The initial trailers for Jessica Jones left me on the fence. The tone felt uneven and failed to capture my attention. Despite this, I was a fan of the comic Alias and had enjoyed Netflix’s treatment of Daredevil. I wisely decided to hold my judgement until I watched it. I am impressed by this gritty and dark adaptation, and can safely say that Jessica Jones injects the heart and humanity that the MCU needs to continue growing.
There are spoilers ahead. If you haven’t finished the season yet, read at your own risk.
The character of Jessica Jones is handled remarkably well, and her story is buoyed by exceptional writing. We are treated to a nuanced character whose story is shown rather than told. Episode by episode and layer by layer, Jessica’s past is revealed. It doesn’t hold your hand, and observant viewers will be rewarded with a wealth of insight into her decisions and motivations. The show deals with the serious themes of physical abuse, addiction, and emotional manipulation.
She’s No Stranger to Hardship
Jessica is damaged, and this quickly becomes evident. The series handles these mature themes carefully, while maintaining sharp wit and humanity throughout. It is fascinating to watch Jessica mask her vulnerabilities from other characters in the show, and then later lower her guard in quiet moments alone. We are allowed to see both sides of her, and it helps us come to better understand and empathize with her trials and decisions as she fights against the mind controlling big-bad Kilgrave.
She is in many ways radically different yet similar to Daredevil. He is rigid, disciplined, and often inflexible. He has a plan, a purpose, and a method to achieve both. He restrains himself both in and out of mask. Matt lives a vice-free life. He does not drink to excess, nor does he indulge in drugs or tobacco.
Jessica grew up as an outsider who was repeatedly rejected. The show goes to great lengths to portray this in her past, and it’s something that she and Matt share. Her parents and brother are killed in a tragic car accident when she is a teenager, leaving her truly alone for the first time. Her fierce independence becomes directly threatened by the malicious influence of Kilgrave.
Despite what she has been through, Jessica is not judgmental. With few exceptions, she seeks only her own approval. She is never preachy, and her own brand of justice is based upon an innate sense of right and wrong instead of the religious morality Matt Murdock ascribes to. It is a fascinating difference that helps to further set them apart. They embody the duality of humanity and the contrast between secular and sacred.
…But She Faces Her Demons
Jessica is above all a decent human being. She is an alcoholic and has a foul temper, and this stands in contrast to the typical comic book paragons. Her drinking problem is referenced on multiple occasions by herself and others. It is an important coping mechanism for her after the severe abuse she suffered at the hands of Kilgrave, and paints her in a sympathetic light. Many watchers have related personally to Jessica, in part because she suffers from post-traumatic stress. The guilt of what has been done to her and by her weighs heavily on her conscience. She seeks no counselor to help her work through the trauma, perhaps due to the shame she feels.
Many of her supporting characters also suffer from substance (and physical) abuse. Her best friend Trish had a physically abusive mother growing up and was an addict. Her neighbor Malcolm suffers with addiction that was inflicted upon him by Kilgrave to manipulate him into compliance. In several episodes we are shown the group therapy sessions that the Kilgrave survivors attend, and Jessica sometimes unenthusiastically shows up. We discover that Malcolm sought to become a social worker before his struggles with addiction, and he is often seen leading these meetings and offering support to Jessica. What remains to be seen is if he or Jessica will seek more formal counseling for their substance abuse. How will the season finale change the way she copes?
Her Friends Make Her Stronger
The difference between Jessica and Matt is highlighted again when examining their relationships, romantic or otherwise.
Matt and Jessica both understand loss and grief, but they handle that pain differently when it comes to their friends. Matt does not pursue Claire when given the chance, despite the desire to do so. He holds her at arm’s length seemingly for her protection and likely out of concern for his own feelings. His training with Stick taught him self-denial and detachment. For him to achieve his goal of cleaning up Hell’s Kitchen and defeating Wilson Fisk, there can be no distraction. His efforts are focused and methodical. This approach leads him to keep his best friend Foggy in the dark.
Jessica takes a different path, and the show does an excellent job of presenting her decisions without judgement. By the season’s end, all three of her closest friends share her secrets and it makes her all the stronger for it.
The interaction we see with her closest friends allows for a much greater depth of character development. Rather than opting to face Kilgrave alone, Jessica is supported by her friends. Trish, Simpson, Luke, and Malcolm all have an important part to play. Ultimately, she is facing her demons and regaining control of her life – avoiding becoming a two-dimensional hero in the process.
Where Does She Go Next?
We are left to come to our own conclusions about her actions throughout the events of the show. She does what she wants and what happens, happens. Jessica Jones is unabashedly her own person. She has real problems that viewers can relate to, and the show doesn’t candy-coat or hold back from the consequences. Her trauma is the fuel she needs to become the hero that the Marvel Cinematic Universe deserves.