The sound of these two triggering words is enough to make you blood run cold. In a show that masquerades itself as a show about superheroes vs. villains, Jessica Jones is ultimately about the reality of living in a patriarchal society that neglects and silences women; a show that metaphorically portrays how society attempts to strip away power from women at every moment they can, whether it be political, romantically, or even in the media.
Prior to the show being premiered on Netflix, it had already gained some buzz on social media. It was a show that would follow Daredevil in the Marvel universe, and for that, it had high expectations. When it was released on November 20, it instantly became one of the most talked about shows this fall (quite impressive since it’s not a network show). Here’s a show that features a kickass female superhero and unless you haven’t properly watched all episodes, you would know that it also does a superb job at balancing the superhero elements with a look at the real world in how people, especially women, deal with the aftermath of emotional/physical abuse. Like many shows have, it utilizes the issue of rape to advance the drama but it does it differently from the others. Instead of taking the lazy storytelling route and showing the act visually and using it as a plot device, like many investigative procedural shows do, the show dissects its effects and meaning over the course of the seasons 13 episodes in a way that gets the audience to actually think about it. We see what happened to Jessica when she was taken and manipulated by Kilgrave through her perspective and we see the trauma she endures in the aftermath.
As much as we have seen rape playing a part in television this year, as an audience we haven’t really been made to think of this horrible act for what it is and how it is portrayed. Other investigative procedural shows simply show the act being committed: the heroes of the show find out and investigate it, more drama happens, they catch the villain and that marks the end of the day. Jessica Jones dissects the act of rape, how it happens and what it means. It shows Jessica and Kilgrave at their moments of power and weakness and it shows Kilgrave taking away Jessica’s and other characters power of consent away. After being Kilgrave’s puppet, after being under his mind control, and after being emotionally and psychically abused, we see Jessica deal with her trauma with alcohol. Throughout the series we see her in her moments of weakness chugging down a bottle of whiskey just to numb her pain. As a viewer we learn later on in the show that Kilgrave made Jessica think that she wanted to go with him and help him commit crimes through mind control. He was intrigued by her super heroic powers. After escaping the mental prison he held her in, Jessica still had her extraordinary powers but Kilgrave striped her away from a deeper power. She copes with her trauma with alcohol and from all that she went through with Kilgrave and she has trouble trusting those close to her.
Kilgrave has harmful powers that allow him not only to do harm to others but have others do harm to themselves. His powers are portrayed violently because they allow him to take his victims right of consent away. As we see him as a villain we also get to see him as a victim. There’s an importance in seeing Kilgrave as a victim; with him being used as a science experiment by his parents at a young age. We see him traumatized by this experience and learn that it’s what gave him his powers and because of that he doesn’t know how to live without them. In the episode ‘AKA WWJD” we see Jessica give herself away to Kilgrave because it’s the only way that she can defeat him. Throughout the season she’s on a quest to be free from this ghost from her past (Kilgrave) but she can’t because he’s still out looking for her, manipulating those around her to get close to her. The only way to defeat him is to confront him and outsmart him. As a result of his disturbing obsession with Jessica and wanting her to love him, he recreates the decor of her childhood home in the same home and has her living with him. We see the tension between them grow more and more as the episode advances and we see Jessica finally vocally address the abuse he did to her. The conversation that ensues from this is the most important from the entire series because we see Jessica’s rage and her vocalizing the details of her abuse from him and we see Kilgrave trying to rationalize his actions to seem like the victim.
Kilgrave: What part of staying in five-star hotels, eating in all the best places, doing whatever the hell you wanted, is rape?
Jessica: The part where I didn’t want to do any of it! Not only did you physically rape me, but you violated every cell in my body and every thought in my goddamn head.
Kilgrave: That’s not what I was trying to do.
Jessica: It doesn’t matter what you were trying to do. You raped me, again and again and again.
Kilgrave: How was I supposed to know?! Huh?! I never know if someone is doing what they want or what I tell them to!
Jessica: Oh, poor you.
Kilgrave: You have no idea, do you? I have to painstakingly choose every word I say. I once told a man to go screw himself. Can you even imagine? I didn’t have this. A home, loving parents, a family.
Jessica: You blame bad parenting? My parents died! You don’t see me raping anyone!
Kilgrave: I hate that word.
