My Super Late Jessica Jones Review (Or How We’re All Kinda Like Kilgrave)
“If you could have one superpower what would it be?”
We’ve all asked or been asked this question at some point, right? It’s almost par for the course in conversations these days.
And yet, his answer surprised me. It was one I hadn’t heard before and haven’t heard since.
“The power to compel,” he said.
Thinking his answer a brilliant one, I took the liberty of stealing it many years later during a nearly identical conversation with another man with whom I was in a relationship.
“What would be your superpower?” he asked me almost absently.
I echoed my old boyfriend’s words. “I’d want the power to compel.”
“Yes. Make people do what I wanted them to do.”
“But don’t you already do that?” he replied.
He wasn’t being sarcastic or funny. He was dead serious.
And this got me to thinking.
In Jessica Jones, one of the latest Marvel adaptations for Netflix, this is the precise power of the villain, Kilgrave. He has but merely to speak the words and he can have anyone doing anything he likes; cutting off your own ear perhaps, or selling him your house.
My initial impressions of Kilgrave as a villain in the first few episodes were just “meh.” Then, as the season progressed, I had a dream, a nightmare really, about him. After that, I had no choice but to concede that he was definitely creepy enough. Watching Kilgrave do what he does, especially in the later episodes, really set my teeth on edge.
But here’s the thing. My sense of being creeped out was much less about the character himself and more about feeling weird about seeing parts of myself reflected in him.
You read that right. In some ways, I’m like Kilgrave. In fact, we’re all a little like Kilgrave.
Stay with me here.
First of all, Kilgrave clearly has abandonment issues, something with which we can all identify –though in varying degrees– if we’ve loved and then inevitably lost. This speaks straight to Kilgrave’s motivations. He seeks validation more than anything else, and he feels the only way to get that is to exercise his power over others. Deep down he’s afraid that no one will want the real him and so he resorts to tricking people into doing so. His mid-season tirade about never knowing if a person was doing something because they wanted to or because he told them to is a cop out and doesn’t ring true at all. He knows he can simply stop giving commands and let people give what they will freely, but he’s afraid that, given the genuine choice, people will give him nothing.
Any of this sounding familiar yet?
Notice how Kilgrave’s particular brand of violence is mostly reserved for the people he’s closest to, people he’s in an intimate relationship with. Sure, he compels strangers, but it’s usually either to further his purposes with a loved one or in reaction to some curveball said loved one throws at him. And this here is the key, because how many times do we do the same thing, albeit not to this extent, to those we’re intimate with? We try to manipulate our loved ones into doing exactly what we want, so much so that we’re just barely conscious of it. We simply come to think it’s what they’re for. We refuse to just let them be, and treat them as a means to one or more of our many ends.
It’s only those we’re closest to whose buttons we know how to press so expertly. Because we know them. We know what their pressure points are, and that gives us a kind of power over them. And if we’re not careful, if we’re not conscious of it, we will consistently, deliberately wield that power.
It’s important to note that even after Kilgrave loses his power to physically compel Jessica, he can still get her to do almost exactly what he wants her to do. This is because he knows her in a way that can only come from being close to someone. He knows that Jessica feels profound and paralyzing guilt over people being hurt (or worse) because of her, and he knows she’ll do what he asks in order to prevent that (enter: creepy selfies sent every day at precisely noon).
Jessica is the only person who becomes immune to Kilgrave’s powers. This is an unprecedented event for him, and much like a spoiled child who is too used to getting his own way, he throws a tantrum. A violent, psychopathic tantrum. When he can’t get Jessica to join with him again by force, he proceeds to try to manipulate her into doing so. And then he trolls her even further by making her think it’s all really her choice. His sense of entitlement to her is frightening at times. She should be his simply because he wants her to, seems to be his reasoning. He gives no thought to actually earning her affections the honest way, of striving to be the type of man she might ultimately admire. She should just love him because that’s what he wants. And when she doesn’t, he goes on a killing spree (this scenario, is sadly too familiar in our culture, so before you paint Kilgrave to be some make-believe supervillain, remember that scarily similar situations happen to women in real life and far too often).
He claims that he loves her. And yes, it’s hard to imagine that Kilgrave is capable of love. But in the end, is it so hard to believe? How often have the denied affections of a love interest led you to imagine that you deeply loved that person? Notice how we almost always love said person just a little less the instant they become fully available.
This, incidentally, is also how Jessica is able to defeat Kilgrave in the end (and let’s face it, she’s just as obsessed with him as he is with her) because she knows what makes Kilgrave tick; she knows what his deepest desires and darkest fears are. And she knows that her being able to get away from him has exposed his very raw and deep-seated insecurity.
Intimate knowledge. It’s why we’re wary about who we let get close. Because armed with that knowledge, a careless (or worse) person can do great damage to our psyche. Armed with that knowledge, we have two choices. We can use it to manipulate someone into doing what we want them to do in a misguided attempt to feel better about ourselves. Or we can use it to actually strengthen our partners and lift them up.
Dig deep. Don’t lie to yourself. It’s scary how much we choose the former.