The origin of superhero stories is easily reduced to expressions of male power fantasies, featuring young boys who discover extraordinary abilities and live in a world where they are always right. Though the genre has evolved over the years, it's been hard to completely shake its male-dominated roots (as Black Widow would surely tell you). But Jessica Jones, only the Marvel Cinematic Universe's second female-fronted project, wastes no time on the machismo clichés that continue to haunt superhero stories. Instead, Netflix and Marvel deliver a series that at once encapsulates the best of the genre, while simultaneously accomplishing something completely unique and frankly, much needed.
Based on the early 2000s comic book series Alias, created by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos, Jessica Jones is about an aggressively unapologetic private investigator who uses her superhuman strength and abilities to solve cases, not to save the world. Jessica's (Krysten Ritter) smorgasbord of bad habits align her less with her fellow Marvel heroes and more with television's most morally dubious anti-heroes, along the lines of Walter White and Tony Soprano.
This is not a common feat for any female character to achieve, and it's something showrunner Melissa Rosenberg is incredibly proud of. "I've wanted to do it my entire career and finally got the opportunity," she tells TVGuide.com. "When you're in the thick of it, just breaking story, you're not thinking about it necessarily as a female character or male character. You're just thinking about it as a rich character. But now that it's coming out, it's really incredibly exciting to be introducing her."
For many viewers, Netflix's Jessica Jones will be their first introduction to the character who, despite being one of the most fascinating comic book characters of this century, never became a crossover hit. But Rosenberg sees Jessica's low star power as an advantage, since the show won't have to contend with a lot of audience expectations (something Rosenberg would know a lot about, having written all of the Twilight screenplays).
"There's an enormous freedom to it. You have this great rich character in this really rich mythology and there's just a lot of room to play," Rosenberg says. "The downside of that is there isn't a lot of audience awareness ... The good news is that we have that red Marvel banner at the beginning of every show. That alone will attract audiences."
But for Marvel fans looking for something similar to the company's playful ABC shows, their blockbuster movies or even the operatic Daredevil, they might be surprised at what Jessica delivers. The first season has a near-claustrophobic focus on Jessica's struggle, both internal and external, with the villain Kilgrave. A man with the ability of mind control, Kilgrave once controlled Jessica for months, violating her life in unimaginable ways. Now that Kilgrave has returned hell-bent on reclaiming power over her, Jessica finds herself struggling with her own PTSD as she attempts to prevent Kilgrave from harming anyone else.
Played by the ever-charismatic David Tennant, the true horror of Kilgrave is the casualness of his atrocities. "He's never been told no, and it's really turned him into something of a sociopath," Rosenberg explains. "He doesn't see himself as evil on any level. He sees himself as perfect reasonable. His power's not to make you give him what he wants. His power is to make you want it, which is even more disturbing."
When Jessica Jones begins, Jessica is tasked with rescuing a young woman who has been taken by Kilgrave as part of a mocking cat-and-mouse game. This ambitious young track star, Hope (Erin Moriarty), is quickly hardened by her experience, but is not beaten by it. Nor does Hope hide from it, alone in the bottom of a bottle like Jessica does. "She's the mirror into which Jessica is looking," Rosenberg says. "She finds her strength and part of that enables Jessica to find hers, as well."
The way Jessica Jones explores the impact of rape and assault is both refreshing and unflinching when it comes to the pain and self-blame that victims often experience long after the physical trauma was inflicted. This makes for an incredibly dark show, and not the type of frothy fare that begs for a binge-watch. But Jessica's darkness is far from suffocating. "There's also some levity to it, which was essential," Rosenberg says. "That had everything to do with my wanting Krysten Ritter for this, because she is someone who has that kind of range and that ability to flip from wrenching drama to a really sarcastic dry line, sometimes in any given scene."
As Jessica attempts to track down Kilgrave, she also begins a tumultuous relationship with Luke Cage (Mike Colter), Jessica's one true love in the comic books. But in Rosenberg's version, Jessica's and Luke's lives become intertwined only after a horrific incident in their pasts that puts the viability of a shared future together in question. "That's way up in the air," Rosenberg says, while also assuring that Luke's upcoming spin-off series won't be a complete death sentence for the couple. "They really are in their own worlds for a while, but their relationship isn't over. It's just on a very, very deep hiatus."
Simply because Jessica and Luke might not be MFEO doesn't mean they don't have a deep connection - one that is often illustrated by their literally bed-breaking sex scenes. While these scenes might shock some viewers, they weren't included merely to titillate fans. "It was very important to the characters. If the characters leaned toward the romantic, then perhaps we would have gone in that direction. But the tone of the characters and their sexuality called for this kind of sex," Rosenberg explains.
The intense sex scenes aren't the only way Jessica Jones pushes the envelope, and surprisingly Marvel had no hesitations about giving Rosenberg free reign. "The only limitations were we couldn't use the F-bomb and no obvious nudity, which frankly I didn't miss," she says. "I did miss the F-bomb. I really wanted to be able to drop one of those. But the rest of it, we really were able to go as far into the dark edges of the psyche as we wanted."
The only other restrictions Marvel imposed on Jessica Jones was licensing the company's other properties to be featured on the show. In the comics, Jessica is closely tied with the Avengers and even went to high school with Peter Parker. But as the MCU grew and developed, the concept of the Jessica Jones series was forced to adapt. Rosenberg had originally wanted to include Carol Danvers when she was developing Jessicafor ABC, but the announcement of a 2018 Captain Marvel movie quickly squashed that dream. Instead, Marvel offered up Patsy Walker, the superhero Hellcat from the '40s, who has been renamed Trish for the Netflix series.
This change in Jessica's best friend wound up being perfect kismet for the show, with Trish's (Rachael Taylor) fame as a child star and current career as a radio personality adding a textured contrast to Jessica's isolated lifestyle. "What I love about the dichotomy between these two is Trish has everything: She's beautiful, she has fame, wealth, great career, she's beloved. She has everything that Jessica doesn't, except powers," Rosenberg says. "In truth, the world would probably be better served by Trish having powers because she's much more of a do-gooder. But Jessica's the one who ended up with powers, so envy plays a role in this relationship as well."
As the second of Netflix and Marvel's five-series collaboration, which began with Daredevil and will conclude with the Avengers-esque The Defenders, Jessica Jones fans can also expect a handful of Daredevilcrossovers (though fortunately nothing close to the precedent Marvel has established for its non-Netflix franchises). "There are going to be a couple [characters] glancing off our storytelling, and one in particular stepping in towards the end. But this is Jessica Jones' series," Rosenberg assures.
Jessica Jones' first season will be available on Friday on Netflix.