Sypnosis: Since her short-lived stint as a Super Hero ended in tragedy, Jessica Jones has been rebuilding her personal life and career as a hot-tempered, sardonic, badass private detective in Hell's Kitchen, New York City. Plagued by self-loathing, and a wicked case of PTSD, Jessica battles demons from within and without, using her extraordinary abilities as an unlikely champion for those in need... especially if they're willing to cut her a check.

This is an extremely difficult to marathon series on netflix. People hear the word post-traumatic stress disorder and automatically panic. It's an overwhelming moniker, PTSD. Probably the casual viewer staring into netflix's usual catalogue of Marvel universe based dramas will automatically associate PTSD with Marvel right away. Yet, this was a series that caught the attention of professors, Masters students and phD candidates across the board. It resonates with something so utterly human: the attempt to live on despite being plagued by tragedy and turmoil.

I'm someone that has been diagnosed with PTSD since 2009. I have a helluva time trying to explain what that means to colleagues, friends. and family. But this series does the talking for me. It's succinctly rendered the very notion of an entire episodic attack in literal episodic form. Look at how Jessica Jones moves from the street and into a simple restaurant in the first few episodes. the cinematography isn't what you're looking for: it's the whispers of past-dates with someone that was so abusive that he literally haunts her to this day. Look at how his face is obscured by his hand. We do not need to know what he is saying, we only need to know that he isn't necessarily there anymore and that he still terrifies her.

whispered horrors

Neuroscience and my years of undergraduate psychology classes support this notion that the brain in real time when remembering will recreate the entire experience. The horror of PTSD is that the entire episode of memory is involuntary. The entire feeling of Killgrave, from his voice, the texture of his clothing, his smell, and the very sounds of his pacing: it's terror inducing. 

One of the best forms of describing what PTSD is, that I have heard that matches my experience and this series is that PTSD is a life long allergy. No matter how small the detail, if it reminds me of the attacker, I will respond in real time with fear, increased heartrate, difficulty breathing, and an absolute sense of needing to escape. It does not matter if I know how to get out of that situation, as long as I do. Picture the person with the peanut allergy - what will they do? They get out of the restaurant, their friends panic and remove everything nut related, maybe they might even have an epipen on standby to get their friend to safety.

Look at Jessica Jones, look at her foster-sister/best-friend Trish and their reactions. Trish is reacting like someone that is on stand-by should Jones go into a PTSD episode, defending her in every way possible. Jones might be powerful in terms of pure physical prowess as a mutant, but during PTSD, it's to Trish's apartment that Jones will rush to in order to try to solve her fears. Trish is totally accomodating, even taking on self-defence Krav-Maga for the sole purpose of protecting Jones when Jones can not. Trish too is susceptible to PTSD, for as the series escalates there are real threats to her life and she becomes terrified of leaving her own home. Agoraphobia is the least of her worries. We see the birds-eye view shots of Trish's state-of-the-art fortress apartment getting dismantled by the very people that should protect, police officers under the influence of Killgrave.

There are moments where the show feels like bystander apathy for me, where all I can do is watch as a bad situation gets worst. Looking at how Luke Cage comes to terms with his bereavement and is still haunted by the objects his dead wife leaves behind is really a reminder that it is very easy for someone with PTSD to want to die. The behind the shoulder shots of Jones looking at the photo soundlessly in Cage's washroom and the flashback shot to Jones being present when she falls to her death is a masterpiece. That too is PTSD.

It isn't just the stalker, it's the inherent guilt of watching as someone passes on. It's that sense that you can't actually change a terrible situation, but you re-live it more often than you would like. Often survivors of trauma are taught with cognitive behavioural therapy to counter PTSD in a manner called CBT, cognitive behavioural therapy. So it goes like this: You start literally having your internal director kick in, like an allergic reaction forcing you to rewatch the traumatic event in real time: the people outside of you are trying to get you back into the present while you look blankly ahead. So yes, inside your mind: you're re-livig the death of a loved one, the stalker beating you for no reason except that he can't have your mind even though he's ruined your body and threatened and convinced you that you are worth nothing: when this loop of phrases and images starts kicking in: you are taught to say aloud the address of a space that is a happy place in your memory. So in real time you are countering your own horror filled present with a past memory that is happier. You're countering with visualizing spatial representations of a safe time. Jones does this by evincing the address of her childhood home aloud. She does this by repeating that address over and over again. 

Then Kilgrave goes out of his way to gain access to her childhood home and tries to ruin it in the present moment.

But as a viewer, we know that even though Kilgrave is at large and purposefully trying in his own twisted manner to make amends to Jones for all the trauma and turmoil he's caused by gaining access to the present physical house that belonged to Jones: it does nothing. At the end of the day the actual happy memories are in her head, not physically literal, but in her head. They are still there when she needs to recall them.

Honestly, I think that both director and therapists at times think that it is not good enough. That this 'remembering a happier past' to counter a 'unhappy present' is not enough to come to terms with trauma. But, it's what we've got that is cinematically portrayed in juxtoposition to reality. Even though I had to stop and take a break from this series for 2-3 days to really come to terms with what I've watched, I know it has started a dialogue with people about mental health, about what it means to go through PTSD. I have not needed to use the word 'victim' even once in such discussions because the knowledge now is that PTSD is closure to an allergic reaction to the traumatic situation than it is a need for coddling or hiding from the world.

I bought into this world so much that I am not bothering to list the actors names, because that would break the immersion this series led me to fall into. I look at Kilgrave and I see someone that is self-involved, sociopathic, and unable to fathom where he could possibly have gone wrong. He isn't terrifying because of his level of influence as a mutant with the ability to command people to do anything he wants: he's terrifying because he stalks, threatens the lives of anyone near Jones as well as herself. He is a strong villain not because he is a mutant, he is a strong villain because he is so despicable that Jones is in every way allergic to him.

I no longer have to explain myself to people that have watched Jessica Jones why I need to just take a moment to take deep breathes and ask them for the date, the time, and what we were doing. I no longer have to pretend that I am fine. I'm allergic to a certain human being and all the cruelty that goes with them, I am not allergic to the lies that he spreads about me, or the persuasion, or rhetoric he has utilized to absolve him of blame. I fear only myself going into the freeze response and being unable to run when the time comes that I need to. But Jessica Jones is definitely a reminder that for a series that has mutants that could easily jump away from such a situation, she can't, and she needs to be calmed down before she can navigate back into safe terrain.

I loved this series and look forward to a season 2, but once again I'll most likely need a buddy to watch it with me. The alternative is watching it in a windowed screen with the date visible on the bottom of my screen so that I can remember that my own personal tragedy has past and that this is only a show representing another that is learning to get through similar but very different sets of problems.

Marvel's Jessica Jones

Marvel's Jessica Jones

Release Date: Nov 20, 2015

Genre: Action,Crime,Drama,Thriller

starring: Krysten Ritter, David Tennant, Rachael Taylor, Robin Weigert

Synopsis: Since her short-lived stint as a Super Hero ended in tragedy, Jessica Jones has been rebuilding her personal life and career as a hot-tempered, sardonic, badass private detective in Hells Kitchen, New York City.

TAGS: Krysten Ritter, Rachael Taylor, Mike Colter, David Tennant, Marvel's Jessica Jones

May Kwan    

This lady is apparently a double Major in Psychology and English literature with a minor in Anthropology. She spends most of her time rolling around in confusion in awe at the beauty of new narrative structures. Such new narratives include movies, television, animation, sequential graphic novel arts, video games and more.

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