Jessica Jones: The Presentation of Social Issues and doing it right

Images belong to Netflix and Marvel

I just finished the Netflix original series, based on the Marvel comic-book super hero, Jessica Jones and I have to praise the tense plot, the diverse characters, and the strong themes that the writer’s were brave enough to tackle in the show which I am going to discuss here.

Rape and Sexual Assault

This issue was prominent throughout the entire series, as the antagonist, Kilgrave, uses his mind control super power to rape and sexually abuse women on the show. Many critics have applauded the show for presenting this issue in such a sensitive and realistic way. Jessica is one of Kilgrave’s victims and is not presented as a weak character. In fact, she is one of the strongest characters on the show, possessing the power of super strength. The fact that she is so powerful, and yet was still a victim of sexual abuse, shows that rape can happen to anyone, and a victim does not have to be weak, and does not become weak because of it. The show also doesn’t gloss over the fact that Jessica was raped by Kilgrave, as she openly confronts him about it, which is very refreshing. Rape is discussed seriously on the show, and the viewer understands the psychological, mental and physical impacts that it has on Jessica, and Hope, another victim of Kilgrave’s. Rape isn’t something hidden on the show as if it’s something to be ashamed off. Jessica and Hope feel guilty for a lot of things that Kilgrave forced them to do, like murder, but do not blame themselves for their sexual abuse which is such an important message.

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Domestic Abuse

When Kilgrave takes people hostage, I felt that it was very similar to domestic abuse cases. Both Jessica and Hope were kidnapped by Kilgrave and forced to be his girlfriend and lover. In one episode, Jessica goes back to Kilgrave of her own free will to live with him for a few days, despite all the horror that he put her through last time. This could have been out of fear or to get close to Kilgrave to get his confession or to restrain him. However, viewers could interpret Jessica’s choice to live with Kilgrave as a bid to keep those she loved safe from him, and also so he wouldn’t get angry with her and control her again. I thought that this was a very good portrayal of domestic abuse as Jessica was staying with Kilgrave in hope that it meant he wouldn’t control her. I think that a lot of victims also stay with their partners to keep them happy and to lower their violence or aggression. It is a survival technique that Jessica utilises. She understands that she will still have her freedom, her free will and choice, if she stays with him which I think it very realistic of real domestic abuse and the fear that victims go through. I also felt that there was a lot of emotional manipulation of Jessica, as Kilgrave stated that he would not control her but continued to force people around her to harm themselves to get Jessica to do what he wanted. The scene where Kilgrave forces his house staff to put knives to their throats to manipulate Jessica had very interesting symbolism for me. In my opinion, I thought it was representing domestic abuse in which there are children involved, as victims are manipulated and forced to stay with abusive partners to keep their children safe, or because their partner is using abuse against the child as a threat, which is what Kilgrave was doing with the house staff.

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Stalking and Obsession

I honestly felt that Kilgrave was a really interesting, detailed character with a sympathetic back story and even some redeemable qualities. One of the most interesting aspects in my opinion was when the character showed stalking behaviour, a result of a rooted desire for and obsession with Jessica. When Kilgrave sets out to get Jessica back to him, he tracks down and buys her childhood home. He does this legally and legitimately, paying twice as much for the property than it’s worth and ensuring that the previous owner was happy with the purchase, despite the fact that he could have just got it without paying for it using his power. This shows that the house, and subsequently Jessica, are important to him, as he wanted to feel like he had earned it. He then proceeds to fill the house with all the objects that were there when Jessica lived there. The fact that he puts in so much effort and time into making sure that everything is exactly right emphasises his obsession. When Jessica expresses how creepy and unwanted it all is, Kilgrave believes she is being ungrateful which I felt was very similar to real cases of stalking and obsession. We find out near the end of the show that Jessica had actually overcome Kilgrave’s power and can not be mind controlled by him any more. Although Jess herself didn’t know this information at the time, Kilgrave knew that he could no longer influence her decisions and this seemingly makes him want Jessica even more and want to make her love him with her free choice. He almost sees this as a challenge to impress Jessica so that she could honestly fall in love with him, rather than just being with him due to his power. In my opinion, I thought this was mostly representing a stalking case where the stalker was once in a relationship with the victim. I think that individuals who start presenting stalking behaviour do so because they can no longer control their ex-partner and are frustrated and angry that their ex-partner doesn’t want them any more, which is so similar to Kilgrave’s situation. This turns into an obsession, shown in the series when Jessica discovers that Kilgrave is monitoring her and taking pictures of her. Furthermore, after finding out that she is being watched by her stalker, Jessica becomes understandably paranoid and on-edge which is a great representation of the impact and effects of stalking on the victims.

