I've always loved stories about badass female detectives. My grandma collected vintage hardcover Nancy Drew books, and I tore through the series as a kid. Now that I’m an adult, I only watch TV shows with lead women who are detectives, superheroes, witches, or spies. So when Netflix released Jessica Jones in 2015, which is about a private investigator with superpowers, it felt like hitting the pop-culture jackpot.
Jessica Jones is based on the Alias comics (unrelated to the TV series starring Jennifer Garner as a secret agent, though that’s also one of my favorite shows). Jessica (Krysten Ritter) is a failed superhero turned private investigator who happens to have super strength, speed, and agility. She’s kind of a mess. She’s a borderline alcoholic with a prickly personality and terrible relationship skills. She also gives zero fucks about pleasing anybody.
Basically, her vibe is diametrically opposed to the Midwestern aspects of my personality. I default to politeness. When I moved to New York City, people kept telling me I seemed “really nice.” But in a city of 8.5 million ambitious, no-bullshit humans, I’ve always worried that being “nice” has held me back. So I wondered: Would my life be better if I lived like Jessica Jones?
Before I embarked on my cosplay mission, I came up with a list of quintessential Jessica Jones activities, like drinking an irresponsible amount of whiskey, never smiling, and spying on people from a fire escape. I thought about cracking open an ATM or beating up a creepy dude and getting myself arrested, like Jessica does many times on the show, but I figured VICE might draw the line at bailing me out of jail.
Then I tracked down someone who knows more about Jessica Jones than I ever could, showrunner Melissa Rosenberg. She has spent two seasons honing the character with Ritter. She liked my list but said the real secret to living like Jessica Jones is getting into her mindset. “There’s a ‘don’t fuck with me’ attitude that pervades everything,” she told me.
For my experiment, I also wanted to nail the Jessica Jones look. She wears very specific clothing in the show: tee and hoodie under a leather jacket, ripped jeans, fingerless gloves, and motorcycle boots. And though there’s been a lot of chatter about whether the look is stylish, Jessica Jones costume designer Elisabeth Vastola told me that’s totally beside the point.
“I took inspiration from Patti Smith, Frances Bean Cobain, and other women who wear clothing and feel very rough in it,” she said. The stiff denim and heavy leather are basically armor, just like Jessica’s prickly attitude, but they’re also meant to be functional.
“Jessica’s most terrorizing power is when she jumps off or onto a building, and then also when she uses her brute force against people. The idea behind the boots, for example, is that they’re almost giving her two tree trunks at the bottom of her feet so she can feel stabilized when she needs to land very hard on her feet or throw somebody through a glass door.”
The repeat wardrobe is also a matter of convenience. Perpetually drunk, crime-fighting Jessica wouldn't waste mental energy getting dressed. Most of the time, she pulls on dirty jeans she found on the floor.
Once I was properly attired, I hit the streets to live a day in Jessica Jones's jeans. Here's how it went:
Part One, A.K.A. Go to Bed Drunk and Chug a Red Bull for Breakfast
The night before my Jessica Jones day, I went to the bar around the corner from my apartment and got myself liquored up. In the show, Jessica’s neighbor-slash-employee Malcolm wakes her up every morning and plies her hungover ass with cans of Red Bull. I didn’t have a Malcolm, so I improvised and let the mewling of my roommate’s new cat rouse me. Grumpily, I grabbed my jeans off the floor and donned Jessica’s signature outfit. Then I slumped out the door to go to work, making sure to glare at strangers on the train.
On my walk to the office, I stopped at a bodega to grab a can of Red Bull. When I went to the counter to pay, the bodega guy called me sweetie and asked if I needed a bag and a straw for my Red Bull. It was my first opportunity to flex Jessica’s IDGAF attitude. I said no and resisted the urge to append “sorry” or “thanks” or smile at this man. He shut up and left me alone. It felt good.
Part Two, A.K.A. Take a Case and Conduct an Investigation
Once I was in the office, I cracked open the Red Bull and got to work. Even though Jessica Jones has superpowers, she pays rent by working as a private investigator. I decided to take the case of my best friend J, who'd been ghosted by this guy named D. The goal was to find this mysterious dude and snap a photo of him to prove he hadn't died or moved to China or something.
To get some tips on how to conduct my investigation, I called a real New York City private eye named Michael McKeever. He told me that a lot of what goes into being an ace detective is street smarts and patience, but he did have one solid piece of practical advice: "I learned years ago, if you’re following somebody on the subway, and it’s not that crowded, don’t get in the same car. Wait two stops and then get in their car, and then it seems like you're a new guy."
Fancy equipment, he said, was a waste of money. "It's not like you can buy something that'll make you a better PI. You think Eric Clapton would suck if he had a $200 guitar instead of a $5,000 guitar?" It sounded like my ancient DSLR would suffice for conducting surveillance.
Back to my case: I used my Google sleuthing skills to track down D's job title and place of work, home address, phone number, and social media accounts. Then I tacked up all the evidence I'd collected on the wall and studied it while sipping Red Bull. My co-workers told me my research seemed "really creepy."
When Jessica's at home at Alias Investigations, she also spends a lot of time swigging whiskey straight from the bottle and passing out at her desk. I wanted my day to be as authentic as possible, so I chased the Red Bull with a whiskey shot. It wasn't even noon yet. I felt like garbage.
