On Jessica Jones – AKA Kicking Rape Culture’s Ass and Other Acts of Heroism

***** This post may contain SPOILERS for the Netflix series, JESSICA JONES. It also may contain some discussion that may trigger an emotional response from some people, including those that are sensitive to discussions of rape and sexual violence. *****

We finished watching the Netflix Original Series, JESSICA JONES, last night, and I’ve been walking around in a fog, somewhat overwhelmed by all of its awesomeness for the last 24 hours. It wasn’t that Jessica kicks ass without taking names (Although she does). And it wasn’t that this show passed ever feminist media test that’s ever been made (Although it does). It wasn’t that the show takes gender norms and turns them around like the “permanent press” cycle of my dryer (Although it really, really does).

What really blew me away about this show was the way that it took EVERY SINGLE ASPECT of rape culture and pummeled it with super-human fists. Jessica Jones is DAMAGED. She is broken. She has been through hell, having been tortured and controlled by Kilgrave, raped and forced to do unimaginable things for his pleasure. She is full of rage, rightfully so, and these circumstances have altered her. Permanently. She is truly messed up by it — which is pretty refreshing, if you think about it. So often, characters who have been through a traumatic experience —  especially rape — spend an episode or two having PTSD, and then they bounce back. But experiences like that aren’t bounceable. They change you, and usually they change you to the point that you don’t go back to who you were. JESSICA JONES really shoved this idea down your throat. Brutally. Beautifully. Honestly.

In addition, I love the fact that Jessica, while our protagonist, isn’t especially likeable. You spend a lot of time wondering why Trish puts up with her, why a kind, attractive man like Luke Cage (Thank you, Netflix, for remembering that women enjoy an eye-candy love interest, too) would ever be interested in her. And then you get a glimpse. You see a fraction of a sliver of what Jessica was like, before Kilgrave. She is such a multifaceted, deeply engaging, fully fleshed out character, that despite the fact that she’s a hard-edged, unfriendly witch, most of the time, you still feel for her. Because she feels real.

Which leads me to another thing that I really enjoyed about the show. There are no characters that don’t get fleshed out. Pretty much all of the bit players — even if they only have a few minutes of screen time over a few episodes — they still manage to surprise you. They don’t feel tropey. They feel REAL. Robin, Louise, Pam, Wendy, Albert, Ruben, Claire (I love you, Claire), and my favorite, Malcolm. They are solid and sordid and they grab you, and don’t let go.

I love the active discussion of rape, and rape culture. I love the way that consent is in your face, every time Kilgrave is on the screen, and is being discussed. I love the conversations that his actions inspire, and the way that Jessica has taken control of her body. She refuses to allow him to take her unwillingly, any more.

I love the way that female characters (I’m looking at you, Hogarth and Robin) are given the roles usually held by men. Hogarth is a womanizing bastard, but she’s the lawyer you want when you’re charged with murder. Robin is the super-creepy neighbor that seems to be keeping her loved one prisoner. You’ve seen these characters before — many, many times. But rarely have they not had penises.  I love how nurturing and compassionate Malcolm is, and how dedicated to the idea of true love Luke is. These are so often seen as “feminine” characteristics, and this show takes gender norms and stirs them up. It takes a friendship between two women and makes it the central relationship — the core — for each of them. It does things that we don’t see often enough in pop culture, and it does them well.

And quite controversially, I’m sure, I loved Kilgrave. Don’t get me wrong — he was the worst of the worst, and deserved a lot worse than he got. But he was the very personification of rape. Think about that, for a minute. This character represented RAPE. Then think about the fact that strong, intelligent women kicked his ass. They worked together. They bled. They cried. They talked and they raged. They looked on as tough men (even the toughest, most unbreakable of men) fell beneath his spell, controlled and mentally raped. Over and over again, characters said to Jessica, “I had no idea… I didn’t believe…” Nobody could fight that battle for Jessica. She had to win on her own terms. And the fact that she wasn’t “fixed” after she had her revenge just makes me love the show, more. She can’t be fixed… she can only get stronger.

I salute the writers, the directors and producers, the actors (especially David Tennant, who has probably made it so I can never watch the 10th doctor, again), and Krysten Ritter, who oozed broken glass with each performance and choked life into Jessica. If Marvel is capable of putting JESSICA JONES out there, in their Cinematic Universe, then I expect them to step up their game on all female superheroes. I expect more broken, beautiful, heroic, fully-fleshed out heroines. They’ve blown their cover, now. We know their secret — and we know that they’re capable.

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