Back in February I finally got the chance to start watching Jessica Jones on Netflix after we had a crazy blizzard that dumped 30 inches of snow on my hometown. It was Netflix and chill time for real. I recently started rewatching the series and also started reading the Jessica Jones: Alias comics, so I wanted to finally write a piece on this great story.
I had really enjoyed the Netflix/Marvel team up for Daredevil, and even though I didn’t know much about the character of Jessica Jones at the time, I had a feeling it would be a good watch. I didn’t expect to fall in love quite so hard.
For those of you who don’t know much about the series, Jessica Jones (played by Kristin Ritter) is a retired superhero living with a lot of emotional trauma. Her parents died in a car accident, and at one point she was under the control of the villain Kilgrave (David Tennant!) who can control minds. Without giving away anything, the series is full of twists and turns, the casting is excellent, and the overall tone of the show is more mature and darker than the standard Marvel Cinema fare. I was hooked from the first episode.
At this point I do have to give the obligatory spoiler warning as I will be discussing the characters and events in the show in detail. If you haven’t seen it yet, go watch it!
I love characters that aren’t perfect and Marvel has been very good at that, especially in this series. Jessica Jones is emotionally traumatized, working through abuse she’s suffered at the hands of Kilgrave, and is so scarred that we see her frequently try to isolate herself out of guilt and fear of having someone else close to her get hurt. She often self medicates with alcohol, but her heart is in the right place. Her pain has turned her into a very cynical person but we see from her actions she is trying to do what is right. Some people don’t like her, and she even comes off as a bitch at times to some of the other characters. She’s more of an anti-hero than a conventional hero and I really like that.
Kilgrave, though very very obviously an evil scumbag, also has some points that make you pity him. We see Kilgrave gained his powers through torture he suffered from repeated experiments at the hands of his parents, and it really made me feel sorry for his character as a person. Kilgrave also laments that his powers are kind of a curse at a point because he says he never knows if anyone is doing something for him because they really want to, or they are being forced to do it. It’s an interesting conflict that’s created by the middle of the season. You want to like him because for one thing David Tennant is playing the character… who doesn’t love the 10th doctor? He’s so charismatic and such a charmer! But at the same time, his suffering does not excuse the horrible things Kilgrave does, and it certainly doesn’t excuse the complete lack of empathy he shows when using his powers- i.e.: when Kilgrave casually tells Simpson to “Leave,” by jumping off the roof, for one example. One of my other favorites was the time he told some random to “stand over there and stare at that fence forever.”
Damn, Kilgrave. You scary.
Adding the sympathetic edge to a villain is something I’ve really liked about Marvel and their Netflix released series. It humanizes the villain and gives them a lot more depth. Marvel did this in Daredevil with Kingpin as well, and it added a very interesting dimension to the villain. All I can say is keep it up–that is excellent storytelling.
But I think that what made me truly fall in love with this show is that past the surface storyline of super heroes and villains, super powers and good versus evil, is the fact that at its core this show chronicles different types of abusive relationships and their effects on the victims. This is most prominently seen in Jessica and Kilgrave, of course; but we see it in several other characters as well. We see it in the controlling relationship Robyn has with her brother Reuben, we see it in Trish’s relationship with her mother who exploited her childhood fame, we certainly see it with Kilgrave and everyone he comes in contact with, and we even see it in the forms of substance abuse in Malcom.
This is where is really hit home for me, because I, like many people, have been in an abusive relationship that changed who I am like Jessica. I have a toxic relative who hurt me on a regular basis like Trish. This series can be a difficult watch for some who have had those horrible experiences, but for others it can be kind of cathartic.
From the very beginning, this show assures the victim that it’s not their fault. Jessica tells Hope over and over that she is not to blame because she was not in control, she was manipulated. That’s a message a lot of abuse victims really need to hear. It’s normal to blame yourself and think what could you have done to it end up in that situation. Jessica emphatically confronts that and says no, don’t do that.
Another point I appreciated was Jessica and Kilgrave went through the “maybe I can change/save him” mentality. We saw this when Jessica went to Kilgrave and was with him for those few days in her family home because she feared he’d hurt more people. In her time with him, she convinces him to do the hero gig with her and he even saves a family and actually gets excited about it. But in the end Jessica realizes that even if she redeems him, he’s still the same awful person who did so many bad things to so many people.
We also see excellent examples of emotional manipulation. Kilgrave buys her childhood home and she is trapped into staying with him there. Though yes, she says she did go of her own free will; did she really? The short answer is no. Kilgrave threatens everyone is Jessica’s life to the point where she feels she has to go. That’s not free will. She didn’t really chose that path, her options were eliminated until it was her only choice. This is textbook abusive behavior: manipulating someone into doing what you want. It’s even more chilling in this instance because Kilgrave DOES have the ability to just make people do what he wants them to; but rather than directly controlling Jessica, he indirectly influences her forcing her to take the path he wants while claiming he’s not in control. In reality, he is.
Though this show highlights all the unsavory things I have mentioned, it also shows the healing process. We see Jessica initially want to run away and leave town, but then she fights back instead. A lot of it is in an attempt to save Hope, who I’m sure Jessica saw as an extension of herself, but it’s also very much her fight against Kilgrave for herself. In a very strong moment she even tells Kilgrave to his face that he raped her. We get to see how uncomfortable that makes him, and we ultimately see her win over the person who controlled her and did so much damage to her life.
For this reason, I love you Jessica Jones.
You’re a hero, even though you are vulnerable. You’ve been hurt, you’ve been forced to do things you didn’t want to do, you’ve been at the mercy of someone else and shown your weaknesses, but also showed us that you had the strength to overcome.