I’m probably a little late to the game in reviewing this TV show, but I just finished watching the first season of Jessica Jones – and I loved it. Everything from the theme song and opening credits to the dialogue, the acting, the characters and the intricate story line – Jessica Jones has it all, but what’s most notable about it is its revolutionary portrayal of women and men in pop culture.
All of the characters in Jessica Jones are distinguished individuals; I never got the feeling that any of them were stereotypes, caricatures, or pop culture tropes. There was no Damsel in Distress, there was no Slutty Girl or Crazy Bitch, there was no Butch Lesbian or Dumb Blonde or Womanizer or Knight In Shining Armour – just people with human emotions, thoughts, reactions, and feelings. Not to mention, Jessica Jones is one of the first TV shows I’ve seen where there is no mention of motherhood, children or domestic family life in regards at all to its female characters – because being a mother is not an inherent goal for every woman just because she has a vagina. Each character was simply out to get what they want, whether it’s justice, a divorce, or Jessica (in Kilgrave’s case). Whatever the goal of each character is, it does not revolve around the stereotypical things of men, sex, motherhood, or even saving the world. Everything felt personal, because everyone was their own person with a history.
The character Jessica Jones is embodied beautifully by the lovely Krysten Ritter (Confessions of a Shopaholic, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23). Jessica is smart, bold, and deadly. She doesn’t need a man to overcome her traumas and problems; she fights her own demons (quite literally) and yes, granted she has super powers, which I’m sure would come in handy for anyone, but take those away and she’s still a woman who fights for what is right without a man that she feels the need to rely on.
Which leads me to the secondary leading lady. Rachael Taylor, an Australian actress, plays Trish Walker: Jessica’s best friend, sister (by adoption), and the only person Jessica cares more about than anyone. Trish matches Jessica in every way – minus the superpowers, yet her lack of superpowers does not hinder her abilities and strength. Trish on her own is a very strong character, both in physique and mind. She’s smart, fit, righteous, a great driver, and can take care of herself. She always puts up a fight and if she ever truly gets into trouble, you can trust that at the very last she fought her hardest and smartest and did the best she could, which is all anyone can ever do really.
The villain, Kilgrave, is portrayed by David Tennant, who is of course perfect in his performance. Kilgrave is creepy, evil, apathetic towards other people’s feelings and lives, yet he still makes you sympathize with him at times the more his story gets revealed – and that’s what a great villain does. Usually, you can always immediately see what makes a character a villain, but let’s be honest – people don’t usually view themselves as villains; from their point of view, they are the hero or victim of their story, and Kilgrave makes you believe that at times. Well played, Kilgrave.
Wil Traval, also an Australian actor, plays Will Simpson: the cop who gets tangled up in the fight against Kilgrave. I could easily describe Will as Trish’s hunky love interest, but he’s so much more than that. Will doesn’t come off as over-masculinized, or all-brawn-and-no-brain, or as a womanizer or knight in shining armour – some of the more popular tropes that male characters in pop culture are often delegated to. Will is just a regular guy, “a good person” as Trish says, who becomes involved in their world – though, the show hints at something questionable about his past that suggests perhaps there’s even more to him than we think.
And then there’s Luke Cage, Jessica’s hunky love interest – yet again, Luke is much more than that. The quiet, gentle, and damaged Luke (played by Mike Colter) is also hard to categorize into a male pop culture stereotype because once again, he is a person, a well-rounded character too complex to truly categorize into tropes (I have not yet seen Luke Cage on Netflix, so my analysis is based on Jessica Jones’s Luke Cage). Because of his superpowers, Luke and Jessica are equals in terms of ability and power and their relationship is more of a partnership; they’re able to work efficiently together, and you never feel like Luke is trying to rescue Jessica or like Jessica is trying to outdo Luke to show she’s a strong female. They have a mutual understanding of each other’s capabilities and respect each other for it. Even when Jessica tells Luke to stay behind so she can take care of Kilgrave, Luke doesn’t argue or try to play the “But I’m a guy so I should go and you stay here and be safe” card of chivalry. He just gets it and he knows the plan, and he trusts that Jessica knows what she’s doing and can handle herself. Basically, Jessica and Luke’s relationship is the kind of relationship I hope male and female characters in pop culture can begin to aspire to in their interactions, regardless if they are superheroes or not.
Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix trilogy) – who I just recently realized is Canadian! – plays Jeri Hogarth: the ruthless, cunning lawyer that Jessica works for. Even though Jeri is trying to get a divorce from her wife, Wendy, so she can be with her secretary, Pam, the lesbian aspect did not feel over-sexualized or slave to the ‘male fantasy’ or overly focused on. By that I mean, Jeri’s sexuality is not her defining character trait, her sexuality does not become her character; it was more of an after thought to the rest of her personality – the way it is with someone who is heterosexual. Mostly, Jeri is known for her greed, selfishness, smarts, and corrupt background; she’s portrayed as a woman who is entirely her own person with her own problems, flaws, and internal struggles.
Ultimately, the thing that ties Jessica Jones all together into one revolutionary, top quality, pop culture package, is great writing and great story telling. Each episode is always fresh and unpredictable. Each character is complex and unique. The storyline made significant developments and the rate of reveal was executed perfectly. The show itself was created by Melissa Rosenberg, who used the excellent source material from Brian Michael Bendis’s original comic book, Jessica Jones. Her translation of the story from page to screen is beautifully done.
Is it a coincidence that the genius behind the writing and the revolutionary representation of the characters happens to be a woman? I think not. And I don’t mean to pick on men here – I know there are some great male writers and artists out there – but we all know the Hollywood writing room is largely dominated by men, and aspects of our patriarchal society have seeped into pop culture. I think in general, screenwriters and writers of all kinds – whether male or female – would do very well to take a page out of Rosenberg’s creative writing and storytelling book.