The Villains of Luke Cage

“Everybody wants to be the king.”


Whether they are good or not, it’s hard to not talk about Marvel’s villains. When done well, these characters can steal the show, like with Loki or Wilson Fisk. And if they aren’t done well, the conversation is usually about how they needed more development or screentime to be truly relevant. For me, Luke Cage managed to do this weird thing in between, where the villains stole the show, but often for the wrong reasons, and it came at the cost of pacing and depth.

First off, there are a lot of antagonists in this show. Everywhere you look in this series there is someone out to get Luke. I’m going to focus on Cottonmouth, Mariah, Diamondback, and Shades, but just off the top of my head there is Turk, Zip, Comanche, Rackham, Scarfe, Domingo, and countless police and gang members alike. But I guess being an indestructible vigilante means you’re bound to make a few enemies. For the most part, the secondary villains are done well, it’s the main ones that have the problems.

“You know what people remember over black martyrdom? Black Money.”

In Jessica Jones and both seasons of Daredevil, the primary villains have a slow burn. The beginning of the show is either introducing the main hero or, like in Daredevil’s second season, introducing new main characters (Frank Castle and Elektra) who aren’t typical villains. With this precedent having been set, it was a surprise to see Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes featured so prominently right from the start. At first, this seemed like a by-product of Luke having already been introduced in Jessica Jones, so we could devote more time to setting up his villain. But this turned out to not quite be the case.

Halfway through the season Cottonmouth is suddenly killed by his cousin Mariah Dillard, in what has been regarded among fans as a pretty controversial move. While the idea of a villain fake-out like this is not inherently bad, it just wasn’t followed up strong enough to make it feel worth it. Cottonmouth (played wonderfully by Mahershala Ali) was a wonderful villain to watch in action. His character and motivations were clear, and learning about his background made him even more compelling. He was seeking power through any means, and had no trouble getting his hands dirty. He knew exactly who he was and what he was willing to do to get what he wanted.

Suddenly, with his death, there was an antagonist vacuum of sorts. Both Diamondback and Mariah (with the help of Shades) were trying to fill Cottonmouth’s shoes, but neither really succeeded. That, coupled with Luke’s injury that took him out of commission, brought the show’s strong pacing to a grinding halt. If either Diamondback or Mariah had been ready to step up at that point, that could’ve been a strong moment instead of being a giant reset button, but neither of them were able to fill that void effectively.

“Does he have gills? Drown him. Can he burn? Can you poison him? What about a woman? You know he got one with his fine ass. You find his weakness and you squeeze.”

On this viewing, knowing that Cottonmouth would be eliminated, I was able to better see all the setup that was being done to have the true main villain be Mariah Dillard (played by Alfre Woodard, who, on an unrelated note, was actually in Captain America: Civil War as a different character). In many of Cottonmouth’s early scenes, Mariah is present, acting as the voice of reason. While Cottonmouth would often react emotionally to situations, Mariah was there trying to make sure things were done correctly. We keep seeing these sorts of scenes from Cottonmouth’s perspective, which makes Mariah come off as a thorn in his side, but really, she’s the level headed one who maintains a reasonable stance as Cottonmouth gets obsessed with taking Cage out and getting on top again.

Even though she tried to play up her desire to walk the lawful path, she would occasionally slip into a more criminal mindset reflecting her upbringing under Mama Mabel. And this gradual slide towards giving in to her history is part of what makes her very compelling. She was almost up there with Wilson Fisk, but became a victim of poor pacing and structure. Killing her cousin should’ve been a massively defining moment for her. It should’ve been what finally made her change gears into being more like Mama Mabel, but despite this big event and Shades’ coercing, she still continued to slowly fight her nature like she had been before Cottonmouth’s murder.

Mariah had all the great motivation, but lacked enough presence in the second half of the story to make her feel like the true villain. All that presence was instead given to Diamondback, who suffered from equal but opposite problems as Mariah.

“I’ll murderize everything in sight, because I don’t care, and I won’t quit. You can’t bargain with me, you buy or you die.”

While Mariah had no action but plenty of motivation, Diamondback had plenty of action but no motivation. Well, not exactly no motivation, but his motivations were not only weak, but told to the audience poorly. Now, I’m going to harp on Diamondback a lot here, but I want to say that none of his flaws come from the performance. Erik LaRay Harvey is absolutely menacing and does a great job trying to elevate the character as much as he can with what he’s given.

From his introduction, Diamondback is a relentless and single-minded foe who poses a very real threat to Luke. Unfortunately, outside of that, he’s a very one-dimensional character. His entire backstory feels forced, and most of it is told simply through him giving grand speeches about himself. Even prior to his first appearance, we hear about this powerful, shadowy figure known as Diamondback, but we never hear anything about Willis Stryker or his connection with Luke. It just comes out of nowhere when this guy shows up and says he’s Luke’s best friend growing up and is also secretly his half brother. Despite being a character so closely tied to Luke and his history, he does next to nothing to actually further grow the character of our hero. He just feels so hollow, despite being ever present for the back half of the season.

