Jessica Jones Discussion Thread (Warning, spoilers)


(Here there be spoilers.)

I really liked “Jessica Jones,” the new Marvel show (available in 13 streaming episodes on Netflix).

Is this the most feminist interpretation of a superhero ever done? It just might be, both for having tons of well-developed female characters (good, bad, and – mostly – gray), but also for its themes. You can get an idea by looking at the titles in these links about the show:

But Jessica Jones isn’t a “message show” that’s a chore to watch; it’s exciting, suspenseful TV with engaging characters and whiplash plot twists.

Anyway, this is a thread for folks who have watched “JJ” (or those who haven’t watched it but aren’t spoiler-adverse) to discuss it.

One point that’s on my mind today, after reading some comments: Am I the only one who liked the character of the neighbor? I don’t mean Malcolm Ducasse, played by Eka Darville – everyone loves Malcolm. I mean the upstairs neighbor, Robyn, played by Colby Minifie. She’s an objectively despicable character – small-minded, inconsiderate, abrasive, mean, and disturbingly controlling of her twin brother. And by setting Kilgrave free, she sets off a chain of events that leads to many people’s deaths. But that she’s a horrible person doesn’t make the mourning she goes through when her brother dies, or the trauma she suffers as the villain mentally abuses her and the “good” characters lie to her, any less real. I really enjoyed Robyn and hope she returns next season.

Another point: This is a female superhero whose background story includes being a rape victim – a point that usually turns feminist comics fans against a character, because it’s an idea that’s been overdone, and is too often just used for titillation or for scoring cheap sympathy points or just because writers see “female character” and automatically and meaninglessly go for rape.

But feminists are, by and large, really love “Jessica Jones.” And I think a lot of the reason for that is that it turns out the rule isn’t “don’t do another female superhero with rape in her past”; it’s “don’t do it unless it’s done well.” From an interview with showrunner Mellisa Rosenberg:

Q: How did you make your choices regarding depicting or not depicting rape?

A: With rape, I think we all know what that looks like. We’ve seen plenty of it on television and I didn’t have any need to see it, but I wanted to experience the damage that it does. I wanted the audience to really viscerally feel the scars that it leaves. It was not important to me, on any level, to actually see it. TV has plenty of that, way too often, used as titillation, which is horrifying.

Anyway, anyone else watch “Jessica Jones”? What did you think?

This entry posted in Popular (and unpopular) culture, Rape, intimate violence, & related issues. Bookmark the permalink. 

33 Responses to Jessica Jones Discussion Thread (Warning, spoilers)

  1. 1
    veronica d says:

    I’m watching it through for the second time right now. (As in literally, I just hit pause.) It’s best show I’ve seen in years, maybe decades. It gets so much right.

    Funny thing, I often talk about how we need more women and minorities writing shows. When I began watching this, I just supposed it probably had the normal assortment of dudely writers and a dudely showrunner. Imagine a team of Whedon-esque fellows. Which, whatevs. I love Buffy as much as the next gal. But still, can you imagine a Whedon version of this, with his fetishization of female madness and submission?

    It was the scene about the “eighteen seconds where you free, thus you love me” thing. Remember that? I was so terrified they’d fuck it up. But then they didn’t. That’s when I said, “A woman made this.” So I Googled and Wiki-ed, and indeed.

    I was still dreading it as we drew toward the climax, that we’d get a “Spike and Buffy” sequence. Or maybe not that exactly, but still, they were toying around with “humanizing” Kilgrave, with his poor, sad past. But then they didn’t. They told the truth about abusive men, they they are terrible all the way to the bone, irredeemable monsters and evil freaks. Thank Eris (or something).

    I wish I had superpowers.

  2. 2
    Heidi says:

    I’ve watched a few episodes. Husband is wondering why, with a distasteful look on his face. I said, “I’ve been there!”

