[This contains spoilers!] Marvel’s Jessica Jones is definitely not created for your kids’ enjoyment. Jessica Jones is a superhero for the more mature individual (though she would not choose to be referred to as a “hero”).
Although research shows a link between binge-watching and depression, this weekend I totally binged on Jessica Jones. As I watched, I couldn’t help but notice several psychological themes. Here are my top three:
1) Posttraumatic Stress and Coping Mechanisms.
The theme of working through one’s inner conflict was abundant throughout the season. Many characters have things in their past that haunt them, whether it is loss or abuse. Each character deals with his or her issues in a different and not always positive way. Jessica Jones has her own ways of coping.
For a while, Jessica saw a professional who helped her work through her PTSD after escaping Kilgrave, the man who controlled her mind. One of the tools that she was given was to think of the name of the street of her childhood home, then the streets that came before. This is a skill that is used often in work with people who live with PTSD, because these tasks act as interference with the memories, the thoughts, or the flashbacks that are symptoms of PTSD. Whenever she is triggered, Jessica recalls the street of her childhood home and names it aloud, and then the street that came before, and so on. When she does this, she is switching her attention to this task, and using enough of her resources to focus on that task so that it interferes with the PTSD symptoms. She is keeping herself grounded, and keeping herself in the present moment. She is not letting her brain take her back to her time with Kilgrave. The significance of this is major, because she is not letting Kilgrave take over her mind again.
Jessica’s best friend, Trish Walker, is living with her own trauma. Trish’s mother was physically and emotionally abusive, and she exploited Trish throughout her life. Although Trish was a very famous child star, she had very little control over most aspects of her own life. We see Trish living in what Jessica calls “a fortress”; a place with high security, bulletproof windows, and a panic room. She has also hired a Krav Maga instructor, and it is hinted that she may tend to push herself beyond expectations when it comes her self-defense lessons. We also see her controlling every aspect of her business. Whether this is all to keep her safe from her mother or from potential stalkers, these things act as protection while helping her feel empowered and in control of her life.
Other characters are shown working through their own trauma, including Jessica’s neighbor, Malcolm, whose goal in life had been to help people before he became a victim of Kilgrave and lost control of his life. We see him coping by helping other Kilgrave survivors in a sort of group therapy setting. Of course, we are shown a bit of Kilgrave’s own past and his own childhood trauma. What happened to Kilgrave as a child was terrible, but it is the way he chose to cope with it that makes him the villain of the story. This raises the question of control, and the concept of accountability. Even when you’ve lived through something terrible, and even though it leads to very many negative emotions, you can choose how you respond to them and how you treat others.
2) Substance abuse.
The trailers for the show reveal that Jessica likes to drink. A lot. It’s true, she may be an alcoholic. She definitely has a drinking problem. Even when she has no food, she usually has a little bit of liquor. At times, she gets kicked out of bars. She states at one point that she drinks in order to live with what Kilgrave did to her. For many people with addictions, the addiction serves as an escape, usually from some undesirable feeling that one would rather avoid. When under the influence of a substance, one does not have to feel anything. Aside from their basic chemistry, this chance of escaping is part of what makes drugs so addicting. When Jessica drinks, it numbs her feelings, and eventually it puts her to sleep.
Malcolm is struggling with a drug addiction throughout half the season or so. It seems he uses to avoid coming to terms with betraying his friend and being under Kilgrave’s control. The way he’s treated by others is how many addicts are unfortunately treated; they are either dismissed or treated like lesser people. They are shown little compassion, and people have little to no good expectations of them. When they make a mistake, others assume they are using, and treat them with little respect. We see an example of this in a scene where Malcolm is walking along the street. A bicyclist is riding by and they collide. The bicyclist then goes on to verbally and physically attack Malcolm, claiming that he (the bicyclist) is trying to “save” the environment by riding his bike and basically treating Malcolm like an unimportant person. Jessica intervenes, sending the bicyclist on his way and helping Malcolm. During the times when he is using, Malcolm is not often treated with dignity except by Jessica and Ruben, another neighbor.
3) Finding and Creating Your Identity.
Creating an identity is usually a task that superheroes face at one point or another. Some of the other characters also go through that. For example, at some point, Trish decides she is no longer “Patsy Walker” but “Trish Walker.” This is an act that distances her from the character her mother created, and symbolizes taking back control of her own life. Malcolm goes through his own journey, creating himself all over again after Kilgrave, choosing to overcome his addiction and help people. Even Kilgrave at one point created his identity; his name was not always Kilgrave. When Jessica escaped Kilgrave, she may not have known who she was anymore, or how to get back to the person she used to be. She may have not seen the latter as an option. Trauma changes a person. We get flashes of some aspects of her life pre-Kilgrave. Though Jessica had experienced loss and grief, she had not known trauma as severe as that which she lived through with Kilgrave. She was relatively happy. She was able to enjoy things and be with those she loved. Kilgrave stripped her of her entire identity and turned her into what he wanted, like a living doll. What was left of Jessica after Kilgrave?
There are a lot of symbolic scenes, and many more that directly tackle that question. My personal favorite was the symbolism of Jessica’s home office door. The season opened with Jessica in her home office, putting a dude’s head through the glass of her door (self-defense), the same part of her door which had her business name printed on it, “Alias Investigations.” Later, she mentions to her best friend Trish that she had a sign on her door. In other words, she was telling Trish that she was making a life for herself, that she was settling someplace. As a friendly gesture (and possibly to help keep Jessica safe), Trish pays for another sign. I saw the sign on the door as symbolic of the identity and the life that Jessica has been trying to create for herself. It identifies her business, but it is also a mark on the world that helps establish her as a person with a life of her own (similar to the sign that identifies “Nelson & Murdock: Attorneys at Law”). The ending of the last episode shows that door, broken yet again. This time, it is Malcolm’s actions and words- answering Jessica’s phone with “Alias Investigations, how can we help?”- that serve to establish the legitimacy of her business, giving Jessica Jones her place in the world again.
There are many other themes, of course. Which was your favorite?