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Why Jessica Jones is the heroine we need

| Thursday, February 4, 2016

JessicaJones_WebLucy Du

From movies to TV shows to Netflix original series, Marvel is killing the game by creating a gigantic cinematic universe the likes of which we’ve only ever seen in comic books.

Out of this universe, one of Marvel’s most important contributions to modern entertainment just got renewed for a second season — that’s right, Jessica Jones will be punching, kicking and (quite possibly) drinking her way through another incredible story arc at a to-be-determined date.

There are a thousand and one things to love about Marvel’s “Jessica Jones,” the Netflix original series that came out November 2015. The cast is diverse, featuring multiple female leads and people of color. The plot, while intense and often heartbreaking, channels a kind of humor that is sadly lacking in “Daredevil,” another Netflix original show starring a super hero set in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of New York City.

Perhaps most importantly, “Jessica Jones” explores and deals with the trauma of rape without ever showing the assault itself.

We meet the titular character as she is working to get her new P.I. business up and running. Right away, we’re made aware that she possesses some kind of super strength and that she’s suffering from traumatic flashbacks. We’re intrigued both by her mysterious powers and by her closed off but incredibly vulnerable demeanor. The question of her powers — What exactly are they? Where did they come from? — takes a backseat to the character’s inner turmoil.

In an interview with “The Hollywood Reporter,” showrunner Melissa Rosenberg discussed her revulsion at the gratuitous depiction of assault and its use as a motivating factor for male characters to seek revenge.

“We’re very conscious to treat that aspect of the story with sensitivity and responsibility,” Rosenberg said. “For me, if I never see an actual rape on a screen again it’ll be too soon. … It’s damaging. It’s just hideous messaging, and so coming into this [Jessica Jones], 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 wears a very similar outfit in every episode — boots, leather jacket, tank top and jeans. Her dark hair often obscures most of her face. She drinks excessively and doesn’t just avoid talking about feelings, she often represses them altogether. The fact that she possesses super strength doesn’t even seem to help her much — it only makes her more alluring to the antagonist and more likely to smash things by accident.

However, her physical strength pales in comparison to her mental strength. Jessica is a secretive, belligerent and sarcastic alcoholic, but she’s a good person. She’s extremely protective of the few people she loves, and she’s trying to make the world a better place in her own way. In doing this, she’s also overcoming her trauma by hunting down the man responsible before he can destroy more lives.

But it’s not about revenge, it’s about justice and healing. That’s what makes Jessica Jones human and her story so compelling. And that’s why the show is so important.

The genius of “Jessica Jones” is that we get to watch a broken character save herself. She doesn’t need a guy to put her back together; she doesn’t need (and never gets) a makeover. She screws up and gets people hurt, but she ultimately saves the day. She’s deeply flawed and hurt, but Jessica Jones still desperately wants (and does her best) to be a heroine. Not a superheroine, just a heroine.

Without the sparkly, skimpy outfit — that’s not very suited to kicking butt.

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