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Jessica Jones: a fictional universe combatting real societal issues

Michael Brennan will explore the importance of Marvel’s Jessica Jones and the series ability to effortlessly tackle a plethora of complex societal issues.

BY Michael Brennan

The writing and directing excel in presenting societal relevance and politically charged intellectual content behind a fictional backdrop. Therefore, the series has not received the accreditation deserved. Feminism and female empowerment, justice and corruption, black lives matter, gender norms and equality are some of the issues explored within the show. The series holds a prominent place within the Trump era of post-truth in America; it oozes relevance to so many questions prevalent in society today. Jessica Jones provides an accurate representation of people, whose voices often silenced behind stigma, and for this reason, the series has raised the bar for all comic book-based content.

Jessica Jones and Agent Carter are Marvels only female lead roles regarding both television and film to date. Unfortunately, Agent Carter did not receive the recognition Marvel had hoped, and the hatred shorty followed. Public opinion became inept at casting blame towards the character for her female identity. Thus, Jessica Jones had something to ‘prove’ with the announcement of the second series. Sexism is still a prominent issue, and many do hold the belief that a female lead in a typically ‘’male’’ orientated role such as action will not be as successful when compared to their male counterparts. When, Wonder Woman, Kill Bill, Lara Croft -Tomb Raider and many other roles have had a triumphant success, and all with a female protagonist.

“The open conversation about mental health is refreshing. Mental health is unfortunately still thought to be a taboo topic; incredibly raw and difficult to portray earnestly.”

Upon its arrival, many would have perceived that Jessica Jones, as hard-drinking, ill mouthed and compelling female character in both the physical and metaphorical senses of the word would be able to tackle such broad societal issues. However, within the first season, we saw Jessica, an incredibly flawed and cynical character reject her hero archetype and quickly go head to head with some extremely jarring obstacles. Jessica carries the weight of her past on her shoulders and suffers significantly from alcoholism, PTSD and depression. As the series presents such elements of her character, it results in many of the series target audience relating and rallying behind her role. The show quickly introduces Jessica on a more personal level, and her mental health is frequently an open discussion throughout the show.

The discussion of mental health can often be trying to digest and often misrepresented. Though, conversations regarding mental health within the storylines of this series are not only necessary but easily accessible. Through flashback sequences, the audience witnesses a more delicate-minded Jessica being mind-controlled by David Tenants ‘’the purple man”. He exploits her, abuses her, and pushes her to a breaking point. These domestic tendencies are all elements of real-life issues that are visible within the real world, which are incredibly relatable to many. The show excels through the portrayal of characters that are grounded. Despite being a Marvel show, superpowers seem to take a back seat and real stories with a coherent theme of honesty flowing through every scene. Further topics such as rape, domestic abuse, loss and gendered identities — female empowerment and toxic masculine —are explored through the super-hero narrative.

“Glancing through Netflix's catalogue, it is visible that the entertainment giant likes to take risks and push boundaries with their content; evident in both season one and two of Jessica Jones.”

Many moments in Jessica Jones allows reality and fiction to meet in a way that is powerful and effective. A close reading upon a scene from the first season, sees a character tell Jessica to ‘’smile’’ —which is then followed by a catcall towards her—upon Jessica’s disgust, he then proceeds to call her a “bitch” when she ignores him. The style of behaviour towards Jessica’s female character is a prime conversation we all should have today, in the wake of sexual abuse and gender pay scandals. Of course, although Jones is witty and uses her extreme strength to her ability, the scene elevates how verbal assault can affect anyone, even the strongest of people.

The show uses a different director and a different writer per episode, which is unique for a multi-series of this genre. Each director that is used per episode brings a new element of diversity, honesty and authenticity to the storyline. Their knowledge and life experiences bleed into each episode, and by having that diversity behind the camera, it certainly transcribes on screen. Jessica Jones, as a series does host an element of complexity, visualised on screen through the characters narrative journey. Characters narrative flaws and imperfections, paired with the multiple director inputs, elevate aspects of both visual and storyline.

Different directors per episode again constructed the second season. However, this season it was directed by twelve different female directors, which is incredibly fitting for this season. The male characters seem to take a back seat and the women both on and off screen run the show. The second season of the show is arguably where the characters develop even further, and we see growth in many different aspects of all roles. Time has progressed, reintroduced to Jessica once again, she is still suffering from her mental health and alcoholism. The show delves further with regards to her PTSD and current mental health state, which provides an excellent characterisation and continuity of Jessica’s mental health from the prior season. Jones struggles are carried into the new season, and she is still combatting similar demons that plagued her once before. However, she now has begun the process of confronting some of her issues, and the character focus starts to expand.

In the second season, the show manages to repeat its original format regarding tackling hard-hitting issues; however, the prominence of secondary characters comes into focus. The show manages to explore different aspects of addiction, as we see characters such as Jessica’s best friend, Trish, go head to head with her physical abuse and addiction storyline. Trish’s fascination regarding Jessica’s abilities and wanting to ‘’do the right thing” is the foundations of her character ark, and we sit back and watch her go to extreme lengths to achieve morality. The use of female directors behind the scenes arguably has had a significant impact on this season, as the female empowerment and female focus of the show shines through. Jessica Jones is a must see on your Netflix list. The series excels beyond anything Marvel has done before. So many unique components of the show make for excellent viewing, and after the shows recent renewal for a third season, it is clear Jessica Jones is not going anywhere fast.