Killgrave, Hogarth, and the indiscriminate allure of violence in Jessica Jones
Welcome to TV Minus the TV, a column full of thoughts about TV shows watched on laptops published on the internet for you to read on your phone.
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be checking in with some of the various superhero shows that have assembled across the airwaves, as part of a mini-series we’re calling State of the Caped Crusades.
Today, Noah Berlatsky takes on Netflix’s Jessica Jones.
“If there really was a man who could influence people like that, I would hire him to do all my jury selection,” ruthless lawyer Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) quips early on in the Netflix series Jessica Jones.
It’s meant to be a joke — at this point, Jeri doesn’t even believe that mind-controlling antagonist Killgrave exists — but the line foreshadows Jeri’s reaction to Killgrave throughout the series. Our hero, Jessica Jones, and most other characters, respond to the monstrous, brutal, ruthless Killgrave with fear, hatred, and anger.
Not Jeri, though. Her primary emotional response to Killgrave is envy.
As just about everyone who’s discussed the series has noticed, Jessica Jones is a story about rape.
Killgrave (David Tennant) uses his powers of mind control to force women, including Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), to have sex with him against their will. He also kidnapped Jessica for months, and then, when she escapes, he stalks her like a supercreepy ex. He mind-controls a neighbor to follow her around and take her picture, and even recreates her childhood home, down to the CD collection, as a background for his declaration of affection.
“I’m not torturing you. Why would I? I love you!” he exclaims.
Rape is Killgrave’s superpower — which means that Jones’ battle against Killgrave is presented very consciously as a feminist struggle against patriarchal violence; he’s the male power structure.
And yet, Jeri Hogarth, and Jessica Jones as well, show that that male power structure doesn’t always have to be male. In Jessica Jones, patriarchy is not the story of a single man who violates a single woman. Instead, it’s a structure of power, which uses gender roles but does not rely on them. And because patriarchy is a structure, that means that anyone — including women — can take the role of rapist, and anyone — including men — can take the role of victim.
No one is protected from violence, and no one is necessarily free of the allure of violence, either.
Jessica’s superstrength, and her willingness to use it to hurt people, makes her, like Killgrave, a successful utilizer of power. Similarly, from the beginning of the series, Hogarth is presented as a woman who has been very successful by patriarchal measures. She’s a powerful attorney, with a reputation for ruthlessness.
During the series, she even does that stereotypical patriarchal thing and abandons her dumpy long-suffering wife for her smoking hot, younger, blonder secretary.
Eventually, you learn that Hogarth’s ambition has (in fine patriarchal fashion) corrupted her; her offhand comment that she’d use Killgrave to influence juries turns out to be not so offhand— she has a history of jury tampering.
Given her comfort with the patriarchy, it’s not surprising that Hogarth sees Killgrave not as a threat, but as a dream come true. She muses to Jessica about how much good they could do if they could harness Killgrave’s powers — and she takes steps to do just that. First, she tries to reproduce mind-control by using blood from Killgrave’s aborted fetus. When that doesn’t work, she makes a deal with the man himself to get him to mind-control her ex into signing divorce papers, a clear violation of consent. It doesn’t work out quite as she planned#, but that’s not for lack of trying. Circumstances conspire against her, but there’s no question that, in intent and desire, Hogarth is a (mind) rapist and domestic abuser, just like Killgrave.
By the same logic, men in the series can be, and often are, rape victims.
Killgrave does not physically rape men, but he violates them all the same. He forces Jessica’s neighbor, Malcolm (Eka Darville) to become a junkie, and then gets him to stalk Jessica for him. He mind controls Jessica’s sometime-boyfriend Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and forces him to try to kill her. He makes another minor character abandon his infant child to serve as his chauffeur.#
We don’t see the child abandonment by the chauffeur in the show; instead, the victim tells his story in a therapy group led by Malcolm. Men in the group, as well as women, describe their experiences in language that specifically references rape: they all have overwhelming feelings of guilt, as well as of complicity. Killgrave has gotten inside of them, and made them do things, and feel things, that undermine their sense of their own selves, their own morality, and their own worth.
Emasculation, feminization, and patriarchal violation, the series insists, are not experiences confined to women.
Conversely, the thrill of violence and sadism aren’t confined to men.
When Jessica beats Killgrave bloody, he goads her, taunting her to do worse. Afterwards, in despair, she comments that even as she tortures him, he controls her; in committing violence, she’s doing the patriarchy’s bidding.
Nor does she ever really stop doing so.
At the very end of the series, when Jessica, in control, commands Killgrave to smile, she’s taking revenge for all the times he made her do the same. But she’s also taking his place as perpetrator of violence, and as violator. Fantasies of killing Killgrave, Jessica Jones shows with queasy certainty, are not so different from fantasies of becoming Killgrave. And those fantasies are not confined to any one gender.
Jeri Hogarth has them too.
Like what you read? Share it.
(That helps us.)
Love what you read? Patronize Noah Berlatsky.
That helps us and the writer.
What is Patronizing? Learn more here.