So, after Cottonmouth’s early departure, we are suddenly left with two main villains neither of which live up to Cottonmouth. With some tweaking, either of them could’ve been a memorable foe, but as is, the best main villain dies 7 episodes in, and that void is palpable. Ultimately, their impact as villains are mirrored in the choices they made to deal with Luke: Mariah had many thoughtful and sinister ways of taking down Luke, but didn’t put any of them into action, while Diamondback used magic bullets and a convenient (and ugly) powersuit that worked against Luke just because, well, they can for some unexplained reason.

“Do what I say and when you get away with this you can go back to being the sexy domineering bitch that we all hate to love.”

It’s not a total loss on the villain side going forward though. In addition to Mariah finally getting to where she needs to be by the very end, we also still have Shades. Shades might be one of my favorite characters in the MCU, and I considered writing a post entirely about him because there is just so much I could rave about.

I’m not the first to have this thought, but Shades is very much like Game of Thrones’ Littlefinger. He is smart, he knows which way the wind is blowing, and he’s always whispering into the ear of people with power. His introduction alone is memorable. I don’t know if it’s because of Theo Rossi’s acting, his eyewear, or just the way it was shot, but Shades is mysterious and engaging right off the bat. After only a few words we get the sense that this is a guy who knows much more than he’s letting on.

My first time watching Luke Cage, I was sure that Shades had some sort of superpower or something. He was just too mysterious not to. So to find out that, no, he’s just a crafty guy who has a fondness for sunglasses makes his ability to have you question his motives even better. I even received a text from my Mom asking if Shades was an alien, which is pretty telling. He was also the only character who had me legitimately worried about their safety. I was on the edge of my seat when Diamondback had Zip try to kill him. Knowing he was neither the hero or the main villain made him much more of a target for being killed off, and I really didn’t want that to happen, and certainly not this soon.

He even had a great scene early on where we see him responding to Pop’s death. Having grown up in that neighborhood, he respected Pop just like everyone else, and was visibly shaken when he had to deliver the news to Cottonmouth. And for a character who is otherwise hard to read, that was a telling moment. Not only did it inform us more about Shades, but told us even more about Pop, that even a hardened criminal was so affected by his passing.

On the villain side, I’m most looking forward to seeing how Shades progresses in future seasons, but I think that Mariah also ended up in a good place, even though it was a little late for this season.

Thank you for reading! If you missed it, I have a post about Luke’s father figure Pop here. I will have one more post on Luke Cage soon, but it might come after writing about Iron Fist a little bit. Be sure to follow the blog to make sure you don’t miss a post! And let me know what you think of these villains down in the comments!

Luke Cage Season 1 Re-Watch Part 1: Pop

“They call you Pop because you were the OG?”

“Nah, it was the sound my fist made when I knocked a fool out. Snap, crackle, pop.”


For my first post about Luke Cage, I wanted to talk about a character who is not only influential in motivating our hero to live up to his potential, but embodies the season’s central themes of history and community. Henry “Pop” Hunter is only seen in 2 episodes, and despite his short screen time, his impact is significant. Pop is a shining example of getting the most out of a character efficiently and powerfully.

The trope of the wise father figure who teaches the hero responsibility before dying in the first act is not a new concept at all, especially in comic book adaptations. This is seen in at least Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, and in two of the three Spider-Man film franchises (I wish I could say that sentence to a twelve year old me). But I think that Pop is a richer character than any of the wise old men in those stories. He is deeply tied to the hero, the villain, and the setting in a way that few characters like him are.

“You should be out there helping people, that’s all, like them other fellas downtown.”

Pop is introduced right off the bat when the opening scene shows a typical day in his barbershop. In this scene we learn a lot about who he is in the way he interacts with different characters. We see how he treats kids, women, young adults, peers, and his employees. And what’s notable, is that he treats everyone the same. He gives everyone in his shop the same amount of respect. We also see that not only does he have a “no profanity” rule, but also a swear jar. And he holds himself to the same standards as everyone else. Despite not being perfect, has no hesitation in paying when he slips up.

In just a few minutes we see this character as one of respect, responsibility, and also very human. It’s easy to like Pop right away. After establishing all this, in the very next scene we learn that Pop, like Luke, is an ex-con. This gives his words real weight when he then talks to Luke about moving on from the past and focusing on what you can do to make the future better. These aren’t hollow platitudes, they are characteristic of Pop’s whole life.

“What would have happened in my life if people gave up on me? I was no angel, no I was a beast. I was a beast, no two ways about it.”

Pop used to be a criminal, known for being one of Mama Mabel’s enforcers. After getting caught, and spending 10 years in prison, he was left with a choice when he got out. He could’ve gone right back to doing what he was doing, living the way he did before and letting his history dictate his future. But he chose a different path. Not only one that would better himself, but make a difference in his community.

He set up shop and used it to keep kids off the streets and learning the value of hard work and respect. But also gave them a safe place to just hang out, play video games, and be kids without being caught up in the toxic elements of their homes or neighborhoods.