  3. 3
    Tamme says:

    I read the original Jessica Jones comics and wasn’t very impressed by them. But they did have a male author

  4. 4
    delurking says:

    I binged watched them all in 3 nights straight. I too was originally apprehensive, b/c I’m sick of rape back-stories and abused women back-stories.

    But yes. This won me over. I think for two reasons. (1) Yes, the rape/abuse back-story is done well, by which I mean it’s not used to titillate the audience, instead being a realistic factor in Jessica’s character. It didn’t make her stronger, or more *sad* or *tragic* or whatever. It damaged her in specific ways, and those ways are realistic to her character. I like that.

    (2) The rape/abuse is a factor in Jessica’s character. It’s not done to *her* to motivate some *male* main character, who is the focus of the story. That’s how this usually plays out in these stories — women are objects, to whom things get done, so that men can experience emotions that develop *their* characters. Here in this series, the women are the characters, the women are the focus of the story. That’s nice.

    I also liked that here we have women who talk to one another, who help one another, who work together, who are one another’s support system. That’s essentially how it’s been all my life, wherever I’ve gone, and I almost never seen that written about in fiction or in movies or in film, so — well done!

  5. 5
    delurking says:

    Oh! And I loved Robyn.

    Even when she was being mean to her brother in the early episodes, I enjoyed her.

    And by the end, when she and Malcolm were there by the river, she was my hero.

  6. 6
    Vilfredo says:

    So just from the hints here that there’s a female character who abuses a male family member and yet is apparently pretty beloved, I am not sure this is a show for me. It sounds like a hit with its target audience, though, so that’s good I suppose.

  7. 7
    veronica d says:

    I wouldn’t call Robyin and Ruben’s relationship abusive, although she is controlling and terribly petty. Furthermore, I doubt she’ll turn out to be “beloved” in any sense, certainly not from the broader audience. The writers of the show do little to make her likable. Instead what they do is make her interesting.

    The narrative purpose of the couple is fairly obvious, I think. They exist in contrast to the kind of controlling relationship that Kilgrave brings. Where he is a true monster, they are more the simple kind of dysfunctional relationship that we should all move past, when we find ourselves within such a thing. But still, things exist by degree. Robyn isn’t evil. Kilgrave is.

    On the other hand, this will a well-written show. I expect different people to respond to Robyn and Ruben quite differently, as we expect from all well-drawn minor characters.

    This is the kind of writing that shows you truth, and then lets you judge. You’re free to avoid it, if that is not the sort of thing you like.

  8. 8
    Tamme says:

    “I wouldn’t call Robyin and Ruben’s relationship abusive, although she is controlling and terribly petty.”

    It’s possible to control your partner without being abusive? That’s news to me.

  9. 9
    delurking says:

    I feel like this misunderstanding might be my fault, since I called Robyin “mean,” which is a loaded word.

    Also, I think Vilfredo (and possibly Tamme?) are working under a disadvantage, since they haven’t seen the show; so it’s going to be difficult for them to understand Robyin’s character.

    What works well about Robyin’s character is what’s working well about all of the minor characters. I’m thinking of advice that was giving to me in a writing group once, for how to handle supporting characters: “Establish a stereotype, and then work against it.”

    That’s almost exactly what was done with most of the supporting characters in this series, and that’s what was done with Robyin and Ruben, and it worked beautifully. We start with stereotypes with these characters, and develop them (especially Robyin, but also Ruben) into wonderfully complex characters.

    When we first meet them, they’re screaming, fighting neighbors, who we hear only offstage, shrieking at each other. We assume they’re married; we assume they’re drunken asshats.

    Then, when we first see them, we assume he’s abusing her — but as the relationship develops, it becomes apparent that she’s the dominant partner. And that she’s more than a little odd.

    Then very odd. (The actress here does a wonderful job.) We start to really want to know what’s up with these two.

    And Ruben is revealed as kind of sweet and dopey, whereas Robyin — it becomes clear — is tough and apparently overly anxious about him.

