In case you missed it (how could you miss it?), "Jessica Jones" was released on Netflix and promptly set the internet ablaze. The show is complicated, with messy characters and no comic camp (minus the early fight scenes, those are a little rough). But what's most exciting about the show isn't its grittiness; it's the fact that it's carried by women. It's also successful. And it's awesome.
"Jessica Jones" took me by surprise from the beginning. The whimsical notes of the jazz-inspired, "Pink Panther"-like melody floating over the opening credits gave way to pounding drums and a riffing guitar. I went from cautious anticipation to head-banging in about 15 seconds, which pretty much describes the feeling of watching the show.
Over the course of the first few episodes, we are introduced to the show's primary characters, who also happen to be mostly women: Jessica (Krysten Ritter), a private investigator with super-human strength; Trish (Rachael Taylor), a talk-show host and Jessica's best friend; Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), a powerful attorney who's cheating on her wife; and Hope (Erin Moriarty), a young college athlete who was taken by Jessica's tormentor.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has been criticized in the past for a dearth of women-headlining franchises. (Marvel is owned by Disney, which, of course, is also is the parent company of ESPN.) "Captain Marvel" will be the first Marvel film to be anchored by a female superhero, but it won't be released until 2018, a year after DC Comics' "Wonder Woman." Hollywood doesn't exactly like to take risks, and given that "Catwoman" and "Elektra" were both terrible movies (still love you, Halle Berry and Jennifer Garner!), the prevailing wisdom seemingly has been that women make bad superhero movies. That's dumb, and "Jessica Jones" is proving it on a level that "Agent Carter," another Marvel TV show headlined by a woman, has not reached.
The sheer amount of women included in this show means that it escapes the trappings of tokenization and stereotyping that occur when only one or two women are present. The characters are complicated, nuanced, and that allows for their flaws to be parts of their characters, rather than representations of all womankind. The nuance moves beyond characterization, however, into fully exploring what it means to be a woman in society, holding a mirror up to all of us as we consider the insidious nature of sexism and sexual violence.
In "Jessica Jones," the spectrum of everyday violence against women is put on display, from sexual violence and rape, to harassment, to simply not being believed. The villain Kilgrave (David Tennant) has the power to control minds, using it in sickening ways to get others to do his bidding. So many of the early scenes center on women advocating to be believed. That allows Kilgrave and his power to exist in a universe where the unbelievable is ordinary, and that is terrifying.
As Jessica says about society: "They don't want to know. They would rather feel safe than admit that I can lift this car." This desire to not admit reality can easily be extended past Jessica's strength to the concept of mind control. Who wants to admit that a man exists who can manipulate minds?
Penetration of the mind is a power seen in other comics franchises. Jean Gray and Professor X from "X-Men" are telepaths and have displayed an ability to read minds and, occasionally, manipulate them, as well as lift objects and the like. But the power on display in "Jessica Jones" is different. Kilgrave is different. From the outset, mind control is framed as a loss of consent, with the clear metaphor of sexual violence being woven throughout.
Kilgrave has his victims say phrases like "I will be delighted" and "It will be fine" to seemingly erase the violence of what he is doing to them, but it becomes clear that simply saying "It will be fine" does not make it fine. Those controlled by Kilgrave are aware of what is happening to them and what they are doing, effectively placing loss of consent and the trauma of the experience at the center of the show.
"Jessica Jones" isn't just about trauma and revenge, however. There's humor and even some sex, pleasurable sex enjoyed by the women participating. It's raw and sometimes a little awkward -- or, you know, realistic. And there are no candles or smooth jams or romantic notions of what sex should be.
Women enjoying sex is not often seen on TV, but it is especially powerful when considering the context of the violence in "Jessica Jones." The notion that it's possible for a woman to enjoy sex while recovering from sexual violence is revolutionary.
If I have one criticism of the show, it's that I would love to see more women of color. Rosario Dawson as nurse Claire Temple has a big role in the last episode, but aside from that, the women with significant screen time are white. Black men hold two major roles in the show: Eka Darville as Malcolm, Jessica's perpetually high neighbor, and Mike Colter as Luke Cage, Jessica's love interest with unbreakable skin. I think it would be immensely powerful to see such diversity in the main female cast, as well.
Despite that, "Jessica Jones" is very much the show we've been waiting for. It is an incredible depiction of struggle and discomfort that goes where no other mainstream show has gone. This is not superhero fluff, and its success brings hope that we'll see even more representation of women in TV and films.
Women rock, and "Jessica Jones" proves that in every scene.
Katie Barnes is a Digital Media Associate at ESPN. Follow them on Twitter @Katie_Barnes3.