This commentary contains spoilers for ‘Jessica Jones,’ Season 1. It is based on Netflix’s ‘Jessica Jones’ series and not on the comics published by Marvel.
‘Jessica Jones‘, the second show in the Marvel universe produced by Netflix, has been widely successful among fans and critics. Apart from strong acting and a compelling story, the series has been praised for having a female superheroas the main character. Moreover the show has had no qualms with how it portrays alcoholism as well as physical (e.g. rape) and psychological abuse. Because the main premise of the show focuses on the clash between Jessica Jones and Kilgrave (the villain) in New York City, it is difficult to analyze this series from an international relations perspective. That said, one of the show’s characters provides a jumping-off point for discussing substance abuse among members of the armed forces.
As the show moves forward, one storyline to follow is that of Will Simpson, an NYPD sergeant who is temporarily controlled by Kilgrave and then helps Jessica track him down. Over the course of the series, we learn that Simpson has military training – at one point he introduces Jessica’s stepsister Trish to his “special forces friends.” Moreover, when Simpson is injured, Trish takes him to a hospital where he is treated by a Dr. Kozlov; Simpson and Kozlov know each other from his military past and the doctor gives Simpson some mysterious red pills that rapidly cure him from severe injuries.
One of the pills’ effects is that Simpson becomes stronger, hence the NYPD officer takes them prior to fighting, even though Kozlov warns him to not overdose. The pills also make Simpson more aggressive: he pushes Trish against a wall (he apologizes for it afterwards), summarily executes a police detective and gets in a fight with Jessica. In the final episode, Kozlov finds an unconscious Simpson and takes him away – it is never clarified which agency they belong to (though fan theories abound).
Security analysts and members of any military that watch ‘Jessica Jones’ will likely relate to the Simpson storyline. There are a plethora of reports and commentaries that discuss how soldiers (and members of any other military branch) utilize some type of performance enhancing drug. One prominent example is how U.S. Air Force pilots take amphetamines in order to fly their aircraft for long missions. The downside of using Speed (or “Go Pills”) is that it has side-effects such as “confusion, delusions, auditory hallucinations, aggression and, in extreme cases, psychotic behavior.” Meanwhile, in order to improve the performance of its troops, the U.S. Army “has tested modafinil and caffeine (to promote wakefulness) for use in military operations.” (According to Le Monde, the French armed forces also tested modafinil on its troops during the First Gulf War).
The obvious concern is that servicemen and servicewomen may become addicted to drugs (legal or illegal) in order to carry out their duties. For example, there is a problem in the U.S. military regarding steroid use, particularly during the simultaneous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “To prepare for — and perform — on combat tours of duty, some soldiers … turned to steroids to boost their brawn,” said a 2010 McClatchy DC report. To be fair, the U.S. military is hardly the only country that has problems with drug abuse, legal or otherwise, within its ranks. In 2013, some 17 British soldiers were expelled from the 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery for taking a sports supplement which contained the restricted substance ephedrine.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has not shied away from displaying substance abuse, most prominently the alcohol problems of Iron Man and Jessica Jones. When it comes to performance enhancing drugs, the MCU has only briefly touched on them (e.g. the experiments that created Captain America and the Winter Soldier).
Marvel movies tend to be more family-friendly, while Netflix has had no reservations so far in addressing controversial topics head on. Hence, it would be an interesting development if the officer Simpson character goes farther “down the rabbit hole” and becomes more dependent on performance enhancing drugs. The writers of ‘Jessica Jones’ have plenty of real-world material about experiments regarding these drugs and their side effects from which to draw inspiration.