Dark comic book fantasy throws light on abusive relationships

TV review: Jessica Jones

Dark comic book fantasy throws light on abusive relationships

Ben Robinson

This is the latest production from Marvel, one of the homes of spandex-clad superheroes and villains. But in many ways, Jessica Jones is the complete opposite of the fantasy and explosion they normally purvey with such aplomb.

Jessica is a struggling private eye living in Hell’s Kitchen, a traditionally working-class New York neighbourhood. The series charts her coping with an abusive relationship with Kilgrave, a man with the power to convince anyone to do what he wants.

Played with real menace by David Tennant, Kilgrave is a vicious murderer and arch-manipulator. He takes advantage of Jessica’s body, mind and powers to further his own ends.

Jessica has super-strength, but eschews the idea of being a superhero. Instead of primary colours and spandex, we are introduced to her character as she goes about the muted, decaying shades of Hell’s Kitchen in a hoodie and jeans, earning her living by photographing love cheats for divorce cases.

The camera framing of Jessica deliberately sections her off from others, mirroring the isolation she feels as she struggles with Kilgrave’s impact on her life.


But Jessica’s mental resilience mirrors her powers. She frequently gives as good as she gets, and stands on a par with her antagonists.

The show uses the tropes of superhero fantasy to tell a story of domestic abuse, and its shattering impact on those at the receiving end.

Admittedly, the use of hero ‘powers’ to explain away these characters cuts out some of the emotional turmoil and results in the occasional misstep. But it also means the show can raise very important issues in a new and different way, to an audience that wouldn’t necessarily watch a more hard-hitting straight drama.

The addition of an ‘ordinary’ lead female character to Marvel’s output, surrounded by a majority-female cast, is a welcome rebalancing. She is a relatable character in a universe created for escape.

Jessica Jones is compelling viewing, and as her battles with Kilgrave progress towards the series climax you’ll be at the edge of your seat, shouting at the TV and watching through the gaps in your fingers.

Helen Pattison

Jessica Jones is a superhuman private investigator with a drinking problem – who has taken Netflix audiences by storm.

The intertwined stories of her different clients are gripping enough. But there is also a darker theme of abuse told through the series.

As the show goes on, it becomes apparent this is a story about sexual assault and abusive relationships. Damaged but still standing, when Jessica’s abuser comes back to town she isn’t willing to stand by while other women face the same fate.

It’s a brilliant story tackling these issues in a different way, with characters that really push boundaries.