Gemma: So had you read or encountered the comics?
Rasha: I was just going to say upfront that I have not read any of the comics–not Jessica Jones by Bendis, not any of the Daredevil corner of the Marvel Universe, not Luke Cage, not the Defenders. I will fess up right now in a blanket admission that most of the comics I have read were not published by the Big 2, though there are some mythosi (what is plural??) that I know better, like for example X-Men, from having watched the animated series as a kid.
G: I used to know how mythos would pluralize! Accelerated Intro to Attic Greek, where have you gone?
R: I had never even heard of JJ before this, and the Ben Affleck Daredevil movie was forgettable at best. Its most notable accomplishment was the creation of Bennifer 2.0.
G: True. I was not a comics kid, or even a comics animation kid. I always feel slightly ignorant walking into a series like this.
R: I was talking with a friend yesterday who has read the originals and had some comments about the differences, both good and less good, that he saw between the show and the source material. I was thinking about it this morning, and I’m good with addressing the show as its own entity/canon, with perhaps some passing consideration of the source material. My justification for that is a suspicion that most people coming to watch JJ will not have had much experience with the source material first, though they may seek it out now. (I beg forgiveness of fandom!)
G: I consider that a legit position. As we would consider a Leonard Cohen cover, perhaps.
R: Indeed! So you asked me to watch JJ, which I’d heard buzz about, but had my concerns about, since the buzz I was hearing was primarily from the White Feminist blogosphere. I was concerned it would be limited, and it was, and some of my hunches were right, but not exactly in the ways I’d thought they would be. What were your reasons for wanting to review it?
G: I saw a story about a potent female friendship, deeply developed and incredibly compelling female and POC characters, a complex idea for a villain, and a lexicon of rape culture that rivals The Fall’s. I’m also considering that I saw teases at (though by no means fully developed) metaphors for colonialism.
Plus, Mike Colter is an excellent actor when he’s not royally miscast, who knew?
R: I always liked him as Lemond Bishop, and was frustrated that he was (along with many other folks) so poorly utilized in his last season on The Good Wife. I actually see a refracted continuity between his work as Bishop and what he’s bringing to Luke Cage.
G: Interesting. I always thought he was the wrong actor for Lemond Bishop, precisely because he couldn’t bring the menace that character required. He has a presence much more generous and expansive than that, and I thought he used the tension that was characteristic of Lemond Bishop combined with those qualities to create an awesome Luke Cage.
R: I have to disagree with you about Bishop– I found Colter’s calm firmness effective– though I agree with you about how he’s deploying what feel like both firm boundaries and grounded calm. I’m really looking forward to seeing what he gets to do in his own show about Cage. I think they’re already filming.
G: I also thought JJ took a strong look at trauma, and at what PTSD does and doesn’t limit, rather than the quivering-mess portrayal we often see of a complex condition.
R: I might swing us back around to Colter and his work on Cage later, but I want to get at the first few pieces you mentioned. I agree with you about the portrayal of a complex and committed lifelong female friendship being awesome. And yes, in my viewing, the way the events of the show provoke questions about the relationships between trauma/agency and victim/victimizer are, to me, the most interesting work the show is doing. I was actually disappointed in the lack of female POC characters, specifically the lack of Black female characters, and with the provisional exception of Luke Cage, I didn’t see a lot being offered to the male POC characters either. I still have some concerns about how the showrunners might handle an almost-maybe-indestructible Black man in modern day New York. Those images of violence have a political context.
G: I could see that; I definitely proceed with caution. But I thought they did a nuanced job of showing where his vulnerabilities lay, and showing that the character was acutely aware of the limits of that almost-maybe-indestructability.
G: So you weren’t a Malcolm fan?
R: I liked that actor from when he showed up on Empire, and I’m guessing he left that to take on this, which is a better part than being Jamal’s boo. (Sorry Jamal, you’re gorgeous!) The development of the Malcolm character was mishandled in some ways that made me angry. I wanted to slap Jessica when she tells Malcolm to “save me this time.” Especially after she’s already gone through this agony performance of how it’s all her fault that Kilgrave targeted Malcolm and introduced him to drugs. That felt like some Patricia Arquette level of oblivious righteousness.
G: There were many times I wanted to slap Jessica. I thought Ritter, at least, was self-aware about that, though I can’t decide whether Rosenberg/showrunners were.
R: Yeah, I was interested to diablog the show because I feel like there’s enough aware content in the show that it can be used to critique itself in some ways. With the exception of its painfully intentional failure to bring Black women’s lives and voices into the story.
