Jessica Jones Season One Retrospective: Power & Control

“Feels good, doesn’t it? Being in control.”

Click to read my earlier Jessica Jones write-ups: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Kilgrave Essay

Having just finished my re-watch of the Marvel/Netflix series Jessica Jones, I am reminded of all the things that made me love it so much the first time around. Like any good “genre” story, it communicates real world ideas and conflicts using the lens of fantasy. The main themes throughout Jessica Jones are shown in a variety of ways from larger-than-life superpowered metaphors, to sometimes simply saying it outright with dialogue. This show covers a lot of ground some of which I’ve touched on in my earlier write-ups, but now, looking at the series as a whole, I want to focus on the concepts of power, control, and accountability.

SPOILERS AHEAD, YOU’VE BEEN WARNED


The interplay between power and control is the driving thematic force in Jessica Jones. Virtually every character is struggling with control in one way or another. Sometimes it’s an obsessive need for control of others, as seen with Kilgrave, Jeri Hogarth, or Trish’s mother. For others, it’s the desire to regain control of one’s own life after a trauma. This is seen in Jessica, Trish, and Malcolm. And then in the case of  Will Simpson, he has his control taken from him by Kilgrave, but then over-corrects hard in his attempt to regain a sense of power, risking his own control and the safety of those around him.

“As long as he has your attention, as long as you care, he’s in control.”

Jessica’s biggest struggle in this series, especially in the first half, is trying to piece together her life after losing herself to Kilgrave. Even though she thought he was dead, he was still on her mind. And in this way, he still had power over her. This is clearly mirroring the effects that happen in real life when we suffer trauma or heartbreak at the hands of someone else. It makes it hard to move past it and make your life wholly your own again. We see in Jessica an interesting juxtaposition between her massive physical power, and the fact that Kilgrave can still hold sway over her. No matter her physical strength, or even Luke’s, it’s not enough to keep Kilgrave from affecting their mind. It’s hard for them to feel so powerful and yet so powerless at the same time.

For Kilgrave, he sees in Jessica her impressive physical power and it intrigues him. He relishes in having control over somebody so powerful and it makes himself feel more powerful as a result. Likewise, when Jessica finally escapes his control, he becomes obsessed. Not because of anything to do with her as a person, but simply because he couldn’t control her anymore. He craved having that power again. This is why he went through such great lengths to win her over, to reclaim the control he once had over her. Without her, he feels less powerful, and for a narcissist like Kilgrave, this is unacceptable.

“I think he’s out there. This sick, perverted man preying on the hopeless so he can feel powerful, probably terrified of his own weakness.”

This need for control extends to the supporting characters as well. Trish’s mother Dorothy (who is also Jessica’s adoptive mother) is shown throughout the series as being controlling to the point of being abusive to Trish in her life as a child star. It’s not until Jessica makes a show of her super strength that Dorothy starts to back off, though she still tries to control Trish whenever she can. And Jeri Hogarth, a high powered attorney, is used to having control, but can’t get her wife to sign divorce papers. This lack of control makes her envy Kilgrave and eventually attempt to use him to get what she wants. Will Simpson goes so far to regain his former power that he resorts to using experimental superdrugs. These cause him to be more physically powerful, yes, but at the cost of his self-control. He becomes driven by rage, paranoia, and impulses, causing much more harm than good, despite having the goal to stop Kilgrave.

It’s not just the antagonists that value this absolute control, it’s even seen in one of the most truly good characters, Claire Temple, the nurse who seems to always be in the right place to help our superpowered main characters. Claire at one point states: “I want everything to be my fault, good or bad. Means I have some control. It keeps me dreaming I can change things for people.” She wants to have control so that she can better achieve her noble goal of helping people. As someone who works in a hospital, she has seen first-hand the never-ceasing march of people that come into the ER from all the horrible things in the world that cause people harm. She knows that the world is uncontrollable and cruel, and she wishes she could make a bigger difference.

“I was thinking the other day about accountability. Because when Kilgrave was in control, I wasn’t accountable for what I did. Even though at the time, I really wanted to do it.”

