[Warning: Mild SPOILERS for Jessica Jones ahead.]
When Daredevil arrived on Netflix earlier this year, it made one thing clear: this corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was not going to be family-friendly. Daredevil‘s mature rating was earned primarily in scenes of brutal violence, but in newly arrived detective series Jessica Jones, the graphic violence is accompanied by some pretty explicit sex scenes. What’s more, experiences of rape and trauma constitute a core part of the show’s themes.
The protagonist, private investigator Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), is recovering from her time spent under the thrall of twisted sociopath and mind controller Kilgrave (David Tennant) following her brief stint as a superpowered vigilante. Fascinated by Jessica’s strength, Kilgrave forced Jessica to do his bidding and used her as part bodyguard, part sex slave. Although rape is never depicted on screen, the show definitely does not dodge around the issue.
Speaking to THR, Jessica Jones showrunner Melissa Rosenberg explained that she felt a certain level of responsibility when dealing with such a sensitive topic. In both TV and movies it feels like there’s a real imbalance between the number of depictions of rape and assault, and the time spent showing characters trying to deal with the aftermath. Jessica Jones, Rosenberg says, makes an effort to correct that imbalance.
“For me, if I never see an actual rape on a screen again it’ll be too soon. It’s becoming ubiquitous, it’s become lazy storytelling and it’s always about the impact it has on the men around them. It’s like, ‘Oh his wife was raped and murdered so he’s going to go out and destroy the world.’ That’s so often what it’s about, just this kind of de rigueur storytelling to spice up often male characters. It’s damaging. It’s just hideous messaging, and so coming into this, the events have already happened and this is really about the impact of rape on a person and about healing, survival, trauma and facing demons. To me it’s much richer territory.”
Jessica Jones doesn’t soften the language of what its protagonist went through, and neither does it turn into a PSA about rape. “We didn’t want to tackle it as an ‘issue’,” said Rosenberg. “Nobody wants to be preached to and I have no interest in doing any preaching, so it was really just informing her character.”
Jessica Jones is the second Marvel series featuring a sole female protagonist, the first being ABC’s Agent Carter, which is set in post-World War II America and stars Hayley Atwell as the eponymous S.H.I.E.L.D. co-founder. Agent Carter has two female showrunners, Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas, but was directed exclusively by male directors, whereas Rosenberg has described making an “aggressive effort” to hire women on the creative team for Jessica Jones, including three female directors (S.J. Clarkson, Uta Briesewitz and Rosemary Rodriguez) and a diverse writers’ room.
The pilot episode of Agent Carter saw its main character don a blonde wig and a slinky gold dress in order to con her way into an arms dealer’s office – before beating him up, of course. As far as Rosenberg is concerned, Jessica will always skip the first half of that process.
“One of the things I said out from the beginning is, ‘I never need to see Jessica Jones in high heels and a miniskirt using her feminine wiles to get information out of a suspect.’ Any time you have a woman in the role of cop, detective or something to that effect, one of the first things they do is put her in heels and nice, tight black dress and send her out to go and get the information. Again, it’s just frickin’ lazy. Jessica Jones is just not someone who would ever do that. She’d beat it out of them first, that’s actually a much more effective method.”
Critical acclaim for Jessica Jones began when the pilot episode premiered at New York Comic Con, and has only continued in the first weekend of the show’s full release. It also comes with the Screen Rant seal of approval, and features a number of surprises that Marvel has managed to keep under wraps – including an appearance from a Daredevil character.
Jessica Jones and Daredevil Season 1 are now available on Netflix. Luke Cage Season 1 and Daredevil Season 2 will arrive in 2016. Iron Fist and The Defenders will arrive sometime thereafter.
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