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Drug Addiction

This theme is most notably shown through the character of Malcolm who gets addicted to drugs as Kilgrave forces him to spy on Jessica. Although Kilgrave tells Malcolm to take the drugs in the first place against his will, he soon becomes addicted and takes the drugs out of choice and his dependency on them. Malcolm holds so much guilt and self-hatred due to this addiction and hurting Jessica, who saved his life and always helped him any way she could because she felt sorry for him. This did very well in showing the impacts of drug addiction not only on the individual, but on the people around them who they love, as they get hurt the most. Malcolm even talks about his parents and their disapproval at one point which was very realistic and heart-breaking. The show stresses the massive effect of drug abuse and the impacts on personality and appearance as Malcolm, after Jessica helps him get clean, appears and acts very differently. When he was addicted, he was presented as a very ill and tired man, and wore the same scruffy outfit. After giving up the drugs, he then transformed into a well-dressed and alert character who began caring for other people and continued to help Jessica even when she didn’t want help. I loved seeing this contrast which displayed the danger and negative influence of drug addiction. The fact that Malcolm was forced to take drugs in the first place also removes all of the blame from him, which is the case in some incidents of drug abuse where an individual was forced or coerced to ingest drugs. I also found it very eye-opening when Jessica takes advantage of Malcolm’s drug addiction to sneak into a hospital, as she knew that people would make assumptions about Malcolm due to his appearance. The message here is that people stereotype and negatively label patients of drug addiction unfairly which Jessica obviously noticed and felt terrible about. Malcolm’s storyline is not the only appearance of drug addiction in the show as Nuke also uses combat drugs to aid his reflexes and concentration, causing him to lash out in violent and aggressive ways. The leads his relationship with Trish to break down, again showing the impacts of addiction. Although, the other characters understand that Nuke’s actions are not entirely his own due to the influence of the drugs which is another important message.

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

As I have said already, Jessica is an extremely strong character and for her to experience PTSD was a very valuable message as it showed audiences that anyone can develop PTSD and it does not mean or make you a weak person. We are also confronted with real symptoms of the disorder in the form of Jessica’s hallucinations, paranoia and nightmares. It also appears that Jessica can not sleep unless she drinks alcohol. It’s evident that she has a slight alcohol dependency but she isn’t stereotyped or negatively viewed by the other characters because of this because it is a result of her PTSD. This acts as an example of the more long-term effects of PTSD. Jessica’s relationship with alcohol is a very different view of substance abuse; whilst Malcolm is addicted to drugs, Jessica uses alcohol as a coping method and as comfort.

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Emotional Manipulation

Returning to Kilgrave’s control over Jessica, there is a point in the show whereby he promises to keep Malcolm safe in exchange for a photo of Jessica every day. I felt that this was a representation of pressurising individuals to send nude photos. Although Jess wasn’t naked in any of these photos, she clearly feels uncomfortable sending them to Kilgrave but does it to keep the people she loves safe from him. Additionally, Kilgrave is getting satisfaction out of Jessica’s embarrassment and manipulation which I just thought was so similar to coercion of nude images, and the blackmail to not post those images online, or use for revenge pornography, for more images. Kilgrave even uses the pictures that Jessica sends him later on in the show to publicise her appearance to a group of people he had demanded to kill Jess, which was a massive invasion of her privacy. Although no where near as serious as revenge porn I felt that is was very similar, as private, personal photos were shown publicly without consent.

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Abortion

It was one of the biggest plot twists of the show when Hope revealed that she was pregnant with Kilgrave’s baby, after he had raped her. In my opinion, I very much felt that the show was publicising free-choice, the notion that every individual should have the choice on whether they want an abortion and should not be forced to give birth or keep the baby if they don’t want. In this case, like so many real cases, Hope’s un-born baby was the result of rape and it’s emphasised that that’s the reason why she wanted to get rid of it. Although her decision could have been out of fear and disgust that the child may have similar powers to Kilgrave’s or that she was too young or that she was a prisoner, the audience understands that the main reason behind the abortion is the sexual abuse. The show uses very realistic and understandable dialogue for Hope here as she explains that every time she feels the baby in her stomach she remembers the rape. The argument that abortion should be free to all women around the world is so important here as Hope speaks for all the real survivors of rape. The series also indicates the effects of making abortion illegal, as Hope pays another inmate in her prison to beat her up to try and induce a miscarriage, because she can’t access abortion pills. After this fails, Hope is told that it was more likely that she would have developed an internal bleed and died rather than loosing her baby but Hope only reveals that it was worth the risk. The point the show is trying to make here is that if abortion was not legal then women may be forced to use more dangerous, unsterilised, life-threatening ways to abort their baby, which will cost women’s lives. Hope finally does receive the life-saving abortion pill which is presented as an extremely good thing for Hope.

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That’s it, folks. What did you think of the fantastic Jessica Jones? Let me know in the comments!
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