Pop mentions that his favorite literary character is Kenyatta. A man who leads a more-or-less vigilante group of people who seek to better their community by ridding it of both criminals and also racist, corrupt police. It’s not coincidence that this not only parallels Pop’s own attempts at community improvement, but also the life that he urges Luke to lead. To use his exceptional abilities to truly take a stand against all dangers that the community faces.

“I was trying to do what Pop always did. Help people in need, and protect them from the forces that would do them harm.”

Another thing that sets Pop apart from most characters like him, is that he is mourned by both the hero and the villain. For all his faults, Cottonmouth is devastated to hear of Pop’s murder. It is Cottonmouth, not Luke, who takes vengeance on his killer. And even Shades, a notoriously hard to read character, is visibly shaken by what happened to Pop. This was a man loved by all who knew him, and whose shop was known as neutral territory.

This whole post reads like an obituary, and I think that says a lot about this wonderful character. In less than two episodes we learned all of this about him and more. Luke Cage does such a marvelous job building this character up and making his death exactly as weighty and powerful as it needs to be to motivate Luke, a man trying lay low, into action.

A common complaint about Luke Cage is that it starts strong and starts to dip a bit in later episodes. And while I will certainly talk about that in the future, I wanted to hold up Pop as one of those very strong aspects to the beginning of this show.

“Take my advice, brother. The past is the past. And the only direction in life that matters is forward. Never backwards.”

Thank you for reading! I will have a least a couple more posts on Luke Cage in the next few days. Be sure to follow the blog to make sure you don’t miss a post! And let me know what you think of Pop down in the comments!

Daredevil Season 2 Retrospective: Vengeance vs. Justice

“What is it, to be a hero? Look in the mirror and you’ll know.”

[[SPOILERS AHEAD FOR DAREDEVIL SEASON 2]]…and technically Spider-Man: Homecoming a bit, but nothing major, I promise

Check out my earlier write-ups for this season here: Part 1, Part 2, Or the full review of Season One

I hadn’t rewatched the second season of Daredevil since it first aired. I remembered liking it, but not much else. So I was not expecting to want to talk about much, but I was very wrong. The first season of Daredevil is one of those rare seasons of TV that makes you wonder “Is it possible to have a perfect season of a TV show?”. The answer is obviously no, perfection is simply too high of a bar. But the fact that it begs the question says a lot about its quality. Season two, for me, doesn’t quite hit that high of a mark for me, but it’s still fantastic and does a whole lot right. It’s biggest failing is in its villains, which I will discuss further down. But first I want to talk about the show’s titular character.

Daredevil is one of the few characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to have a secret identity. Because of that, we really get to explore the two sides of Matt Murdock separately. In season one, we focused much more heavily on the Matt Murdoch side of things, since his main interactions outside of knocking heads was with Karen and Foggy. Season two adds a couple more big personalities, but ones who are much more closely tied to his Daredevil side. Elektra (Élodie Yung) and Frank Castle (Jon Bernthal) give us insight into the vigilante world and Daredevil’s place in it.

“If I take a night off, people get hurt.”

I want to talk about all the important characters in Matt’s life and how they are developed as well as what they tell us about Matt. But first, I want to single out Charlie Cox for continuing to deliver a captivating performance. He always brings 100% to every scene he is in, and is even able to emote while wearing dark glasses or his cowl, which is damn impressive. One moment in particular was striking. In an early scene, the stress that Matt is under causes him to temporarily go deaf. And in this moment he is alone in his apartment screaming out in terror trying to hear any sound, and it is positively chilling to watch.

So even though I will be talking a lot about the supporting cast, a major factor in the success of the series is Charlie Cox. He encapsulates everything that his friends and enemies bring out of him and he is the glue that holds this show together. He plays counterpoint to every supporting character and does so flawlessly.

“You don’t get to create danger, and then protect us from that danger. That’s not heroic. That’s insane.”

It would be silly of me not to start with Matt’s friend and law partner Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson). He was very important in season one as a way to keep Matt grounded. This season he gets to spread his wings a bit more and really come into his own. We see him start to grow independent of Matt, largely due to Matt’s absence and how distracted he’s been.

I like that the drama between Matt and Foggy comes from a place of concern for Matt’s well being with the full knowledge of what he does. So often, superheroes don’t have anyone that knows their secret so the drama comes from “Where are you going at night?” or “Where are these bruises coming from?” And speculating about what’s happening while dancing around the truth. This setup lets Foggy have more agency and makes him feel less like he’s kept in the dark. He knows what Matt is doing and knows the risks and the reward and can argue from a place of knowledge, which means so much more.

“I don’t know about you, but I worked really hard for my law degree. Nights and everything.”

Right from the start, Foggy is shown branching out on his own. In one scene, he visits the hangout of the fearsome biker gang, The Dogs of Hell. He does this armed only with his determination. Even after he barely survived the encounter, he still requests the information that he came for rather than get away while he can. For someone without the super-senses or training that Matt has, that’s a very brave move.

