Marvel’s Jessica Jones was a smash hit when it arrived to Netflix in 2015. It was still second to Daredevil, though. Nothing beats Daredevil, sorry. 😄
Anyway, there was something about deemphasizing a superheroine’s powers and focusing on her human nature that really appealed to viewers. There was also something about Kilgrave, the show’s main villain. He wasn’t a galactic tyrant; he was a shady character that you could meet on the street everyday.
Jessica Jones is what you call a departure from creative and storytelling conventions. Let me expand on this.
Marvel’s Gritty Realism
This show, along with the three other Defenders offerings (DD, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist), gained mass appeal during the golden era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
While Iron Man and Cap were traveling across galaxies to stop a demi-god from erasing half of all life, the Defenders were dealing with micro-level issues like psychological distress, corrupt law enforcement, drug running, and gang violence.
Jessica Jones ignored the title character’s powers and abilities almost entirely. She only uses her superhuman strength to snap locks, open doors, and jump from fire escapes. Her power of flight is shown once, and very briefly.
Instead, the show put her personal issues under the microscope. The show shed an uncomfortable light on topics like rape and sociopathic narcissism, all through the prism of comic-booky superheroes. Basically, this was Law and Order: SVU meets Supergirl.
SVU meets Supergirl
In the first season, Jessica is haunted by visions of a past abuser. A shadowy figure referred to as “Kilgrave” (guess “Slaughtercoffin” was already trademarked). She hears his voice, sees his face…and feels his hands on her bare skin when he isn’t physically present.
His figurative ghost haunts her still in Season 2, even after Jessica killed him. Purple Man is a phantom that will stay with her for the rest of her life. As most abusers do.
Kilgrave has an unnatural, uncanny ability to lure people in and force them to obey his every whim. Basically, mind control. His victims find themselves following his every sinister order to the letter.
Like pouring steaming-hot coffee in your face. No, really.
To Marvel at a Sociopath
Kilgrave is the Marvel version of a sociopath. His power of silver-tongued mind control is, surprisingly, not too far removed from reality. His abilities don’t involve lasers, super-strength or flight. The Purple Man is the unique kind of comic character who fits an archetype that is terrifyingly human.
According to HealthLine, a sociopath is “someone with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD)…People with ASPD may also use “mind games” to control friends, family members, co-workers, and even strangers. They may also be perceived as charismatic or charming.“
Charismatic and charming.
Purple Man was nothing if not charming. David Tennant exudes the sophisticated British charm quite well, I must say. Doctor Who, who?
His victims don’t realize they’re being controlled. He simply finds a person, exploits them for his own benefit and moves on. When he found Jessica, he was not only interested in her, he was absolutely smitten. He saw something in her that he didn’t see in anybody else. Perhaps it was her identity as a superpowered mutant.
Sociopaths are, I believe, still capable of genuine love like the rest of us. Hitler had Eva Braun and Stalin his daughter. Human psychology is extremely messy, let’s be honest.
Sadly, sociopaths subconsciously think that controlling others is equivalent to love. They feel that outwardly expressing anger as a response to a perceived loss of control is normal. Sooner or later, this anger drives their target away. Other times, they manipulate their victims into harming themselves.
Kilgrave pushed Jessica too far one day. He ordered her to kill somebody, and she did without objection.
When a sociopath pushes their victim too far, it has its way of “snapping” them back to reality. The victim realizes their toxic relationship isn’t in their best interest.
Right after Jessica killed the woman (Luke Cage’s girlfriend), a truck hit Kilgrave and he vanished for an entire year. He spent the time recovering, exploiting more victims, and planning his next move.
When he made contact with Jessica again, he lost something valuable to him: His hold on Jessica’s mind.
Breaking Free from a Sociopath
Jessica grabbed his arm when her ex-abuser was trying to escape. To her delight, she learned that Kilgrave’s power no longer worked on her.
“He can’t control me anymore,” she said triumphantly.
When a sociopath pushes their victim to the breaking point, the latter becomes fully, consciously aware of their abuser’s deceptive nature. At that point, the sociopath loses their control. As stated, this comic book show is NOT too far removed from reality.
Speaking as someone who once had an experience with a sociopath, I fully commend the writers for accurately portraying the nature and progression of a sociopath’s relationships. They merely used superpowers as a means of symbolism and storytelling.
Season 1 of Jessica Jones is some of the best, most innovative television in recent years because of how it seamlessly blends comic book fantasy with reality. It really broke new ground and introduced an awareness of a serious topic to a new demographic.
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