Jessica Jones: Messed-up Characters Pushed to the Limit

Genre: Superhero

Synopsis: Jessica Jones is a superstrong PI who just wants to be left alone to take pictures of cheating spouses and drink unhealthy amounts of alcohol. Her past recently came back to haunt her, in the form of the mind-controlling creep who’d kept her subjugated until she escaped him, and she killed him. But the past isn’t done with her yet. 

Jess’ best friend Trish chooses to investigate how Jessica got her powers against her wishes. This pulls up the memories of the car crash that killed her family, and all the things that she can’t remember happening to her afterward. But Trish’s investigation prompts someone to start cleaning loose ends, and Jess has to step in before anyone else dies–while walking the line between hero, vigilante, and monster.

Series: This is the second season.

I’ve Watched: Everything so far.

Verdict: I really enjoyed it. Though it did have a low point around when the identity of the antagonist was revealed, it picked back up again after that.

Jessica’s Character Journey

If anyone thought Jessica was going to get herself together after the first season and her appearance on Defenders, wow no. She is still a mess. If anything, she’s even more of a mess. Because while before she managed to suffer in relative silence, now everyone is prodding at her. And she rises to the bait.

I love this character, straight up. She’s fierce and brittle, jaded and furious. We’re in serious anti-hero territory with Jessica Jones, and the complexity is exciting.

Right up front, we get a whole slew of conflict resulting from Jess’s inability to control her violent tendencies. Yes, she’s provoked. Yes, what the guy said to her—because of his ignorance of what he was actually talking about—was massively not okay, and a far more stable person than Jessica might react with violence. But Jess’s superhuman strength makes her lashing out left and right that much more dangerous. The ferocity of her attacks puts people in danger of being hospitalized or killed.

Jess is a very reluctant hero. She knows she’s messed up, and is just trying to get through life with her head down. When the big things come knocking at her door, she’ll step up—especially if she’s got a personal connection to the problem. But she won’t go out of her way, looking to help others.

To add to Jess’ anti-heroine status, once she sets off on the trail to stop this killer, she delves further and further into ends-justifying-the-means territory. Unlike her rages, where she loses control and regrets it afterwards, these decisions are deliberate. Assaults, threats. Threats against family.

It takes crossing serious lines and suffering painful losses before Jess clears up for herself how far she’s willing to go, and who she wants to be.

Trish’s Character Journey

Trish is Jessica’s more together best friend and sister—or she used to be, because this season, she’s falling off her own ledge. There have always been hints to Trish’s character, that she wanted more. That she wanted the power to make a difference, that she wanted greater influence to do something. It’s part of why she always pushes Jessica towards action—because Jess could do what she wanted to do herself. And it’s why she learned to defend herself.

In this season, we see her chomping at the bit to do more, to have more. Her best friend is a reluctant superhero who acts as a PI. Her boyfriend is an award-winning journalist who’d been on-the-ground in warzones. And she’s a former child star with a talk show, trying to transition to meaningful investigative work and watching her ratings drop because of it.

Eventually, it’s like she cracks from the pressure. Then she really starts going overboard, doing whatever it takes to feel like she can be the hero she wants to be.

Relationships and Consequences

In season one, Jess and Trish’s friendship felt like a deeply supportive one. By the end of season two, it’s downright destructive—and what’s really amazing, is that this is a natural progression. The seeds for where it all went wrong were there even back when everything was great.

Trish was always pushing Jessica to be more heroic because it’s who she wants to be, but feels like she can’t without the advantage of Jess’ powers. But Jess just wants to be left alone with her (rather unhealthy) mechanisms of dealing with her traumas. In this season, that dynamic explodes.

Even Malcolm—Jess’ much better put together employee, former mind-control induced drug addiction notwithstanding—loses it with the constant exposure to their messes. Poor man just wants a supportive friendship network. But unfortunately, around Jess and Trish, he has to be the sole stabilizing force, and it’s too much to ask.

The ending was satisfying too. This season was really personal for Jessica, rubbing all of her flaws in her face. The resolution came with real consequences for her and her friends, creating fissures in their relationships that will take time to overcome, if they’re ever overcome at all. But it also closed on a note of hope, that Jessica—who’s been a train wreck for so long—might finally start trying to move her life forward.

And I really want to see that.

Additional Points

Rant concerning a scene that bothered me:

There’s this one single scene that disparages an autoimmune disorder (celiac disease). The show uses radio show host Trish as a vehicle here, having her interview the author of a book on gluten. In the middle of the interview, she goes on a tirade, asking how many people die from celiac disease and whether its worse than war or sexual assault. And the show treats her as outburst as correct, rewarding her character with an interview for a news position in response to it.

Which, what? Why?

There are plenty of things in this world that are generally (and I do mean generally rather than absolutely) more debilitating than deadly, that no one is dismissive of. Even acute rather than chronic conditions. No one calls medicine to treat the common cold a waste of time. No one says that food poisoning ‘doesn’t matter’. But because celiac disease is related to gluten, which just happens to be culturally associated with a dietary fad, it becomes an acceptable target? That moment makes Trish look every bit as shallow as she’s accusing others of being.

Good science note:

Jess acknowledges that the drug she used to knock a guy out could potentially have killed him. I’ve addressed this before in my “Handling Medicines Without the Proper Understanding of Dosage” post, and I’m happy to see Jessica Jones take a more realistic approach, where it is outright stated that this is not a safe thing to do.