It’s great to watch Foggy overcome these odds. Usually he gets out of tough situations by using his wits, like Matt is known to do on occasion when he’s not using his fists. But I think he handles these situations even better than Matt does. It never ceases to delight me whenever Foggy goes into full-on Columbo-style “you fucked up by underestimating me” sassy attack mode. He does this while stopping a fight between two gang members at the hospital, when dealing with District Attorney Reyes trying to undermine him, and he even lets loose on Matt when Matt continued to let his work as Daredevil get in the way of the case they were working on.

Towards the end of the series, we see Foggy fully separating from Nelson and Murdock, as he’s recruited by Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss from Jessica Jones) after impressing her firm with his handling of Frank Castle’s trial. A trial which I was glad to see on screen. It gave us a wonderful view into how normal people and the law feel about vigilantes.

“Frank Castle never came home. He just traded in one war zone for another.”

Speaking of Frank Castle, holy hell is he a tremendous standout this season. So, I have always kinda liked Jon Bernthal. He is the kind of actor who has played basically the same generic charming tough guy character in everything I knew him from, but that said, he always played that character very well. Going into this season, I was expecting a typical Jon Bernthal performance as Punisher, and that would’ve been just fine. Probably not as good as Thomas Jane (from the 2004 Punisher film), but perfectly decent. But he really stepped up to the plate for this role and shocked the hell out of me which was a very welcome surprise. He did everything right in this role.

From his wordless and determined chase the first time we see him, through every brutal fight and heartfelt dialogue scene, he was solid every step of the way. Frank Castle served as an example of what happens when vigilantism is taken to its extreme. His determined quest for vengeance and his willingness to kill those who he felt deserved to die contrasted beautifully with Matt Murdock’s moral code and sense of justice. In season one, Matt wrestled with the “devil inside him”, the deep part of him that craved vengeance over justice. Frank Castle shows what Matt could be if he ever gets pushed that far.

“The whole force is split. Some cops want him off the street, others think he’s making our jobs a whole lot easier. But if you ask me it’s only a matter of time before the wrong person gets caught in the crossfire.”

Later on, I will be complaining about how sometimes the series violates the rule of “show, don’t tell”, but I’d like to preemptively defend two of Frank’s pivotal moments. In both the scene on the rooftop with Daredevil (which I talk about in depth here), and the graveyard scene in episode 4, Frank Castle does a lot of talking about his ideology and his history. The biggest reason why this doesn’t violate that rule, is that even though things are spelled out here in dialogue, they are shown and represented in his character throughout the show. These dialogue moments simply fill in the gaps between other defining character moments. Not to mention, they are so well written that I’d likely give them a pass anyway. Frank’s monologue at the graveyard where he describes his last moments with his family is a heartwrenchingly beautiful scene and is the best material I’ve ever seen given to Jon Bernthal and he delivers it wonderfully.

“People that can hurt you, the ones that can really hurt you, are the ones that are close enough to do it. People that get inside you and tear you apart, and make you feel like you’re never gonna recover. I would chop my arm off right here, in this restaurant, just to feel that one more time for my wife.”

The scene with Frank and Karen in the diner in episode 11 is fantastic. It really shows the human, caring side of Frank as he teaches Karen a valuable lesson on love. This is the first time that Karen has really had a chance to talk about her feelings for Matt out loud, so we get to see her try to make sense of those feelings. It’s also a great moment for Frank. In the past, we’ve either seen him talk about his family in the context of finding vengeance, or in the sense of parental love. But now we see Frank talk about his romantic love for his wife. It’s a touching moment that shows the more human side of Frank that we see haven’t seen much of since his arrest.

“You cross over to my side of the line you don’t get to come back from that. Not ever.”

In their final dialogue scene with each other, Matt tries to convince Frank to join forces in the search for The Blacksmith. Matt is desperate at this point and even suggests that just this once they can solve things Frank’s way when they find him. But Frank stops him. Despite trying to convince Matt on that rooftop that he’s not going far enough, and his constant frustration that Matt won’t let him kill when they fight on the same side (a hilarious moment every time), Frank urges him not to follow in that path. This shows that even though Frank feels his way is right and that Daredevil doesn’t do enough, Frank still feels the weight of his choices, he knows how hard it is and that just like his victims, the results are permanent. These choices stay with him. He knows that Matt couldn’t handle the guilt that would weigh on him, and wants to protect him.

After Frank Castle succeeds in his quest for vengeance against those who caused the death of his family, he makes one more choice. The choice as to what his next step will be. Despite earning the name in the press earlier, this is when he truly becomes The Punisher. He turns away from Karen’s moral grounding and literally and figuratively closes the door to her.

“We’re not talking about something that happened to Frank Castle, we’re talking about something that is happening to him.”

I have to admit, the first time I watched through this season, I missed a crucial character detail about Karen Page. I missed it so hard that I went into this re-watch complaining that it wasn’t there. But it totally was. In season one of Daredevil, Karen is kidnapped by Wilson Fisk’s right hand man, James Wesley. During her escape, she shoots and kills him. Watching through the first time, I was excited to see how taking a life would effect her going forward, but was sad to see that it was never brought up at all in season two.

