Netflix premiered Marvel’s Jessica Jones on Friday, so viewers have had the chance to check out a few episodes of what some critics have called the best Marvel show to date. Oh, who are we kidding? Many viewers have had the chance to watch the whole darned thing, perhaps twice.
In the first part of The Hollywood Reporter‘s interview with Jessica Jones’ Melissa Rosenberg, the showrunner talked about how the Netflix version of the show is different from what she developed at ABC and praised Marvel for largely giving her a free rein, among other topics. In part two of the interview, Rosenberg talks about the handling of rape in Jessica Jones, a trauma that’s pervasive even if it’s unseen. She explains how Carol Danvers from her ABC script became Rachael Taylor’s Trish and why that was better for the series. And Rosenberg sounds ready to make a second season of Jessica Jones, but she notes why that will be complicated.
(Warning: Spoilers ahead from episodes one through seven.)
A lot of cable dramas have run into trouble with handling rape as a plot point. Here it’s always in the background, either as the trauma it produces or as the threat that looms and hovers. What was the care that you wanted to take with that part of the story?
We’re very conscious to treat that aspect of the story with sensitivity and responsibility. For me, if I never see an actual rape on a screen again it’ll be too soon. It’s becoming ubiquitous, it’s become lazy storytelling and it’s always about the impact it has on the men around them. It’s like, “Oh his wife was raped and murdered so he’s going to go out and destroy the world.” That’s so often what it’s about, just this kind of de rigueur storytelling to spice up often male character.
It’s damaging. It’s just hideous messaging, and so coming into this, the events have already happened and this is really about the impact of rape on a person and about healing, survival, trauma and facing demons. To me it’s much richer territory. If you turn on any television show or, for that matter, film these days, nine out of 10 of them seem to open with a naked, tied-up, dead woman with her undies around her ankles. I think I’ve been calling them the NTSDs, which stands for naked, tied-up, dead, I can’t remember. They’ve just become so ubiquitous, it’s like numbing the audience to what is a horrific violation.
You presumably didn’t want to make it into the specific topic of discussion. You just wanted to make it clear what happened without even having a scene with a therapist or a scene with a confessor figure of some sort.
Yes, she lives it out in her daily life. It’s really about how this particular character deals with it or doesn’t, as the case may be. We didn’t want to tackle it as an “issue.” Nobody wants to be preached to and I have no interest in doing any preaching, so it was really just informing her character, why she makes the choices that she makes.
Changing gears a little, my understanding is that sometimes Marvel just kind of tells creators who they have available from a roster of characters and that that was how Trish came into play here. What was that like for you?
Well back in the network ABC day I had Carol Danvers, who’s in the book, right from the source material. That relationship was important in the book and I loved that friendship. When it finally got to Netflix and by then Carol Danvers [aka Captain Marvel] was going to have her own movie, all I knew was I couldn’t have her and I threw a fit. Then one of our colleagues at Marvel brought up Patsy Walker, who I’d never heard of. I’m not the biggest comic book aficionado, but Patsy’s had her own series since the ‘40s. It was very girly. She’s a model, and she has boyfriends and she wears these fabulous outfits. There was this really rich material in her backstory about being a child star, and about having a stage mother and her life exploited.
They treated that in the comics rather gently, but we grabbed onto that and in fact it ended up being a better counterpart to Jessica than Carol Danvers would’ve been, because Trish has everything. Beauty, charm, education, grace, fame, money, taste. She has everything that Jessica doesn’t except powers. Envy becomes a part, is woven into their relationship, and I think it’s a really authentic relationship between them. We wouldn’t have had that if we had Carol Danvers, we would’ve had a very different kind of thing.
We see her in early episodes doing a bit of Krav Maga. She’s trying to bulk herself up and Trish does have, at least one of the versions of the character, a specific arc in the Marvel universe. Was that something that you wanted to play with?
Certainly we have the choice. There were no dictates regarding her character. Only that when she was a child star, her hair was red. (Laughs.) Other than that it’s kind of been left open to, “What is the character asking of the storytelling?” There’s been no preconceived ideas about what should or shouldn’t happen there, which is very freeing.
Also, we talked little bit about the sarcasm and how that’s where a lot of the humor comes from with Jessica. What was the challenge to get in moments of levity and honestly in this dark world?
It was incredibly important to me. One of the things that we’re constantly avoiding, the one word I never wanted to hear was “bleak.” Because as an audience member, I’m a big fan of television, and I have watched a great deal and when something is so bleak that you have to force yourself to go, you don’t want to spend an hour in that world. It’s not fun, it’s not giving me anything. I walk away depressed and I just never wanted this to be bleak. That said, we’re dealing with some pretty bleak stories. There’s some pretty bleak themes going on, so it was always extremely important to all of us to balance that out with a certain sense of humor.
How conscious are you when making a show like this of how few female comic book heroes have gotten to be the focus of their own series or movie, and does that make you think, “Here’s what I have to do because this is a first of a kind or a second of a kind”?
It does in terms of, “Here’s what I don’t want to do.” I don’t want to see some buxom chick in a unitard with her boobs hanging out and a size 18 waist, a sort of unrealistic model for women. I didn’t feel a need to sexualize her character. Or, because her character is actually very sexual, I think objectify is the word I’m looking for. When you’re looking at comic books that’s what you’re seeing is these unrealistic manifestations of women. Men, too, frankly.
One of the things I said out from the beginning is, “I never need to see Jessica Jones in high heels and a miniskirt using her feminine wiles to get information out of a suspect.” Any time you have a woman in the role of cop, detective or something to that effect, one of the first things they do is put her in heels and nice, tight black dress and send her out to go and get the information. Again, it’s just frickin‘ lazy. Jessica Jones is just not someone who would ever do that. She’d beat it out of them first, that’s actually a much more effective method.
When did you know where you wanted to be at the end of 13 episodes? When did you know what the arc of the first season had to be?
When you’re talking about what is essentially a 13-hour movie, I always start with, “Where is she starting and where do you want her to end up?” That can obviously change in terms of how she ends up where she’s going to end up, but that was early on, from right back from when we were pitching the season. Then it was about working backward and laying out all those, where does she meet, how is she going to get there, what are the stepping stones and then placing them. We really look at the full season first before we start breaking down the individual episodes.
Is there room for a second season of Jessica Jones before The Defenders in your mind?
I hope so. There certainly is storytelling wise. The question becomes is there actual time? There are logistics involved, because Defenders has to shoot by a certain time, contractually. Actually, I’m not sure; I’m not at all involved in those conversations, much to my dismay. The first question is whether or not we will even get a second season. The second question is, if so, when? Will it be before The Defenders or after? I’d certainly love it to be before but there are things that play into that — time, availability.
When they get to Defenders they’re obviously going to be using Jessica and you say that you won’t necessarily be involved with that. How much are you going to want to be involved? Are you going to want to have conversations with The Defenders people and say, “Here’s what you have to know about Jessica”?
I’m a complete control freak when it comes to this character. I will do everything in my power to protect the character in whatever forms. They’ll have to throw me kicking and screaming out of that building. But they own the property. They’ve really been inclusive thus far so I’m not really worried about it.
Jessica Jones is now on Netflix.