Guest Post by Cameron Carpenter
Spoiler Warning! This article contains spoilers for the entire season of Jessica Jones
There’s a moment in episode eight of Jessica Jones that really tears apart the very essence and terror of the show’s villain Kilgrave. While engaging in small talk with a distant Jessica, the two are approached by Jessica’s childhood neighbor, a now-elderly woman named Mrs. De Luca, who goes on to profess to Jessica that she had a feeling, all those years ago, she knew something terrible would happen to the girl’s parents. “Not a day goes by that I don’t regret not warning you. You’ve no idea what a burden I’ve had to live through all these years.” The conversation then goes as follows:
Kilgrave: Did you really have a sense that that terrible accident was going to happen? Tell the truth, now.
Mrs. De Luca: No, I didn’t.
Kilgrave: Why would you say such a horrible thing?
Mrs. De Luca: It makes me feel important.
The reason why this scene is both so effective and scary is not because Kilgrave’s mind control is pushing someone to actively do something against their will, but rather because of what the truth reveals of Mrs. De Luca. She’s not sticking her hand in a blender or forced to cut out her own heart, but she’s looking into the eyes of the beast and realizing there’s something deeply wrong with her that she must cling to a falsity in order to feel worthwhile to someone else. And, in this case, the beast isn’t Kilgrave. She’s her own beast. Just as there’s a side to Kilgrave that drives his selfish ego to abusive and dangerous consequence, there’s another side that begs to understand why and how people can be so terrible. But this part of him ignores his own flair for atrocity. He’s distanced himself from everything he knows to be human. Despite his attempts, he can no longer understand people; he’s always staring at them like we do animals in a zoo. And it could be this alienation and put-upon sense of superiority that makes him not only so obviously dangerous, but the ultimate machine of the patriarchy.
There are a variety of reasons why Kilgrave makes for such a compelling villain, including what he personifies in our own culture. Jessica Jones is arguably the most feminist show on television, from its wide variety of plot-driven female characters, to its conversations about rape and trauma, to the bit roles being held by woman extras (any chance the show can give us a woman police officer, client, or bystander, it does). But to say that Kilgrave is merely representative of the MRA community – the entitled, hyper-privileged anti-feminism bro-ified basement dwellers – is a disservice to Melissa Rosenberg’s full vision of the character. Yes, Kilgrave’s skin is that of a meninist (a word I still can’t believe exists), but because of this, he also represents a world created by the poison of the patriarchy.
Most of the first half of the show centers around the characters in Jessica’s rear-view mirror actively dismissing Kilgrave’s very existence – the idea that a man of such power couldn’t exist merely because they haven’t had direct contact with him. And it’s no accident that many of these characters are women, because that’s how insidious the current mentality on rape culture is. We’re wary to believe someone was abused because if they’re wrong, you know, boy, that’d sure be bad for the person accused, ya know! It’s a harsh reality for a woman to be surrounded by other women that don’t believe her, which is why when Jessica Jones turns into a show about women not only believing other women, but acting on it, it really means something as much as it possibly can.
When Kilgrave is trapped in a box after episode eight and effectively stripped of his powers and influence, he becomes the ultimate victim, able to further distance himself from all prior atrocities and instead sing “Woe is me,” to everyone who enters his viewing area. This is another branch of a patriarchal system: the means in which those in power are spoon-fed the notion they are beyond the responsibility of their crimes because of any past inequity. When they experience injustice, they often resort to a fantastical idea that they’ve always faced prejudice and oppression – that their lives have never been easy because they, too, once felt pain in some usually abstract way, far from the context of their current scenario. And while Kilgrave’s character went through a traumatic ordeal as a child, he then spent the majority of his life as the ultimate device of privilege.
Think of how Kilgrave enters or purchases homes, aptly ruining the lives and lifestyles of those he invades. He could easily settle into a home base, as legalities and finances are but a passing thought to him, yet instead opts to seize the locale around him and effectively wipe out, either physically or psychologically, the previous owners. A woman rips the skin from her fingers playing classical music for him, a father abandons his son, another woman is forced to smile at him at all times – a command later given to Jessica in the photos she must send him to feed his obsession. Kilgrave is arguably a walking manifestation of the violence of American colonialism just as much as he is a metaphor for the domination inherent in the patriarchy (a connection not unfounded by history). He enslaves, then abandons or kills, having collected whatever he wished. In some cases, he even seems to promise opportunities to those who desire them most, only to leave them alone to face the consequences, like he does with Wendy and her rage at Jeri.
What’s more, Kilgrave enjoys his position. Daredevil’s villain of Wilson Fisk was also a man of privilege, but his escalation to that point and his treatment of women and business partners is radically different, and perpetuated by certain levels of respect. It’s clear that Fisk respects Madame Gao as a drug lord, as well as Vanessa as a capable, sexually-empowered figure of dominance in both her professional and personal life. Further, Fisk operated from a “What must be done,” mentality – he wasn’t the type to act in spite or selfishness. That Kilgrave constantly reaps the benefits of his work with glee is only another tally for the patriarchy. To him, the job isn’t destructive, so long as he gets what he wants. And, as the show demonstrates over and over again, Kilgrave wants money, sex, power, and worship.
So while Jessica Jones is interested in deconstructing Jessica’s personal trauma and what it means to be a hero with real-world baggage, it’s also very focused on taking apart the patriarchy through a character that has been written with careful consideration and extraordinary detail. Rosenberg and her writing staff have made Kilgrave the ultimate force to be reckoned with, not only acknowledging and providing him the tools we white men are granted upon birth, but by meticulously pitting them against the protagonists in a fashion nothing short of genius. It seemed nearly an impossible task, but despite all of its grime and gloominess, Jessica Jones has some of the most hopeful heroes of the year not because they’ve got super strength or impenetrable skin, but because they’re fighting a battle all women engage daily.
Cameron Carpenter pays his bills by writing YouTube content for an independent animation studio and is currently creating the show GAFFYTOWN BOUNTY with Shayan Farooq. You can disagree with him on Twitter @Lumetian.