mostly positive dithering about Jessica Jones

Dec 02, 2015 22:37

Jessica Jones is pretty good. I have some reservations about it, and a bit of discomfort with fandom fawning over it, but mostly, it is pretty good.

I actually want to start out with a rather critical set of reviews which actually helped me crystallize what I liked so much about the show. Yes, people could prevent being controlled by Kilgrave by wearing noise-cancelling earplugs all the time. Every moment of every day where they might conceivably be around people. And if you shut everyone in the world out, you won’t be directly pulled in by someone like Kilgrave. That’s not workable. Why do they do things that don’t make sense, increasingly desperate plans based mostly in magical thinking? Because that’s how RL Kilgraves force their victims to feel. The show does a great job of showing people who are trying to navigate a way out of his funhouse mirror traps. Which isn’t to be like “that objectively should work for everyone, A+” because whether or not metaphor and form work on a story level is subjective, but it worked for me.

It worked for me, largely because the show’s comprehensive about the issue in a way that goes beyond the protagonist’s experience. The show goes to some pains to contextualize Kilgrave’s super-ness with many more mundane types of relationships where one person tries to mold and control another. Wendy saying “I thought I was special” about Jeri berating and manipulating everyone but her, until Wendy dared to step out of line by expecting Jeri to be faithful, is one of the more explicit OSG fallacy deconstructions I’ve seen, and the only one I can think of concerning a lesbian relationship. Trish’s abusive mother. Robin’s need for Ruben to be dependent on her. Simpson’s terrifyingly fast transition from victim to stalker. The show deserves a lot of credit for not picking and choosing what forms of abuse count as abuse, what kind of violation is bad enough, what level of damage is enough to justify the experience of trauma.

I did have a moderate problem with the issue of Kilgrave’s childhood, where one episode has Jessica powerfully pointing out that Kilgrave’s formative trauma doesn’t excuse his own behavior, and then the next has Kilgrave’s parents claiming they hadn’t abused him. It struck me pretty strongly as either Kilgrave’s parents just lying and justifying the way he does so well, or at best a selective interpretation of the truth, because lbr sick kids get treatment every day and they’re not traumatized to the point that they prefer to have major surgery while conscious rather than submit to anesthetic for the rest of their lives. “Having been abused doesn’t excuse Kilgrave’s behavior” is true, but it’s undercut by giving the viewer the “oh, yeah, and Kilgrave wasn’t abused, THEY WERE DOING THE BEST THEY COULD” out.

I’m not the first to say this, but much of what fandom’s praising about the show consists of the things it has in common with Dollhouse. (Admittedly the show against which I measure all other shows, but if you’ve seen both I think you’ll agree that the comparison is fair.) And maybe Dollhouse was seven or eight years before its time. But JJ is also easier to digest because the mind control is from Pathological Individual Zero, who has narrative echoes (pffft) in other characters and relationships in the text but is ultimately a selfish and self-contained deviant. He lacks the social roots to be a singular patriarch, let alone a stand-in for the patriarchy. That doesn’t make it a bad series, by any means. Intimate personal relationships matter and can make for good stories, as I think Jessica Jones is. But I do think that they necessitate a story being significantly less ambitious.

Several times toward the end I found myself thinking “wow, Marvel is really trying.” Actively, carefully paying attention to fandom criticisms about women, about representation, about what narratives do and don’t endorse and glorify. Like, there’s a direct line of the last five years or so from “Black Widow is a badass” to Agent Carter to Jessica Jones. On balance, that’s a good thing. JJ was far more interesting to me than most of the current spate of superhero shows, in large part because being informed by an active challenge to abuse culture requires greater thought and psychological complexity than supporting the susal media tropes. And the show goes farther, I think, than most Feminist™ fandom is willing or able to do. But it’s still limited by not aiming particularly high.

It’s also a bit different and refreshing to have Jessica be an adult. The character to whom she’s (fairly) compared is Veronica Mars, a teen; of the more painful and challenging stories which television has so far anchored around female characters, most of the ones I can think of off the top of my head are coming of age stories. Buffy, TVD, Pretty Little Liars, Reign - difficult women are acceptable, as long as we can assume they’ll grow out of it. (The admittedly uncreative Buffy comparison is an interesting one, too - our central POV character is very much a Faith.)
This is probably less novel for people who are already into Marvel comics, but it was also something I kept coming back to, that this is the same world of, say, Agents of SHIELD. There are people whose job it is to track down the Kilgraves of the world, and for whatever reason they’re failing people on the ground. It’s understandable that they prioritize Hydra, but the Kilgraves of the world slip through the cracks.[AoS S1](Granted, that extends to how they treated their own team - Lorelai raped Ward same as Kilgrave raped Jessica, but the interest in taking her down came from Sif’s claim that she was a transdimensional security threat, to a point where what’s happened to him is never articulated by anyone.) It enriches this whole set of narratives to know that they can be taken in context with other stories with different priorities.

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marvel, jessica jones

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