Entertainment and Media

A Disability Read of Jessica Jones Because WOW [Spoilers, Clearly]


OK, so since I’ve written spoilers 3 times now, I’m going to forge ahead. Fans have been waiting years for the newest season of Netflix’s Jessica Jones to be released. While I greatly enjoyed what I was watching, the show hit home with the themes of disability and “other-ness.” Mental illness bloggers have long talked about how well represented PTSD was portrayed, but I would venture to guess that the wider disability will have something to say about how disability/ability was broached in this season. The only way I’ve been able to wrap my head around this in season two, is to think about how ability is talked about with two separate relationships: Jess and Trish and Jeri and Inez.


Jess and Trish


Jess and Trish had a strong relationship in season one that seemed to unravel in season 2. Their dynamic was that of a disabled person and their sibling that was jealous of the attention. Jess merely wants to get through the day to day pain of her PTSD and the repercussions of her family’s death threaten to push her over the deep end. Trish barrels through Jess’s needs and seems to believe that in her shoes, Trish could do a much better job of being Jess than Jess. Trish went through extreme lengths to become the hero she thought her sister simply refused to be, and was abusive the entire way. With the ongoing healthcare debate, this hits disabled people close to home. It’s as though abled bodied people only see the “perks” disabled people get from being on government assistance without actually taking the time to unpack some of the daily indignities we face from society being disabled in the first place. Trish represents a staggering amount of ignorance and unwillingness to understand while jumping head first into the “perks only” shallow end of the superpowers pool.

Jeri and Inez


Jeri and Inez are a in a battle to see which one of them can be more predatory than the other, with one another. In the end, it’s hard to tell who wins. What’s striking though is how Jeri’s diagnosis of ALS is explored throughout the show. Given the degenerative nature of the disease, Jeri searches for any remedy possible extend her life. Inevitably, she falls into the sights of Inez who’s looking to exploit the powers craze to have her boyfriend released from prison. Her boyfriend poses as someone with powers to heal and takes advantage of Jeri’s desperation to get out of his prison sentence. Disabled people are all too familiar with snake oil salesman that promise to cure us. Whether it be by religious leaders or at-home healers, there’s always someone who’s read something that can help what we’ve got. Sometimes this can lead to dangerous behaviors such as parents forcing their autistic children to drink bleach or submitting them to electroshock therapy. Jeri is so terrified of a “crippled body” that she ignores all of her carefully honed instincts in favor of treatment from this man. Many will say that it was her impending death that was the impetus, but I don’t actually think so. Jeri’s character seems like the type that wouldn’t be afraid of death but rather the idea that her legacy would be marred by pity and the “weakness” her body would communicate as her condition submitted to her diagnosis. Her job and reputation meant everything to her, in her mind, they couldn’t afford to be disabled.

In any event, I greatly enjoyed how well written this season was. Characters were well examined and developed as their circumstances progressed. I only hope to create media this introspective with disabled characters and actors some day.

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