Why Was Jessica Jones Sidelined For So Much Of The Defenders?

Photo: Sarah Shatz/Netflix.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Let’s all agree Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is a badass. The Jessica Jones lead is a crack detective, dogged investigator, and she straight-up killed one of television’s most violent examples of walking misogyny and (literally) toxic masculinity, Kilgrave (David Tennant). Jessica also has super strength and the ability to fly poorly or jump really well, depending on how you look at the situation. The wise-ass superhero is clearly the kind of person who should be central to any crime-fighting super group like the one at the heart of Marvel's The Defenders, which premiered August 18 on Netflix. Yet the new series ends up keeping the sole woman in the Defenders at the perimeters of the story — and it’s a major disservice to the character and the comic book drama.
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At most points of The Defenders it feels like Jessica is along for the ride, as opposed to driving her own storyline. In fact, Jessica doesn’t even run directly into all of this Defenders drama until the final second of episode 2, “Mean Right Hook.” Throughout the first two episodes, and into the third, the erstwhile hero is investigating her own case after a concerned wife and daughter show up at her doorstep.
Michelle Raymond (Michelle Federer) is terrified over the disappearance of her husband John Raymond (Alex Moggridge), an architect and family man who hasn’t been home in days. Jessica agrees to take the case and goes down the rabbit hole of what Raymond has been up to, ultimately finding a cache of enough C4 to “level a city block,” getting pulled into the police station multiple times, and watching a man shoot himself in the head in her own apartment. None of these moments are choices for Jessica, they simply kind of happen to her. The most interesting thing Jessica does of her own volition is search through library records for nearly three full minutes of screen time. Yes, the are three minutes of The Defenders where Jessica Jones, infamous badass, looks at pieces of paper.
Once Jessica does arrive squarely in the Defenders conflict, she still feels adjacent to the actual plot. The don’t-call-me-a-superhero-superhero only ends up at “Worst Behavior's” first big Defenders fight because, again, she’s trying to get to the bottom of the John Raymond case, and all signs point to the final building he designed, Midland Circle. Midland Circle also happens to be the headquarters of the Defender’s lead villainous sect The Hand, the shadowy organization led by Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver). Before Midland Circle was completed, the land it now occupies was a 30-story-deep hole in the middle of New York. This is basically the definition of “nefarious comic book plot.” Yet, Jessica doesn’t care about any of this. She just wants to know what led a mild-mannered dad like Mr. Raymond to amass enough explosives to be labeled a terrorist and later commit suicide before a murderous ninja could kill him herself.
Jessica’s focus on her case — over the looming catastrophe The Hand promises for New York City — is the major reason the detective doesn’t feel vital, despite the fact she very much should. Every comic book super team needs some semblance of a “leader,” The Avengers have Ironman (Robert Downey Jr.), and it can be argued Daredevil-slash-Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox) is that for The Defenders. The lawyer has directly fought The Hand before, losing ex-girlfriend Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung) in the process. Now, in The Defenders, Elektra has been resurrected and is The Hand's greatest weapon. Even Matt’s mentor Stick (Scott Glenn) is involved, since he’s dedicated his entire life to fighting The Hand and appears in a number of episodes. Fellow Defender Iron Fist-slash-Danny Rand (Finn Jones) is also directly invested, since The Hand destroyed K'un-Lun, the mystical city where Danny learned Kung-Fu, which he was sworn to protect. Danny's girlfriend Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick) was also a member of The Hand. So, not only do Matt and Danny have huge reasons to be a part of this fight, their loved ones are also a big part of this world as well.
While Matt, Danny, and co. are babbling on about resurrection, secret societies, and catastrophe-starting schemes, Jessica couldn’t look more skeptical and less interested. In fact, she tells Luke as much when she walks out of the first unofficial Defenders meeting, saying, “This war, or whatever it is, this is not my problem. I just want answers for my client.”
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When Jessica isn’t running away from The Defenders, she’s literally standing at the sidelines of the action. In episode 6, “Ashes, Ashes,” the group decides Danny needs to be benched for a while since he’s “the key” for whatever The Hand is planning. The “Immortal Iron Fist” doesn’t agree with this ruling and tries to punch his way out of the Defenders’ imposed custody. A martial arts fight breaks out between Danny and Matt, and Jessica watches from yards away throughout about 80 percent of the brawl. She only steps in to tell Matt to stop, which seems more than a little out of character. Later in the episode, Jessica and Matt head to John Raymond’s home to figure out how his last project is related to The Hand. Somehow, Matt magically realizes John was hiding blueprints in a living room piano.
While Matt is apparently doing detective work now, actual private investigator Jessica’s only jobs are to make John’s daughter Lexi Raymond (Chloe Levine) comfortable and to tell Matt, who is technically blind, what the blueprints say. Later, when Jessica explains to Luke how they found the blueprints, she recognizes how absurd all of this is, saying, “Don’t even ask.” Watching Jessica point out the bigger logic gaps of The Defenders isn't exactly helping the series.
At least The Defenders ends by hinting Jessica is “back in business,” after the trauma of Jessica Jones season 1. And for that, I am thankful.
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