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Jessica Jones

Entry updated 10 November 2023. Tagged: TV.

US online tv series (2015-2019). Tall Girls Productions in association with ABC Studios and Marvel Studios for Netflix. Created by Melissa Rosenberg. Adapted from the Marvel Max Comic book Alias by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos (28 issues, 2001-2004). Writers include Ruth Atkinson, Dana Baratta, Brian Michael Bendis, Otto Binder, John Byrne, Chris Claremont, Liz Friedman, Michael Gaydos, Archie Goodwin, Hilly Hicks Jr, Jamie King, Stan Lee, David Mazzucchelli, Frank Miller, Joe Orlando, Jenna Reback, Scott Reynolds, Edward Ricourt, Johnny Romita, Melissa Rosenberg and Micah Schraft. Directors include Uta Briesewitz, S J Clarkson, John Dahl, Bill Gierhart, Simon Cellan Jones, David Petrarca, Rosemary Rodriguez, Michael Rymer and Stephen Surjik. Cast includes Mike Colter, Eka Darville, Erin Moriarty, Carrie-Anne Moss, Krysten Ritter, Rachael Taylor, David Tennant and Wil Traval. 13 one-hour episodes in its first season. Colour.

Jessica Jones (Ritter), a former Superhero turned private investigator, enlists the help of her adopted sister Patricia Walker (Taylor), her neighbour-cum-sidekick Malcolm Ducasse (Darville) and on-off lover Luke Cage (Colter) to stem the tide of Psychological violence her former abuser Kilgrave (Tennant) is wreaking via Hypnosis around Hell's Kitchen, New York.

The series is notable for questioning the "male saviour narrative" common not only to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Marvel Comics from which it is derived but to most forms of Indo-European Mythology: the departure in tone makes Jessica Jones as testing as it is rewarding to watch. God-like beings (see Gods and Demons) come to teach humanity how to be civilized dominate the Golden Age of both Comics and Genre SF but in Jessica Jones, as in the more metaphoric stories of sf's New Wave, the psychogeographical space of protagonist and antagonist is first counterpointed, then fused, in such a way as to make issues of rape, childhood abuse and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) feel meaningful rather than prurient.

Arch-Villain "Kilgrave" (born Kevin Thompson) is played with needy and psychopathological petulance by David Tennant, the same Scots-born actor who portrayed the tenth Doctor Who, here unable to recruit the sidekick that might salve the loneliness homelessness can inflict on the homo superior. He invades the office-apartment of Jessica Jones at the beginning of episode seven of the first season, murders the young neighbour who admits to being in love with her and stakes the kind of damaged emotional ownership hitherto restricted to the serial killer or the wronged mother in popular US television drama. From this point on, no-one's home – the "self" in the Freudian formulation – is safe: in bedrooms and basements, upstairs and down, the houses and tenements of the City reveal the injuries of its inhabitants. "You pass damage along," says Jessica, passing an ad for Bourbon on the subway that entreats, "KEEP IT IN THE FAMILY", and so it goes: mothers to daughters, abusers to victims and victims to their loved ones; even the Heroes leave harm in their wake, and it is this that tempts Jessica back into the clutches of the man who has dominated and abused her.

Kilgrave's almost-instantaneous power of mind control (see Psi Powers) – here given the Pseudoscientific veneer of a virus that inhabits the air between he and his victims – is a version of the right-brain Linguistic command of the super-ego expounded upon in Julian Jaynes's The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976) and later used by Neal Stephenson as the basis for his novel Snow Crash (1992): Kilgrave's victims not only follow his orders to the letter, they feel bound to please him in doing so even while they hate him. His becomes the dominant ideology in their lives, no matter how fruitless, destructive and stupid it may be; his is, in short, the voice of patriarchy (see Feminism). By the beginning of episode eight of the first season – like episode seven directed by Simon Cellan Jones – Jessica has returned to the childhood home Kilgrave has painstakingly rebuilt for her from photographs, having bought all the accoutrements of her childhood from eBay. "How do you people live like this?" he asks. "Day after day just hoping people are going to do what you want. It's unbearable." Another of Kilgrave's victims, Will Simpson (Traval), is hiding upstairs, waiting to enact what boys learn early on and what comes naturally to him as a former intelligence agent and police officer: protect and kill, protect and kill. All that remains following his efforts is collateral.

In rebuilding the Memory of Jessica's childhood, Kilgrave of course hopes to remake his own. By his account, his parents experimented on and tortured him; by theirs, they tried to save him and those with whom he came into contact. His power compels obedience – a deep, emotional compliance – but cannot elicit love. He is addicted to Jessica Jones and all the more so when she begins to develop a resistance to his power. The affecting thing is to what degree the women are trapped by a mode of being they can only escape by presuming to ape. Kilgrave's power is akin to that of a remarkably effective leader: it is the way to get things done. When Jessica's adopted sister Patricia Walker takes the pills Simpson has been imbibing to keep him operational – they are red, white and blue, and like Neo in The Matrix (1999), Simpson prefers the red pill, signifying fire, transformation and danger – Walker is appalled by the trail of guilt and remorse the "make me effective" pills create. When lawyer Jeri Hogarth (Moss) attempts to use Kilgrave and his power to solve the problems of her personal life, she loses everything important to her. Characters are "jonesing" in Jessica Jones: each has a fixation on something, something that is liable to turn into an addiction should she get it, the only real difference between a superhero and a villain being that the villain gets to set his own agenda. "At her core, she still hopes she might be a hero," sneers Kilgrave about Jessica in episode ten. When the eponymous heroine prevails three episodes later, she returns to her office to find her phone ringing off the hook. Everyone needs her help, women and men, mad or sane, sacred and profane. There is only one thing worse than not getting what you want.

This shift from accenting the emotional transition of the American adolescent to the emotional survival of Women in SF is said to be one of the reasons ABC passed on Jessica Jones in 2012; the Alias comic book was the first Marvel produced for an adult audience and creator Melissa Rosenberg was able to pitch the series first to Marvel Studios, then to cable distributor Netflix on that basis. The plurality of the show's inception does produce tonal inconsistencies: references to Iron Man (2008) and the alien Invasion at the heart of The Avengers (2012) feel incongruous given the murky psychological tenor of Jessica Jones and the thwarted ambitions of its characters. The Marvel property it most resembles is the Daredevil television series (2015-2018), also distributed by Netflix, and also filmed in and around areas of New York made to resemble Hell's Kitchen. Further legacies from the comic book origins of Jessica Jones – not only from her first appearance in Alias in 2001, but also from subsequent storylines in The Pulse, New Avengers and issue #106 of Ultimate Spider-Man – include a nascent ability to fly expressed as long-distance leaping and the foreshadowing of a relationship with Luke Cage, for whom Marvel Studios are said to be considering a dedicated tv series. Critical reactions to Jessica Jones were in the main very positive but concerns were raised in several quarters about the performance of David Tennant as Kilgrave – the reason for whose peevishness was at first unclear to audiences used to well-spoken villains in the theatrical mould – and about dramatic longueurs toward the end of the 13 episode run of its first season; in the main, however, retaining the mythic structure – and the violence – of Marvel's Jessica Jones while updating her raison d'être works very well indeed. The decision to dramatize the entry of a female lead into the SF Megatext by silencing the dominant voice of a male antagonist is a masterstroke.

The 2015 episode "AKA Smile" won a Hugo for best short-form dramatic presentation. The show was cancelled by Netflix after the end of the third series in 2019. [MD]

see also: Luke Cage.


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