What I failed to realize was that even though they didn’t explicitly talk about that moment, it served as a core reason why Karen was so sympathetic towards Frank Castle this entire season. She knows that killing is wrong, but can’t concede that it’s never necessary, and that sometimes it’s completely justified. She has to take this stance. She has to rationalize it or the guilt would eat her up. Even Frank Castle knows that once you’ve killed it changes you. But by seeing that there is a vigilante who goes to those extremes, unlike her savior Daredevil, it helps her cope with her own conscience.

“Ever since we took on Frank’s case, I keep asking myself if there’s really a difference between between someone who saves lives and someone who prevents lives from needing to be saved at all.”

All of that comes to a head when Karen and Matt have an argument about the ethics of Frank Castle’s methods. This personal history is why the argument between her and Matt was so intense and heartbreaking for both of them. It wasn’t just the sense that the other person has a different moral stance, but each thought that it meant that they themselves wouldn’t be accepted by the other person if they knew about what they’ve done. Matt fears that Karen thinks that Daredevil doesn’t go far enough and would see his moral code as a weakness just like Frank did. And Karen worries that Matt wouldn’t understand or forgive her if he knew that she had taken a life, even to save herself.

It was such an effective way to build upon both of these characters, and I totally missed it the first time through.

“Well, sweetheart, you don’t break into my house and then talk to me about trust”

Like Frank Castle, Elektra is another character that could easily have been half-assed. A mysterious and sexy character from Matt’s past whose reappearance complicates his budding relationship with Karen. Not a new idea by a long shot. And again, under certain circumstances wouldn’t have even been bad. But Daredevil once again goes above and beyond. From her first set of flashbacks where we see an organic and passionate relationship bud between the two of them, and then suddenly come to a grinding halt when Elektra offers Matt the chance to kill the man responsible for his father’s death.

This was such a great moment showing how Matt was starting to let his morals slide under Elektra’s influence (breaking into a house, vandalizing for fun), and also demonstrating how far Elektra was willing to go. This had the same jarring impact as when real world relationships have a fiery beginning only to be suddenly derailed by a fundamental difference. Whether it’s wanting kids or not, or in what kind of environment each person wants to live in. Those kind of relationship enders hurt far worse since both parties still feel the same strong emotional bond. But like any good fiction, Daredevil takes this to an extreme not often found in the real world. At least, I’ve never had an argument with a significant other about their stance on murder, but your mileage may vary.

Anyway, once she reenters his life and he finds out that she’s been trained by Stick as well, Elektra gives Matt someone to truly connect with on the side of his Daredevil persona (after some initial hesitance and friction). He is even willing to leave with her in the end because she’s the only one that understands both sides of him, who sees him wholly. Especially after his argument with Karen that  made him not want to reveal to her his  identity as a vigilante. He’s been divided for so long, and Elektra makes him feel complete. And this makes him feel more alive than he’s ever felt. Making her death carry with it even more weight, as Matt loses a piece of himself. This is likely what prompts him to reveal his identity to Karen in the end. It’s his attempt to reconnect with someone fully the way he did with Elektra. 

“It doesn’t mean we have to fight Stick’s way. He kills his enemies, and we don’t have to. It’s not easy. It’s impossible. But it’s a choice and it’s a choice that I remake every single day. Every second, sometimes.”

Matt spends a lot of time trying to convince Elektra to understand his morality rather than Stick’s. She’s Born to kill, and Stick encouraged that, making her into a warrior that will stop at nothing.

Stick is a fascinating character and a great mentor figure. By great I don’t mean morally good, I mean dramatically interesting. Unlike most “old wise mentors” he is unreliable, manipulative, and kind of an asshole. His motives are also largely unclear, which makes every scene he is in filled with tension and mystery. Which actor Scott Glenn steers into beautifully.

“He thinks you’re worth saving. Earn that.”

What I find really curious is that Stick is the only character this season to actually praise Matt’s decision making and morality. Foggy, Karen, Claire, Frank, Elektra, and oftentimes even Stick himself, all argue with Matt’s decisions at one point or another. Matt is always trying to convince people that he’s doing the right thing. Ironically, Stick was the only person Matt never really tried to convince, already certain he’d stubbornly disagree. Yet Stick relented, not in front of Matt of course, and tried to make Elektra see things from Matt’s point of view. It speaks to the respect that Stick has for Matt, despite acting somewhat antagonistic most of the time.

“You know the problem with martyrs? The good ones end up dead.”

Despite all my rampant nerding out, I will be the first to admit that this season does have its problems. Some it fixes, some it makes up for, and a couple are just frustrating.

First off, right away, the Daredevil outfit takes some getting used to. Something is just off about the silhouette and/or the way the cowl sits on Charlie Cox’s head. For me anyway, it was pretty distracting. Fortunately, this is fixed a ways into the season when he gets a new cowl. It works so much better, but it would’ve been nice to have had him look that good the whole time.