Which leads to another topic that Jessica Jones explores wonderfully. And that’s accountability. Who is at fault? Who is responsible for actions that are taken when control is compromised. The series makes us really take into consideration some tough questions. Kilgrave is a fantastic example. It seems pretty clear cut that when Kilgrave compels someone to do something that Kilgrave is the one who is accountable. While the law in the show struggles to deal with the concept of “a guy who can control minds” and arrests people for the crimes that they committed under his control, we, the audience, know that it’s true and don’t judge these victims for what they’ve done. So, after spending time showing us Kilgrave only through how he uses his victims, we take another step deeper into the question once we start to get to know who he really is.

In my last post I talked about how Kilgrave is id-ridden. He’s driven almost entirely on impulse and never got a proper upbringing to allow his superego and ego to form completely. So, if this is the case, and he is developmentally stunted, how much accountability does he carry with himself? Imagine a 7 year old finds a gun and shoots somebody. And not on accident, intentionally points the gun and shoots them because they’ve seen people on tv do the same thing. While their intent was there, their ability to rationalize their actions and have empathy to realize they are taking a life, was not. So then who is to blame? We don’t lock away the 7 year old in prison. We look towards who was responsible for the child or for the gun. In the case of Kilgrave, this responsibility would rest on his parents. His parents tried to cure their son of a brain disease, and inadvertently gave him these abilities. Then, after being slaves under a 10 year old’s control, fled in terror the first chance they got. When they were finally brought back together Kilgrave’s father explained why they left, that Kilgrave had almost killed his mother in an incident involving a hot iron and her face. But Kilgrave responds:

“I was ten! I had a tantrum, like a normal child! I didn’t know what I was doing! You didn’t explain to me, you just left.”

Now, it’s easy to dismiss Kilgrave’s deflection onto his parents as the same sort of projecting that he’s done before. How he’s insisted that he’s never killed anyone. How he hates the word “rape”. He’s gone as far as to try and play the victim saying: “How am I supposed to know? Huh? I never know if someone is doing what they want or what I tell them to!” And even on top of that, Kilgrave isn’t 7 years old, surely he must have gained some sense of right and wrong in his time growing up. But what sets apart the confrontation with his parents is one key moment, when Kilgrave’s mother does something that only heroic characters have done on this show. She takes responsibility. Not only in words, but in action as well. She attempts to kill her own son in order to stop the atrocities he’s caused.

So, yes, the question of “who is accountable?” is subjective and hard if not impossible to answer. There are whole philosophical debates to be had about accountability and blame. But what’s more important than “who is accountable” is who is willing to step up and take responsibility. This is something that Kilgrave never did. Neither did Dorothy, or Will, or Jeri.

“But what if the devil actually did make you do it? Even if you could prove it, would people ever forgive what you did?”

On the flip side of that coin, Jessica was the kind of person who took responsibility for the things that she did under the control of Kilgrave, and it weighed on her. The reason why Jessica feels so much guilt over what she did even in comparison to other people who committed horrible acts under his sway, is not because of her lack of control in the moment she killed Reva, but because she didn’t take her chance to leave Kilgrave’s control earlier. We see in flashback that there was one moment, a mere 18 seconds that Jessica had free will during her time with Kilgrave. He hadn’t given her a command in 12 hours, which was the time limit on his powers at the time. And in this moment, she thought about killing herself. She stood on the ledge of their balcony and contemplated ending Kilgrave’s sway with a sense of finality. But she was unable to. She didn’t make the decision quick enough before Kilgrave brought her in off the ledge and back under his control. To Jessica, this wasn’t just a moment where she could’ve escaped, but where she could’ve been out of the picture before being tasked to kill Reva. In her mind, Reva would still be alive if she had taken the chance to end things first.

It’s one of the most powerful realizations I made during my most recent rewatch. It shows why Jessica is taking things so hard, not just because she lost control, not just because she killed someone while under Kilgrave’s command, but because she could’ve stopped it.

