Jessica Jones: AKA The Film Noir Feminist Hero of My Dreams

Image sourced from http://www.filmdispenser.com/jessica-jones-s01ep04-aka-99-friends/

On a dark, foggy street in the middle of a corrupted town stands our hardboiled detective protagonist. Heavy jazz music and moody voice-overs backdrop the damaged past of our whisky-drinking private eye, while villains lurk in the shadows, ready to strike at the next unsuspecting innocent citizen. Sound familiar? It should. Not because film noir’s are necessarily so popular these days, but because the genre’s conventions are so clichéd and well-known that they’re almost always employed for comedic effect at this point. Jessica Jones, however, proves that film noir need not be reduced to a parody, all it needed was a little refreshing, and that headstrong detective with a drinking problem and a dark past we’re so familiar with can just as easily be the one to flip gender roles and tackle the big issues often untouched by the currently saturated superhero market.

Ok, yes, I might be a little late to the party by a few weeks or so, but just this weekend past I found the time to watch the entirety of Netflix’s new Marvel hit – Jessica Jones – with my partner. I was so impressed and overwhelmed that I decided it would be a great show to start my blog with, and hopefully you agree.

I’ll admit, I went into this show almost completely blindly. Although I’ve dabbled in comics, and I’ve watched all of the recent DC and Marvel film and television releases, I’m not so well-versed in the universes that I had heard of Jessica Jones before now. Despite instantly knowing it was a show I needed to watch – a female-led Marvel show? Sign me the fuck up – I still failed to actually look into it beyond the release date. This actually worked to my advantage as I walked into the whole experience completely oblivious as to who would be playing who – something that delightfully surprised me when Kilgrave revealed himself out of the shadows. More than that, I walked into it with almost no expectations, and walked out thoroughly satisfied.

Just like it’s predecessor Daredevil, Jessica Jones started slowly. This is often something that can hold a tv show back, but then again, can we really call Jessica Jones a tv show? Hardly. The Netflix model not only allows it’s viewers to binge-watch, but actually encourages it through the way it structures and consequently releases it’s self-produced shows, and Jessica Jones creator Melissa Rosenberg knew this full well. The episodic nature of most television shows doesn’t necessarily apply to Jessica Jones, as the individual episodes do not fit the model of beginning – middle – end, but are rather treated as different segments to what is essentially a 13 hour movie. Because of this, it’s hard to review the show as one normally would, by discussing each episode separately, so instead I will discuss the show as a whole, and my thoughts on how its first season went, and where I think the (as yet unconfirmed) second season will go.

The characters seem like a good place to start when thinking about Jessica Jones, only because the show is so focused on the personal interactions, rather than the bigger picture, that it really is what makes the show what it is. Without the likes of Kilgrave, Trish, Malcolm, Luke, and – I can’t believe I’m actually saying this – even Robyn, Jessica’s story would fall flat. Although Jessica herself is feisty, determined, sarcastic, with a hell of a lot of self-doubt, what really makes her stand out is, not only Krysten Ritter’s outstanding performance, but also the way her character is countered by those around her. Kilgrave is clearly the obvious one here, with the always-phenomenal David Tennant paired with the power of mind-control, Kilgrave was always going to be a hit. I can honestly say I don’t think I have ever been anywhere near as terrified by any other villain in a superhero story than I was – and am, if I’m being honest – with Tennant’s Kilgrave. The delivery, of course, was spectacular on Tennant’s part, but more than that, there was just something so utterly sinister and seemingly unbeatable about a man with the power to control minds without a moral compass. The mixture of an evil Tennant combined with mind control basically equated to sheer unadulterated fear for me, and I loved every second of it. With such a great protagonist and villain, it might be easy to forget the more minor characters, but Jessica Jones allows a spotlight for all of them – even the most infuriatingly annoying, like Robyn. In fact, I would go so far to say that I was far more interested in Jessica’s best friend Trish’s backstory, than I was with Jessica’s. There was something so human, and so real, about what Trish experienced that I found it a lot more captivating than Jessica’s superhero origins – something that has almost worn thin for me in terms of superhero television. And Malcolm, don’t get me started on him. He was a rollercoaster of emotions and all I wanted to do was to simply hug him and tell him, “just trust in Jessica. Oh, and fucking leave Robyn alone I want to skin her.” Overall, I found the characters diverse (in every sense) and well-developed, to the point where they brought shame to so many of the other minor characters in the superhero universe lately *cough* Supergirl *cough*.

The plot, on the other hand, I found emotional, disturbing, heartbreaking, but above all else – powerful. I think it’s important to note that Jessica Jones doesn’t focus on “saving the world” in the superhero sense. The show isn’t about the greater good, but rather the personal interactions between people, and it truly focuses on issues that are often at the forefront of concerns for many women. To me, it’s important that a female-led superhero would focus on the victims of rape, domestic violence, or the control and oppression from society, whilst also foregrounding often excluded groups, such as PoC and LGBT characters. Their storylines remained true to the often typical experiences of these groups, without failing to give them storylines beyond the ways society stereotypes and oppresses them. Characters like Malcolm and Jeri were fully fleshed out and given the time and depth often only reserved to straight, white characters, and I found it not only refreshing, but very fitting for the themes of the show. Jessica Jones focused on the experiences of those often silenced, whether they’re rape victims, lesbians, or African-American drug addicts, and without providing equal weight to these stories, the message would fall flat. And yes, for the record, the villain is a straight, white male who controls a disproportionate amount of power. They’re not being subtle here.

In saying this, however, I wasn’t always in complete awe of the show, and I felt there were some aspects that could have been improved on. I felt there could potentially have been more focus on Jessica’s private investigating, or perhaps a more thorough explanation of her and Trish’s past. Don’t get me wrong, I lived for the moments when Kilgrave was on screen, however I felt that really the show was so strongly focused on the Kilgrave issue that it often suffered from tunnel-vision. It’s believable that Jessica and her friends would be hyper-obsessed with how to solve the Kilgrave problem, but I still was left wanting more. The more relaxed moments when Jessica was simply in her apartment drinking, or taking a call from a client left me tense. These moments felt like a setup from Kilgrave, who would spring out from the shadows like some brainwashing Nosferatu, only because the moments that weren’t somehow related back to him were so few and far between.

Overall, I was left wanting more. Sometimes in a bad sense, as previously mentioned, but also in a good way. Yes, the setup for next season was sort of obvious, and I absolutely am concerned that the show won’t work as well now that Kilgrave is out of the way, but when it comes down to it, I’m thoroughly excited to see how Jessica’s business and conscience will grow, how Trish will develop a relationship with her mum (if at all), what will happen to all the other characters I grew to love over the past two days. I want to see how (or if at all) they will tie in the Daredevil universe, whether Jessica will interact with more characters from it than just Claire, and, of course, I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with the IGH storyline.

TL;DR, Jessica Jones is a film noir 13hr long movie which features more minority characters than possibly all the Marvel films put together, and it tackles the issues at the forefront of feminism, whilst engaging with potentially the most captivating villain in all of superhero history.

So! That’s my first blog post. Let me know how I did, I’m not used to this at all yet so criticism is welcomed with open arms. Thanks for reading, and I’m looking forward to putting this arts degree to some sort of use from now on 🙂

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