As much as I raved about how a lot of the conflict helped inform Matt’s character, the drama between Matt, Foggy, and Karen that started out great and well motivated, eventually went a little too far. Especially since it was dealing with very similar arguments that had already happened in season one. On the plus side, Karen and Foggy did plenty of growing on their own and weren’t simply reduced to these arguments. That would’ve been way worse.

One of the most glaring problems with Daredevil season two, is that it suffers from the MCU’s long-standing villain problem. Few can deny that the MCU in all its forms tells great, layered stories about its heroes. In the movies, however, the villains tend to lack the same depth that the heroes have and come off as one-dimensional characters simply there to have someone for the hero to fight (the big exceptions to that are Loki, and more recently Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes in Spider-Man: Homecoming). Season one of both Daredevil and Jessica Jones gave us amazingly layered villains in Wilson Fisk and Kilgrave. But season 2 of Daredevil opted to give that focus to its new anti-heroes Elektra and Frank Castle. This leaves the overarching villains in this season, The Blacksmith and Nobu/The Hand, somewhat lacking. Both of them are introduced late and their threat doesn’t have that same lingering omnipresence that Fisk or Kilgrave had. And with the Hand, even though they show up frequently with waves of ninjas, they are all very indistinct and feel like reasons to have fight scenes rather than furthering the plot or the intrigue.

The most damning piece of evidence is that I just don’t care about Nobu or The Blacksmith (and this is me we are talking about. I cared about the villain in Ant-Man, for crying out loud. That’s how forgiving I am). While they aren’t really the focus of the story, it’s more about Elektra and Punisher, the characters still treat these threats like a big deal but it’s just hard to care as much as it seems like we should. They both seem tacked on and not fully fleshed out. Unlike virtually every other major character, Nobu and the Blacksmith fall into the trap of telling instead of showing. Their entire motivations and character development is done through simple expository dialogue. We get more interesting scenes with Kingpin in just one of his season 2 episodes than we get with Nobu or The Blacksmith all season. (Which is a little unfair since Fisk is already established, but still.)

Fortunately, for the same reason the MCU films often get a pass, the characters that they do develop are so good that it makes up for having some less deep characters. But it’d be nice to see that level of care given to all the major characters.

One nitpick I want to bring up isn’t actually my own, but it’s worth mentioning. I’ve read several posts about the way that Frank’s trial is portrayed on screen. (Such as this one hereAnd while I absolutely agree that all of their points are quite valid and that the shows portrayal of the way court works is borderline laughable…I don’t care. Should I? Probably a bit. There are several glaring issues that even someone with no experience in law could probably come up with. But I can’t bring myself to actually let it diminish the show in my eyes. These scenes weren’t really intended to show a court drama. It was to further the plot and the characters, which I think it succeeded at. So, it’s one of those complaints that I would not argue with someone if they took issue with it, but for me it just wasn’t that big of a deal.

However, there is one misstep that I find it much harder to excuse. In the final scene, Matt reveals to Karen that he’s Daredevil and then the scene just ends. It’s a crime that they didn’t show us Karen’s reaction to finding out Matt was Daredevil. And since his next appearance is in The Defenders and not Daredevil season 3, it seems unlikely that we’d pick up right at that moment. It just feels like a cop out to make a big moment to end on. Interestingly, I don’t feel that way about Aunt May in Spider-Man: Homecoming, but that’s probably because we, as the audience, are far more invested in Karen Page than in Aunt May. We’ve seen Karen develop and change over time and to rob us of such a huge moment is a damn shame.

But on the whole, I had a great time re-watching this season. Jon Bernthal was the big stand out for me, but all of the performances were great, and the tone and setting were just as on point as they were last season. I’m looking forward to seeing Matt again in The Defenders, but first, it’s on to Luke Cage! Expect some posts for that show coming up soon. Thanks for reading, and be sure to follow the blog to make sure you don’t miss a post, and let me know what you thought of this season down in the comments!

Daredevil Season 2 Re-Watch, Part 2

“There’s only room for one of us in this prison, and it ain’t gonna be you.”


To read Part 1, click here.

“Seven Minutes in Heaven”, episode nine of Daredevil’s second season, is another one of those singular episodes that I just have to rave about.

Ironically, the parts I love most about this episode don’t feature our main protagonist Matt Murdock at all. Instead, I want focus on the supporting characters. The two scenes I want to talk about are the opening sequence with Wilson Fisk, and the Punisher hallway fight.

“I’m the kingpin of this bitch”

For fans like me who went into this season originally thinking the stories would only revolve around Elektra and The Punisher, Wilson Fisk was a welcome surprise. After his reveal in the last episode as Frank Castle finds his way into prison, this episode opens on a 10 minute flashback sequence of sorts. We watch as Wilson Fisk enters the prison after his fight with Daredevil at the end of last season and see him use his connections on the outside to slowly build up power within the prison. Based on nothing but my own memory, I am pretty sure that this is by far the longest cold open of the series, all taking place before the opening credits.