“There was a kind of freedom to being under Kilgrave’s control. You’re not a slave to guilt or fear or even logic. You just… do what you’re told.”

Jessica is dealing with a lot during this series, and we see her cope with guilt and trauma in a variety of ways. Drinking. Violence. Sex. Pushing people away. What’s great about this show is that it doesn’t shy away from this aspect of dealing with trauma. So often we are shown heroic figures who can just deal with the stress easily or after one good brood session and then jump back into saving the day. But with Jessica Jones, it’s a struggle, it’s real and it’s ever present in Jessica’s day to day life. By the end, she is starting to heal, but only after being so affected for the entire run of the series, which is a bold move by the writers and one I applaud them for. They never glorify suffering, they just show it like it is, and how people really deal with it, both bad and good. In the very beginning of the show, Jessica talks about what cures Kilgrave’s control. And really it applies to all sorts of real trauma:

“Whatever it is, it wears off. But it takes time and distance”

When I first watched it, Jessica Jones was one of the best seasons of television I’ve had the pleasure of watching, and that holds true, maybe even more so with this re-watch. While it can be hard to watch sometimes, and for some people potentially triggering, it’s one of the best showcases of trauma that’s been put on screen. I can’t rate it highly enough.


Now I move onto my next series, Season 2 of Daredevil. I can’t wait to start talking about that one. And I also can’t wait to see more of Jessica Jones in The Defenders later this month. I hope you enjoyed my write-up, and feel free to let me know what you thought of my writing and of the series in the comments below!

The MCU’s Most Terrifying Villain: Kilgrave

I am new to love, but I do know what it looks like! I do watch television.

I mentioned on my past Jessica Jones posts that I would get around to discussing the main antagonist, Kilgrave, well here it is. At this point I will not be attempting to keep things spoiler free, you have been warned.


In a show that is in many ways one of the most feminist television shows I’ve ever seen, I almost feel bad about how much I’m going to be talking about the male villain. But Kilgrave (David Tennant) is an enthralling depiction of the greatest threat to feminism (or simply, humanity), the lust for power and control, and is therefore worth discussing.

Kilgrave, even on the surface level, is one of the most frightening villains in the MCU or any superhero show/movie for that matter. He has the ability to compel people to do whatever he says with no more effort than it takes to issue the command. And what’s worse, is that it’s not even that he takes over your body to achieve this goal, he takes over your mind. He plants in your brain the overwhelming urge to complete his task, he makes you want it, more than anything. At our core, our wants and desires are a huge part of what makes us each the person that we are. So he’s not merely making you a puppet, pulling strings as he sees fit, but he is changing who you are fundamentally, albeit temporarily.

For anyone who has ever struggled with an intrusive thought, or an urge they had to suppress, they know how hard it is to reconcile that thought with your identity. So for Kilgrave’s victims, these implanted urges weigh heavily on them long after his control has worn off. They know, logically, that it wasn’t their choice, yet it still feels identical to any other thought or desire they’ve ever had before.

What makes Kilgrave so scary as a viewer is how relatable he is. Now, I know that sounds like crazy-talk. How could somebody so cruel and evil be relatable? Well, because in many ways, it’s not immorality that Kilgrave demonstrates, but amorality. To people with morals, he looks evil, and depending on your moral philosophy, he might be. But Kilgrave isn’t a representation of our morality, but something deeper. Kilgrave represents the Freudian concept of the id.

The id is the part of the psyche that creates impulses. It’s the source of our most base desires and needs. This instinctual part of us drives our wants and seeks immediate and complete gratification. According to Freud, the id “knows no judgements of value: no good and evil, no morality”. It just craves. Take this line that Kilgrave says when confronted by the notion that he is evil:

Evil. How reductive. I mean, it’s true that I’ve never given a second thought to anyone that I’ve let die, but I take no pleasure in it like a truly evil man would. I’m merely removing nuisances. Public service, really.”

