Friday, January 29, 2016

Jessica Jones Gets Second Season

The News
At of this month, the second season of Marvel/Netflix production Jessica Jones has the green light.  (Daredevil's second season will be released March 18 at 12:01 AM, also on Netflix.)

Why To Be Optimistic
What you may not know is that Jessica Jones' writers include the show's creator, Dexter alum Melissa Rosenberg, who gave an interview here. (Spoilers are pre-announced so you can skip ahead to miss them).  The second season will have the same quality of writers Disney

One strength of the Netflix-only delivery is that the season isn't subject to being manipulated halfway through by pressure from advertisers or studio execs looking over the makers' shoulders.  The shows are ad-free, and the whole season drops at once so viewers can consume episodes like novel chapters as quickly as they have the time.  Shows like Jessica Jones can revel in mood-building scenes longer than an ad-interrupted show could manage;  they can, for example, focus on character for whole minutes at a time without necessarily pushing plot to regain eyeballs after the next commercial.  A second strength is that with a known-length season – no 12-episode deal with an option to 18 or 23, just one fixed season at a time – writers can craft stories that fit the season length.  Story can fit the medium instead of being torqued into weird shapes to fit the evolving demands of advertisers and waffling studio execs.  Netflix-only shows like Sense8, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, The Defenders, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist will have the freedom to take their time building the characters' world and story in ways that weekly episodic ad-funded television do not allow (while addressing subject matter and situations broadcast television would not presently allow in the United States – more on that later).

Another fun factor in the upcoming show's new seasons is the interlocking nature of Marvel's stories.  Daredevil makes reference to the rebuilding of New York following Loki's alien invasion in Marvel's The Avengers.  At the end of Jessica Jones' first season, Daredevil's nurse Claire Temple treats a major character who, presumably, is known to her and therefore potentially available to Daredevil in his second season.  By using different series to flesh out backstory of complex characters, Marvel gives viewers more and more excuse to see more Marvel properties.  When the intertwined properties are both available at the same time ad-free on Netflix, all the better for viewers.  I mean, you have netflix already right?

And you're asking: so what?

Why Jessica Jones Rocks
Rosenberg is right: it'd be nice to live in a world in which Jessica Jones is a "superhero" – and not a "female superhero" – but we're not there yet.  It's important the character is a woman for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the dearth of female superhero leads.  Of course, Jessica Jones is a superhero – but she's much more believably flawed than, say, Wolverine can be depicted in a two-hour movie.  A 13-episode series allows more backstory visits without distracting from the overall story arc, and the development of supporting characters in depth unimaginable in a two-hour flick.  And what has this delivered?

Jessica Jones has revealed a handful of Hell's Kitchen's neighborhood supers – some of them, with enough suggested backstory to ensure their re-appearance in other shows will draw viewers to Jessica Jones for the completeness.  But the Season One plot arc is primarily about the villain Kilgrave's re-appearance in Jessica's life.  Killgrave plays with her mind, sending her clients only to toy with them, their daughter, and Jessica herself.  To fight him, Jessica Jones draws on all her support structures at work and in her personal life, pulling out all the stops to solve the problems she chooses to fight rather than flee.  As others have pointed out, Jessica Jones' response to Kilgrave's re-appearance squarely addresses the aftermath of the rape he commits with his superpower.  But Jessica Jones' character offers something much broader and deeper than a victim reacting to one character's despicable assault.  The show explores more kinds of abuse, and from more angles, than one simple backstory-of-victimization character would normally provide.

People Abusing One Another
Sure, Jessica Jones is hired to rescue a client's daughter following an abduction and rape like her own.  To do it, she has no compunction about using her superpowers to frighten people into submission (a trend that eventually has viewers asking about her entitlement to use force to compel others to submit, and exactly where it ends).  And Jessica's allies all have experience with abuse.  She's got no boss – she won't submit enough to be anyone's employee – but the lawyer Harper (Carrie-Anne Moss) refers process-serving work to her, and becomes entangled in the story when she represents another Killgrave victim (and is herself tempted by his power, and commits abuse to benefit from it).  Even with no powers at all, Harper abuses her own lover while mistreating her wife, whom she hires Jessica Jones to serve legal papers, and whom she later hires Jessica to coerce into capitulation in the unexpectedly rancorous divorce, using an escalating succession of blackmail efforts and physical threats.  Killgrave's backstory is filled with abuse, and Killgrave naturally abuses everyone within reach with his power – forcing them to commit acts that horrify them when they come to their senses.  Jessica Jones' bestie Trish dates a man whom Killgrave tried to have kill her, but when he is drawn into solving the story problem we see the limits in his willingness to take orders:  his go-to move is physical coercion, and he's soon lying, murdering, and manipulating minds (not, by this time, under the influence of Killgrave but the combat drugs he got from his black-ops military unit – and he doesn't even really need those to be a violent, controlling abuser as we learn … but they don't help de-escalate things).  Jessica Jones' complex experience as abusee, (occasionally paid) rescuer, and abuser connects her to multiple victim/abuser/rescuer triangles and shows her (and others) in each role. We're shown a complex, nuanced look at how abuse looks from different angles, and different possible responses.  We feel it from all sides, sympathizing with characters who turn our stomachs as they turn, even if momentarily, into monsters.  Others have written persuasively about Jessica Jones' portrayal of PTSD, and they're right.  Jessica Jones doesn't minimize the effect of violence, it depicts the invasive way traumas can impact so many aspects of one's daily life, and it shows lots of different coping mechanisms (some less counterproductive than others).

I'd especially like to draw attention to a form of abuse this show depicts particularly well: gaslighting.  The gaslighting is illuminated wonderfully.  Abusers' projected entitlement to steer, pressure, undermine, reprogram, manipulate, and blame their victims is depicted so intimately the audience itself doubts what the characters believe.  It's the best depiction of gaslighting I've seen onscreen.  It's a work of art.

Jessica Jones' writers aren't busy trying to write a political screed (check out the Rosenberg interview), but characters whose inner selves are hidden beneath fronts designed to armor them against the world.  They're not all-good or all-bad, they're caught between looking out for themselves and acting in support of their values – and some of them haven't got much in the way of values.  Over the season they develop a 3-D feel that's hard to build so deeply for so many characters in a more frenetic format like a one-off movie or episodic television.  For all that, each episode of Jessica Jones is a discrete story segment that, like a chapter of a well-crafted book, provides an immediate problem while advancing the overall story and delivering a disaster viewers will want to see resolved.  Jessica Jones is strong fiction, well-crafted storytelling at its best.  For a nuanced look at nontrivial characters engaged in complex relationships in a world that's rarely fully black and white, check out Jessica Jones – and look forward to the second season.

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