Last weekend I marathoned Jessica Jones and ever since the final credits rolled late Sunday night I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out why exactly I so thoroughly enjoyed Marvel’s newest Netflix series. It’s true that I’m probably predisposed to like anything with a strong female lead, but liking and loving are two different things. And there’s a lot of things to like about this show, including how well Jessica Jones depicts addition and control, the acting, it’s noir style, and even how this show and Supergirl can both exist and both be good.
It’s taken about a week (and a second viewing), but I think I finally put my finger on it. Jessica Jones, the character, reminds me of a certain vampire slayer. [Really mild spoilers to follow.]
Like Buffy, she doesn’t work for a secret agency, have endless amounts of money, wield interplanetary power and knowledge, have laser vision, wear a costume, or have an entourage of super-powered friends (not yet anyways). Rather she’s got super strength and a core group of allies. She’s also sarcastic and clever.
And sure Buffy saved the world a lot, but her story very rarely left Sunnydale. On a week-to-week basis, Buffy’s demons were metaphors for much more personal issues and conflicts, much like Killgrave is for Jessica. Despite the high-stakes worlds these shows exist in, the characters remain mostly grounded. Their struggles of making money, navigating relationships, dealing with PTSD, and losing loved ones are all relatable to us average human beings.
Plus, both women were unwittingly steered down this path of responsibility and heroism. Neither asked for any of this. They didn’t go out and build an iron suit, don a cape, sign up to serve our country, or have a score to settle. But life isn’t fair and apparently having super strength doesn’t make it any easier. However, that’s also what makes Jessica Jones and Buffy the Vampire Slayer all that more interesting to watch. They’re humanized heroes with real flaws and fears.
Buffy Summers and Jessica Jones may be ‘uniquely qualified’ as Luke Cage put it for the role of superhero, but it’s not their calling or abilities that define what side they’re on. After all, plenty of villains boast powers and prophecies all their own. And like Claire explained to Malcolm, “Don’t need powers to be of use.” (“AKA Smile” 1×13).
It’s our actions and choices, reluctant or otherwise, that define who we are. Learning to embrace your own power to save people and do the right thing, even when it’s hard and requires sacrifice and your efforts go largely unnoticed, that’s heroic. That’s also good TV.