Why Marvel's Jessica Jones is the superhero for the #MeToo movement
Krysten Ritter is in pain. Two weeks ago, she’d been punched in the face while filming a scene for the second season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones (out March 8, a.k.a. International Women’s Day, on Netflix), on which she stars as the titular antiheroine — and now, hanging out behind the series’ Brooklyn stages in August, her chin still stings.
“There was a misstep in some choreography, so I basically got an uppercut to the jaw,” she explains, leaning in to point out the bruise now covered by makeup. “See, I got hit here, so I’m still dealing with some, like, residual neck issues.”
She shrugs — and then she smirks. “Yeah, guess what! When Jessica gets punched, so does Krysten.”
How Jessica of her to say. But you can’t blame Ritter for getting in a dry, Jones-ian quip: It’s been a while since she got to leap back into the mind of the hard-drinking, super-strong private eye and Marvel-Netflix’s sole female headliner. So, you know, she’s missed her. Yes, there was The Defenders in the time between filming season 1 of Jessica Jones in 2015 and season 2 in 2017, but working on the team-up miniseries felt completely different, Ritter says. “The Defenders was a really fun roller-coaster ride,” she explains. “This is not like that.”
Because this, the real Jessica, is a character with a history that’s brutal even by comic-book standards: She grew up an orphan after a car crash killed her family, became the lab rat for a shady organization that may have given her her powers, then attempted to become a superhero as an adult — only to have her career cut short by a mind-controlling villain named Kilgrave (David Tennant), who abused her until, at the end of Jessica Jones’ first season, she finally, finally overcame his will and snapped his neck. (Kilgrave is dead, but Tennant returns in season 2.)
When the series debuted in November 2015, that arc — a nuanced take on PTSD, sexual abuse, and rape — caught audiences and critics by surprise. Jessica Jones made gender politics its centerpiece, diving into the messy subject matter via an equally messy female lead and a noir tone completely unlike any comic-book series then on the air.
Showrunner Melissa Rosenberg knew all of that would be hard to top. “The bar was set very high with Kilgrave,” she says. “But you don’t want to repeat yourself, so you just turn around and set another bar somewhere else.”
That meant building a new, uniquely challenging case for Jessica to pursue: herself. This time around, she’s the mystery — cracked open by her victory over Kilgrave. “She became the thing he was trying to make her into this entire time, which is a killer,” Rosenberg explains. “That is her unsettling reality as we enter season 2, that she took a life. Is that going to be easier for her now? Is that who she really is at her core? There’s a lot of questions in terms of ‘Who am I really?’”
It’s a question Jessica would rather not ask, but her best friend — and wannabe sidekick — Trish (Rachael Taylor), whose radio show enjoyed a ratings spike when she began reporting on super-powered people in the city, sets out to uncover Jessica’s origin story. “Trish’s focus is on justice for powered people like Jessica,” Taylor says. “She’s prepared to go to lengths we didn’t see her go in the first season to really feel like she matters, and to feel like she can be Jessica’s equal.” And though Jessica disapproves of Trish’s prying, Ritter was all-in from the first script. “We see Jessica so hard-as-nails, and we never really explain why,” she says. “Now we get to see all these vulnerable parts of her, show her gooey insides a little bit more.”
Besides, Jessica’s no longer just Jessica Jones, proprietor of Alias Investigations. She’s now the Jessica Jones, Known Super-powered Person. (Just like that other guy in Harlem, or that guy a few blocks over in Hell’s Kitchen, or…we’ll stop there.) To some, that means she’s the type of gumshoe who might be able to track down a cheating spouse and beat them up — and eager assistant Malcolm (Eka Darville) can barely keep up with all the prospective (and often crazy) clients. Even steely lawyer Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) will lean on Jessica. “We find out pretty quickly that Jeri’s life is about to change,” Moss teases. “She opens up to Jessica in a surprising way.”
But to others, Jessica’s a threat: Her building’s new super, Oscar (J.R. Ramirez), isn’t happy having a (reluctant) vigilante living so close to him and his son. A rival private investigator named Pryce Cheng (Terry Chen) intends to absorb her business — or drive her out of it entirely.
And then there’s the mysterious, still-unnamed woman played by two-time Oscar nominee Janet McTeer. She plays a pivotal role in Jessica’s story this season, but that’s about all McTeer’s allowed to say. “It was a very physical character,” the actress offers. “To play somebody with her kind of issues was something I’d never done before.” She pauses, trying to come up with the right, spoiler-free words. “The way she looks at life is a little skewed.” Plus, she says, she relished being part of a series that doesn’t shy away from exploring thorny themes: “These characters are damaged by abuse but are nevertheless struggling their way through life, to try and overcome it and be happy. They’re strong and weak all at the same time.”
In fact, season 2 tackles story lines that, though written long before the #MeToo movement began, will come across as prescient. (Remember: Trish grew up a child star.) Rosenberg isn’t surprised by the series’ renewed relevance, not after its first season already delved deep into Jessica’s trauma. “We were addressing the issues that are now being addressed more publicly, but they’ve always been issues,” she points out.
So here’s what did surprise her: An idea Rosenberg pitched in the fall of 2016 to feature more female directors resulted in all 13 episodes of season 2 being helmed by women. She hadn’t even aimed that high when she made her suggestion; Netflix’s VP in charge of original series, Allie Goss, wound up upping the ante. “She said, ‘Why not all 13?’ I was like, ‘Oh my God, of course!’ ” Rosenberg recalls. And assembling the all-women lineup, it turns out, wasn’t hard to do. “It didn’t take a lot of effort to fill those slots,” Rosenberg says. “There’s a lot of highly qualified and talented female directors out there, so what we did was simply open the door. It wasn’t like we had to give a bunch of women their first break. It was just being inclusive.”
And Ritter, for one, couldn’t get enough of working on a female-led set all season. “It does make a different environment,” she reflects a few weeks after wrapping the finale. “There was something about the energy that’s softer or…something. We went over schedule by a few weeks, and I was like, ‘Cool!’” She laughs. “I was like, ‘I don’t care, because I love it so much!’” And because Ritter, it seems, can roll with any punch.
Marvel’s Jessica Jones returns March 8 on Netflix.