This article was originally published October 11. Since Jessica Jones debuted on Netflix this morning, we’re repromoting it.
At a packed-to-the-rafters New York Comic Con panel Saturday night, Marvel fans collectively gasped twice. The first time was when the crowd was told they were about to see a surprise screening of the entire first episode of the upcoming Netflix series Marvel’s Jessica Jones. The second? That would be when the title character got screwed doggy-style.
In fact, the entire episode was shockingly and refreshingly honest in its depiction of sex and sexuality — especially compared to the rest of Marvel’s cinematic and televised output, which tends to be heterosexual and vanilla on the rare occasions when it dares to be sexual at all.
Before we get into the wild romp that comes halfway through the episode, let’s talk about the show’s less eyebrow-raising but equally fascinating choices on sexual matters. Perhaps most notably, the show gives the Marvel Cinematic Universe its first lesbian characters.
Carrie-Anne Moss plays Jeri Hogarth, a high-powered lawyer who hires the titular Jessica (a super-humanly strong private eye) to serve a subpoena to a heavily guarded club owner. While the women discuss the job during a late-night phone-call, a young woman slinks up behind the glamorous Jeri and begins nuzzling and nibbling her neck. Just a few scenes later, we find out that this encounter is an affair, and that Jeri’s cheating on her wife.
To date, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has never shown us openly gay women. Indeed, the only depictions of non-straight characters in Marvel’s shared universe have been a recent episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. that reveals a bit player to be gay and a regrettable, Blu-Ray-only short feature that shows Sam Rockwell’s Iron Man 2 villain alluding to having sex in prison.
Unlike those minor beats, Jessica Jones’s queer relationship scenes are clearly integral to the internal lives of major characters, and are not played for laughs or for shock value. They’re sad, sweet, and subtle.
But y’know what’s delightfully unsubtle? The sex scene that will have everyone’s eyebrows on the ceiling once it hits Netflix in November. The episode introduces us to Mike Colter’s Luke Cage, a beefy superhuman (though he’s not yet revealed as such) who will soon star in his own Netflix series. In a sequence lifted more or less directly from the comics series Jessica Jones is based on, a depressed Jessica finds Luke at the bar he runs and confidently hits on him. He’s coy at first, accusing her of flirting with him, but Jessica says she doesn’t flirt: she just gets what she wants. “What do you want?” Luke asks.
Smash cut to Luke on top of Jessica in his bed, going at it with a sexual fury unlike anything Marvel (or DC, for that matter) has even come close to putting on screen. She eggs him on, and when he warns her that she might not be able to take it, she insists she can. At that point, he flips her over and starts taking her from behind while the camera focuses on her impassioned face. It’s a scene where Jessica is in total control of her sexuality. Whatever her reason may be for banging Luke, she’s doing it on her terms. It’s the way real-life grown-ups have sex, not the way neutered TV superheroes do. The audience at Comic Con seemed to simultaneously clutch its pearls and lean forward in titillated fascination.
All of that said: There will no doubt be discussion about the episode’s other sexual subplot (so much sexuality in one hour of superhero fiction!), which has to do with mind control and the consequences of rape. Without getting into too much detail for fear of major spoilers, two characters learn they were both, at different times, raped by the same man. It’s a very fresh trauma for one and a more distant, PTSD-inducing trauma for the other. It’s a tough topic to address, and it remains to be seen how the show will do so. But the mere fact that Jessica Jones is even talking about rape and PTSD puts it miles ahead of its peers in Marvel’s film and television lineup. Here’s hoping the show can keep up the momentum when the world starts binge-watching it next month.
This post has been updated.