With popular media that covers the topic of domestic abuse and its victims, especially without romanticizing it, being few and far between, it may seem ironic that one of the most notable examples is a television show that involves mind-control and super-strength. Nonetheless, the Netflix original television show Marvel’s Jessica Jones details the struggle of the titular character (played by Krysten Ritter) in coping with the aftermath of her time under the influence of the series’ antagonist: Kilgrave (played by David Tenant) in a surprisingly realistic way.
Disclaimer: Broad narrative elements of the Jessica Jones plot are revealed below.
The character Kilgrave is designed to represent an abuser. He has ability to compel others into following his commands, simply by telling them to, which is used as the fictional equivalent of an abuser’s ability to coerce their victims into performing actions that they are not comfortable with. Prior to the events of the series, Kilgrave had taken control of Jessica’s mind and forced her into a variety of heinous actions against her will including murder. Throughout the events of a significant portion of the narrative, Kilgrave attempts to persuade Jessica into returning to him without the use of his powers, but his emotional abuse continues. He minimizes the harm he inflicted on her while advocating a distorted view of the past that portrays himself as well-meaning. He repeats that he truly “loves” her and would treat her differently this time around while simultaneously threatening to harm others if she doesn’t give into his demands. Like many real-life abusers, he strives to keep his victim involved in a relationship through a mixture of false promises and physical threats.
On the other hand, Jessica represents a victim learning to move forward with her life and realize that the abuse was not her own fault. At the start of the series, she has already managed to get away from Kilgrave, but she continues to feel guilty because of her actions under his control. This has led her to adopt unhealthy coping methods including alcoholism. As the series progresses, she comes to realize that she cannot hold herself responsible for the actions she carried out without free will, helping her to overcome the influence he held over her. In the real world, many victims blame themselves for abuse inflicted upon them. Yet it remains important to know that the fault lies with the abuser and not the abused.
While promoting the show’s first season, Melissa Rosenberg, the creator of the series, was asked about how she decided upon her portrayal of abuse and PTSD. Her answer was that “playing them as honestly as possible was very much the objective from the beginning. The tone is meant to be very grounded and real, so you have to be very grounded and real with whatever subjects you're dealing with. So there was no glossing this over. It was really an exploration of a survivor and her healing, to the degree that she does, in facing those demons quite literally. From the outset, it was really wanting to treat the matter as directly as we could.”
All episodes of Jessica Jones season 1 are available for streaming on Netflix. However, mature content is present, so viewer discretion is advised. Season 2 of Jessica Jones will premiere on March 8th.
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