G: Yes, I read an article about that on Bitchflicks. Since our two worst humans were white men, one Brit and one American, and both had different ways of controlling the behavior of our primary characters, two white women and a Black man, I’m willing to see a colonialism metaphor here. I have certainly tested it out mentally and a lot of it works, although I’m not willing yet to presume intentionality, given how disappointed on that I was with Sleepy Hollow.
R: Cate Young’s analysis is exactly righ! And I did go away really chewing on questions of how agency and trauma interlace and under what circumstances we’re culpable for our actions, and whether we can really ever act against who we are.
G: I think I actually want to put in something more about Malcolm. He actually does really offer an alternative to Jessica’s barreling-through mode of worldsaving.
We’re shown the limits of his ideas, but we also spend a great deal of the show seeing the limits of Jessica’s, and ultimately it’s the more relationship-oriented perspective, which is basically Malcolm’s, that combines with Jessica’s physical superstrength to get Kilgrave.
R: That is a lovely way of viewing it, and I want to give the character that credit, especially because he gets no credit for being part of the ultimately successful takedown plan. I’m concerned that with Malcolm, the writers have a bit of a Luisa problem, in that what I remember most after barreling through 13 episodes while sick are how many times Malcolm told someone else’s business and ended up getting the main character in trouble. And though the show has Malcolm question whether he’s a sidekick trope in a kind of funny, kind of lovingly devotional way, I felt like the balance went too much toward him being convenient to Jessica or to the plot, rather than an autonomous person in the script.
G: Gotcha. I didn’t find him anywhere near the Luisa scale; he had an internal journey that I believed, and the ways he screwed up seemed to me believable in context and not worse than the ways white characters, such as Trish, would screw up and get Jessica in trouble, or Jessica would get herself or others in trouble. To me, the show was about how often you have to screw up and hurt others in the face of a social order/evil mind-controller stacked against you. Or, well, that was one of the things it was about.
R: I think the last is totally what the show is going for. Of course, my read of Malcolm is also in light of my concerns about what *isn’t* addressed with Luke Cage’s story, and the complete absence of the perspective of women of color, particularly Black women, in a show which is aiming to address how systemic violence and personal trauma intersect in women’s lives. Luke’s wife gets a name but no dialogue or even backstory told by a third party, and Rosario Dawson barely makes a cameo to tie together the Daredevil/JJ universes. It makes me both interested in and wary of the Luke Cage series that’s coming up.
G: In which I hear R. Dawson will play a significantly bigger role.
She’s apparently a noteworthy figure in the comics. Agreed about Reva, though I wondered if she’d get more of a backstory in Luke’s series. What was missing from Luke for you in this series?
R: As I said, they don’t deal at all with the implications/contradictions of situating a handsome, kind, protective and honorable Black man in New York City and giving him indestructible skin. That set up is rife and rich for exploration in a series, but I at least needed to see the show address how Luke was/could still be endangered and in need of care rather that just the indestructible Black man who sleeps with the main character. Some of that we may get in the Cage series, but I didn’t see it here.
G: I went back and forth on whether the last two episodes address that. On the one hand, there was the image of an indestructible Black man coming at a white woman uncontrollably, on the other hand, there it all is under the control of an evil white man with a British accent and everybody’s aware of that.
R: I’m worried that the image stands, and I’m also bothered by the show’s failure to zoom out on a white woman having a relationship with a Black man whose Black wife she killed.
G: Oh, wow, I thought they did zoom out on that. And that Colter played it to the hilt.
R: They get at the interpersonal part of it, and I was glad when Jessica says to Luke “I can never come into your house again” as a punishment she sets for herself. But I don’t get the sense anyone in the writer’s room is thinking about how white feminists have historically traded on racist violence against Black men and women to win policy victories for Feminism.
G: I definitely didn’t think they pushed it as far as they could have, but the sequence of Jessica-Luke events in those last two episodes continues to haunt me in that context.
R: For the last two episodes, I’m concerned that we’re still getting an image of Black man’s rage that is both portrayed as part of an evil dude’s plan (even if that dude is white) and also not something Luke was allowed to express legitimately under his own agency and not while Kilgraved. I’m glad that Luke didn’t actually forgive Jessica for Reva’s murder.
I don’t think he should, which presents some issues since in the comics they’re supposed to have a daughter someday down the line.
G: Oh, are they? Didn’t know that. That would be a problem. I have heard that the Luke Cage portrayal in the comics is much worse than this one. I thought Luke’s changeover within the context of this series was a flawed but real workup. He did express his rage at Jessica when he learned the truth, of which his deep interpersonal pain was a part (and again, I thought Colter GOT that). He also, when he got Kilgraved, came to feel that Jessica killing Reva was part of something bigger (maybe colonialism and patriarchy, because Kilgrave is maybe colonialism and patriarchy), even though his pain remained legitimate and neither Jessica nor show attempted to delegitimize it. And it was difficult to have relationships in the face of that larger system. We also had Hope, in the first episode, establish that when Kilgraved he “made her do things she didn’t want to, but she did want to,” which gives some space to the reality of Luke-under-Kilgrave’s fury at Jessica.
