WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD! Only read this review if you a) have seen JJ or b) don’t really care about the spoilers.
Trigger warnings for abuse, rape, violence, death, murder, abortion.
It’s been a while since I’ve been genuinely excited about a TV show to the extent where I want everyone to watch it just so I can talk about it. There have been shows I’ve liked, ones I’ve found funny, and others that have been interesting, but Jessica Jones is one of those few gems that managed to combine so many of my favourite things. With its feminist undertones, subtly bad-ass protagonist, and a tiny hint of superheroism, it’s the ideal package.
Jessica Jones is a show about a woman living in Hell’s Kitchen, suffering from PTSD and working as a P.I. It’s a simple enough premise, and it starts off innocently enough: Jessica gets a new case from a client, and has to investigate. When she realises the parallels between the disappearance of the young college student she’s been investigating, and her own past, everything gets complicated. Jones is thrown back into the world of her ex-abuser, Killgrave, played by David Tennant. Killgrave has the ability to command a person to carry out a deed: once he’s said it, it has to be done, whether it is as simple as “come here”, or is something far more dark such as “put a bullet in your head”.
The plot of the series is exciting, and has all the twists and turns you’d expect from a Marvel series. But what really grabbed me and drew me in was the representation of a woman who has been abused, and who is suffering from PTSD. Jones’ coping mechanism is alcohol – she drinks it almost constantly throughout the show – and she has flashbacks to her time with Killgrave. She lives in isolation, only seeking out her adoptive sister when she is in dire need of help. Her only friend – if you could call him that – is the drug addict who lives down the corridor.
There were a lot of things that really stuck with me from this series. The flashbacks to Killgrave’s past, with his own narration, almost make you feel sorry for him – until you discover that he was spinning yet another web of lies. There is the sadness of his parents, who know that this monster was ultimately their creation and yet love him defiantly – until he forces them to kill themselves (his mother dies; his father survives). And there is the scene in which Jessica outright screams at Killgrave: “You raped me. Not only did you physically rape me, but you violated every cell in my body”. We see very few flashbacks to Jessica’s time with Killgrave, but the dialogue she has throughout the series is enough to comprehend the things she has been through. And the actions of Killgrave speak for themselves. It is incredibly powerful.
The revelation that Jones has at the very end of the series is that Killgrave’s mind control no longer works on her: she is immune. I found this to be reflective of the survival of trauma victims. What once afflicted her daily, with flashbacks and anger and fear, is now under her control. She is no longer scared of him because he no longer has the ability to get under her skin and into her mind.
But that is what is so terrifying about the character of Killgrave. There are no bombs, no war machine that will destroy the world. His power consists of his words, and his words alone. He has control over anybody he talks to, whether that is mentally or physically. And he uses that power to do whatever he wants, whilst that person is struggling with an internal – and ultimately useless – battle to ensure he doesn’t get his own way. What is truly striking about his character is that he is an average abuser, only with more strength. He manipulates, he gaslights, and he takes without repercussions. He is an elevated representation of abusive men, of those who force their partner’s hand behind their back whilst smiling sweetly to the outside world. He is chillingly awful. And, if we are to believe what he says, he is pretty much unaware of the severe psychological impact his powers have on other people. That, or he is so unfeeling and so much of a literal psychopath that he simply does not care.
Furthermore, there are so many elements of this show that are representative of rape culture as a whole. There is the nonchalance of Killgrave using his powers to physically and mentally rape Jessica, before he, some months later, states that he believed that they always were – and still are – in love. There is the disbelief of Jeri and the general public of Killgrave’s powers, which portrays firstly the feelings that an abuse victim might feel – i.e. fear of speaking out in case they are not believed – and secondly, the actual reactions that many people have to accusations of rape. False rape accusations make up a tiny percentage of real-life cases, but for some reason many people in our society are quick to assume that the accusers are the liars, and the rapists are the victims.
And there is the guilt that Jessica feels for things that she has done whilst under Killgrave’s control. None of them are her fault, of course, as she was literally having her mind controlled. But she still feels tremendous amounts of guilt for them, as though she had a choice and made the wrong decision. Many victims of abuse feel as though their abuse was their fault, and doubt their own perception of what happened. Finally, there is the disgust and hatred that Hope Shlottman, the college student who is Killgrave’s victim at the start of the series, feels towards the unwanted child that is a result of her relationship with him. She attempts several DIY abortions, including being beaten up by another woman in her facility, before finally being given medication to terminate the pregnancy. She describes the foetus inside her as a monster, physically and mentally torturing herself to get rid of it.
As well as this, there is a really great level of role reversal in this series. Men are sexualised and objectified (Luke Cage gets naked far more than is actually necessary) whilst Jessica Jones is portrayed as having quite stereotypically masculine traits. She drinks, she swears, she fights; she is messy and kinda lazy. She isn’t given a skimpy, skin-tight outfit for her superhero persona (apart from in one scene, which pokes fun at the concept); she doesn’t even really wear makeup. And why would she? She is traumatised by her past, by the death of her parents, by the abuse she has suffered. She is humanised and is realistic and that is what makes this show brilliant.
Of course, you can’t talk about Jessica Jones without mentioning the side characters. In my personal opinion, Jones’ adoptive sister Trish Jones was not a character that I found particularly interesting: she’s the classic beautiful blonde trope, only with a few more redeeming qualities. She is intelligent, loyal to Jessica, and quick. Her back-story with Jessica’s adoptive mother is certainly another iteration of the theme of abuse that runs throughout the series, and she is shown to overcome this. She does also suffer at the hands of Killgrave, becoming a target for his henchmen to hunt down and kill. Surviving, she spends the series reclaiming her body and safety. But aside from that, and a few semi-bad-ass lines, there’s not much else to Trish, and I found her to be quite bland.
Other side-characters include Jeri Hogarth, a lawyer, and her future wife and ex-wife, whose story I, again, didn’t really care for. But Hope Shlottman, who I mentioned before, has an amazing storyline. She basically re-enacts the part of Jessica’s past that we never get to see: the abusive relationship with Killgrave. Her scenes are haunting, and incredibly upsetting. Similarly, I very much liked the inclusion of Luke Cage, who is going to be getting his own spin-off series following Jessica Jones. And Malcolm Ducasse, the neighbour who, at the beginning of the series was a junkie, was one of my favourites. He begins as a drug addict, under the influence of Killgrave who is forcing him to bring him daily photographs of Jessica for free drugs, and makes the journey through recovery. He’s a soft, kind character who sticks with Jessica throughout the series and defends her – even when he doesn’t want to.
I’ve tried writing reviews for TV shows, books, films, and countless other things, before, and I’ve always reached about 300 words before running out of steam and struggling to continue. The fact that I’ve written upwards of 1000 words in the space of about 20 minutes is testament to the strength and beauty of this show. I even watched the last episode twice in a row because of the satisfaction of the ending. Watching Jessica Jones break the neck of her ex-abuser after he tells her to “smile” is one of the most gratifying things I have ever had the pleasure of watching.
All in all, I highly recommend watching it. If you want to watch a young woman with PTSD and a broken past overcome her abuser, save the world, and get angry for all the right reasons, then this show is for you.
And let’s not forget the topless scenes with Luke Cage.