Kilgrave’s thoughts and actions never pass through any sort of moral filter. He sees what he wants and then makes it happen. Now, in fully developed people, we have mechanisms to control those urges, the ego and the super-ego. These are what gives us our sense of morality, and our ability to plan, set long-term goals, or have patience. With little exception, all of these are lacking in Kilgrave. For example, here’s another line of his when Jessica is making him wait for her arrival:

“How do you people live like this? Day after day just hoping people are going to do what you want. It’s unbearable”

His ego has never fully developed because he has never needed it. In his early childhood before his powers, he was kept isolated and tested on against his will and lacked any control at all, so having the ability to control his urges was pointless. And after he gained his powers he still never needed to learn to control his urges since there was never any obstacle in having his impulses met.

It’s not until Jessica defies his control that he has to start taking a different approach. He has to make plans, he has to try to cater to what he thinks Jessica wants in order to gain her affection. But he has never had to do any of this before. His only knowledge of this part of the human experience is what he has learned through movies and television. Like many men in the real world, he feels entitled to have love reciprocated and thinks that by making grand gestures and professing his love that things will all work out for him. He doesn’t care about what Jessica’s feelings are, he just wants them to be a certain way and tries to change her mind.

“Look, after a while, however long it takes, I know you will feel what I feel!”

So when I say that Kilgrave is relatable, I mean that he represents that deep part of everyone that just wants their needs met. That infantile, entitled craving for satisfaction. What makes him scary is thinking about how one’s own id might take over if they had a power like his. How would you react if suddenly the barriers of other people were no longer an obstacle? One of the characters in the show even struggles with this. Jeri Hogarth (a powerful defense attorney played by Carrie-Anne Moss) is used to being persuasive and having control over situations, but finds herself trapped by her wife who is refusing to sign the version of their divorce papers that Hogarth wants. Hogarth wants this problem to go away, and her goals are being blocked by her wife Wendy who is refusing to budge. Wendy holds a long kept secret over her head to get more money out of Hogarth. Hogarth fantasizes about how great it would be to have Kilgrave’s powers, stating:

“What a waste. He could solve so many problems with his gift…if he was on our side”

Hogarth thinks that she could use these powers to get over the troublesome obstacle of people. And sure, anyone who has worked a retail job knows that people can be awful, but while it’s easy to say that you would only use those powers for good, it’s a slippery slope from righting wrongs to imposing your own version of “right” onto other people, taking away their free will. Jessica Jones, for all her faults, doesn’t dream of having powers like he has, and sees them for how controlling and horrifying they are. She even calls Hogarth out when she mentions how his gift could be used for good:

What side would that be? The side that uses people? Treats them like animals? Just to throw them away like garbage? The side that rips your life apart and destroys you from the inside out? Whose side exactly would that be?

All this to say that even though we can see why Kilgrave became the way he is, that doesn’t excuse his actions. All but the most die-hard moral nihilists would agree that what Kilgrave does throughout the series is wrong, no matter what personal morals (or lack thereof) Kilgrave has.

In the end, Jessica must kill Kilgrave in order to stop the trail of devastation he leaves in his wake. And she accomplishes this by catering to the same impulses that drive all of his actions. She makes him think that he has won, that he finally has her under his control again. Kilgrave even has doubts about what he sees and is rightfully convinced that it’s a trick. But his weak ego can’t hold up to his powerful id, and he buys into the deception. Ultimately, his downfall is caused by falling prey to his own out-of-control id, just like he’s forced upon all those around him.

There is one more thing that makes Kilgrave one of the most memorable villains in recent memory, and that’s the performance of David Tennant. Many people know him from his time as The Doctor on Doctor Who, but he quickly makes you forget about all the happy memories you had with him (outside of one use of the word “Well…” which was very reminiscent of The Tenth Doctor). From his first appearance as a silhouette whispering in Jessica’s ear, he strikes fear into the audience. His cocky, yet cold demeanor is chillingly familiar to anyone who has been around controlling narcissistic people. The casual, almost flippant way he makes people harm themselves is eerie enough, but once he has his sights set on Jessica, and we see the breadth of his obsession with the one “thing” he can’t have, he’s downright terrifying. Tennant’s ability to encapsulate every facet of Kilgrave’s chaotic whims and motivations is second to none. There is even one part towards the end of the series where he delivers a soliloquy to no one on a rooftop. In anyone else’s hands, that moment could’ve been cheesy, but Tennant sold it just like he does with every scene he’s in.

