For this blog post, I have none of the conventional qualifications. I’m discussing a character from the Marvel Universe, and, hey, I never read any of the comic books. I haven’t even seen most of the movies. The ones I have seemed enjoyable enough in a superficial way. I didn’t hate them.
But I adored Jessica Jones as one of my favorite shows on TV in the last couple years. And it’s been analyzed extensively—Google and you’ll see. The Internet will extol its virtues as a feminist endeavor. And here again, I am speaking on a subject where I have no qualifications: not only am I a guy, but also I’ve never taken a gender studies class nor do I have a civil rights law background. Nor do I have any formal training in psychology.
Or film studies for that matter—and I’m commenting on video.
So, why subject myself to criticism? To be criticized. So you—breaking the fourth wall here—dear reader can comment over Facebook or Twitter and inform me as to what I do not understand.
One of the main themes of the show is also one I have been forced to deal with in my own writing: what is a strong female character? This season, the show runner, a woman, purposely hired a female director for each episode. She hired a female costume designer who purposely dressed the characters to avoid male gaze. (And the camera sometimes completely subverted that trope, with many male actors in beta roles of love interest or assistant to the important character shown with the camera panning their bare chests.) And the badass, hard drinking, tough private eye who can beat the crap out of the bad guy—the titular character—is certainly a type rarely shown as female, much less a female who has transcended horrific abuse at the hands of males.
But I’m not talking about Jessica. My questions concern a side character: Jery Hogarth. Hogarth apparently was male in the comics I didn’t read, so the gender switch was intentional. She’s an attorney—amoral, not beyond subverting the law, reveling in manipulation of everyone she surrounds. Indeed, in many ways, she almost parodies the worst aspects of men by showing their traits in a woman. My God, when have you ever seen on TV a female character hire three female prostitutes for a night of cocaine-fueled, meaningless sex? And then seen the coke snorting and the sex?
In Episode 10, I thought I understood what the show was doing. Jessica has Jery hiding Inez, a homeless woman who had formerly been a nurse working at the facility that did illegal experiments on Jessica as a teenage car crash survivor, experiments that gave her the mild superpowers she possesses. We see Jery vulnerable for the first time. We see her facing her own mortality, sick with the earliest stages of ALS. We see her admit to her impoverished upbringing, justifying the enjoyment of luxuries. We see her caring about another person, indeed, falling for her. **SPOILER ALERT—SKIP THE NEXT SENTENCE IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN SEASON TWO** We see Inez betraying this trust, using it to get a lover out of prison and then robbing Jery.
I thought the message was going to be that seeing all others as either enemies or tools was a crappy way to go through life and that the level of empathy and caring shown usually by female characters (albeit in this show only by the beta males, especially Malcolm and Oscar) was essential for happiness and mental health.
**SPOILER ALERT---SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN SEASON TWO** But no, Jery tricks Inez into killing her convict boyfriend, most likely sending her to jail, and she blackmails the one partner who is laundering illegal drug money and the other who is a closeted gay man. She refuses to reward the loyal, hyper-competent Malcolm with employment and instead goes with the professional associate she knows to be crooked, thinking she can control him. And she rebuilds her law practice and her luxurious lifestyle.
So, what point could that possibly have made? If only that women can be as crappy to other people and as self-centered as men can, it was hardly a point worth debating.
One possibility is that redemption is yet coming for this character in Season 3.
But I don’t think so. I think she’s there for the viewer to compare with Jessica Jones. Jessica realizes by the end of season 2 that in cutting herself off from those who love and care about her, she’s been dead to the world. In the last seen, with the young boy (Oscar, her love interest and forgery connection’s son) who idolizes the “superlady,” when she’s relating the badass, heroic things she did, yet reveling in having a “family,” she’s integrating a healthy personality for the first time. A woman can be independent, competent, and intelligent, while also compassionate and dedicated to bringing some good into the world, but it would be harder to see that in Jessica—who has murdered, who has been vindictive, who has broken the law, who is an alcoholic—without the comparison to Jery, who is a successful narcissist.
And they both seem happy at the end of Season 2.
So, why do I like and root for both characters? I get it with Jessica—the writers want me to root for the damaged anti-hero with a big heart. But Jery? Why am I sympathetic to such an awful person? And why do I sense I wouldn’t be if they had written her in her original guise as a male?
I think it’s because given the gestalt of the show, with so many damaged female characters who are nonetheless fascinating and written to have agency, I keep thinking Jery will eventually redeem herself. As was hinted with Inez, all Jery needs is to find those special people who will support her and let her be fully human, playing the role many different characters have played for Jessica.
Or is it that in this fictional world, reflecting the real world, the violence against women has been so horrifying, that I’m willing to side with the shark if she sides with the other women? Even if she sometimes sides against them in pursuing her own selfish interests?
Would a female viewer feel the same about Jery?
I dunno. Hopefully, I’ll get some social media friends commenting on this.
I’m not writing superheroes, I’m not writing private investigators (although I did publish a humor piece with one), I’m not writing the stories of women who survived sexual violence. But I am writing morally ambiguous female characters who own their stories and who have my empathy. I sense that women reading this post can tell me things will help my writing.
So, where am I misinterpreting things?
Have at it. Please.