There's a lot to like about Jessica Jones. It's got great performances from the likes of Carrie-Anne Moss, Krysten Ritter and David Tennant. It's telling a tense story of mental manipulation, but manages to make room in its darkness for a lot of humor and humanity. It's simply, all around, a great show.
That's the context in which I say that the skillful, particular way Jessica Jones framed its sex scenes — or at least the way it did in the first seven episodes made available to reviewers — still surprised me.
In a good way
In her comic incarnation, Jessica Jones was a character who had a lot of explicitly shown sex — relatively speaking, anyway. While comic book superheroes are often sexualized (particularly the ones who are women), actual sex is not often directly depicted or incorporated into superhero stories. But Alias, Jessica's debut comic, was one of the flagship titles of the Marvel MAX imprint for adult readers, and so it was free to depict sex and sexual relationships with maturity and nuance.
Jessica Jones depicts men who are excited to be sleeping with powerful women
And now, on Netflix, something similar is happening. Marvel's Jessica Jones depicts men who are excited to be sleeping with powerful women as a matter of course.
Luke and Jessica have sex shortly after first demonstrating their powers to each other. It's not the first time they've been intimate, but this time, as Jessica grips Luke's arms — pressing one behind his back — he tests his strength against hers and finds that he can't match it. Then he grins. The first hint we have that Trish has started sleeping with another character is an overhead shot clearly intended to make us think she's sleeping fitfully or just waking up, until it's revealed that she's got a guy eagerly, enthusiastically going down on her. Later, we get get another scene of the two, mid-coitus: Trish presses his hands into the headboard, shoves him back into the mattress when he sits up to kiss her. When they're finished, he pants, "That was, uh, intense."
"Don't talk," Trish responds, laughing.
"Whatever you say, boss," he says, with a smile on his face.
These are subtle moments — practically matter-of-fact — but they deftly and explicitly frame the characters' actions and motivations without making direct statements about their inner lives. That framing is all the more special for how understated it is.
Another understated detail tied up in all this is that Jessica and Trish are both women who have struggled with emotional and physical abuse — they're women who have had their bodies and abilities used against them by people who held power over them. Beyond that, their enthusiastic lovers are both men who have pasts in which their capacity for violence — for physically dominating other people — was their primary skill.
It's refreshing to see a show that establishes that strength and masculinity is compatible with accepting and even embracing a woman's power over you. And it's also refreshing to see a show that presents abuse survivors relishing sex and physical intimacy on their own terms.
To see a show that does both and is aimed at a wide audience — it's hard to get more mainstream than the Marvel Cinematic Universe, after all — is downright, well, sexy.