The fact that I can’t choose a favorite MCU villain between Tennant’s Kilgrave, and Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk speaks volumes about both performances. But Tennant was just one part of what made Jessica Jones so great. My next write-up will be about the series as a whole, and the overarching themes of power, control, identity, and accountability. 


I hope you enjoyed my first post written just for this blog. If you have anything you want me to write about, let me know, and I’d love to hear what you all think of Kilgrave and Jessica Jones, so leave a comment!

Jessica Jones Re-Watch part 3

Originally posted on Facebook on 7/29/17

I will talk more in depth about Kilgrave once I finish the series, but there is something I want to point out about both Jessica Jones and season 1 of Daredevil. (No major spoilers)

Episode 8

That’s how long each of these shows take before devoting an episode to the villain.

I’ve heard criticism of both of these shows (all the Netflix Marvel series’ actually), that say they have pacing problems. I couldn’t disagree more. I absolutely love how suspenseful each of these shows are as they never rush to reveal the villains hand. We know they are bad, we know how they are affecting the heroes. But it takes 7 hours of show before they finally reveal the *why*. Why are these characters the way they are.

And there is a very good reason for that wait. If they showed these characters’ back story any earlier, then we might sympathize with them too much. These are deep, complex characters. If they had equal screen time up front, a good chunk of the audience might be more forgiving of their actions. But it’s important to know that despite their histories, these are men who are performing evil deeds. What makes them scary is that once you know them better, you see how easy it would be to go down their path. The shows make you understand how a person gets to where they are. And that knowledge makes it much harder to condemn their actions.

But they should be condemned. A reason for being the way they are is not an excuse for being the way they are. These shows prey on the viewers’ empathy to get them to question how they feel about evil men, and that is an incredible accomplishment. Even if your opinion of them doesn’t change (as it probably shouldn’t), the fact that the writers can make you step back and question the beliefs you held is a remarkable feat.

Jessica Jones Re-Watch Part 2

Originally posted to Facebook on 7/28/17

Already time for more gushing about Jessica Jones.

There is so much that this show gets right. And it’s strongest asset is that it’s told from a female point of view. Not only the obvious stuff like the struggles of Jessica (Krysten Ritter) and Trish (Rachael Taylor), but we see sides of the male characters that would otherwise go unexplored in the predominantly male viewpoint of super hero media.

A shining example of this is Sergeant Will Simpson (Wil Traval). In any other story, this guy would be the hero. He’s a former soldier, current police officer. He wants to help people. He gets mind controlled into doing something awful, but wants to make amends in any way he can. It would be SO easy to show this character as being no different than Captain America. But the story isn’t about him. He isn’t the protagonist. And this is something that the show knows, but his character doesn’t.

What makes Captain America a true hero is that he spent most of his life being the little guy. It’s even a direct quote from his first film that he “understands the value of strength”. This is a key difference between Steve Rogers and Will Simpson. Will thinks that having strength and wanting to help makes him the hero no matter what. This is a very common real world issue with toxic masculinity. Men who try to insert themselves in the problems of others because they want to be the hero, not understanding that they aren’t needed or wanted. Their ego makes them blind to things like that.

Will’s presence makes Trish and Jessica uncomfortable. Jessica repeatedly tells him to leave them be so they can work things out. But he persists. Demanding that he be a part of things not out of altruism, but because of his personal need to feel better about what he has done. His motivations are selfish, despite what he thinks. And it’s things like that which aren’t explored in male-focused stories, either because that’s outside the male fantasy of heroism, or because characters like Steve Rogers are actually heroic enough to not find themselves in that position. Either way, it’s a refreshing perspective shift.