In a season that has largely lacked “schemers”, this sequence provided a bit of fresh air as we watch Fisk make plans and utilize people and resources to climb back on top. Wilson Fisk is caged, but he is far from stopped. If anything, this will give him an even stronger tie to the city’s criminal element and make him a true force to be reckoned with once he emerges.

This sequence was not only engaging to watch, but also executed very well. I absolutely love how it ends in the same scene that we saw at the end of the last episode, only this time with the shot reversed, seeing the scene now from Fisk’s point of view rather than Castle’s as it was originally. It’s little touches like that which make me love these Netflix Marvel shows.

This sequence is followed up by a great scene as Fisk tries to recruit Frank Castle to do his dirty work. Frank’s disgust at a criminal like Fisk is clearly visible, but Fisk knows just how to push Frank’s buttons to get him to seek out vengeance on a man that Fisk happens to also want out of the picture. Frank is reluctant, but can’t help but pursue his quest for revenge.

“Cell 305. A room with a view. Seven minutes, and that’s it.”

Which brings us to the second “hallway fight” of the series. First off, it would be so easy for these scenes to just be added for fan service and to continue the running bit. But the writers continue to find good justifications for their inclusion, which is fine by me.

This scene is brutal. One of the bloodiest scenes in this entire series. And that’s largely because we are not dealing with the ol’ Catholic boy Matt Murdock. No, we are dealing with Frank Castle. And like he explained to Matt up on that rooftop in episode 3, he is not a man of half-measures. So far, we’ve only really seen Punisher either taking out enemies from afar with guns, or fighting them non-lethally due to either fighting Daredevil who he doesn’t want to kill, or because he was fighting alongside Daredevil who was keeping him in check.

But now, he is truly unleashed. We have seen fight scenes set up like this many times in the series so far featuring Daredevil. Many opponents and fighting hand-to-hand is what this series has been all about. So this fight serves as showing us a dark reflection of Daredevil. This fight is as unrestrained as it is brutal. It shows us what Daredevil would be capable of if he wasn’t kept in check by his strong moral code. And in that way, this scene actually manages to tell us more about Daredevil than it does about Punisher. We already know Punisher is violent and unrelenting, but by putting him in a situation that we’ve seen Daredevil in so many times, it lets us properly see the contrast between the two. (speaking of contrast, you can see Punisher’s skull logo made out of blood on his chest at the conclusion of the scene. A nice little touch.)

“You see, when I’m finally let out of this cage it won’t be to wage war. It will be to win one.”

The later scene where Fisk faces down Castle again and then gets him released is also a great one. Furthering Fisk’s machinations while showing that Frank, while taking advantage of the alignment of his and Fisk’s goals, is still ready to take Kingpin down as soon as he gets a chance.

I will cover more of Fisk’s growth and the rest of the season in a future post. I just had to geek out a little over these two fantastic scenes.

Be sure to follow this blog to get more reliable updates, and as always let me know what you thought of these scenes in the comments below!

To read my full season review click here!

Daredevil Season 2 Re-Watch, Part 1

“You’re one bad day away from being me.”

Wow. I love when I watch episodes that are so good that I simply have to talk about them. Season 2 Episode 3 of Daredevil is one of those episodes. No big reveals or major twists are spoiled in this post, but if you want to watch the episode completely blind (hah!) you should know I do talk about the events of the episode and some of the key dialogue points.

This episode, titled “New York’s Finest”, is a spectacular hour of television. Virtually none of the runtime is wasted, and each scene is as engaging as the last. The main arc is Daredevil and Punisher talking on the roof while Daredevil is chained up. And the supporting arcs follow Foggy as he tries to enlist Claire Temple in helping him locate Matt, and we also see Karen trying to pressure the Assistant DA into helping her track down The Punisher. Karen’s scenes are good, and really show off her character and drive, as well as her ability to get things done, but they aren’t what I want to talk about right now.

“You want the ER perspective? Victims love him. Victimizers? Want him more dead than ever.”

First I want to talk about the scenes with Foggy and Claire. Their scenes are a beautiful contrast to the scenes happening with Matt and Frank (more on that in a bit). While Daredevil and The Punisher are up on a rooftop debating exactly how much violence is necessary in order to make a difference in the world, Foggy and Claire each show alternatives to both their solutions.

Claire puts helping people in need first. She sees things from the victim’s point of view and rather than stopping or punishing the perpetrator, she focuses on actually helping the people who are in need. She’s non-discriminatory in her aid of people. She will patch up superheroes and gang members alike. Claire exemplifies the virtue of both having a moral code, and still providing care to all who need it, regardless of background or circumstance.

And then there’s Foggy, a character with just as strong of a moral compass as Claire, only with a different skill set. Throughout the series, Foggy uses his law knowledge in order to secure justice for his clients. In this regard, he is often even better than Matt when it comes to using “by the book” solutions to problems. And in this episode we see him not just use his powers of persuasion for his clients like he has in the past, but uses them to stop two rival gang members from getting into a violent fight right in the middle of a crowded ER surrounded by innocent bystanders. He deescalates the situation with an amazing speech (any single part of which would do the speech injustice if I pulled quotes out of it here) and proves that violence in any form doesn’t always have to be the answer. This further illustrates that perhaps Matt’s morals are in fact closer to those of the Punisher’s then he’s willing to admit.

