Jessica Jones – The MCU goes bleak

The small screen Marvel Cinematic Universe 1 got off to a rather stellar beginning with Daredevil. Since that show’s release I’ve been eagerly anticipating the next series, Jessica Jones. This is the first Marvel property in the MCU based upon a character I never encountered in comic form, as Jessica Jones was after my time 2. As the show approached it’s release date I began to hear some reports about it’s mature nature. These are not understated — Jessica Jones is not the Summer blockbuster MCU, and no parent in their right mind should think, “Oh, it’s based on comic books so of course it’s good for my ten year old.” Trust me on this, these are not “comics for kids.”

That is not to say, however, the series is not worthy viewing. You simply need to enter into the series understanding what you’re going to get.

Daredevil was dark, but there was fun found in the web of it’s narrative. The show depicted a character coming to grips with his exploits, surrounded by his friends. Jessica Jones, on the other hand, deals with a character who had her attempts at heroics hijacked. We join her story as she’s suffering from severe, and untreated 3, PTSD. In fact, despite the fantastical settings and characters, the show just may be the most honest depiction of PTSD I’ve ever seen. There is no tint which shows people as being “mostly ok,” in the material. As I watched Jones wrestle with her demons the accounts of PTSD sufferers committing acts of violence and aggression, as well a the deep personal shame which keeps people from seeking real help, suddenly became very understandable. In this, Jessica Jones is an incredible example of how fiction can be used to expose truth. And, in this world, truth is not always happy. In fact, in any world, truth often takes “family friendly” out back and pummels it 4.

As with Daredevil, the villain is one of the most compelling characters in the series, but we experience him in a much different light than the Kingpin. In the previous series the audience was often led to the point of almost rooting for Wilson Fisk. Watching David Tennant’s portrayal of Killgrave, on the other hand, is creepy 5. Killgrave is an abusive monster with absolutely no regard for anyone other than himself. In fact, he is the perfect example of what happens to a human being who is able to get anything they wish — he as close as you can get to a truly irredeemable character 6. I don’t want to spoil the plot, so I’ll just point out there is a very clever Easter Egg somewhere in the series which links Killgrave to his comic book counterpart, The Purple Man 7 — see if you can find it.

Other than the language, morally grey characters, and clearly depicted violence — what makes Jessica Jones “adult” is it’s depiction of sex. By “adult” I do not mean the wrongly-used euphemism for pornography. In the series sex is not used to evoke a sense of relationless eroticism on the part of viewers. Nor, however, is it redemptive or beautiful. Throughout the series sex is depicted to highlight the incredible brokenness of every character who engages in it. Sex is not used for connection. Rather, it’s used as a drug to numb feelings of guilt, as a weapon to get characters what they want, or as a substitute for authentic relationships. Yet, despite the “oh I’m just going to look away here” depiction of sexual activity in the series, I almost find it’s presence more tolerable than, say, on your average sitcom. This is because sex is never depicted as “no big deal,” the way it is on so much TV. In Jessica Jones sex is a very big deal, and every character in the show uses it in ways which will only deepen their brokenness. Yet, they find it’s one way to help numb the pain so they continue using it in self-destructive ways.

In the end, Jessica Jones forces me to ask the question, “Can a show depict almost nothing beautiful, and yet be considered ‘art?’” Having watched the series I’m led to conclude, truly, the sum of the whole is greater than the make up of it’s parts. It isn’t until the final scene of the show that you get the hint something good might just emerge from all the darkness. But for me, that’s enough. Truth might be brutal, but it does lead to light.

  1. MCU for short 
  2. OK, the version of the Guardians of the Galaxy depicted in the film is also from after my time, but I read the originals… so there. 
  3. Unless you count alcoholism as medication, that is. 
  4. Yes, I know this description evokes an image of an assault. That’s kind of the point — the world is not a DisneyLand fantasy. As a Christian, the greatest truth of all is the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection — despite the number of cartoons made from the Gospel accounts, the story is anything but “family friendly.” 
  5. It’s even creepier when you see mannerisms you recognize from Tennant’s portrayal of The Doctor. 
  6. He makes Morgoth look like Manwë. If you don’t get that reference you need to read more books. 
  7. Other than some of his outfits, that is. They’re so obvious they don’t count. 

2 Thoughts

  1. Nice review. I somewhat disagree with your thoughts on the sex though. I think it was one of the more honest depictions of casual sex on TV and showed how it really often works in the real world. You have a couple of characters who have an attraction to each other, are feeling lonely and aroused, and so they end up in bed together. Neither of them have any other commitments so they enjoy the time together for what it is. That’s pretty much how sex in the world works, despite the desire to put a veneer of mystery over it.

    So I don’t think that the depictions of sex in Jessica Jones depict the character’s brokenness. I think it’s the opposite, and it shows their humanness. They want to connect with another human being and they do it physically, as many people do. I don’t think they’re using it as a drug at all. The show just isn’t hiding behind typical “fake TV sex” and shows it for what it is.

  2. I’m going to comment and include a SPOILER WARNING!! because we finished the season today and I was really struck by something in it.

    It could be read that there was a glimmer of good – a bit of hope – at the end. But what hit me was that throughout this season, we were served a dysfunctional, horrifically abusive relationship. The reason Jessica didn’t terminate that relationship – and Kilgrave – was because she needed him to get Hope out of prison. Quite literally, the only reason this devastating story was strung along for so very long was because of /hope/. It wasn’t until hope was dead, literally, that Jessica doubled down and decided to end it. I have to assume that this metaphor was intentional, because I think it was a strong one.

    Overall, I found it an incredible season of an outstanding show. The way it dealt, in bold and unadulterated fashion, with women’s issues was amazing. Rape, assault, abortion. Women taking control of their lives without shame. Men were sidekicks and subplots. It was so rare and so unexpected. I can’t wait to see what comes next season.

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