R: Given Kilgrave’s claim that everything Luke told Jessica came from supervillian lips, I’m not sure that we can assume that Luke sees Jessica’s murder of Reva with any sympathy. If he sees in a larger structure, I’m inclined to say it’s a larger structure of racism with Jessica aligned with Kilgrave. Maybe this segues into talking about agency. Without getting too much into arguing the finer points of superpowers in geek canon, I think Jessica’s acquired immunity to Kilgrave is interesting, particularly if we think of it as science rather than magic. I don’t buy for a second what Jessica told Luke, that killing Reva released Kilgrave’s hold on her. I think she probably was already immune, but not yet questioning her actions.
G: Ooh. That is a rich thread. Say more. (I did buy it, but I’m very curious about why you did not and where the science is.)
R: My guess is that Jessica, with her souped-up bionic experiment maximum strength, was able to develop a more robust immune response faster than other people, and that she’d been building up a resistance to Kilgrave after spending so much time with him. But I think trauma and abusive control have their effects, and she wasn’t able to realize she could free herself until she’d already crossed too far over a line. Jessica’s murder of Reva is obviously a pivotal event, but I don’t think it’s a magical event that breaks the curse, and I don’t think Kilgrave’s control vacates Jessica’s culpability. This was one case where I actually partly believed Kilgrave’s version of events, that Jessica had already been becoming more independent, that he didn’t tell Jessica to kill Reva, only to “take care” of her (which is massively sinister how that phrase has double meanings, it give me the f*cking creeps), and even if we knew that Kilgrave would be fine with murder, it still leaves Jessica culpable.
G: Oooooh, that’s painful.
R: Which I think is more interesting that just saying the Boogie Man made me do it. Which was the most intriguing part of this show for me–how that excuse is both true and also still a vehicle for the things people may partly have in their hearts anyway.
G: I was just going to say, I actually think the strongest parts of the show were the ones where you had to partially believe Kilgrave’s version of events, for exactly reasons like that.
R: Yes! I hope people will watch it that way.
R: I’m tempted to talk about Hogarth here.
G: Can we?
R: Go for it.
G: On Connor’s Facebook page, after an intense discussion of the ultra-violence in the show (which may come up later), we listed our three favorite characters, and I found that Hogarth was one of mine (along with Luke and Trish). I think it is so tempting to leave those cold-hearted bitches one-dimensional, and I’m still not clear on whether it was the writing, Moss, or both, but I saw Hogarth come up so solidly against the limits of her Machiavellian alliances and STILL not be able to change, however desperately she wanted to at that point. And I grieved for her, in spite of how much horror she’d wrought.
R: Totally, actually. I have in my notes “Moss does all her acting between the tip her her nose and her collarbone.” She gets a lot done with the corners of her mouth and the cords of her neck, and I found myself wishing the show had returned to her storyline again before the end of the show. Also, side note, I thought the scene with Pam on Jerry’s desk making an ultimatum after sexy-hand time was a very effective portrayal of actual lesbian sexuality as opposed to the girl-on-girl tropes that populate male fantasy.
G: Yes. I thought it was a definite actual lesbian relationship, albeit a relationship between someone who’s almost a sociopath and someone who’s almost an idiot.
R: Or an infatuated social climber who’s in love with her lover’s power. So yeah, also an idiot. Maybe Pam could have been a bit more culpable if we’d had more time with them. That last scene with Wendy was one of the most painful of the show for me. She both means it and would never do it, and therein lies the most interesting part of the dynamics of the show’s superpower premise.
G: YES. Connor felt that in many cases the Kilgraved violence lost its subtlety and became too much, particularly near the end, and used the Thousand Cuts scene as an example. The Thousand Cuts scene might have been the most powerful Kilgraving scene for me, for exactly the reasons you described. The violence of the emotions so haunted this relationship between Hogarth and Wendy as we have seen it throughout the series, and suddenly here it is made material, and so intimate I wanted to scream.
I also wanted to talk about Simpson.
R: Talking about Simpson next makes sense. I’ve been told that he’s a character renamed from the comic (Nuke, I think), who is much more cartoony there. I could have done with a much shorter final fight scene with Simpson, because by that time, I felt like maybe they’d worn out their point about White Knights being part of the problem. But I was glad that we get Simpson, if for no other reason than it allows Trish to say “Last night was fun, but that doesn’t mean I want your opinion.” I do not agree it’s a case of “the bad thing this decent man did”–that dude was trouble way before Kilgraving, and also after.
