Monday, November 23, 2015

"Jessica Jones": The Most Progressive Show on TV? #Marvel

Marvel and Netflix teamed up earlier this year to bring us the awesome original series, Daredevil. Husband and I watched it, and, as other collaborative series were announced (namely Jessica Jones and Luke Cage), we held our breath--though Agents of SHIELD and Agent Carter on ABC were good, with Daredevil, they'd set the bar high. Was it too much so?

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Jessica Jones was released in full (Netflix releases all episodes of their original series at once, unlike traditional television) this past Friday. With Melissa Rosenberg at the helm as show-runner (she's a fantastic producer/writer whose previous finest work includes some of the best episodes of Dexter, and she also wrote the screenplays for the Twilight Saga, but, hey, not everyone can hit a home run each time), the show was in good hands.

We spent the weekend watching all thirteen episodes, each one better than the last. Krysten Ritter was fantastic as the title character, and David Tennant was delightfully evil--chillingly so--as Kilgrave.

The show as a whole surpassed Daredevil, at least in my opinion, as Marvel's best series to date. Possibly even their best work, period.

I would also assert that Jessica Jones is one of the most progressive shows I've seen--maybe ever. The rest of this post is below the break, and thar be spoilers, matey! I will try to keep them minimal, but don't say I didn't warn you. Also, it's moderately NSFW, so you probably shouldn't read this post on your work computer.

So why do I think the show is so progressive? Honestly, I wish some of the things I'm going to list wouldn't be considered progressive at all, but yet they are in 2015. I hope I look back at this blog post in 5, 10, 15, 20 years and think how silly it was that some of these made the list.

1) "Unique" relationship pairings

This one likely falls into that "why is this even news?" category, or at least it should. Two (or three if cheating counts) of the couples on Jessica Jones are what would be considered, even today, to be non-traditional. 

Jessica Jones hooks up with Luke Cage (played by the fabulous Mike Colter), which is completely canon in the Marvel universe--eventually, at least in the comics, they get married, though this version of Jessica is nowhere near ready for that. The progressive part--even, one could argue, in the comics--is that Luke Cage is black and Jessica is white. 

You might be rolling your eyes at me, but back in the mid-00's (Oughties? Zeroes? Whatever...), Eva Mendes (who is of Cuban descent) was cast in the Will Smith movie Hitch instead of Cameron Diaz because the studio didn't want to cause issues in the U.S. with the interracial pairing

But that's all in the past, right? That was ten years ago. Nope. This year, another Will Smith film (Focus) made waves for the exact same reason, though this time it was Margot Robbie as his leading lady. I guess it's good news that the studio was okay with it this time? *sigh*

This kind of racism is alive and well, and I have family in exactly that situation who would, I'm sure, agree.

Anyway, the other progressive relationships in Jessica Jones include a high-profile lawyer (Jeri Hogarth) married to her wife--and cheating with her (female) assistant, and initiating a divorce from said-wife. Carrie-Anne Moss was born for the roll of the legal shark, and she shines when she's on screen. What I liked best about her character's situation was that it wasn't treated as "different" by the screenwriters--no "Hey, these lesbians are getting divorced! Look how unique this is!" Instead, they're treated--and rightly so--as a bitter couple with troubles, albeit marriage-ending ones, who are in this situation. They're human. So kudos to the writers for this.

2) Female sexuality

Television has a long history of only showing female nudity and mostly in the context of male arousal (a scene in the boob-tastic HBO show Game of Thrones where Darrio Naharis strips for Daenarys Targaryen is the most notable exception I can come up with). Male pleasure is hardly ever disguised or written around; the camera will follow a woman as she gets on her knees in front of a man, or, like GoT, happily show a knight and a prostitute gettin' it on doggy-style, but rarely is female pleasure--or even scenes that cater erotically to women like Darrio's scene mentioned above--addressed. Television is definitely weirdly sexist.

Jessica Jones is one of the only television shows that, I believe, treats women as sexual equals to men. Though there is very little nudity (no boobs or even butts, but there are naked backs, for example), the sex scenes leave little to the imagination and don't treat women's pleasure any differently than that of their partner's, male or female. While it's a rare television or even movie scene that will show a woman receiving oral sex to begin with (it might be alluded to by having her partner scoot under the sheets with a grin on his face), Jessica Jones has a scene with Jessica's best friend writhing in pleasure as her lover goes down on her. There is no question what is happening, and no question that both parties are enjoying themselves. In two other scenes, (one again involving the best friend, and, in a separate one, Jessica) ride their partners with the same goal men have in similar scenes--seeking pleasure. They're not lying there like "good girls"; they're taking what they want. There's even a short same-sex scene on an office desk as Jeri is seduced by her assistant.

There's no slut-shaming, either. There are a few awkward morning-afters, but those are mostly due to Jessica being anti-social and broody. None of the women feel "bad" or "guilty" for enjoying themselves, and no one dies horror-movie style in the vein of "you had sex and enjoyed yourself so now you must pay". 

3) Rape, abortion, and right to choose

Jessica Jones proves, once and for all, that it's not necessary to see sexual violence against someone to "prove" that it happened to a character. It's lazy storytelling, and, as has been pointed out, it's in Jessica's past and the story involves her coping (or not) with the trauma. Her time with Kilgrave was extremely traumatic for her--his "power" is the ability to command people do whatever he wants them to do. Anything. Yes, anything--have them eat a food they don't like, tell them to murder someone for him, make them injure themselves as punishment, even sex. Jessica's realistic reactions to finding out her torturer might be back in New York and how she deals with what's happened to her make her human. On multiple occasions, she calls it like she saw it, right to Kilgrave's face--she screams at him that he'd raped her over and over when he'd held her mentally hostage. There was no talking around it.

Another victim of Kilgrave's ended up in prison, and there she discovered she was pregnant by him. Thoroughly repulsed by carrying her rapist's baby, she pays other inmates to beat her. Though it was bad enough that she got put in the prison infirmary, the beating didn't cause a miscarriage, so she begs Jessica and Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss's character from above) to procure drugs to induce one. They do as she asks. At no point does it get preachy--this is clearly the girl's decision; she's an adult and she's made her choice. 

4) Capable but flawed female characters

None of the women are damsels in distress. They're all capable and in charge of their own lives as well as any adult can be. Jessica is a PI with her own business (though she does have super strength, some extra speed, and, as she describes, the ability to fly which is more like "guided falling"), and her best friend has a popular radio talk show. It becomes obvious that Jessica needs to handle the villain herself, and it's annoying (from both a viewer's and character's perspective) when one of the male characters keeps getting in the way and trying to take over planning. Never do you doubt that Jessica and the other female characters can do what they need to do, though whether they'll succeed is another story.

They're not perfect or to be held on a pedestal, however. Jessica is a functioning alcoholic with severe trust issues; and her best friend has family issues and has to be hyper-vigilant because she's a former child star with an emotionally abusive and manipulating mother. The writers took the time to make them well-rounded characters who the viewer comes to care for and believe in. You care that Jessica can throw off the panic attacks; you care that her friend has the strength to tell her mother to leave.

That goes for all the characters; they're all developed and interesting. At various points, the viewer finds that they're angry with Jessica and sympathetic to Kilgrave. Characters aren't one-trick ponies. 

After all that, I can't wait for the next season!

Did I miss anything? What did you think of Jessica Jones? Think Marvel can keep up the good work with The Defenders and Luke Cage? Let me know in the comments below!

xoxo Sarah

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