    Also she’s just so annoying, with these odd speech patterns, and this habit of butting into his life. I mean, what is her problem?

    Then (the big reveal) they’re not lovers or husband/wife at all, but twins.

    And so, when he is killed, she is — broken is the wrong word; she doesn’t break. But badly hurt; devastated. A bigger reveal: we learn that the anxiety and oddness came from years of protecting him. That she truly loved him. And now he’s lost.

    This makes the payoff — when she argues fiercely, to Malcolm, that revenge is not the path to choose — so much more powerful. She’s lost everything, and yet.

  10. 10
    Tamme says:

    Yeah but again, you can truly love somebody, and be devastated when they die, and still abuse them.

    These are all pretty standard excuses made on the behalf of abusers. “But he loved her” “But he was so sad when she died/left/was seriously hurt” “But he looks out for her and protects her from danger”. As if all abusers were just monodimensional snarling monsters.

    Yes, Robyn and Ruben don’t fit the pop culture stereotype of an abusive couple. But you know who else doesn’t? Actual, real life abusers.

  11. 11
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Tamme – just to clarify, are you saying that you’ve watched Jessica Jones and in your view Robyn was an abuser? Or are you making a general point about abuse?

    Because I agree with your general point, but I also think there’s also such a thing as being unpleasant to someone without abusing them, and there’s such a thing as a bad relationship that’s not abusive. I’m not far enough ahead in Jessica Jones to be able to make the call about Robyn myself, but it seems to me that most people who’ve watched the series whose opinions I otherwise respect agree with delurking and Amp. I’m curious as to whether you are a counter-example to that.

  12. 12
    Ampersand says:

    I’m not sure if I’d call Robyn an abuser or not, because I don’t have a great memory and would need to rewatch the show with an eye out for that.

    But even if I would call her an abuser, that doesn’t mean that I don’t like and enjoy a character being on a show. Fictional characters are, well, fictional; if I find them entertaining and interesting to watch, then I’ll like the character as a character. Doesn’t mean I’d like them in real life.

    ETA: It helps a lot that the show is obviously intending for viewers to hate the way Robyn treats her brother. What I hate is when a character on a show is being awful, and it doesn’t seem like the show is aware of it.

  13. 13
    Tamme says:

    @Amp: I don’t know if that was aimed at me, but let me be clear, I’m not saying no show should have abusers in it. Abusers exist, so it’s legitimate for shows to want to depict them.

    What bothers me is when one or some combination (and sadly, usually, it’s a combination) of factors exist.

    A: When the audience is encouraged to sympathise with the abuser over the victim
    B: When the narrative excuses or minimises the abuser’s behaviour
    C: When the abuser has a “redemption” story that doesn’t involve their confronting, acknowledging and making amends for their abuse

    What bothers me outside the show is when people argue that the abuser character is not an abuser, especially when they do so using arguments that are so often used to gaslight abuse sufferers in the non-fictional universe

  14. 14
    delurking says:

    Amp said: “Fictional characters are, well, fictional; if I find them entertaining and interesting to watch, then I’ll like the character as a character. Doesn’t mean I’d like them in real life.”

    Yes, this. I don’t think I’d like Robyin as my sister, or even my neighbor in real life. But as a character in a fictional TV show, she was fascinating.

  15. 15
    Lee1 says:

    @ Tamme

    Have you seen Breaking Bad? If so, what did you think of the portrayal of Walter White? (Not meant to be a loaded question or anything – just interested in your take on how he was portrayed in the show.)

  16. 16
    Tamme says:


    I endorse pretty much everything A. Lynn says

  17. 17
    veronica d says:

    I mean, Robyn is a bit of a mess, and actually I don’t like her much. But that’s just me. The point is, she’s an interesting character. You certainly won’t be bored with her. You cannot really ignore her. But when the conversation switches from her to Walter White, we’re kinda missing the script. She isn’t a Walter White. In fact, the strength of this show is they don’t give us some horrible Walter White. Robyn is flawed, but she is not flawed like that.

