Today Netflix launched its latest series, the Marvel superhero drama Jessica Jones starring Krysten Ritter as a private eye living in New York City who just so happens to have superpowers. Based on the Alias comic book series by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos, the series travels to dark places without flinching, an uncommon and welcome deviation from most projects in the Marvel Universe. Even better is the fact that it's a female character driving us there, instead of another "bad," existentially troubled man on which the golden age of TV and its spawn loved to focus.
Ritter plays Jones with dry wit, plenty of attitude, and no patience for anyone's bullsh*t. Unsurprisingly, the character is dealing with something of a dark past as she navigates the dangerous criminal world around her. This is nothing new for superheroes or dramas. However, the subject matter — rape, assault, and psychological trauma all included — is rarely explored through the lens of a female character not only at its center, but with the strength to overcome it on her own. Jones is a heavy drinker who's fighting demons from her past and clearly written with the sense that there's something constantly simmering under the surface.
Jessica Jones showrunner Melissa Rosenberg told Variety the titular character "was exactly the character I wanted to write my whole career. She was a fully formed human being, not a one-dimensional character — she was not the wife or the cop partner or whatever. She was beautifully drawn in the comics, in every way — she was just profoundly damaged and deeply flawed and very dry."
If you go back to the most successful dark dramas of the past 15 years, from The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad, you'll find deeply flawed, complex characters with a similar description, but they're all men. Without any direct address toward those shows, Rosenberg pointed out the issue with that trend. "For years, we've had these really great male characters on TV, and then there would be the female detective off to one side, wearing false eyelashes and supplying exposition," she said. "For a long time, so much about so many female characters was just lazy and dull."
Beyond the rarely seen dark storytelling from the female perspective, Jessica Jones is even approaching sex scenes in a different light. As pointed out in a recent article on Polygon, men in the show are depicted as being attracted to powerful women, not fearful of it or turned off by it, as is so often the case on TV, and indeed, in American society. There's more than one sex scene that involves a woman physically dominating a man in the carnal act, and what's more is the man is super into it.
In a show that deals with mental manipulation, trauma, and sexual abuse, it's impressive to see strong female characters asserting themselves both in and out of the bedroom, as opposed to being pushed to the side as victims and dismissive souls. And frankly, on top of all the progressive waves it's making in a male-dominated Hollywood, it's just a tightly written, great show through and through. Embrace Jessica Jones as the refreshing, gripping new series it is — its success should lead to more shows like it.
Cover image: Netflix via YouTube