“Jessica Jones” is a queer-inclusive, feminist superhero series

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Superheroes are sometimes the every(wo)man, except for when they’re not. Take Supergirl, for example. Kara Danvers is an adorkable reporter who is liked by her peers and generally a fun and nice person to be around. But if she needs to be a bad ass saving the city from the villains who threaten ruin and devastation, she can take care of that with a quickness.

What makes Jessica Jones different is that there’s no real turning on or off her superness. A woman with superhuman strength, she eschews a costume or cape for a pair of jeans and a leather jacket. She lives in a busted apartment in Hell’s Kitchen where she conducts her business as a private investigator. It’s not necessarily part of the job that requires her special abilities, but they do come in handy.

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Krysten Ritter plays the title character in Netflix’s new adaptation of the Marvel comic series, and she is someone a lot of women will identify with. She’s sarcastic and broody, but she’s also self-motivated and smart; she has a feminist sensibility as does her best friend Trish (Rachael Taylor) and boss Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss), although the latter is a little bit heartless when it comes to leaving her wife (played by Robin Weigert) for her assistant, Pam (Susie Abromeit). The women who lead the show are strong, successful and independent and aren’t looking for help or protection from outside sources. But they’re at their best when they’re working together, as they sometimes do. 

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When Jessica Jones screened at New York Comic Con a few months ago, some fans thought there was some subtext to Jessica and Trish’s friendship; that their being so closely connected might signify a romantic relationship for them either in the past or down the line. In the first seven episodes, there is nothing that would directly indicate anything romantic or sexual between the friends, although they certainly have the chemistry. But in terms of the show’s plot, both Jessica and Trish become involved with men, and the intensity of their friendship has more to do with the plight at the center of the show, which is Jessica’s attempts to stop the murderous, stalking Kilgrave from upping his body count and threatening the lives of those she loves (Trish included).

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There is no doubting that fans will ship Jessica and Trish (and they would definitely make a great couple), but it doesn’t look like the writers intend for them to move into maintext anytime soon. Instead the show’s queerness is largely due to Jeri, the high-powered lawyer that hires Jessica to do P.I. work on her cases and, eventually, her soon-to-be-ex-wife. As I mentioned before, Jeri can be a little callous, and doesn’t want to give any money to the woman she’s leaving for her assistant. At one point, the three even have a run-in at a restaurant that was where Jeri proposed years ago. It’s an awkward but deliciously intense moment that we don’t often get to see on screen, at least not with three women involved.

Jeri is the definition of a power lesbian. She’s self-assured and cunning, and she’s a perfect foil for Jessica who has a conscience about the things she’s doing, even if her methods are illegal or otherwise ill-advised. It’s worth noting that the TV version changed the role of Jeri to female, as the comic character was a man. (Smart move, Melissa Rosenberg! The show is all the better for it.) Carrie-Anne Moss is perfect in the role, an icy, domineering business woman whose interests in greed and lust have contributed to her wealth thus far, meaning she shows no signs of playing nice anytime soon. She and Jessica have a love/hate relationship, and together they are trying to help a young girl named Hope to be released from prison after Kilgrave used his mind control powers to make her kill her own parents.

Jessica Jones can be very dark, which is a part of the appeal. It’s not afraid to horrify viewers with the lengths Kilgrave will go to in his evil desires to have what he wants—Jessica included. But there are moments of comedy, too, like when Jessica picks up the phone and offers that the timing could be right for a booty call. “It’s Jeri,” her boss says. “I know,” Jessica replies. And when Jessica goes to confront a woman who beat Hope up inside the prison, she literally twists her arm into telling her the truth. “Bitch, be careful messing with my digits!” the prisoner says. “I got ladies to satisfy!” Perhaps my favorite, though, is when Jessica calls Jeri’s office and tells Pam to put Jeri on the phone, stat.

“Were you just rude to Pam?” Jeri asks.

“I’m rude to everyone,” Jessica says. There’s no arguing that. But Jeri uses that as a moment to express that Pam is the woman she wants to spend the rest of her life with. Needless to say, this show passes the Bechdel test, even with a male villain looming.

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Jessica Jones is a superhero show for those who don’t necessarily care for the heroics. It’s smart and sexy and dark and creepy; it’s queer-inclusive and focused on women who refuse to be victimized, even by someone who has the power to make them say or do anything he wants. Jessica Jones is about the struggle for power and control, and its lead is the kind of superhero that modern women will idolize. So much of her strength isn’t in her physical prowess, but in her will to survive and never relent to the man with the perceived upper hand.

Jessica Jones is available on Netflix now. Dorothy Snarker will be recapping the series for us so check back soon for a recap of the first episode.

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