A superhero for #MeToo

March 22, 2018

The Netflix show Jessica Jones is back for a second season, and Krystal Kara takes the opportunity to look at some of the show's continuing themes.

SEASON 2 of Jessica Jones dropped on March 8, International Women's Day--an intentional choice made by the creators of the show.

Jessica Jones has gained a reputation not only as the first Marvel Entertainment media focused on women--though there's debate over that since Agents of SHIELD went on the air--but for its huge impact on audiences.

The first season spoke to a lot of dynamic social issues, such as sexual abuse, domestic violence and rape culture. The second season aired in the midst of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements--and the mood of resistance to sexual assault and harassment is stitched into the fabric of this season.

Jessica Jones is a relatively new hero, created in 2001 by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos. Jessica differs from many heroes because of the more gritty reality she lives, and the fact that she doesn't have a superhero persona, but instead wears jeans, boots, a T-shirt and leather jacket.

Jessica is a private investigator at her own agency, Alias Private Investigations. The show differs from the comics a little by leaving out her superhero past. In the comics, Jessica dons a superhero costume and persona called "Jewel."

Krysten Ritter stars in the Netflix series Jessica Jones
Krysten Ritter stars in the Netflix series Jessica Jones

The first season of the Netflix series offers a nod to this during a flashback when Jessica's friend Trish attempts to give Jessica a costume--which is actually Jewel's costume. Jessica walked away from the Jewel persona when the villain Kilgrave entered her life. Kilgrave, also referred to as the Purple Man in the comics, used mind-control to dominate and control Jessica for months, forcing her to do horrible things she deeply regrets.

In Netflix's first season, Jessica deals with the effects of post-traumatic stress after being under Kilgrave's control and the guilt of having him affect other people's lives in the way he did hers.

The second season picks up where the first left off, with Jessica attempting to figure out what's next, while still dealing with everything that Kilgrave left her with.

The first episode makes it clear to the audience that, unlike other shows with a plot line concerning sexual assault and domestic violence that then forget about it, this show will not.

When Jessica is confronted by another PI trying to get her to join his practice who says, "I never take no for an answer," Jessica responds "How rapey of you." This sets up the season to further the conversation around sexual abuse, rape culture and domestic violence.

Review: Television

Jessica Jones, starring Krysten Ritter, David Tennant and Rachael Taylor.

This season, we also see Trish Walker, who was a 15-year-old actor when she was abused by a much older director on the set of a movie, come face to face with her abuser. Asked about the relationship between Jessica Jones and the movement against sexual assault and harassment, Rachael Taylor, who plays Trish, said, "The fact that our show kind of serves up a mirror for a moment in time, I think it's very powerful."

When Jessica is dealing with other emotionally heavy situations and different forms of trauma, Kilgrave comes back to her--he doesn't rise from the dead, but comes as a hallucination. In one scene, he delivers the powerful line: "I will be in your dreams, too. I'm inside you forever."

JESSICA JONES shows the complexity of what healing looks like. It reveals how Trish and Jessica went through abuse, dealt with it in vastly different ways and are still dealing with it.

This show starts to tackle mental health in a way that is unlike most shows.

Mental health activist Eleanor Longden summed up the current approaches to mental health: "They almost always ask what is wrong with you and hardly ever ask what happened to you." Jessica Jones really starts to dive into that question. Or as the Whizzer, a character who is super fast when he's frightened, tells Jessica, "With great power comes great mental illness."

As Ilana Kaplan wrote in a review for the British Independent, "The Netflix character is the physical embodiment of the fight women endure on a daily basis: physical and sexual violence, a lack of safety, emotional manipulation, harassment, discrimination and abuse."

The fact that most reviews have focused on this aspect of the show has helped to open up a conversation more broadly. As someone who is active in the comic book world, I've seen a conversation about sexual violence and the impact of it starting to be picked up.

Comic-Con season is fast approaching, and the fact that there are panels focused on the #MeToo and Time's Up movements that reference Jessica Jones in their descriptions is important. So, too, is the fact that there are panels about mental health that similarly have Jessica Jones in the description.

I'm excited--and nervous--to see how these panels handle such complex issues, and how the superhero genre and the community move forward from this.

Further Reading

From the archives