I know this isn’t a film, but I spent a lot of time in this world last week, and feel like I need to express an opinion.
And my opinion is this: Marvel clearly decided to try going beyond their usual boundaries in this series, which in principle is fine. But the theme of Jessica Jones is a really difficult one to address, and I don’t believe Marvel, or at least the writers of this series, showed enough sensitivity or finesse to do it justice.
I can’t discuss this without SPOILERS, so consider yourself warned!!
It’s refreshing to enter the Marvel Universe and realise that for once, the majority of the main characters are female. And yet it doesn’t take long to realise that they are all victims of abuse in one way or another. Is that how it has to be?
The Jessica Jones of this series is a traumatised teenage emo kid in the body of a knock-kneed hard-drinking woman. We discover the reason for her teenage trauma, for which she blames herself and which is the original root of her (acknowledged) self-loathing.
This makes her highly vulnerable, and a prime candidate for a control freak looking for a victim.
So essentially this is a story of domestic abuse and in the ‘present day’ story (ie not flashbacks), Jessica actually becomes complicit in her own abuse because she chooses to be with her original captor. He hasn’t used his ‘powers ‘ to compel her, he blackmails her emotionally by threatening others. It’s abuse, even though it’s her choice – not much of a choice, is it?
Jessica explains to her tormentor exactly how she felt under his control. She’s not like him, she says; even though they both had traumatic childhoods, she doesn’t go around raping people. Yet she quite happily subjects him to torture – it doesn’t make sense and I was very uncomfortable watching it.
Let’s take a look at some of the other relationships in the series.
The bad guy is also a victim of abuse – his parents inflicting excruciatingly painful scientific experiments on him. And whether you accept the parents’ or the son’s version of the story, we’re shown the pain. The reason for the abuse doesn’t matter – it happened.
Jessica’s friend was subjected to abuse by her mother as a teenager, forcing her into strict dietary controls to maintain her child star image. As an adult, the mother then tries to bribe her daughter by offering her information in return for rekindling their relationship.
The friend also ends up for part of the series being in an intimate relationship with a man who, 48 hours earlier, had seriously beaten and strangled her. Why would she let such a person into her life? Why would she ever trust him, a total stranger, after such a short time? She refers to him by his surname for most of the series – very distancing.
Few of the relationships in the series are healthy. The brother and sister who live upstairs are in some kind of constant, horrible argumentative situation. She says it’s because he’s special and can’t manage on his own. But she treats him appallingly and bullies him verbally – it’s abusive.
Jessica’s lawyer-contact treats her ex dreadfully, then is a victim herself as her new paramour (her secretary whose boobs are constantly on display in dresses that barely wrap-over) uses her sexuality to exercise her power and manipulate her.
The only character who seems anyway decent and whom I enjoyed watching was Luke – absent from much of the storyline, but a real note of compassion and empathy when present. And he was the only one who, as I recall, didn’t take advantage of anyone, apart from when under the influence of the Big Bad. In fact, he could be viewed as a victim himself to a lesser extent as the woman he was seeing at the start neglected to tell him that she was married. He wasn’t happy to have been lied to.
So with the majority of the characters being abuse victims in one form or another, the series should have been treading carefully in how it portrays the abused. But It didn’t. The fact that everyone was vulnerable because of previous events was a convenient plot point rather than a character detail.
Only Luke had any redeeming features. Many of Jessica’s plans came across as idiotic and ill-thought through by a sulky protagonist – when actually her actions were the result of PTSD and a skin-full of whiskey.
The more time I spent with these people, the more I got annoyed by the lack of empathy regarding their backstories. Don’t ask me how they should have done it – I have no idea, but I know that the tone just wasn’t right for me.
I’ve read several articles which really praise this series for the empowering stance it takes, and good if that’s how it came across to you. But for all the reasons above, I’m glad it’s over.