There’s so much to dissect in this scene and so much importance in the deliverance of it. We see Kilgrave claim a sense of entitlement and confusion over Jessica. His excuse for his crimes is the “she wanted it” reason that we continuously see in the media. He attempts to make Jessica feel bad for him by saying that he has a hard life because he has to make sure to say what he means but Jessica’s response is brilliant in having no sympathy for him and she’s right by doing so. If that wasn’t bad enough Kilgrave’s signature “Smile, Jessica,” is also an example of his manipulation and sense of control towards her. It alludes to how our patriarchal society tells women to always have a smile on their face because to them it’s attractive and approachable. His actions are things that lay out in the real world time and again each day. Nothing could ever excuse Kilgrave’s actions towards Jessica and his other victims. Just like Jessica said, he emotionally and physically abused her, he took away her trust and sense of safety. This episode is brilliant in showing how nothing could ever excuse such a crime but it also humanizes the villain to make him relatable enough to be recognized as someone from the real world and show the reasons for his horrid actions. This is why it is important for the audience not to romanticize the relationship between Jessica and Kilgrave and label it as “relationship goals” because when you dissect the complexity of the relationship between them, you see just how toxic it is.
While Jessica’s abuse from Kilgrave is central, she’s not the only one that endures emotional and physical abuse from Kilgrave. The first episode leads us to the character Hope and as the episode progresses we learn that Kilgrave used her to get to Jessica. He set her parents to go to Jessica Jones, knowing she was working as a private investigator, and she took on the case. After finding out that Kilgrave was behind this, the PTSD she experienced from him came back and she panicked, so she went to her best friend Trish Walker, and asked for money to flee. Jessica ultimately ended up finding Hope in a fancy hotel room and told her parents to come pick her up and leave the city. As they left, Kilgrave was able to still take control of Hope and had her kill her parents which led her to be arrested for murder. Jessica finds it upon herself to prove her innocence but even in a world where civilians are aware that superheros and villains exist, the media doesn’t believe that Hope was forced and manipulated to commit murder. Even her lawyer said that no evidence showed any marks of abuse and manipulation. This alludes to how emotional abuse tends to be neglected from the media because there’s nothing physical that can prove it but nevertheless it is a real thing that exists and it leaves a greater impact that one can think of. The media and authority ends up failing Hope and although she gets out of prison, they fail to protect her from Kilgrave and as a way to finally escape his prison she kills herself.
Not being under the control of Kilgrave, Trish Walker is also a victim of abuse from her mother. As a child she suffered from abuse from her mother forcing her to be the character Patsy Walker. Her mother forced her to remain thin and a have perfect image for the media. As a result from this abuse, Trish began training in self-defense techniques of Krav Maga. She ultimately became a target of Kilgrave when he manipulated the character Will Simpson to physically attack and kill her. She was saved by Jessica but she was left with the scars and bruises he left.
In the end, Jessica ends up killing Kilgrave and prevents him from abusing any other victim. Although he is dead, it doesn’t make for a happy ending. It doesn’t erase all of the abuse, Jessica, Hope, Trish, or any other victim went through, and that’s the point. It’s supposed to be realistic and show that although the bad guy may be caught, society still doesn’t believe victims and the media fails to show visibility even though it’s there.
The truth is, Kilgrave was a villain with many victims. The importance of Jessica Jones is that it advances the conversation about rape forward by treating it as a complex subject worth investigating, rather than a plot point. It addresses rape as it is and instead of showing its audience the act, it talks about it and gets the audience to talk about it too. Kilgrave stating that he hates the word “rape” is really important too because it vocalizes society’s view towards it. A lot of people neglect to use the word when talking about it and many refuse to talk about it but what this show and Jessica does is let the audience know that rape is an existing thing, it happens, and it is tragic, and we must remember to bring light to it and not neglect it.
The way I see it, Jessica Jones is forcing a conversation that many have disguised as something else or simply neglect. Brilliantly utilizing the superhero/superpower metaphor, the issue of psychological, physical, and domestic abuse is being told in a way that captivates an audience to notice the reality of the situation. In regards to those that have experienced similar things and are still in recovery, not everyone has superpowers like Jessica, or the ability to kick ass like Trish, or the will that Hope held, but what they do have is the power to make it through.
Although Jessica didn’t do anything ultra heroic like saving the world or the city, she survived unspeakable trauma and persevered, and that means so much to victims of abuse. By voicing the importance of this issue and bringing awareness to it, we can all be heroes like Jessica.