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Classification case study: Marvel's Jessica Jones - Season 1

Posted on 4 December 2015 by a Classification officer

SPOILER ALERT: This blog post includes some discussion about the plot of Jessica Jones.

Jessica Jones is a 13-part Netflix television series based on the Marvel comic book character of the same name. The series is an action crime drama about Jessica, a recovering superhero-turned-alcoholic private investigator who is struggling to come to terms with recent traumatic experiences. Her main antagonist is Kilgrave (otherwise known as the Purple Man in the comics); Kilgrave's superhuman ability is to command the wills of other people.

As the series unfolds it is revealed that Kilgrave previously used his power to control Jessica, subjecting her to a relationship against her will and exploiting her super strength to commit crimes, including murder. Jessica sets about trying to make Kilgrave assume responsibility for what he did to her and to other people, including the behaviour of a young woman who murdered her parents under his influence and now faces a life sentence in jail. Other significant characters in the series include Jessica's sister Trish, a popular radio talk-back host and former child star, and Luke Cage, a bartender who has super strength. The series is stylishly-shot with a neo-noir aesthetic grounded in a gritty, heightened comic book reality, and the performances are excellent across the board.

In terms of classification for a New Zealand audience the series presented some challenges. Given its dark tone and handling of a serious topic, notably the psychological and emotional fallout of a long-term non-consensual sexual relationship - what Jessica likens to every cell in her body being violated - it seems clear that the series is intended for mature viewers. The treatment of this topic however is restrained; there are flashbacks that show Jessica and Kilgrave kissing or occupying intimate space but depicts nothing that is immediately shocking. Likewise the narrative treatment of this topic is responsible: it feels honest, thought-provoking, and emotionally resonant.

There is a marked increase in violent and cruel content as the series progresses, which would be shocking and disturbing to young viewers and is reflected in the earlier episodes' 'M' classification and later episodes' classification of R16. The earlier episodes are more dialogue-based, establishing the world of the characters and their relationships with each other. There are the odd depictions of violence, such as hand-to-hand combat, gunfights, or in the case of the young woman who murders her parents the aftermath of violence, but the treatment is restrained. In later episodes the violence and cruelty ramps up, with Kilgrave using his powers to sadistic extremes.

The series also contains a number of sex scenes between various characters. These are typically simulated and non-explicit, though do point to an older intended audience.

Netflix had a 20 November 2015 deadline for the worldwide release of Jessica Jones and New Zealand Classification Officers classified the entire series in time for its high profile debut, allowing New Zealand viewers to watch the show with access to clear information on the age appropriateness and content of each episode. The Classification Office provided individual classifications for each episode, with accompanying descriptive notes that speak to the series' treatment of violence, sex scenes, and content that may disturb.

This post was written by one of the Classification Officers involved in the examination and classification of Marvel's Jessica Jones - Season 1. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

Jessica Jones poster

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