Here be spoilers for Marvel’s Jessica Jones on Netflix.
So, confession: I’m an action-flick, science-fiction, total adrenaline junkie; sure I like to go and watch films that make you think but sometimes I’m in the mood for explosions, unrealistic acts of physics (HI FAST AND THE FURIOUS), and characters that I grew up with due to their relevance within popular culture. I loved Batman, Wonder Woman, The Hulk, Iron Man, She-Ra, He-Man, and so many more parts of popular culture. I am a a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that was created with the first Iron Man Film and I loved Netflix’s Daredevil last year.
This past weekend, I sat down on my couch with snacks and drinks, and queued up Marvel’s Jessica Jones; I know a little bit of the backstory after doing some research because while I enjoy comic books, I was more of a manga reader growing up. I knew about Killgrave (The Purple Man), and the whole reasoning behind his powers, and I’m also a fan of David Tennant.
I was not prepared in any way for what followed.
This show is an incredible, nuanced, harsh, gritty take on the superhero genre; the heroine is flawed and abrasive, and so incredibly screwed up due to her past. She is brutal in her dealings with people and while she doesn’t advertise her powers (super strength, endurance, flight, and healing) she doesn’t hesitate to use them if needed. She prefers to drink her issues away and when anxiety hits, chants with that tired resignation of someone who just wants to be better.
I love this character; this role that Krysten Ritter took on because it is so real. Anxiety from trauma is genuine thing and it can’t ever be cured; it can only be dealt with on a day by day, second by second basis. You never know what will trigger an attack and if you get through it, all you can do is hope to be better than the day before.
Jessica’s relationship with her adoptive sister Trish is also the thread throughout all thirteen episodes; not her romance with Luke Cage or the obsession that Killgrave has regarding her as “the one that got away”. Her thread to this world, to being a better person is through her sister who is the antithesis of herself; Trish Walker is a successful, beautiful talk show host who used to act and while she isn’t perfect, it is obvious that she loves her sister very much. From the moment the flashbacks show how Jessica saved Trish from an abusive mother to the penultimate scene between them and Killgrave, this friendship and sisterhood is SO DAMN GOOD.
Also the supporting characters in the series are great; Malcolm, played by Eka Darville from The Originals, is a junkie who doesn’t seem to be anything else. Yet Malcolm is also one of the few people that Jessica keeps helping, even if it’s into his own apartment because she wants to be able to do good. The twin neighbors are heard first and then scene with Reuben and Robin playing a pivotal pair in Jessica’s story as the series progresses. The antagonistic relationship between Robin and Jessica is so hilarious as well because as a viewer you are fully aware that Robin is paranoid and protective but also because you know someone who is like that. I thought the supporting characters were great for this series, fully fleshed out human beings that do exist in real life.
Now, onto the villain.
I’m sure you’ve met a charming, handsome man at a bar or on the corner; he flatters you, smiles at you, maybe even suggest you do the same. As women we are socialized to be polite when strangers approach us in public, especially if they give you a sense that something isn’t right. Imagine that this man says to you, “Smile!” and you find yourself smiling back.
This is Killgrave; a man who can make people do whatever he tells them too. He tells someone to walk in front of a speeding car, they will. He tells someone else to not move, they won’t. He tells a young girl to smile, she will. This is the nightmare of every single human being, having someone strip away your ability to consent, to control you to the point where you will do anything that they say even if you truly don’t want too (a man abandons his son, another gives hi jacket, one woman is told to smile).
Killgrave is an abusive man with the ability to make people do whatever he wants. Period. He is not misunderstood due to having a shitty childhood, he is not redeemable or able to be a hero because he is a complete and total sociopath who doesn’t know or care about right or wrong. He wants, he takes, simple as that. He tries to convince both Jessica and viewers that he is obsessed with her because he loves her.
“Jessica,” he says, “I’m the only one who matches you. We’re inevitable.”
The way that David Tennant played Killgrave in this series is incredibly terrifying; up there with the Joker, Killgrave is quite frankly one of the most psychotic and nuanced villains in recent years. His ability to be convinced that Jessica does love him is terrifying because for women and men who have been in situations similar in real life, abusers believe that their victims do love them. They fully believe that they are the injured party and that everything they do isn’t their fault. He is the walking, talking stand-in for abusers and rapists because he truly doesn’t know that what he is doing is so terrifying while all his victims do his bidding, they do so unwillingly deep down.
The most raw scene between Jessica and Killgrave takes place in Jessica’s childhood home where he has done his best to recreate the time before she was left alone with powers. A time when Jessica was young and innocent, only concerned with her brother being annoying. Killgrave has taken her childhood and perverted it, in more ways than one; this entire scene is Killgrave denying what he has done to Jessica and other folks, claiming that everything that was done to Jessica is what she wanted, and that he doesn’t know how to know when people are doing what they want or what he wants. It’s an incredible scene between these two and both actors play the hell out of it.
The raw fury in Jessica’s face, the way she states plainly and without any sort of fear, “You raped me” is exactly why Jessica drinks, stays away from people, and is terrified to become a hero. She went through months of abuse at Killgrave’s hands and is livid that Killgrave doesn’t care because he has no empathy or compassion whatsoever.
The penultimate scene between them in the final episode is so satisfying because Jessica has finally reached her breaking point; she has finally allowed herself to understand that she has to own and live with what has happened to her but that it doesn’t define who she is. The truth is, when she finally took care of Killgrave, I felt nothing but satisfaction because quite frankly there was no other alternative.
This show has blown wide open the cultural and social realities behind rape, rape culture, and why women and men sometimes don’t speak up. Why asking someone if they fought back is a stupid and inane question, why victims stay with their abusers, why it takes survivors time to heal and live with what happened to them, to find a way to heal, and be a new version of themselves.
Jessica Jones is one of the most incredible examples in pop culture today of how the true struggle is the aftermath of trauma; and they did a damn good job.