I’ve more or less lost interest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but have actually been enjoying the Netflix stuff. Perhaps because both Daredevil and Jessica Jones tell smaller, more personal stories, instead of insanely bombastic tales of larger-than-life creatures saving the world from mostly interchangable villains. Both DD and JJ kind of show what it’s like to live normal lives in a world where superheroes, aliens and mutants exist.
Jessica Jones has been getting a lot of praise for its unusual heroine, its relatively high number of female characters, and for tackling important issues like rape, abuse and addiction.
Except I’m not sure if the show actually handles some of these topics all that well? Spoilers follow.
The first jarring moment for me was Malcolm’s very quick and sudden recovery from drug addiction. It’s weird how, after one single scene of Malcolm fighting withdrawal, he seems completely recovered and never tempted again. He is even spending time with an alcoholic (Jessica), and is going through confusing and stressful experiences … There is no looming danger of a relapse, no need to avoid triggers for him. Malcolm is an addict, and then he’s not.
An even more jarring moment was when Malcolm confessed to the Kilgrave victim support group that he helped Jessica by hiding a murder, by dumping the victim’s body in the harbour … Uh, wait. No one in the group seemed to find this the least bit shocking. What the hell? And then it got even worse when Robyn popped up and said: Hah! I knew you were lying! This is all Jessica’s fault! Let’s confront her, guys! In previous scenes, Robyn had been worried sick about her missing brother. But now she doesn’t even react to the news of his death. Yes, the simplest explanation for Robyn’s bizarre behaviour would probably be: well, she’s mentally ill in some vague but narratively convenient way. However, no one in this scene reacts normally to Malcolm’s confession or to Robyn’s sudden appearance. Because the plot requires them to screw up Jessica’s plans and facilitate Kilgrave’s escape, whether it makes sense or not.
I am sure every TV shows has contrived moments like this, when characters are inelegantly pushed where the story needs them to go. It’s awkward, but TV is a complicated medium and no production can be perfect 100% of the time.
It’s just … unfortunate that Jessica Jones slips up at something so central to the story: the portrayal of abuse survivors, trauma and recovery.
So the fact that Jessica confronts her rapist and eventually triumphes over him is empowering and worth celebrating, sure. But neither Hope nor the support group are given an opportunity to be more than victims, plot devices, even problems.
I agree with this Feminist Frequency post that Jessica Jones is pretty much sending the message that support groups are for suckers. It did not seem that way in the beginning. At first, Jessica’s refusal to participate in the group felt like a symptom of her inability to deal with her trauma in healthy way. But unfortunately, the way the support group thing plays out, in the end it comes across as if Jessica was right all along. I don’t think the writers wanted to say this, and it’s a very awkward place to screw up, considering the general themes of Jessica Jones.
Is Jessica’s alcohol problem handled better than Malcolm’s drug addiction? The cynical portion of my mind thinks that her alcoholism is portrayed as an aesthetic rather than a disease, but I’m not really sure, I’m not an expert.