I was tempted, at first, to say that the theme of this episode is denial. But I don’t think that is correct: denial is the dominant operation of this episode. The thing most of the characters do. The thing that causes the most damage. The theme, on the other hand, is the difference between self-righteousness and just being right.
Take the Jeri/Pam/Wendy triangle. The sequence between those women reminded me of a Rube Goldberg device: Kilgrave (or Jeri?) got the ball rolling, and the denial, confusion, and compulsion fell into place. Jeri set Kilgrave free because her divorce was turning out to be too costly; ironically, Jeri brought Kilgrave to Wendy because she still trusts her. Wendy described a relationship with Jeri as akin to the proverbial “death by a thousand cuts,” and Kilgrave compelled her to transform the metaphor into literal reality, which resulted in Pam committing justifiable homicide to protect a woman she no longer loves.
And yet, after Wendy’s death, Jeri refused to take responsibility for any part of it. Her conversation with Pam is worth recording in full, because Jeri is truly the Queen of Denial. (Pam might be a princess.):
Jeri: “You told me to handle it. That’s what you said.”
Pam: “So you turn me into a murderer?”
Jeri: “I didn’t do anything. You chose to pick up that thing and crush her skull. You did that.”
Pam: “So now that I understand your bullshit, it’s all that I see when I look at you.”
Jeri really chilled me to the bone in this episode, because I’m not sure she’s very different from Kilgrave. She lies. She manipulates. She (Pam, too) blames others for her actions and denies complicity in theirs, just like Kilgrave does. She would love to get her hands on Kilgrave’s power as long as she is never again subject to it.
Jeri’s actions are not dissimilar to Simpson’s. Simpson opted for the red pill from the sketchy doctor as a misguided response to being victimized by Kilgrave. As a result, he has transformed into a single-minded xenophobic killer. By attempting to enhance his mind with drugs, he is once again completely out of control of his actions, as the drugs seem to have taken over whatever goodness he had before. And he’s in denial about the terror he causes, even to his beloved Trish.
Of course, Simpson isn’t the only one playing a complicated game with his own mind. In their conversation in her kitchen, Kilgrave makes it clear that he thinks Jessica is in denial about her responsibility. We, of course, think Kilgrave is in denial and inclined to shirk responsibility.
But I wonder if it’s all more complicated than that. Is Kilgrave regularly telling himself how to feel about his childhood? Is he repeating his trauma enough that he truly does believe the lies he tells about his parents? If so, how are his confabulations any different from Simpson’s? And where’s the line between responsibility and victimhood?
That’s a question appropriate to consider with Hope’s suicide, too. Hope, the “living embodiment of [Jessica’s] guilt,” thought she could never be free of her trauma. She thought she could never go home, never build a life from the ruins. She thought her life was keeping Kilgrave alive. And so she killed herself, believing that to be the only heroic action she could engage in. That breaks my heart in about a million ways, as Hope essentially fridged herself because she bought into the idea that she was an obstacle whose only purpose was to motivate the hero to action. Her own hopelessness was just icing on a very ironic cake.
Hope’s death contrasts with the eighteen seconds that both Kilgrave and Jessica discussed. Jessica’s flashback to those scant moments is my favorite scene in the entire series: In those eighteen seconds of freedom, Jessica found her strength. First, she climbed onto the wall, and it looks like a potential suicide. Notice the way she’s crammed in at the bottom of the frame in this very disorienting overhead shot:
She is unsure. She is conflicted. This is not the face of a woman who believes she will be rescued; it is the face of a woman in great anguish (and in a dress that is all wrong for her coloring):
Then—hooray!—a savior emerges from the shadows. A white
And she realizes it. (Krysten Ritter does an incredible job communicating these emotions.)
A beautiful falling shot. She looks out of control, or like she’s waiting for Andre the Giant to catch her:
But she’s not out of control at all. She’s in total control as she sticks the landing:
…and becomes her own white knight, riding off into the wide open world. (That’s where I started to cry, because I’m a sissy.)