“What do you do? You act like it’s a playground. You beat up the bullies with your fists. You throw ’em in jail, everybody calls you a hero, right? And then a month, a week, a day later, they’re back on the streets doing the same goddamn thing. You hit ’em, and they get back up. I hit ’em, and they stay down. It’s permanent. I make sure that they don’t make it out on the street again. I take pride in that.”

Which brings us to Matt and Frank. No amount of writing about these scenes will ever fully illustrate how fantastic I think they are. Just two men talking on a rooftop, one of them chained up. It’s so simple, yet it goes so far into the core of both of these characters. After spending the whole first season of Daredevil watching Matt struggle with the morality of what he does, longing to reconcile justice with violence, we think we see Matt finally come to terms with what he does. But then right away in this season, just three episodes in, we see him confronted with what happens when his sense of morality is pushed just a little bit further.

The first season we see him trying to convince himself and Foggy that he needs to go to extremes to see justice done, but now we see Matt on the other side, trying to define where that line is between extreme and too extreme. At their core, there is not much of a difference between Frank and Matt. They both believe that the justice system doesn’t always produce the best results and take to vigilantism to see “true” justice done. Their only difference is in how far the push it.

“You know what I think of you, hero? I think you’re a half-measure. I think you’re a man who can’t finish the job. I think that you’re a coward.”

In Frank’s mind, Daredevil is just as ineffectual as the police. He goes around beating up bad guys and enjoys being a symbol and feeling that because he gets praise from the people in the city that it makes him the good guy. Frank doesn’t need or seek validation. His goal begins and ends with ridding the city of evil people. He is calculating and unyielding and in his mind this puts him in the right.

It can be argued that by trying to convince Matt that he is doing the right thing that he is seeking validation for what he does, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think that he wants Matt to see his way of thinking because he sees himself in Matt. He sees someone who has the same goals but just isn’t going far enough. He also knows that if he doesn’t convince him, that Matt will continue to try and stop him, Matt even said as much.

“What kind of choice is that?” “The kind I make every time I pull the trigger.”

Frank believes wholeheartedly that what Matt does doesn’t actually help anyone because he doesn’t go far enough. The criminals that Matt lets live have every chance in the future to hurt or kill someone else, and Frank believes that by letting them live, those next victims blood is on Matt’s hands. To prove this, he puts Matt into an impossible situation. He makes Matt choose between killing a murderous criminal, or killing Frank to stop Frank from killing the criminal. Frank says this is the choice that he is faced with every time he kills someone. That he is weighing the criminal’s life against those of his potential victims.

To say Matt struggles with this choice is an understatement. Eventually Matt attempts an option number three. Trying to stop Frank, but without killing him. Ultimately, however, this fails. Frank still takes the shot and the criminal dies, blaming Matt for not stopping him. This proves Frank’s point, that by not going all the way, and not taking that responsibility on, that people will die.

Even with this ending, there is still debate for which method is “right”. It all comes down to philosophy of accountability. Are you morally obligated to kill if it saves someone else? Does this absolve you of taking a life? Is inaction worse? These questions don’t have clear cut answers and I love that this series and this episode in particular does a fantastic job at showing Frank’s argument in a powerful and effective way. It really sells his character, and makes for some amazing tv.

“For Christ’s sake, that’s what you think? I’m just some crazy asshole going around unloading on whoever I want to? I think that the people I kill need killing, that’s what I think.”

It’d be remiss of me to talk about this episode and not mention the final fight sequence. Matt, injured, with an empty gun duct taped to one hand and a length of chain ties around his other arm, makes his way down from the rooftop to the ground floor of this building fighting biker gang members all the way down. It’s a hell of an action set-piece. Top-notch fight choreography and great camera work. There is a lot of love, care, and hard work that went into making this scene as good as it is. That said, I am genuinely conflicted when trying to compare it to last season’s memorable hallway fight (at this point a Marvel Netflix staple, and a welcome one). While the season 2 scene is definitely more, and it’s executed beautifully, part of the charm of the season 1 fight scene was its simplicity. The brutal, clearly exhausting fight was unlike anything I’d seen before, showing Matt’s determination and ability to take a beating and keep on fighting. The season 2 fight lacked those thematic qualities, but put forward an excellent and engaging fight scene. So comparing them is very difficult. But, just like when I think about Fisk vs Kilgrave, if I have trouble comparing two things because they are just both so good, then that means they are doing something right, and I’m looking forward to the rest of this re-watch (and the Punisher hallway fight in later episodes which I am sure I will talk about once I get there).

Thanks for reading! Let me know what you thought of the episode, and also which hallway fight scene from Daredevil or any of the Marvel Netflix shows is your favorite!

Read Part 2 here.

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.


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.


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!