(This post contains spoilers about the show.)
Like many out there, I had been anticipating this show for some time. I spent a lot of time watching every trailer and reconciling myself to the fact that David Tennant was going to be pure evil. (It’s a hard thing for a Doctor Who fan to come to terms with.)
I binged the show in two days, and I’m so glad that I was not left disappointed. In fact, I so admire so many aspects of this show that it’s difficult to say a negative thing about it. There are parts of the show that I felt could have been improved, however, the good far outweighs the bad.
I was anxious to see how Jessica’s sexual assault and PTSD were going to be handled. It was clear from the trailers, and the comics the show is adapted from, that Jessica has been through a major trauma at the hands of Kilgrave, and is struggling with trying to put her life back together. She struggles with alcoholism, isolation, and guilt. Feeling that she is a danger to her friend Trish, Jessica attempts to cut herself off as much as possible. An attempt that fails in the end, since Trish is not one to watch her friend suffer without trying to help.
On top of this, Jessica is constantly fighting the guilt she feels for things that she was forced to do under Kilgrave’s control. Mainly for killing Luke’s wife, but also the repeated rape the happened at the hands of Kilgrave. Despite the fact the she knows she can’t be held responsible for her actions, she constantly finds herself at fault in some way. This makes it even more poignant when she tries to make Hope realize that nothing was her fault. In these moments, Jessica is not only telling Hope this, but is also trying to convince herself. This is a major part of healing after a traumatic event, and I believe it’s handled beautifully in this show.
This aspect is particularly important when it comes to sexual assault. It is a sad reality that women are often blamed for the assault done to them. Coming to terms with the fact that it was not their fault it something that is important for healing, but is also one of the most difficult things to do. Actually seeing a character go through this is something that isn’t often seen on television, especially when it comes to sexual assault.
In fact, everything this show does with the issue of the sexual violence faced by multiple women in the show is done well. There are no graphic rape scenes. The trauma that these women are obviously going through speaks for itself.
Despite the fact that this show is set in world of superheros with superpowers, many things ring true to how sexual assault is handled in real life. Kilgrave is able to control minds. He takes away their ability to consent, and in this way, he raped both Jessica and Hope.
In Hope’s case, this leads to her discovering that she is pregnant as a result of the rape. Not wanting to have the child of the man how raped her and forced her to kill her parents, she decides to abort the fetus. During a time in which women are having to fight to keep control of our reproductive rights, this scene is particularly hard-hitting. We’ve heard the sound bites from politicians and public figures claiming that a child conceived by rape is a gift from God. We see people on the far right constantly trying to make it more and more difficult for women to obtain abortions, even in the instances of rape. “Jessica Jones” doesn’t shy away from this. It makes it very clear that the women who are forced to make this decision are not the ones who should be demonized, but rather the men who force them into the decision in the first place. Women should be able to find support and help during these times, not judgement. And that was beauty of these scenes with Hope. There is judgement placed on her by anybody in the show. That judgement is reserved for Kilgrave.
At some point, Jessica ends up living with Kilgrave for a couple of days in the hopes of finding a way to stop him. Kilgrave promises to not control Jessica’s mind (which we find out later is because he knows he can’t control her anymore) and thus begins to confide in Jessica. This leads to an argument in which Jessica accuses Kilgrave of raping her (the first time she has actually said this in the show), and Kilgrave attempts to convince her that this wasn’t the case.
“How am I supposed to know? Huh? I never know if someone is doing what they want or what I tell them to!” -Kilgrave 1.8
“Which part of staying in five-star hotels, eating in all the best places, doing whatever the hell you wanted, is rape?” -Kilgrave 1.8
Kilgrave does something here that happens in real life cases of sexual assault. He tries to justify his actions under the banner of ignorance, tries to convince Jessica that she is just blowing it out of proportion, and claims himself as the victim. However, Kilgrave doesn’t convince Jessica, and he doesn’t convince the audience. There are no second chances for Kilgrave. Not even a glance into the young, admittedly messed up, life that Kilgrave had as child redeems him.
It’s common for the person who committed the assault to be forgiven in some way on television. The person is shown as having changed, become a better person, and thus escapes responsibility for what they have done. The victim often forgives them to an extent in these fantasy worlds, and in some cases causes the victim to feel some sympathy for the person who assaulted them. (This is something Kilgrave attempts but fails at it with Jessica.) We see this a lot in crime television where the perpetrator of the assault breaks down into apologetic tears, therefore lessening our anger. “Jessica Jones” does not fall into this trap. Kilgrave must and does pay for his atrocities. We feel no sympathy for him, just anger at the pain he has caused Jessica and so many others. In a way, this anger is almost refreshing.
Not only does “Jessica Jones” put a focus on affects of sexual assault on it’s victims, but it also brings up a very important issue when it comes to reporting sexual assault. Jessica feels the need to take on Kilgrave herself because the law won’t do anything for Hope. They will never believe what really happened, and Hope will be blamed for everything. This rings true for many victims of sexual assault who have to work so hard to convince authorities and the community that the assault really happened, and that it is no way the victims fault. Victim blaming is seen at all levels, including the justice system. Sometimes, just getting an assault investigated is struggle that many victims are forced to go through.
It’s also important that Jessica, while attempting to prove Hope to be innocent, refuses to come forward with her story. So many sexual assaults go unreported simply because many victims feel they won’t be taken seriously. While there are many reasons for Jessica to not come forward to the police with her story, we can’t help but feel that part of her reasoning is not wanting to go through all the hoops that are often required of victims in order to get their case considered.
Basically, “Jessica Jones” actually examines in an accurate and thoughtful way, how sexual assault and the victims of it are viewed and treated today. It’s something that most shows shy away from, but something that we desperately need. For that alone, “Jessica Jones” and creator Melissa Rosenberg should be applauded.