Jessica Jones is hard to watch

I think that Jessica Jones doesn’t quite get the recognition it deserves. It’s as powerful and affecting as Black Panther, because it deals with real things in our world and just happens to use the hook of the MCU, lest it become a generic Lifetime movie.

But god DAMN is it hard to watch sometimes.

S1 was all about rape and loss of agency, and each episode was difficult to get through because it was really no-holds-barred without being explicit. S2 adds to that by having everyone trying to “live past” all that while essentially letting their buried feelings and emotions become a time-bomb. Everyone has a second, internal life – pain, addiction, remorse, whatever – that’s constantly stopping them from being happy because they can’t work out how to resolve it. Maybe they can’t.

Unlike most MCU TV shows, they make violence infrequent; there’s not a “hallway fight” in every ep. Jessica lives in a world of normies – she doesn’t have to pummel 30 hardened Russian mobsters, just handle a jerk at a bar.

The downside to this is that when real violence happens it’s personal and often brutal. It’s far more affecting than watching Frank Castle gun down a room full of mobsters, because it’s one person with the specific and unilateral intent of harming another person. Frank is doing harm to a concept, personified by a room of extras with squibs; Alisa crushing the head of Jessica’s boyfriend, showing each bloody impact on the wall – knowing she could stop and maybe, just maybe, he’s alive – and then letting us see Jessica find his still-warm dead body, is a different kind of violence altogether.

We also get to see the personal kind of violence that comes from addiction: Trish gets hooked on the Super-Soldier inhaler and tricks Malcolm, now clean, to take a substance she knows is addictive. This is psychological violence and watching it was incredibly hard; I’ve seen people relapse right in front of me and I know what it does.

All of this makes it hard to watch, but it’s also kind of rewarding because everyone in this show has an arc and motivations and faces real stakes all the time. Compare with Altered Carbon, which I liked but to be frank, it was more like an elaborately produced version of an “Actual Play” session of a D&D game. Fun, stylish, action-packed, but also, I mean, you know everyone’s going to be OK (more or less) at the end.


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