Jessica Jones: Goodbye Letter to Marvel’s Unapologetic Female Superhero Show
Dear Jessica Jones,
You deserved better than this.
As I write this piece, the third and final season of your show will be released tonight. Marvel and Netflix canceled you months ago, all the way back in February. The first trailer was released a week before your final episodes came out. Avengers: Endgame released their trailer more than a month before the film. Heck, even Daredevil released their trailer at least a couple weeks before the final season. Your marketing has been minimal and last-minute, and the comments on your Instagram page have been dwindling. In a month, you’ll probably have faded into oblivion.
You’re going out in a whimper instead of a kickass bang, and that’s just not fair. It’s not you.
You deserved better.
How We Met
I first heard about you when I was in my junior year of high school, back in 2015. It was a week before your first season premiered, and I happened to stumble upon a YouTube theory video about the series. The truth is, though, I could care less about the minor easter eggs on one of the posters. I had another huge question in my mind.
Wait, what do you mean they’re making a Marvel thing with a female lead?
You see, this was 2015. This was before Gal Gadot graced the screens as Wonder Woman or before Brie Larson donned her Captain Marvel outfit. Superhero TV shows were rare, and one coming without being first introduced in the movies seemed odd. For crying out loud, fans were still asking for a Black Widow movie, and she had been in like a million movies at that point.
It seemed odd, but I was a Marvel fan dying for more female representation-I’d take what I could get. I put on my best impromptu cosplay of leather jacket and purple scarf, borrowed my friend’s Netflix account, and met you.
I’m glad that I did.
Women in Power
The premise of your show was simple: Jessica Jones, played by Krysten Ritter, is a superpowered human with super strength, but she is not a hero. After a traumatic incident with Kilgrave (more on him later), she tries to rebuild her life working as a private investigator in New York.
Of course, things with you always get complicated. Kilgrave returns, shit falls apart. The show begins.
However, the fact that you were the lead character of your own Marvel show left me speechless. Here you were, furious as hell, kicking ass and taking names, literally using your super strength to break down concrete. You weren’t kind or fragile, and you were completely unapologetic about this. You had your flaws: you were an alcoholic that made reckless decisions every episode. But you had flaws. You had character development, past history, extensive dialogue, complex personality…
Can you see how desperate I was to find someone like you?
You also weren’t alone. You had Trish Walker, played by Rachael Taylor. You two were best friends, even sisters, but you had a complicated relationship. She wanted to be a hero, and you didn’t. You also had Jeri Hogarth, played by Carrie-Anne Moss. Being a lawyer, she ran into you numerous times during your legal troubles, but she also had her own personal storylines, be it the end of her marriage with her wife or her newfound ALS.
My point is that you had a life, Jones. You had an apartment, a job, your own PI firm, a set of goals, and way too many bottles of whiskey. You felt like a real, multi-dimensional person, and so did the women in your life. In a time when I had grown used to women being supporting characters and love interests in superhero media, you set my world on fire.
Female Representation Behind the Camera
The women surrounding your character were more than just on-screen. After the first season premiered, showrunner Melissa Rosenberg declared that , although 4 out of the 13 episodes were directed by women, it wasn’t enough.
Flash forward to the sophomore season in 2018. Each one of the 13 episodes is directed by a different female director. More than half of the writers of the team are women. A superhero show had women in front of and behind the camera.
Does this shape the kind of stories that are being told and how they are portrayed? Absolutely. But to me, right now, as someone wanting to work with film, it is also empowering. To see other women progress in a field that you wish to work in is incredibly encouraging. Jessica Jones, your show featured a transition of more women in power behind the camera-producing, writing, directing. You smashed gender expectations of the film and television industry like you smash concrete walls into rubble. How could I not adore you?
At the time that I write this, I have no idea who the “villain” character for your final season will be. However, I know the first two seasons, and they were, in some ways, very different.
First, there was Kilgrave, played by David Tennant, who was a mind controller who you had encountered in the past and had come back to haunt you. He had kidnapped you, removed your ability to make choices by using his powers, and abused you for months before you escaped. In your freshman season, you had to find a way to defeat him while keeping everyone safe and dealing with your own trauma.
Yet your sophomore season featured a very different “villain-type” character: your mother, played by Janet McTeer, who you thought had died in the car crash that killed your family when you were a kid. It is even hard for me to classify her as a villain because she never seemed to want to be one in the first place. The experiments that gave you power, Jones, were also used on her, but on a much larger scale. She got super strength, but she also got the instincts of a murderer. She never asked for that. The first season featured a villain who removed choice from others, but the second one had an antagonist who had the choice taken from them.
However, they were similar in one critical way: they were parts of who you were. Kilgrave returning forced you to face the trauma he had caused you. Your mother being a killer made you rethink how your powers and temper affected you.
You may have super strength, but even the strongest of us can break apart. You were surrounded by ghosts from your past. You had layers and layers of trauma. Your villains weren’t simple, one-dimensional buffoons that you could defeat with one punch. They were complicated, leaving long-lasting effects. You showed that sometimes you can leave the battlefield physically unharmed but still be hurting.
But, Jessica Jones, you never once backed down.
You may have gone through hell and back, but one thing was certain: if you were going to go down, you were going to go kicking.
That was the thing that I admired most about you. Out of all the characters I ever encountered, you were one of the ones who had suffered the most. Yet you never backed down from the fight. You chased after Kilgrave, and then you chased your mother. Someone had to, so you did it.
Your past may come to haunt you, but, goddamnit, you were going to survive it.
You never let your history define who you were. Kilgrave hurt you, but you learned not to think that you couldn’t stop him. Your powers were like your mother’s, but that didn’t make you a ruthless killer. Those things were a part of you, but they didn’t get a say on who you were. At the end of the day, the only person that got to chose who Jessica Jones was going to be was you.
Not a Hero
So who are you, Jessica Jones?
I won’t call you a hero: you repeat over and over again that you aren’t one, and, though I disagree, I don’t want to undermine your power to forge your own identity. However, I will tell you this: you are incredible. You are angry and powerful and vulnerable all at once. You are unapologetic about who you are, and you are surrounded by other equally strong women. You may be a drunk train wreck mess at times, but you never once pull back your punches.
You may not be the textbook definition of a superhero character, but you taught me to stand up for who I am and fight for who I want to be. You didn’t need to save me, Jessica Jones. You taught me how to save myself.
I guess this is goodbye. Thank you for four wonderful years and three amazing seasons. I hope future superhero shows will give us women with your daring energy and remarkable strength. I hope that you have laid the ground for more female representation in the superhero genre, both in front of and behind the camera.
Though your show is slowly and quietly fading away, rest assured that you will not be forgotten. So don’t worry: pour yourself another cup of whiskey, grab your camera, and go out into the night.
When I put on my leather jacket and purple scarf, I’ll think of you.
Originally published at https://www.makemuse.online on July 22, 2019.