    But really, getting caught up in the Robyn/Ruben dynamic is missing the main themes of the show. They are minor characters, and minor even by the standards of some of the other minor characters.

  18. 18
    Lee1 says:


    I would pretty much agree with all of that too. It was an amazing show, but people who saw Walter White as one of the three things you mention in #13 (which you link to in #16) make no sense to me. It wasn’t an amazing show because he was such a swell guy – it was an amazing show because of how it portrayed his gradual descent into becoming a terrible person, and how that affected his family and friends.

    I feel like I need to watch it all again. That and The Wire. My wife would never be up for that (she barely made it through Breaking Bad and didn’t watch any of the last season of The Wire – she’s much more into Doctor Who and Star Trek, which I also like a lot), but I’d love to go through BB again, even though it makes you feel like shit sometimes.

    (Plus The Wire has a Tom Waits song as its intro, and he’s basically the greatest rock/folk/blues/jazz/whatever musician ever.)

  19. 19
    Tamme says:

    To all the people talking about how Robyn is interesting/fascinating – are you saying this to show that she is not an abuser, or that she is an abuser but you find her an abuser who’s interesting and fun to watch?

    Not that I would condemn the second statement. I just notice that the people praising the characterisation really seem to shy away from identifying her as an abuser.

    As Amp says, abusive characters can still be interesting.

  20. 20
    Sebastian H says:

    I would say that Robyn and Reuben have an icky relationship that if you wanted to call it borderline abusive I wouldn’t argue. From the running a show point of view she is interesting because she offers an example of icky control without superpowers, an abuser of the opposite gender from Kilgrave, someone whose ties to their partner[?] are more mixed than Kilgrave’s relationships with his victims [yet still coded as negative], and someone who experiences serious loss now matter how we decide to code her behavior, and who nonetheless argues against revenge in a powerful way.

  21. 21
    Chris says:

    I would definitely call Robyn’s behavior emotionally and verbally abusive, and I think the show is aware of it, and never makes excuses for it.

    I also found her fascinating and often funny (not that she had a good sense of humor, but she was an unwitting source of humor.)

    My favorite line of the show might be, “Goodbye, Ruben. I hope they have free express shipping in heaven.”

  22. 22
    hf says:

    I thought Robyn did have a lesser version of Kilgrave’s power. According to her, Reuben “literally” couldn’t tie his shoes without her. And how did she convince K’s victims to attack Jessica? Even if they didn’t see her free Kilgrave, that seems off to me.

  23. 23
    hf says:

    I liked the show a lot. Now, I did feel like the story they wanted to tell belonged in its own world, and combining it with the MCU led to problems. But nothing like my problems with the Star Wars EU.

  24. 24
    Ben Lehman says:

    I thought Robyn did have a lesser version of Kilgrave’s power. According to her, Reuben “literally” couldn’t tie his shoes without her. And how did she convince K’s victims to attack Jessica? Even if they didn’t see her free Kilgrave, that seems off to me.

    A friend of mine thought so, too. She described it as “there’s a spectrum, and Killgrave is way over at one end, and Robyn is somewhere in the middle.”

    It’s not necessary for the plot, but it makes a hell of of a lot of sense.


  25. 25
    KellyK says:

    I just finished watching it last night, and I really liked it. It’s darker than the sort of thing I usually enjoy, and there were some scenes I could not watch (like the ones with the blender).

    As far as Robyn having a lesser form of Kilgrave’s power, I can see it either way. She’s a bossy character, and she knows how to push people. And Reuben is sweet and unassuming in a way that seems like it’d make him easy to push around.

