Analysis

Themes of Abuse and Solidarity in Netflix’s Jessica Jones Season One

Trigger Warning – abusive relationships.

The goal with this blogpost is to build on the post I wrote the other day about the importance of themes in fiction. I’ll be exploring the themes and thematic importance of characters a particular work of fiction and their relation to the real world, in this case the first season of Netflix’s Jessica Jones.

Jessica Jones is the story of a superpowered private investigator in the superheroic world of the ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ – the world of The Avengers. The scale of the story is smaller, making the tone more grounded and noirish. The first season covers Jessica fighting against her abusive ex-boyfriend Kilgrave.

For the purpose of this analysis I’ll be focusing on the following key themes:

  • Abusive relationships
  • Entitlement and abuse of power
  • Trauma, PTSD and guilt
  • Heroism
  • Female solidarity and empowerment
  • Male allies and ‘nice guys’

and the following key characters:

  • Jessica Jones – a superpowered private investigator
  • Kilgrave – her superpowered, abusive ex-boyfriend
  • Trish Walker – Jessica’s closest friend
  • Jeri Hogarth – Jessica’s lawyer and employer
  • Hope Shlottman – Jessica’s client and a fellow victim of Kilgrave
  • Will Simpson – Trish’s love interest, a cop and an ally to Jessica and Trish
  • Luke Cage – Jessica’s on-off lover and ally
  • Dorothy Walker – Trish’s mother, a TV executive
  • Albert and Louise Thompson – Kilgrave’s parents
  • Malcolm Ducasse – Jessica’s neighbour
  • Dr Wendy Hogarth-Ross – Jeri’s wife
  • Pam the Secretary – Jeri’s secretary and girlfriend
  • Guy in the Jacket
  • Guy at the Bar

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Analysis

The Importance of Theme in Fiction

In fiction, theme is what the story is about. So a romance novel will be, on the surface, a story about two characters falling for each other. But looking deeper, the themes will be what the work of fiction has to say about the fictional universe which the story is set in, and to our universe. Love is worth the pain that precedes it; love is where you least expect it; true love conquers all, and so on.

For Jurassic Park the most obvious theme is that dinosaurs are cool, but few films can become as successful as Jurassic Park was if that’s all they have to say. There’s also a key theme that it’s dangerous for humans to think that they can control their new technology – Frankenstein ‘playing god’ theme. It’s a recurring theme in Michael Crichton’s fiction, including Westworld and Prey.  Another Jurassic Park theme is the importance of family, in this case the non-traditional ‘family’ that forms between the central characters in the process of protecting each other.

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Film & Television Opinion

Be More Joey

Earlier this week a twitter thread by Claire Willett defending Rachel and Joey’s relationship in Friends went viral. Willett not only defended the broadly unpopular coupling, but made the case that Joey was a better, more supportive partner for Rachel than Ross was. I’d recommend reading the full thread (Buzzfeed has compiled the highlights).

When you’ve done that, I’ve a few thoughts on what writers can learn from Ross and Joey’s behaviour towards Rachel.

 

We often mistake epic romance with healthy romance

…in fiction at least. It’s easy to forget that – in the opening scene to Romeo and Juliet – Romeo is heartbroken over Rosaline, who had rejected him before he fell for Juliet. While Romeo and Juliet is a story of teenagers in love separated by an idiotic feud between families, it’s also the story of a double suicide for the sake of a romance between teenager who’ve only just met.

At the beginning of Friends Ross is recently divorced and Rachel has ran away from her wedding. You can see the foundations of a story they could later tell people about how this shows that they were ‘meant to be’. With Joey and Rachel, by contrast, the romance grew out of friendship while living together, at a time when Rachel was pregnant with another man’s baby, which doesn’t seem as romantic in a thirty second anecdote. But looked at in detail, it’s warmer, more human, messier, more relatable.

 

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Egotism, Analysis, Close Reading

IWSG: Lazy Reference Humour

This is an entry for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group, which cross-posts on each others’ blogs on the first Wednesday of each month.

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The suggested theme in this month’s edition is ‘pet peeves’.

One of my biggest peeves is writers using references in place of humour. Both Family Guy and The Big Bang Theory get stick for this – rightly in my opinion – but during the last week I’ve read an extract from the Ernest Cline novel Ready Player One which takes this to an incredible extreme.

There’s nothing wrong with fiction drawing on references to real life of course – in fact it’s a good thing, as it connects the fictional world to the wider real world, giving the fictional world a greater sense of depth and a broader range of material to draw jokes from.

One of my favourite examples of this kind of humour is from the second ever episode of Family Guy. After Stewie Griffin opines that television is evil because of its influence on Charles Manson, the show cuts away to Manson’s jail cell where he’s watching TV. Manson says “If I haven’t seen it, its new to me” – a slogan NBC were using at the time to promote their repeats. On the surface level this is (darkly) amusing because of the contrast between the very serious image of the mass murderer and the very silly idea of him repeating back an advertising slogan.

Thinking a bit more deeply, this is also a joke about the nature of advertising. By attempting to mould viewers’ desires to suit their own, advertisers are basically trying to do what Manson’s paranoia convinced him that The Beatles were doing.
Film & Television Opinion

Sex, Gender and the Thirteenth Doctor

The casting of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor has predictably caused a venting of fury, and mocking of the furious. It’s sad, because it should have been a cause for excitement at casting such a talented actor.

I’m one of the few people in the UK not to have seen either Broadchurch or Downton Abbey, but I’ve been a fan of Whittaker since seeing her in Attack the Block and Venus. Her performance in Venus is probably one of my favourite ever performances – as a young, chavvy girl she has a weird quasi-romantic relationship with an elderly actor, played by Peter O’Toole. At various times Whittaker’s Jessie is warm-hearted, funny, sympathetic and vulnerable, exploitative, emotionally indifferent and tender. Taking aside the question of her sex, Whittaker is clearly qualified for the role. While there were justifiable questions around the lesser-known Matt Smith when he was cast, Whittaker clearly has the CV to take a major role like The Doctor, and I’m excited to see what she’ll bring – probably more so than any of the new era of Doctors.

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Egotism

IWSG: The First Draft

This entry is part of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group – a group of writers helping each other deal with insecurities that are part of the writing process.

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A consistent problem that I’ve always had when writing is getting the rough draft of the story down on paper. I enjoy the research and world-building – for instance today I’ve been looking at animals that are able to control electricity for background to a science fiction idea. I also enjoy structuring stories – building a kind of scaffolding to outline the key events, how the characters are going to change and when the key pieces of information will be revealed to the reader. But I struggle when it comes to writing the first full version of the story.

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