Why Jessica Jones is not your typical superheroine

I’m going to admit something before I get into this: I had little to no knowledge of Jessica Jones, the comic book character, before meeting Jessica Jones, the television character in the Netflix series of the same name. In other words, I didn’t know her backstory, her struggles or what kind of superhero she was, if a superhero at all. (I kept hearing the term “anti-hero” attached to her a bunch, which could mean anything from “She’s got attitude in spades and she sometimes uses it for evil!” to “She’s dealing with some serious you-know-what and it’s left her with a particularly salty chip on her shoulder!”) But after watching the first episode of the series (another admission: I was only able to pre-screen the series premiere before its full release Friday), I came to understand that this Jessica girl is not only a hero, but an extra special one, particularly when it comes to dealing with serious trauma as a woman. (Also if you’re spoiler-phobic: stop here! Spoilers ahead)

When we meet Jessica Jones in “AKA Ladies Night,” she seems to be your stereotypical tough girl, barely able to wake up after a night of hard drinking and hooking up, physically unable to put up with ignorant behavior and paid to look into other people’s dirty work (hey, she’s a private detective!). It’s an act that the actress playing her (Krysten Ritter!) pulls off swimmingly, channeling a bit of a combo of her character on Breaking Bad and That B from Apartment 23. But as the episode goes on, and you learn more about Jessica, you find out that she’s not all that tough. Well, actually she is, but she doesn’t feel that way when she’s forced to be reminded of her past involving a man who took advantage of her and has left her with serious emotional scars.

When Jessica is assigned a case involving a missing young woman, her trauma floats right up to the surface, almost suffocating her for a moment as she makes the connection between this girl and her own previous experiences. One minute she’s just going about her normal detecting day, looking into all the purchases this girl had recently made. The next minute, she’s a flood of bad memories and feelings as her search leads her to a place this aforementioned evil man once took her. This quick switch should ring true to any woman (or person, for that matter!) who has been suddenly triggered to recall moments they’d rather forget by something or someone they couldn’t anticipate.

The situation certainly resonated with me, especially as I’ve recently been trying my hardest to distance myself from a few people who bring me back to some of my darkest, most damaging times from my younger years (people you can avoid, I figure, and I’ll deal with the other less controllable triggers as they come). I couldn’t blame Jessica for wanting to run away from everything at that moment, for wanting to book the quickest flight to a city far, far away and start a whole new life with a whole new name. I could see myself in her frantic reactions, in her willingness to give up any good things she had to just escape the memories and the possibility that they might become a reality again. But I was so happy to see that she didn’t make the seemingly easy decision she and I might have wanted to right then. I was so happy to see her stop for a moment and muster up the courage to investigate her feelings about this whole thing, instead of running from it all. And I was so happy to see her bravery pay off as revisiting the scene of a former trauma lead her to the missing girl. For in that new moment, all seemed to be The End of Harry Potter (a.k.a. “well” for all you muggles or no-maj types), not just for Jessica, but for this other girl, another victim of terrible circumstances out of her control.

Unfortunately, the end of the series premiere indicates that perhaps Jessica hasn’t totally saved this young woman after all, as this yet-t0-be-seen man (who, we can presume, is going to be David Tennant’s Kilgrave) appears to still have a truly fatal hold on her (that scene of her killing her parents and then realizing what she’s done!). But the fact is, Jessica attempted to save her and that in itself makes her a superhero in terms of confronting and dealing with trauma. Jessica forced herself to put some of her personal issues behind her to help this other woman and in turn, could eventually assist both herself and others in further dealing with their post-traumatic stress (if she can do this once, what’s to say that she can’t find the strength again?). I know that’s a superpower I wish I had the ability to access, even just for one particularly bad day.

Surely this is only the first episode and things could slide backwards for Jessica as she’s forced to confront her past more directly (see: Mr. Tennant). After all, Jessica Jones has been pegged as a darker, grittier superhero show and that can only mean more emotional turmoil ahead. But the fact is, life can, like a TV series for a popular streaming service, toy with your emotions in ways you might not expect and sometimes, yeah, you might not be strong enough to deal with it as rationally as you’d like to for whatever reason (case in point: my INTENSE reaction to that one really sad Adam/Hannah episode of Girls last season, which took even my sensitive boyfriend by surprise). But sometimes, some truly great times, you will find the strength to be your own hero, to blast through the tough times and into a better day, or even just a new episode.

(Image via Myles Aronowitz/Netflix)

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