Jessica Jones- Jeri and Jess

I will not keep you in suspense. In JESSICA JONES, a show full of complicated, interesting women, Jeri Hogarth (Carrie Anne Moss) is the most complicated. The most interesting. Honestly, she’s the best.

I do not want anyone to feel like I’m shorting the other characters here. They are excellent, too. I love Krysten Ritter’s titular performance and the way she deepened it in Season 2. Revealing her orphaning as the true source of her trauma is no easy task. Yet she does it, never letting us forget about Killgrave but making it clear he infected old wounds, not just created new ones. Additionally, how Ritter finds the heart of Jessica’s fears is not being exploited but rather being abandoned is dead-on.

Alisa (Janet McTeer) as Jessica’s long-thought-to-be-dead mom is an interesting mix of tragic figure, supernatural monster, and all-too common monster. She even at times strikes a note of being the Netflix Marvel Universe’s very own Magneto, preaching to Jessica about their inherent superiority to others. However, her best moments revolve around her discussing her former life and her acute unhappiness with it. Her casual dismissal of all Jessica held dear about her childhood is irreverent and chilling.

Many came away from Season 2 unhappy with Rachael Taylor’s Trish Walker, but I was impressed with her throughout. The way she played a figure of monstrous selfishness and managed to pull not just pity but empathy from the viewer was great. The plot called for her to utterly shatter her Season 1 image of the put-together sister. She did it without cutting corners, finding the pain of someone who was told they were special throughout their life but treated by those same people like a commodity.

And yet, above them, stands Hogarth.

Jessica Jones- The Gang's All Here
Clarke Peters, Carrie Anne Moss, Rachael Taylor, and Krysten Ritter get their stare in JESSICA JONES (Courtesy of Netflix)

It’s a Man’s World

To understand my enjoyment of Moss’s performance, we need to drift backwards first. Come with me to circa 2014 and the end of a specific era of the so-called Golden Age of Television.

A few years ago, it felt as though we were heading towards maximum capacity of the angsty male antihero. Characters like Walter White, Don Draper, Tony Soprano, and Dexter Morgan had been on the forefront of the Golden Age. However, as DEXTER crashed and burned and BREAKING BAD ended spectacularly, many critics were ready for them to go.

Furthering matters was that women seemed to not be given similar huzzahs in those shows. As Anna Gunn reflected in the New York Times, life was not easy being Walter White’s wife or playing her. She suffered through everything from scathing social media rants to literal death threats. All for playing a character not as on-board with crime as her husband. Supportive, but not fully supportive, you know?

Finally, there were few such roles for women. During that time, I can only think of two shows that boasted female characters who might have been labeled anti-heroes. First, was the show DAMAGES, cancelled in 2010. It boasted both Glenn Close and Rose Byrne playing ambiguous figures you were encouraged to cheer for. Second, was THE AMERICANS, a season in and still building Keri Russell as one of the best characters of the 20-teens.

For women, it was difficult to either be a supporting character in an anti-hero-powered television drama or to be the anti-hero herself back then.

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JESSICA JONES’ arrival on Netflix, of course, changed all that. Jones herself was hard drinking, misanthropic, self-destructive, and as prickly as a porcupine. She suffered fools only as far as their checkbook could carry them. The only thing worse than fools to her were the empathetic. Feelings got you hurt or, worse, got you used by someone terrible.

Jeri Hogarth was there and very good, but Jessica’s name was on the title card. It is natural we all gravitated to her as the answer for the lack of women anti-heroes.

The thing is, she’s actually just a hero. Reluctant? Yes. Angry? Certainly. As good at screwing up her life as she was at helping others? Oh, absolutely. But a hero nonetheless.

Strip off the drinking, the swearing, the aggressive sex, and Jessica had a lot more in common with Spider-Man than she ever did with Walter White. Even her darkest moment, the killing of Killgrave, is almost unmistakably the right thing to do. Plus, Season 2 shows us that even though everyone around her agrees she had to do it, she’s still haunted.

Jessica’s complex, unpleasant, and self-harming, for sure. She’s just a hero on top of all that.

Hogarth, on the other hand?

Jessica Jones; Jeri thinks thinks thinks
Moss gets a moment to contemplate in a scene from JESSICA JONES (Courtesy of Netflix)

Our Hero’s Amoral Attorney Jeri Hogarth

As introduced, Hogarth is a powerful attorney who is interested in billable hours and winning. Her interest in justice or the law? Secondary to that. If she ever became an attorney for idealistic reasons, those have seemingly been long since cooked off.

It is a familiar depiction of an attorney. We have seen it in movies, in television, in dramas, in comedies, in cartoons. It could be a one-note performance. Thankfully, the show invested a lot more effort in it than that.

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Oodles of Confidence

The quality that strikes you most immediately when considering Hogarth is how low-key yet unshakeable her confidence is.

A lot of amoral attorneys are depicted as strutters. They like to preen and show off. They delight in their winning records and they make sure everyone knows they’re rich.

Jeri didn’t present like that. Her confidence was no performance. She only lost it in the face of her own near-murder, but otherwise, it was as much part of her as her hair. She used it but she never wielded it because it is simply a state of being for her.

In a world as upper class, hetero, and man-dominated as the one high-priced attorneys move in, she was a lesbian woman who grew up poor and neglected. However, she clearly never lets that make her think she does not belong. Others might be in the room by birthright, but she knows she earned every step and can beat anyone of them.

Jessica Jones- Pam and Jeri get to kissing
Susie Abromeit and Moss share a pleasurable moment in season 1 of JESSICA JONES (Courtesy of Netflix)

Speaking of Sex…

Jeri Hogarth takes that same confidence into the realm of sexual attraction. In Season 2 in particular, you can see that not only is she out, she is unapologetic. And not only is she unapologetic, she is almost predatory in her zeal to satisfy her lust.

