Marvel’s Jessica Jones follows an alcoholic private eye who has superstrength and serious anger issues.
In a scene from the show’s second season, due Thursday on Netflix, Jessica gets a little carried away in anger management class. She bounces a rubber ball against a wall while talking about what makes her emotional: “My whole family was killed in a car accident. Someone did horrific experiments on me. I was abducted, raped and forced to kill someone.” Eventually, the wall gives way.
Jessica Jones premiered on Netflix in 2015, years before the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements. Executive producer and showrunner Melissa Rosenberg says, “This year, we’re really digging into Jessica’s rage.”
She says for season two, the show’s writers channeled their own anger over Hillary Clinton’s treatment during the 2016 presidential election. Rosenberg believes sexist attacks helped Donald Trump beat Clinton. “We walked in really pissed off ourselves,” she says. “And, not surprisingly, it sort of filtered its way into the storytelling.”
Superhero stories usually start with how the hero gets superpowers, which can be predictable. But Rosenberg waited until the second season to tell this tale: The world sees Jessica as a deadly vigilante, and she must dig into her past to see if the process that gave her her powers also fuels her rage.
Rosenberg works closely with Krysten Ritter, who plays Jessica, to balance the show’s dark drama with snarky jokes. In one scene, Jessica shows up a rival private eye by doing something he couldn’t: finding his client’s prize dog.
Jessica tells the client, “Your ex-wife’s been hiding him at her new boyfriend’s place. … You know, I can go places that an average P.I. can’t go. Emphasis on average.”
“As the scene progresses,” Rosenberg says, “she goes to these slightly more dark places, and a one point snaps.”
Jessica starts beating up the rival private eye as he insults her.
“It’s such an emotional ride,” Rosenberg says, “with so many twists and turns. And you watch her take that journey. I think it’s just a great example of how agile [Ritter] is as an actress.”
Rosenberg grew up in California in the 1960s and ‘70s. She started out as a dancer, working a series of odd jobs — including as a stripper — before shifting into a career as a film and TV writer. She worked on shows like Ally McBeal and Dexter, along with scripting the Twilight movies.
She says she was more surprised by the sexism in Hollywood writers’ rooms than anything she encountered as an exotic dancer. “I was quite taken aback because I didn’t know how to be in that environment, where my gender was being assaulted in a way. You know, not physically, but feeling like I needed to defend my gender, but also needing to be one of the guys. That was much more confusing to me than just being in a strip club.”
Rosenberg says she learned from those experiences, making sure that when she moved up the ladder as a TV producer, her writers’ rooms were safe places for everyone. And for Jessica Jones‘ second season, she ensured each of the 13 episodes were directed by a woman.
Still, she isn’t sure how long Hollywood’s movement toward gender parity will last.
“I’m an old, jaded feminist,” she says. “I just remember after Thelma & Louise, back when that came out, everyone was like, ‘Oh, it’s now, women are going to be in the forefront of things.’ And sure enough not. And the numbers have remained so static for decades.”
Still, she says, “I’m always hopeful.”
Some of that hopefulness likely springs from the success of Marvel’s Jessica Jones, which once again challenges the male-dominated world of superheroes by presenting one of the most complicated and compelling female heroes on television.