November 29, 2015

Breaking the Mold: Netflix’s Jessica Jones

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Jessica Jones treats its viewers to an engaging, suspenseful, neo-noir-inspired crime drama. The title character just happens to be able to lift cars and punch through walls. The emphasis Jessica Jones places on its plot and character development over its characters’ “gifts” makes the show widely accessible to even traditionally non-superhero fans and refreshing among the seemingly endless stream of superheroes.

Throughout the 13 episodes released on Netflix, we are introduced to Jessica Jones, a smart, sarcastic private investigator. When a mother and father arrive at Jessica’s door in search of their missing daughter, Jessica discovers that the man who once held her in captivity, Kilgrave, is still alive and luring her back to him through the kidnapping of the current couple’s daughter, Hope. Jessica rescues Hope and returns her to her parents, only to be reminded of Kilgrave’s cruelty as Hope shoots both of her parents. Jessica desperately tries to prove Hope’s innocence, beginning her mission of tracking down and capturing Kilgrave to prove that his mind control powers are real.

The details of Jessica’s trauma, as well as Kilgrave’s true abilities, are revealed piecemeal throughout the show during Jessica’s PTSD episodes. This method of dispensing information avoids clunky exposition, leaving viewers with just enough information to keep them on the edge of their seats. Kilgrave’s range of control is revealed through examples, as he orders innocent people to do whatever he wishes, causing emotional, physical and, in Jessica and Hope’s cases, sexual abuse.

Kilgrave’s mindset is much scarier than his abilities, because he truly does not understand morality. In order to save Kilgrave from a neurological disease, Kilgrave’s parents performed medical experiments that tortured him and gave him special powers. From a young age, whatever Kilgrave said came true, and his parents, too frightened of him, never taught him acceptable behavior. He does not consider himself a murderer because he’s never actually murdered anyone and because his victims deserved to die.

Kilgrave’s twisted outlook is further revealed as Jessica calls him out for raping both her and Hope. Kilgrave recoils at the use of the term, saying that he had no way of knowing that Jessica and Hope didn’t want to have sex with him. Kilgrave loves Jessica and is horrified that she views his actions as torturous and cruel. Kilgrave’s reaction makes a strong point about rape in today’s society through this plot, as it mirrors a scarily common reaction in real life.

Along with the psychological analysis of Kilgrave’s skewed motives and ethics, the show effectively addresses the psychological damage left on Jessica and the other survivors of Kilgrave’s mind control. Through a support group for victims and Jessica’s comforting of Hope, the show is subtle, but powerful in emphasizing that it is not the victim’s fault.

Despite all of his cruel actions, I felt myself struggling to hate Kilgrave. I know I should hate him, but David Tennant is incredibly charismatic. His portrayal of Kilgrave is smart, charming and enjoyable to watch, and it evokes an odd sense of empathy. A rarity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Kilgrave is a deeply-written villain who provides an even match for Jessica.

Jessica Jones is powerfully feminist, as Jessica’s character type is much more frequently played by men. She is a tough, heavy drinker, doesn’t rely on anyone else and prefers to be alone, but none of these traits seem out of place in Jessica. She is not written as a woman who is independent and strong (both physically and literally), but rather as a character who has these traits. No one questions whether Jessica is strong or can do something just because she’s a girl, and if they do, Jessica had absolutely no problem throwing them into a wall to show them otherwise.

Jessica is by far the protagonist most capable of defeating Kilgrave, despite the efforts of Luke Cage, who is indestructible and strong, and Will Simpson, an overly-violent soldier turned cop, to convince her otherwise. Ultimately Jessica’s best friend, Trish, becomes her greatest ally. Trish isn’t scared to take her safety into her own hands and does what she can to protect Jessica, acting as a moral guide for Jessica.

Jessica Jones is at its best when it examines the emotional effects of trauma and morality. Yet, even in its weaker moments, it still provides a suspenseful and genuinely enjoyable crime drama. Brynn Richter is a freshman  in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at ber65@cornell.edu.

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