Part Three, A.K.A. Doing Superhero Stuff
There was one big problem with my plan to be Jessica Jones for a day: I don't have superpowers. And I was having a tough time tracking down a shadowy team of scientists willing to conduct genetic experiments on me that might kill me but might also bestow me with superhuman strength. So I approximated, running around the VICE rooftop doing lame parkour and jumping on and off things. Then I snuck into a weird parking lot under the Williamsburg bridge and jogged around for a while, it always seems like Jessica is running somewhere on the show. Once I felt winded and faint from only consuming Red Bull and whiskey all day, it was time to go spying.
Part Four, A.K.A. Spy on People from a Fire Escape
On my way to Midtown to track down the guy who ghosted my friend, I stopped to conduct some supplementary surveillance. On the show, Jessica camps out on fire escapes with her DSLR camera and a thermos of booze to snap sneaky photos of people behaving badly. I climbed out a window and tried to catch people in Williamsburg not cleaning up after their dogs or having an affair with the mailman or something. I did bust a cabbie going the wrong way down a one way street and snapped photos of his license plate and medallion number. Maybe there’s a fruitful career as an NYPD traffic cop in my future…
Part Five, A.K.A. Catch a Bad Guy
When I walked into the lobby of the fancy financial firm where my target, D, works, I noticed a security guy immediately giving me a suspicious look. This was not an auspicious start to my stakeout. As McKeever had counseled me, rule number one of conducting surveillance is to try to blend in. "There are cases where you tail people a lot, and you know the person has never seen you. If there was a lineup of five private eyes, they could never pick you out. Their eyes have never fallen on you. That’s the ideal," he said.
Security at this place was bananas, so there was no way I could talk my way upstairs without getting caught. I decided I had to get D to come to me. My master plan was to pretend I was delivering a gift and try to get him to come downstairs to grab it. From an out-of-the-way bench in the lobby, I dialed his work extension and was sent straight to voicemail. Rats. Then I tried calling the company's main number to reach a receptionist. No dice. A robo-directory blocked my attempts to get a human on the line, no matter how many times I asked to speak to an operator.
I hung out and watched for D a while longer, in case he went out for lunch or something. But, by then, I was cranky and hungry and wanted to get out of there. The only food we really see Jessica eat on the show is pizza, so I stopped to grab a slice on my way to Hell's Kitchen. It was time to try out Jessica's favorite pastime...
Part Six, A.K.A. Drink a Lot of Whiskey
I went to Rudy's Bar on 44th and 9th, because it's mentioned in the show. It's cheap and a total dive. Plus, they give you a free hot dog with every drink, which is very on-brand for Jessica Jones. It was the middle of the afternoon, but the bar was full. When I walked in, a group of drunk bros checked me out and immediately tried to hit on me. I remember thinking, I will be lucky if I leave this bar without punching anyone.
Things didn't improve after I ordered a whiskey neat and grabbed a booth. An older man at another table asked me why I looked so serious and told me to smile. I honestly could not have scripted a better toxically masculine moment. I gave the dude a steely look and downed my glass of whiskey, then the photographer I'd brought with me turned her camera on him while I asked him why he wasn't smiling?
Then I flipped a table.
Just kidding, but that would have been a very Jessica thing to do. Instead, I ordered another whiskey.
Part Seven, A.K.A. Hook Up on the Floor in Spilled Paint
Jessica Jones might seem tough as nails, but every once in a while, we get to see her emotional side. "Jessica has a side of her that’s sexual and feminine. It sounds funny to talk about that, but she’s not out of touch with her body. She’s out of touch with it in some ways, like how she drinks herself crazy, but she’s also a woman who's attuned to her sexuality," Vastola pointed out. We see this softer side of Jessica a few times, usually in the context of her relationships. And there's one scene in season two that gets pretty steamy—that is, if you get turned on by arts and crafts.
It's hard to set this up without giving away any spoilers, but I will do my best: A life is saved, a prickly relationship softens, a lot of booze is consumed, and spontaneous sex is had—on the floor of someone's apartment in spilled paint.
In real life, staging a hookup in spilled paint requires a lot of planning. I had to buy supplies, like non-toxic washable paint, more whiskey, and a dropcloth for the floor so I wouldn't get evicted. After I set everything up and taped down the sheets of plastic, it honestly looked like I was planning to murder the guy I'm seeing, Dexter-style.
Luckily he's a chill person and wasn't put off by the weird things I do for journalism. Perhaps for that reason, or thanks to the additional whiskey we drank before getting down to business, it was silly and fun.
My day living like Jessica Jones was honestly exhausting. All the whiskey and junk food made my insides feel radioactive. I felt angry at the male species after still getting catcalled despite my "don't fuck with me" face. And it turns out it's actually hard to spy on people when you're constantly drunk. I never photographed the guy who ghosted my friend, but as McKeever the private eye told me, "If it’s happening, it’s happening. If it’s not… you can’t make it happen."
One thing I did like about living like Jessica Jones was how good it felt when I didn't bother being polite to people who were rude to me. I came away from the day inspired to lean into my "resting bitch face" a bit more. Despite her issues, Jessica is a powerful female character. She reminds me that it's OK to lean into your prickly, stubborn side to get what you want sometimes, especially when it's for a noble cause.
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