To see a woman pursue sex with that kind of desire and not have it been shown as evidence of her being broken is rare. To see it in the context of a woman who is attracted to other women is even rarer. That, however, is how JESSICA JONES approaches Jeri’s desires. They are strong, they are outsized, they are sometimes immoral, but they are never evidence that she is sinful or broken or bad.

At her morally worst, her sexuality leads her to cheat on her wife with her secretary. Not smart, but also a very typical, high-powered person activity in film and television. Except, again, not to belabor the point, but she’s a woman cheating on a woman with another woman.

At her lowest, Hogarth hires a trio of prostitutes to entertain her for the evening. However, the choice is not depicted self-destructive. Instead, it is a means of coping. We know she is feeling badly after some frightening news and so she is using this quadrant for a distraction. It is not a healthy coping skill, but this is not the grim doggy-style sex stylings of NARCOS or, heck, Jessica Jones herself. Jeri is enjoying the sex she is having; there is nothing about it that is self-flagellation.

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Callously Calculating

As stated above, Jeri is a confident, amoral attorney so she often bends the rules in service of winning her cases. However, what is not clear above is that she is also willing to bend the rules in her life to win at that as well. In fact, she is more likely to be even more manipulative and even less interested in morality.

Take, for instance, an ex-lover who crosses her in the midst of Season 2. All indications are that Hogarth is planning to get her hands literally and metaphorically dirty by taking care of the ex herself. Instead, she approaches the ex and has a sad conversation where they both admit mistakes. However, as the conversation winds down, Jeri subtly unleashes a symbolic dagger and thrusts it between the ex’s ribs.

Moments later, the ex does exactly what we expected Hogarth to do, taking out the other reason Hogarth was on the warpath and damning herself in the process. All without Hogarth walking more than an arm’s length away from her car.

This is not even the most extreme example. That would have to go to her attempting to use Killgrave to bring her divorce to a quick and amicable end that would cause her no stress or embarrassment. While the situation quickly spins out of Jeri’s control, the audacity of her move is undeniable. Who else would put one of the most dangerous men alive in the same room as herself and her soon-to-be ex-wife just to gain a more favorable divorce settlement?

Jessica Jones- Two of Jones' most complex women lock horns
Moss and Taylor face off in a scene from JESSICA JONES (Courtesy of Netflix)

Yet We Still Cheer for Her

What is most impressive about Jeri Hogarth, perhaps, is that somehow we still root for her, for the most part. Some of that is purely comparison. In a fight between Jeri and Killgrave using her ex-wife Wendy as a kind of living weapon, you are hard-pressed to cheer for her to lose. We make excuses for her. Yes, it was bad to use Killgrave but she never wanted or expected this.

Most of the time, though, it is because we like her. She was bad, but she was on our side. She was bad, but she was hiding a heart. Fact or rationalization, it felt true.

Hogarth repeatedly shows Jessica Jones kindness and concern despite Jones missing deadlines or straight-up failing on cases. She also is willing to do favors for Jones, like taking on Hope Schlottman’s case. The case seems obviously open and shut, but she listens to Jessica’s insistence that Killgrave made Hope kill. Thus, instead of doing the obvious and easy thing, she attempts to blaze a trail where no legal precedent exists.

On IRON FIST, we learn that Jeri interned for Danny Rand. During those days, she was kind and sweet to him. Kind enough that Rand recognized her years later without hesitation.

Those warm feelings continue to exist for her toward him, too. Yes, picking up Rand as a client is a huge coup for her. However, she could have done the same by making sure everyone wrote Danny off as either mentally ill or a con-artist. It would have been an easier move to make and required so much less effort on her part. Instead, she backs Danny because some part of her cares for him.

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Jeri Hogarth’s Illness and the Birth of Vulnerability

This one is a bit more personal than all the rest. In Season 2, Hogarth receives a diagnosis of an illness early on. She has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. ALS is a progressive neuromuscular disorder that robs the body of the ability to control itself. There is no cure and it is fatal.

My uncle also happened to die of it over a decade ago. So even though I saw it coming from the moment she mentioned having a muscle spasm, the diagnosis still hit me hard. It is hard for me to feel anything but love for a character facing down that illness.

We see it hit her hard as well.  The normally logical Hogarth careens from desperate measure to desperate measure, setting herself up for a fall. When she thinks she has found a miracle, she becomes a sort of born again, spouting off about second chances and new directions. It is, in some ways, scarier than her rage, fear, or sadness.  We recognize it as proof of how knocked loose from herself she has become. That vulnerability endears us to her and, as noted above, gets us on her side. She’s no hero but we still are cheering for her.

Jessica Jones- Jeri Hogarth looks down the hall
Moss faces a long journey ahead in JESSICA JONES (Courtesy of Netflix)

The Acting

Of course, none of this character creation works if you cannot find a way to convincingly bring it from the page to the screen. Thankfully, the JESSICA JONES casting office paired Carrie Anne Moss with the role.

Moss is a subtle tactician of an actor. She rarely goes big and when she does, it always lands. She finds the ache in Jeri Hogarth in Season 2 and lets the viewers see it as she fights for her career and her life. She displays moments of tenderness on her face before she adjusts to become flinty once more. We see her swallow her anger, harness it, or fail to keep it in check. And, most powerfully, we see her lose her footing and her composure in a ransacked apartment.

Jeri Hogarth is the anti-hero woman we were waiting for back in 2014, and Carrie Anne Moss proves again and again across the Netflix Marvel shows that she was the only person fit to bring her to life.

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