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Kill Your TV: Jessica Jones 

Wednesday, Dec 2 2015

It probably doesn't need to be said, but the Jurassic Park movies were terrible. Yes, I know I am reaching way back into the past here, but the reason they sucked is pertinent to my theme this week: the cognitive dissonance of super-heroism. In the first Jurassic Park movie — the only one I saw, because, like, one was enough — the two shitty little kids are traumatized by a T-Rex that chases them through the primeval forest as they run for their lives. They not only don't die, but apart from one encounter with an electric fence, emerge relatively unscathed, physically and mentally. They jump right back into silly boy-girl bickering, as if things like that happened every day. This is of course the "suspension of disbelief" that we are supposed to maintain, but if you find yourself questioning almost everything, then the director has done something wrong.

Superheroes require a gigantic suspension of disbelief. If you question the physics involved in catching Lois Lane as she falls from the Empire State Building, or why no one recognizes these guys when they're dressed up in tights, you are being a party pooper. I don't claim to be a Marvel expert — there are not enough hours in the day — but it seems to me that Marvel plays with these suspensions of disbelief. Characters in the Marvel Universe vary in their abilities. Some are super-powerful, while others have only one gift, like skin that cannot be pierced by bullets.

Netflix's new series Jessica Jones embodies this "superhero realism." She's a real girl, with real powers, and who really has no fucking clue how to deal with them. If she were chased by a velociraptor and nearly decapitated, she would need a ton of therapy. (She would probably become a shut-in.) As it stands, Jessica Jones has dealt with trauma in her life, and she deals with it by self-medicating with booze and sex. Unlike Buffy, a superhero who resigned herself to her sacrificial fate, Jessica waffles between wanting to do the right thing and seriously considering getting the f out of Dodge. And who among us wouldn't?

Jessica Jones is the story of a private investigator in New York who spends most of her time chasing down cheaters. As the result of being downwind from Peter Parker when he was getting his first dose of spidey-sense, she has super strength and can fight like a ninja, too. (Oh, and she can fly.) None of these things seem to interest her much; she's like a kid who was forced to take piano lessons her whole life and who has therefore become a virtuoso, but wouldn't be caught dead touching the instrument now that doesn't have to.

Jessica's antagonist is a dude with the malevolent name of Killgrave, who can dominate people and make them do his bidding. He controlled Jessica until someone blocked his ability to manipulate her brain, which was sort of necessary if she was going to become a true superheroine. However, she has been violated, and is still traumatized by the experience. To get meta for a second, Jessica represents women who have been sexually assaulted and who overcome the violence by helping other women. It's empowering, yes, but you still cry into your pillow at night and never quite feel safe.

Netflix needed an actress who could hold all of this stuff. It's a tall order. Thank God the producers chose Krysten Ritter, the jewel-lipped goth princess best known as Jesse Pinkman's junkie girlfriend Jane Margolis on Breaking Bad. She's great at playing a woman with a chip on her shoulder, who is manipulated by men but is more powerful than she thinks. She swaggers through her scenes in jeans and a hoodie, teetering on the edge between I-am-so-out-of-here and oh-Jesus-I-guess-I-need-to-stay-and-help.

Despite all of this backstory, there's not a whole lot of front story. Usually that's a deal breaker for me, but I am mesmerized by this show. It's sleepy and creepy. She's a reluctant superhero, and we can all relate, right? Right.

About The Author

Katy St. Clair


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