  26. 26
    Elusis says:

    Just once, I would like to see a post about violence/rape directed at a woman on this blog that didn’t get de-railed into “but what about male victims?” within the first dozen comments. :-/

  27. 27
    KellyK says:

    Also, I think Amp has seen this (it might be the one he posted on another thread), but it’s a good exploration of the gratuitous fat hate in the first episode. I think it was Amp on the other thread who pointed out that it’s not just characterizing Jessica as snarky and mean, but the way the show’s reality reinforces the stereotype.

    I came to a different conclusion than the author about the show as a whole being worth watching, but it struck me enough that I ended up writing fanfic about the unnamed burger and treadmill lady.

  28. 28
    Ian Hipschman says:

    I interviewed an actor from the show, Wil Traval, who plays Detective Will Simpson. Check it out!

  29. 29
    Tamme says:

    “Just once, I would like to see a post about violence/rape directed at a woman on this blog that didn’t get de-railed into “but what about male victims?” within the first dozen comments. :-/”

    I think this is a pretty unfair characterisation of the conversation.

    Amp’s initial post mentioned several aspects of the show including both the rape and the Robyn/Reuben relationship. If you think people should be concentrating on the Jessica rape backstory rather than the Robyn/Reuben abuse storyline, Amp’s as much on the hook as any of us.

  30. 30
    Ampersand says:

    Tamme – good point.

    Kelly – I think I said this on another thread, but I liked your fanfic!

    Ian – Thanks for the link! But there’s a missing link in your post – where it says “In fact, you can read my interview with Charlie Cox’s stunt double, Chris Brewster, HERE (hyperlink).”

  31. 31
    Ian Hipschman says:

    Ahhh, thanks! I’ll fix that ASAP

  32. 32
    desipis says:

    From KellyK’s link:

    “2 minutes on a treadmill, 20 minutes on a burger,” Jessica snarks.
    Here is where I started feeling pretty sick to my stomach as if I’d had a bad burger myself.
    Why did the show’s writer’s choose to include this? This scene makes no narrative contribution. The only possible narrative contribution of this line is to show Jessica’s mean snarky snarkiness, however, this is something virtually every other scene already does. There’s no reason for existing other than to do one thing: Let fat women know that they are lazy, that they are not Jessica Jones, that they are not welcome in the circle of safety the show creates for abuse survivors.

    I see this criticism quite a bit, however I thought it fit in quite well as a part of establishing Jessica’s character. There’s a line, narrated by Jessica, right at the start of the show which states:

    A big part of the job is looking for the worst in people. Turns out, I excel at that.

    There are three examples of this in the scene, one of which is the “fat hate”. All of them about about showing the audience what they were told in the narration.

    1) Burger and treadmill woman
    2) Man hiding a shoe fetish from his wife/girlfriend.
    3) Woman who is cheating on her husband.

    The common theme is about how people lie; the first example is about how people lie to themselves, and the later two about how people lie to each other. Prior to that scene there’s also the example of someone wanting to lie to themselves about their cheating partner despite the evidence. If we look at the other two examples in that scene, where is all the consternation about “fetish hate” or “slut shaming” that would seem to exist to the same extent as the “fat hate”?

    I don’t see the scene as being about establishing Jessica as a snarky character anywhere near as much as it’s about establishing her as being streetwise and good at spotting people’s lies, as well as establishing her as the stereotypical jaded/morally grey /misanthropic private investigator (the rampant alcoholism plays into this trope as well). Later the show reveals a bit of a twist, in that instead of being caused by a long life of being repeatedly exposed to bits of evil in lots of people, these character traits were largely caused by exposure to a lot of evil in a single person.

  33. 33
    desipis says:

    I definitely saw Robyn’s relationship with her brother as abusive. I thought her very natural controlling and emotionally manipulative behaviour provided an interesting juxtaposition against Kilgrave’s supernatural powers. To the people who thought Robyn had some form of weak supernatural powers, were there any examples of people being unnaturally compliant in response to Robyn? I didn’t notice any.