a-hero Luke Cage, which feel more titillating than developmental.