Of course, it’s all a daydream. A brief fantasy of escape before Kilgrave’s voice pulls her back.
At least, that’s Jessica’s side of things. (The show makes it pretty clear that her version is accurate.) According to Kilgrave, Jessica spent those eighteen seconds wanting to be with him. He’s in complete denial about her hatred of him. And, from that denial, he’s spun a complicated, creepy fantasy narrative in which his only goal is to remind Jessica she loves him and convince her that she was asking for it all along.
Amid all of this denial, all of these people convincing themselves that they’re not responsible, there’s Jessica, who feels guilty for more than she should (but not quite the things Kilgrave claims she should feel guilty for). While she might be the person with the most guilty feelings, she's also the one with the most power.
It is appropriate that, in a story about mind control, the game-changing moment is not new information, but a new realization about something that was lurking in the past all along. Jessica has been able to resist Kilgrave since Reva’s death. She just didn’t know. But now she does, and that gives her immense power.
It took Jessica a while to realize her power, and Kilgrave thinks that indicates a lack of intelligence, calling her “not too quick on the uptake.” He’s wrong; Jessica didn’t realize her power because she was in denial about her own agency, her own phenomenal ability to escape.
How could she? Maybe it’s not just her superstrength. Perhaps Jessica’s ability to think around corners is part of what allowed her to break Kilgrave’s hold over her. The trick she pulled with getting Trish to put the bullet in her mouth, for instance, was pretty darn inspired. I think she’s smarter than him.
That may not be enough, though. No matter what Jessica tries, from surgical anesthesia to a vaccine, nothing seems to work and the bodies pile up. This episode, in particular, focused on the collateral damage caused by Kilgrave and others operating under the delusion of righteousness.
Robyn claimed that “each of [Kilgrave’s] atrocities can be traced back to [Jessica],” in a classic, albeit understandable, blame-the-victim mentality. Would any of this have happened if Jessica hadn’t made Kilgrave angry? That’s precisely the sort of erroneous question that Kilgrave provokes. There’s a direct line from Kilgrave to Pam’s newly-ruined life (and Wendy’s death). Another line from Kilgrave to Hope’s own decision to take her life.
Even, absurdly, a line from Kilgrave to Robyn blaming Jessica to Robyn saving Kilgrave and nearly hanging herself under his compulsion. Robyn is self-righteousness in action, but I think she might be a valuable ally now that she really understand the truth. And that might be the overall message of this show: that all it takes to defeat the Big Bad is a solid group of people working together and seeing things clearly.
And a horse. Of course.
• Kilgrave: “Interesting. I tell you to take me to a doctor you trust, and you take me to the woman you shat on.”
• Kilgrave’s Father: “She wants to use me as bait.”
Trish: “That’s not what she’s saying.”
Jessica: “I’m going to have to use him as bait.”
• At one point in Jeri’s house, Kilgrave told her to shut up, then asked her a question. He had to demand “Tell me!” before she could, and I don’t think he even realized that he had to do so. It’s like a complicated game of Simon Says.
• Do I love that the evilest woman on this show is also a lesbian? Not really, but let’s not go there today.
• Simpson is becoming this character from the comics, created by Frank Miller in one of my least-favorite Daredevil issues. The red pill/blue pill stuff is a reference to those comics, not to The Matrix or the Men’s Rights movement.
• May They Rest in Peace: Clemons, Wendy, and Hope. I don’t expect Kilgrave’s dad to last much longer, either.
New Feature: Robyn Says...
• “He couldn’t even tie his shoes without my permissions... That’s why he always wears slip-ons.”
• “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”
• “If you see something, say something.”
• “Where’s Ruben’s body? Where is his heart? Where are his little toes?”
• “I feel your sadness, but where is your rage?”
• “Claire? Emma? Trendy guy?”
Four out of four white horses.
Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, True Detective, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)
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