Another way that the female perspective bleeds into the male characters is with Luke Cage (Mike Colter, who is excellent despite not being Terry Crews). I had my reservations at first with seeing that they were introducing Luke in such a prominent way in what is supposed to be a story about Jessica. It could’ve easily been a situation where some studio head said “well, we need this powerful male character to be included so men have someone to connect with”. But, like everything else this show gets right, Luke Cage is given the secondary treatment that’s appropriate in Jessica’s story. While he gets a fair amount of screen time, very little is done to develop him independent of Jessica. He exists to further her story. All of their interactions are rooted in her perspective and her issues. This is made even more evident after the release of Luke Cage’s own show. All I knew about his personal character, I learned from watching his own show. All I knew about him from JJ was that he was a cool headed, unbreakable dude with a painful past. And that’s it. Again, this show does an excellent job keeping the focus where it ought to be, despite so many opportunities to go down a more beaten path.

And while none of the concepts are new for women who have ever dealt with men, it’s wonderful to have it shown so clearly in a medium known for its hyper-masculinity. Making this a must watch for people of all genders. A refreshing and affirming viewpoint for feminists, and a much needed perspective change for people who need a little more understanding.

(UPDATED A SHORT WHILE LATER)

Ahhh! I just got to an excellent part that mirrors nicely with what I was saying about Simpson!

Luke and Jessica were together and Luke offers his support to her by saying that she doesn’t have to face Kilgrave alone. To which Jessica replies “Yeah, I do”. Now, this is where Simpson and a lot of other typical masculine characters would keep pushing the point. But Luke Cage simply says “Good for you” and drops the subject.

Now, I’m fully aware of my own guilt at times for being overly supportive to the point where I put myself where I’m not needed or wanted. So I mean it deeply when I say it’s great to see a truly positive male role model on how to stay on the right side of that line between being supportive and being controlling/patronizing.

 

Jessica Jones Re-Watch Part 1

Originally posted to Facebook on 7/27/17

Let’s talk Jessica Jones (spoiler free).

Right off the bat, JJ had some pretty big shoes to fill. As I talked about in my last big post, Daredevil was very high quality through and through, so expectations were set pretty high. That said, I think Jessica Jones rises to the challenge.

One episode into my rewatch and the show has already done a lot of great things. Right from the opening voiceover, JJ makes it’s tone very clear. Pulling from classic noir tropes but keeping modern sensibilities. Daredevil was a pretty dark show (both literally and figuratively), but next to Jessica Jones, ol’ Matt Murdoch is practically a Saturday morning cartoon.

Jessica Jones (the character, played by Krysten Ritter) is broken. Most character debuts would let us see someone in a state of contentment first, and then let the conflict of the story bring the character down and then, depending on the story, rise back up from the turmoil or tragically fail. But JJ starts us post-trauma. And I mean that literally. Jessica Jones starts the series with PTSD. The filmmakers use quite a number of classic cinema camera work in order to really show what sort of mindset she is in at the start. My favorite of which is unlike anything that I can think of seeing before (I’m sure it’s been done, but I just can’t remember an example). A static shot of Jessica where suddenly there is a shift in lighting and Kilgrave (played by David Tennant) enters and exits the frame. Very quick, but never actually cutting away or using loads of visual effects. It’s such a theatrical way of getting the point across that Kilgrave is still lingering in her head.

I’m sure I will go on at length about Kilgrave in a future post, but it’s amazing how much his presence is felt in this first episode without more than a couple quick lines and never actually showing his face. An ominous threat that hangs over Jessica at all times. Knowing what happens in the rest of the series, I gotta say, Kilgrave, while not as deep a character as someone like Wilson Fisk, is perhaps the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s most terrifying villain. What he can do and what he chooses to do are some of the most downright evil things put on screen. And for a show that’s all about power and abuse, he couldn’t be a more perfect adversary.

Looking forward to getting back into this series. I will check back in after a few more episodes!

Feel free to leave your opinions or thoughts or questions!