Last May I wrote an article for the Press reacting to the trailer of the then-upcoming CBS TV adaptation for DC Comics hero Supergirl. The eight minute preview didn’t spell good things for the show, which looked to portray Kal-el’s cousin Kara in what, I felt, was an incredibly stereotypical setting with the show basing its social values on a shallow and misinformed interpretation of feminism. I felt no better watching the actual pilot (totally legally on it’s premiere date in October and not by finding the episode when it leaked online about a week after the trailer dropped) as the show and its writing actively tried to pander to a feminist audience, only to fall flat on its face; the episode itself felt like a rushed and clichéd superhero origin film.
I’ve been meaning to watch a few more episodes just to see if the show could improve on its flimsy foundations, deliver a better show and provide the powerful female superhero that it’s more than capable of showing us. To be honest, I’ve been too busy geeking out over the Netflix-exclusive Marvel hero that delivers the feminist punch that superhero entertainment media has sorely needed.
Of course, I’m talking about Jessica Jones.
Before I continue, I have to be honest: I hadn’t heard of the character before the show actually came out; I knew about every single Marvel hero in the Netflix lineup except for her. Despite that, my attention was immediately drawn to the show by offering up a strong female superhero as a main protagonist in the vein of Buffy Summers and Ripley of the Alien franchise. I immensely enjoyed getting to know Jessica as I watched and re-watched every binge-worthy episode it had to offer.
You may know the story by now: an alcoholic ex-superhero uses her powers in her work as a private detective to solve cases while trying to escape the mental and physical demons in her life. The show was not only incredibly engrossing and clever, but it also brought a refreshing depiction of female protagonists in a show that pulled no punches and approached poignant and sensitive subject matters with tacit and depth.
Each and every female character in the show is complex and fascinating in their own right. From the tough, jaded and damaged Jessica Jones to the determined Trish Walker, from Jessica’s cold-hearted frenemy lawyer Jeri Hogarth to even Jessica’s frustratingly nosy and creepy neighbor Robyn, the show is chock full of women with multifaceted personalities and compelling depth in their characters. While some are certainly more likeable than others, each character is perfect in their imperfections and bring about a level of representation rarely seen in the on-screen superhero genre.
The immensely sensitive topic of rape is handled on the show with incredible and necessary fashion. The main antagonist Kilgrave, a twisted sociopath with the uncanny ability to command anyone to do anything he wants, is also a rapist in his own right. Not only does he physically rape some his victims, Jessica included, but he goes on to violate their minds and forces them to do tasks that they would never originally do as they helplessly obey his every word. As the show progresses and victims of Kilgrave begin emerging, the connection to rape is made all too apparent when said victims suffer trauma from his influence and the general public vilifies them, believing that the object of their torment couldn’t possibly exist and that they’re merely guilty parties trying to find excuses for the terrible things they were subject to do.
In an interview with New York Magazine, Jessica Jones star Krysten Ritter described show creator Melissa Rosenberg as “a feminist with a capital F,” tackling rape and its surrounding controversy in her show with such bluntness in her story of a victim enduring and coping with the acts forced upon her.
I was excited enough to finally see a woman headlining a superhero show with both Supergirl and Jessica Jones. Looking back on the latter, I believe the CBS show had good intentions. For a network whose youngest audience demographic is likely the grandchildren who fall asleep when their grandparents flip on NCIS, I highly doubt modern-day feminism is their strong suit. That’s why I’m glad that the Jessica Jones show exists. With compelling female characters and a complex story with just the right amount of grit, it brings us one step closer to a society that wouldn’t think twice about on-screen ladies kicking some ass. Now if season 2 could come out already, that’d be great.