On Netflix’s Jessica Jones (television)

 

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by Jacqueline Valencia

Rambly post is rambly because of wine, but take it as you will. There are small spoilers here, so you have been warned. I highly recommend watching the show. This post is written having watched season one episode 1-6.

 

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It’s not so much about how good this show is, but what makes this television show about Jessica Jones (played by Krysten Ritter) so thought provoking on many levels.

While the show is a bit of a departure from the comic book, the show is an homage to Jessica Jones’s comic book setting as well. There is a scene where Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor) aka Hellcat (changed from Carol Danvers from the comic due to the Marvel film universe copyright puzzle), and Jessica are discussing superhero names. Trish suggests the name “Jewel” which is a name she uses for a while (before she encounters her great nemesis Killgrave) in the comics. That same scene has Trish pull out one of the original costume designs, a white number with blue-green accents, from The Pulse (one of Jessica Jones series incarnations). There are allusions to her flying, but it’s a skill Jessica never developed well in the comics and thus, Jessica corrects everyone in the television series that it’s a “sort of like jumping.”

The series also sets itself apart from comic book film themes in many ways. Jessica Jones’s fight scenes feature a lot strength and speed, but nothing about those scenes is supernatural or other-worldly. A gang of men show up at Luke Cage‘s (Mike Colter) bar to beat him up (this scene is sort of taken from the comic whereupon a bunch of mafia thugs try to roughen Luke up). Cage fights, but instead of the super hero razzle dazzle, he calmly pushes attackers out of the way. Jessica helps him out in the same minimalist fighting style and reduces the attackers to a pile up on the floor. Superhero films/television tend to rely on special effects and grandiose slow motion kicks, but Jessica Jones doesn’t. No prior knowledge is needed to showcase Jessica Jones’s abilities and as a comedic measure, the show uses that in a good way. Various times they’ve mentioned her lack of flying and Jessica falsely claims to have laser vision to scare off her attackers.

I’m a big fan of superhero celluloid and literature that compares the way neurotypical people treat those with special abilities with the way they also treat those with “disabilities.” Under certain circumstances the superhero or “special needs” person is often derogatorily labelled a freak. In season one episode foue, Jessica is confronted by Audrey Eastman (Jessica Hecht P.S. – she is so underrated!). Audrey calls Jessica a freak. Jessica responds with “What did the mentally challenged do to you?” When Audrey reveals that she was trying to trap Jessica to kill her in revenge for her parents’ deaths from the fallouts of an Avengers battle, Jessica has a fit. She exhibits her full strength, throwing tables and parts of walls while telling them that they’re not the only people whose parents have died tragically (referencing so many superhero origin stories), and to just deal with it.

“You lost your parents, welcome to the club!” she yells.

 

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“They’re not gifted…”

“You know why I live alone?” – Jessica

“Because people don’t like you.” – Trish

“People distract me.” – Jessica

There are interesting cinematic techniques that take advantage of both the sleuth themes and the many superhero films the show references. Opening, shots, focused shots, and counter shots utilize a soft focusing lens that keeps foregrounds out of focus. This forces the audience to “peep in” to various scenes like a private detective spying on location. These shots take place from behind people’s shoulders, just below desks, from hallways, and similar hiding places. The viewer becomes the spy on the spy who is spied by Killgrave (David Tennant), the enemy who is obsessed with her.

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Killgrave is the main source of Jessica Jones’ panic attacks and the anxiety that haunts her almost every day. Triggers come out of nowhere and Jessica grounds herself by reciting the streets that lead her out of her childhood home. Killgrave is that trigger having violated her for many years by using his mind control powers to make her his slave. She committed many atrocious acts under his influence and his reappearance causes her great physical terror and mental anguish. This PTSD is traumatic to her and the first time I’ve seen it displayed with sensitivity and without judgement in an onscreen female character.

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MARVEL’S JESSICA JONES

Alternate reality is an overall theme for the show. Jessica’s  junkie neighbour, Malcolm Ducasse (Eka Darville), is constantly high, but also a victim of Killgrave’s influence. When Jessica saves him from that influence and helps him detox, he must deal with the after effects in his recovery. There’s much questioning of realities for many of the characters. No one trusts anything as real (the people in the support group, Will Simpson’s anguish when he comes out of Killgrave’s spell) and everyone is ready for a fight (ie. Trish trains in Krav Maga and cop Will Simpson (Wil Traval) comes up with elaborate plans to protect her or Jessica).

