When a friend of mine and I were talking about the first few episodes of season 2 of Jessica Jones they made a remark that struck me and stayed in the back of my mind as I watched the rest of the season: ‘Other than Jessica there’s no one to root for on this show, they’re all so unlikable.’ While I personally disagreed with this statement, which I will get to in a bit, I understood where it came from. Every character on this show is a mess, from the most influential to the homeless on the street, and each is a taker in some form or another. However, that’s okay, if anything it’s refreshing. Thinking on that statement I kept coming back to another show with unlikable meta-humans trying to deal in the real world: Preacher. For those that don’t watch, on that show a meta, with the voice of God (literally) as his super power, his on/off girlfriend and vampire buddy, embark on a road trip to find the rest of God, as it were. It’s a funny and often brutal show. However, about halfway through the 2nd season I tuned out. Why? Because most of the problems the characters had were self made. All of them repeating the same stupid mistakes over, and over and over, again. Between that and the constant, unnecessary, lying that the three main characters engage in I stopped caring. Yet, rarely, have I seen this show critiqued on how ‘likable’ the characters are.
The only difference I can see is the gender makeup of the shows themselves. While the main and supporting cast of Preacher relies heavily on the Smurfette Principle, Jessica Jones is the complete opposite. Which brings me to how, in the age of #MeToo, female characters who aren’t just the focus, but whose actions and reactions are the driving force of the story, aren’t here to be liked.
The main theme of this season was family in all of its forms, with the bonds between parents and children shown from three drastically different points of view. First there’s the quiet desperation of Oscar and Sonia. Childhood sweethearts going through a bitter divorce, there is still love between them, that’s clear in how angry they get with each other. However, far more importantly, they adore their son Vido and that adoration leads them to making increasingly ill advised decisions. In the end they realize that Vido needs both his parents but the road to getting there is a hard one. Then there’s Trish who’s relationship with her mother has been trying, at best, with Dorothy living vicariously through her daughter and taking any chance she can to turn every moment of Trish’s (and Jessica’s) life into a PR stunt. Dorothy genuinely loves her daughter, the problem is, she loves herself more and that leads to Trish growing up never feeling enough. That hole within herself leads to behavior that seems selfless on the surface, but in reality, are attempts to fill the void that only children of a Narcissist can understand.
Jessica, who has been a walking wound since her family’s death, makes the discovery that her mother is alive in the worst way possible. Then she actually meets Alisa Jones, who is, to put it bluntly, a horrible, sad and complex person. Even before the accident that would forever alter the course of her, Jessica and Trish’s lives she was bitterly unhappy. Feeling stifled by a husband who, in her own words, couldn’t stand that she was academically smarter than him and having given up several career opportunities as a result, she was a walking timebomb of resentment before Doctor Karl Malus got his hands on her. Much like another MCU character whose emotional life directly influenced how they reacted to experimentation, all of the above becomes more, and the suppressed rage of a woman denied and a mother who has lost her children turns Alisa into the worst version of herself. Does it make her any less responsible for her actions? Absolutely not and one of the more upsetting things that happens this season is that we, and Jessica, have to be brave enough to really see this woman for who she is: someone who truly does love Jessica and Karl in her own, obsessive way; and reconcile that with the monster she has become: inhumanly strong, viciously manipulative and highly intelligent.
The best part of this season is that we’re not asked to like Alisa, nor, unlike in other areas of the MCU, are we told to ignore the crimes she has committed because ‘I want to make up for all I’ve done’ or because of what was done to her. On Jessica Jones, actions have consequences, whether they be legal, emotional or physical, nothing gets swept under the rug for the ‘greater good’ or because someone’s all up in their feelings. No one is above the law and no one is all good or all bad: everyone exists in shades of grey.
Grey areas are a good thing. Of all the Marvel properties (and I do mean all) Jessica Jones is the most realistic about what it would actually look like to live on the ground with superpowers. This is where those consequences kick in. Where the world sees the likes of the Avengers violating sovereign borders – and over half of them tell 117 nations that they don’t care – and the people with powers on the ground are the ones who deal with the fallout. Another subtle but ongoing theme throughout the season is people’s reactions to Jess. Some idolize and envy her, others immediately view her with suspicion or worse purposely goad her in an attempt to prove how dangerous the Gifted are, others just want to use her, either to feel special or to make their lives seem better by comparison. However, unlike, the Avengers, Jessica doesn’t have Tony Stark and his army of lawyers, PR, international contacts and money, to protect her when people want her head on a pike. Jessica lives in that grey area every single day and all she has is herself, her sister and the few friends she’s managed to keep. Throughout the season Jessica has to learn how to deal when her fragile support system is removed, and how she chooses to go forward with them gone.
- ‘You should be very afraid of the woman with absolutely nothing to lose.’ – #Jeri dropping the realest bars on this show to date.
- Kevin Chacon (Vido) might be the cutest and most unaffected child actor working today. Keep an eye out for him.
- Malcolm’s struggle with the aftereffects of addiction, rebuilding your life and taking a good long look at yourself, was so quietly and effectively done I don’t think it got nearly enough credit.
- Jeri’s wearing all white now. In some cultures that means death. I would be afraid if I were her enemies.
Overall this season doesn’t ask us to like the characters or root for them. It does something much more important: It asks us to see the characters as they are, not as how we’d wish them to be. In a world where women and people of color are refusing to be in the shadows this season asks if all of us have the strength to see and be seen. To make hard choices at the expense of our happiness or desires, if it makes the world a better place. To know who we are in the dark and the light. To have the courage to be ourselves instead of hiding.
In the end Jessica found her courage.