Jessica Jones: A Triumph for Strong Lady Characters

Jessica Jones

Krysten Ritter is an actress who Hollywood hasn’t quite known what to do with. She’s played a relatable chica in some girly movies like L!fe Happens, 27 Dresses and Confessions of a Shopaholic. Then she entered new territory with two big, edgy roles, as Jane in Breaking Bad and as Chloe, the star of Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23.

But both roles just ended up being mere appetizers rather than lasting, substantial roles. Jane was a blip rather than a mainstay on Breaking Bad, and Don’t Trust the Bitch was canceled way before its time, probably because of its name. Dumb.

When I saw Marvel’s Jessica Jones pop onto Netflix, I was curious to see if this would be the show that finally gives her talent a place to stretch out and, ideally, stick around for more than one season.

So, is Jessica Jones the perfect role for Krysten Ritter? Well, she’s no typical Marvel superhero. She doesn’t wear a costume or have a name that sounds like it was designed by the anti-communist league of the late 1900’s. Instead, she’s a heavy-drinking private investigator who totally shrugs off her ability to punch really hard and jump off buildings while landing like a cat. If there is a tier of superheroness, she falls somewhere below Buffy the Vampire Slayer and above Iron Man. She does have powers, kinda, but she’s no chosen one.

Jessica has trouble loving or trusting people, mostly because she has PTSD from several harrowing incidents in her past. She lost her family in a car accident. She witnessed her childhood best friend being abused by her mother. She was taken prisoner by mind-controller evil guy Kilgrave and raped by him AND forced to kill someone*. But will she go to therapy?  As she would say, “It’s called whiskey.”

This is no lady superhero in a sexy leather suit. This is is a woman in really ratty jeans who doesn’t care that her apartment is messy and she can’t cook. She can punch, for crissakes.

I found myself constantly comparing Jessica Jones to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s edgy and feminist in similar ways*, and the two lead actresses are both great in similar ways. They hit the right balance of tough snark and real vulnerability while still being able to carry out a well choreographed fight scene. Jessica Jones lacks some of the witty dialogue, mythology and pure camp of a Joss Whedon production, but it’s not far behind.

The side characters are not as well fleshed out as Buffy’s gang either, but that might come in future seasons. The show did an admirable job adding life to Malcolm, her junkie neighbor, and to Trish, her adoptive sister and the show’s requisite hot blonde. (I swear, there must be an unwritten rule that every Hollywood production not starring a hot blonde needs one as the best friend. This would explain Honey on Fresh Off the Boat.)

I know what you’re thinking. But what about her love interest? That would be Luke Cage, played by Mike Colter. I know him as Lemond Bishop on The Good Wife. He’s got major potential, apparently enough so that Luke Cage is getting his own series, out next year. Could he be the Angel here? Methinks yes.

Jessica Jones features plenty of strong female characters, enough to draw a new audience into the Marvel universe. (There’s even a slightly evil lesbian lawyer!) I feel bad that I compared it to Buffy for so long, but that just shows how few truly awesome, female-driven action series there are.

A big part of the reason this show works is that Krysten Ritter is so damn charismatic. She’s a fantastic actress, capable of playing lady characters that aren’t written as often as they should be – flawed, imperfect women who are strong even though (or because) they don’t care about pleasing others above all else. More please!

* A Googling of this show revealed that many of the reviews focused on praising it because Kilgrave is a great villain. Female-centric superhero show comes out and the Internet is like, “But the guy though …”

*Not sharing them here, cuz SPOILERS.