The alternate reality theme can also be seen in the green and yellow palette which is reminiscent of scenes from the grid in the film The Matrix (1999).

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Jessica Jones Season One Episode Four

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“The Matrix is a system, Neo.” from The Matrix  (1999)

 

Scenes of crowds in busy business areas as Jessica tries to find the person who’s been spying on her are similar to the infamous “girl in the red dress” scene from The Matrix. Further adding to comparisons to The Matrix is that one of the supporting characters of the show, Jeryn Hogarth, is played by Carrie Ann Moss Neo’s love interest in The Matrix.

Symbolism is big on the show and it appears in many scenes in the series. Jessica constantly breaks glass (and many doors) in moments of rage. I think of ideas of misperception and Jessica’s internal struggle to deal with reality versus escaping Killgrave’s influence. A cracked window brings to mind the cracks exposed in Jessica’s tough girl exterior. While she tries to dull her pain/escape her tortured mental state with Wild Turkey bourbon, her inebriation leads to scenes where she either finds leads in her cases or inadvertently reveals vulnerable parts of herself to Luke or Trish. Abstract paintings make numerous appearances in the television show in scenes when she questions people in fancy restaurants or business establishments. Abstractions are an artist’s way of interpreting a reality for a viewer that can not be fully put into words, but can be exposed through colours, lines, and mediums. Meanings can only be truly felt within the internal mental screen of a viewer’s mind; ie. the place where no author or director has domain. As Jessica runs through an office past artistic abstractions and blurs, she is disentangling herself from Killgrave’s control over her mental states or resolving her situations through action.

I do find it fascinating that Killgrave’s weakness lies in a drug that puts him under and makes him lose control. While obvious it plays in great to another thing that makes me love this show so much: the aggressive subversive influence of the media women’s mental states.

“I hate feeling like this. I don’t know how you handle it.” – Trish

“It’s called whiskey.” – Jessica

I’m talking here about the constant policing of women through media on how to be a woman. Every day women are accosted with media images of photoshopped women on grocery check out aisle displays, subway advertisements, television ads, and film. The female ideal, whether that be seen in bodily form or social behaviour, is a constant. I focus on it here because there is no denying Jessica Jones’s gender plays a big part in her role as a superhero who is not so much a superhero, but one that deals with very real problems. She doesn’t play into the alternate reality of the female superhero in costume, or bigger yet, in heels. I haven’t seen Jessica Jones fight a scene on the television in anything other than sensible footwear. There are no skimpy costumes here and when she has sex, she has it on her terms. The first time she has sex with Luke Cage she keeps her bra and top on. (Editor’s after note: Trish being given oral sex by Will Simpson and various scenes of Trish and Jessica on top during sexual scenes with Will or Luke).

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The dark subjects of sexual abuse and violence in the show are something not regularly shown on television in the way they are in Jessica Jones. Jessica’s PTSD and trauma from rape is a weakness to her superhero abilities, but the violence that it originates from are universal to others who have been influenced by Killgrave. There’s a interesting connection to rape that might not be seen to those that deny rape culture. Rape culture is a very real part of society. Killgrave’s victims are left with the impression that what they did was their own fault despite knowing that they were under the Killgrave’s spell. Jessica establishes a support group for Killgrave’s victims because in the reality they live in, no one would believe they were victims, but rather perpetrators of the abuse inflicted on them. This is a normalized view of society to deal with, or rather, deny a reality that it is not ready to accept.

Edited to add: Jessica Jones may be tough and kickass, but the true jewel of the show is that she doesn’t have to be. Her vulnerable moments are what makes her superhero attitude more poignant and that much more empathetic.

It’s refreshing to see something provoke thoughts like this nowadays. Jessica Jones has a good percentage of female writers, creators, and directors at its helm. I see this as the main strength of the show and look forward to marathoning it as I try to escape every day realities.

 

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jackie1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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