G: Yes. I agree. Simpson allowed the space for not all white-dude entitlement or abuse to be Kilgraving, and to still be incredibly dangerous when it isn’t.
R: Yup. Also, is it me, or is cunnil*ngus making a resurgent appearance in TV shows?
G: Well, certainly in the shows we’ve been watching.
R: We have good, ahem, taste.
G: Ahem. And even when the character performing it later turns out to be evil, I have literally zero objections.
R: At least something good came out of it.
G: But also on Simpson—oh, Clarke Peters! I was so sad to lose him, and loved him so much in the aftermath of Kilgrave invading the police station!
R: Ok, Clarke Peters. So the scoop I got is that this character doesn’t appear in the comics and was created especially for the show, and then was pretty much unnecessarily killed. Which in my read does not help the show in serving its Black characters.
G: Yes, that one I will give. I just love him and am grateful for any time I get with him onscreen.
R: Also doesn’t help that Daredevil killed Ben Urich, who I loved on that show! His relationship with his wife is so beautiful. But those are different showrunners. Same systemic problem.
G: Didn’t watch Daredevil, I’m afraid. Should I?
R: It’s better than I thought. Not required viewing, and definitely more in the comics genre than JJ. I watch Arrow, so Daredevil felt more like a drama than that, but in the same category. It’s true that it’s a superhero show about gentrification and displacement.
R: Vincent D’Onofrio is pretty compelling in it, but that’s not a controversial opinion.
G: I am not a D’Onofrio fan. The remaining essential piece for me in this show is Jessica and Trish.
R: Go for it.
G: Well, I’m finding it rare to see a complex and central portrayal of female friendship these days that isn’t relegated to “actually, one of them’s attracted to the other” histrionics. And at the beginning, intercutting Jessica staring longingly at pictures of Trish on buses with Hogarth’s complex love life, I thought we were supposed to read Trish as an ex-lover. But I was so happy when we weren’t. What we got was so much more compelling and enduring.
R: Yeah, they projected at least that Trish was someone Jessica longed for and didn’t want to be around. I’m sure there is plenty of Trishica slash out there, and many blessings on their ‘ships. I appreciated the complication of revealing their early and uneasy relationship. Trish was a total mean girl, and Jessica was wounded and deeply disillusioned.
G: Yes. And they found their way to each other through that.
R: What’s the payoff for you of seeing this kind of female friendship on screen?
G: It’s the simultaneous de-romanticizing and legitimizing of female friendship in a public sphere. Romance has long been allowed to be complicated and still Right, still Destined. If friendship, and particularly female friendship, is complicated, in TWAT-TV, it’s inherently a flaw, a sign you should let it go.
R: Hmm. That’s good. Here I find myself wishing that the script had Trish spend less time with Simpson and more with Jessica, but such is life.
G: Well, I saw a point there. I wish there was less Simpson because Simpson annoyed me, but I saw that as feeding into exactly the frame I was talking about. In the short term, Trish can throw Jessica over for romance, but in the long term, it is only the friendship that contains the power to save the world. (Oh, comics. You make me talk so big.)
R: :) Before we close, I’m curious what you see as the implications of reading the show as a metaphor for colonialism. I get it that the big bad and his parents are British, and definitely represent White Patriarchy and even Rational Scientism Abuses the Vulnerable, but how does that add to our understanding of our protagonists’ reactions to the confrontation with colonialism?
G: For me, it goes back to intersectionality. You want some of the things that being Kilgraved rewards you with. It does express desires that are deep within you, because you’re attracted to Kilgrave and to the level of control that he represents. You will hurt others. It’s a struggle to see those others, and Others, as part of a system when you’re under Kilgrave. And it’s only that ability to connect with others in spite of all the ways Kilgrave is trying to make you not do so that can propel you forward. All this I see within the narrative.
R: I guess I have trouble on the question: How do we then decolonize? Seems like the only hope is to develop immunity, be willing to let other people die or be killed, and finally bank on how much Colonial White Patriarchy is romantically obsessed with owning you to ultimately snap its neck?
G: I actually think that’s what some decolonization activism argues. I think it’s flawed both when it’s said outside the show and as it was said in the show, but that doesn’t sound unfamiliar.
R: Well, I’ll close with: I’m looking forward to the Luke Cage series! Also dreading losing 3 days of my life to another TV show.
G: Yeah, spreading this one out definitely helped for me.