Jessica Jones is a genre mashup within a genre mashup, a superhero-noir-detective-drama. But in “AKA Top Shelf Perverts”, it turns into a full-blown horror movie. And in “AKA WWJD?”, it turns into an unsettling domestic psychodrama… make that unsettling domestic superhero psychodrama.
In episode 7, the camera tracks toward Jessica’s office door like it’s moving down the hallway of a haunted house, and Kilgrave lurks in the shadows of her apartment like a slasher-movie monster.
Jessica Jones subverts a lot of the ways that we’re used to seeing men threaten women on television. This isn’t about watching a scary man hiding in the shadows, wondering when he’s going to jump out and stab or kill or rape the woman. As I discussed in my previous reviews, there’s never really a sense that Jessica is in actual physical danger. Her situation is dangerous, but not simply because she might be hurt.
Kilgrave pokes around Jess’ office. He touches her belongings, he uses her bathroom, he looks at her bed. The danger is about violation and loss of agency, not physical injury. This scene feels “horrible” because of our visceral recognition as Jessica’s personal space, safety, and agency are violated.
Kilgrave leaves behind Reuben’s (Kieran Mulcare) bloody corpse in Jessica’s bed for her and Malcolm to find. Most of “AKA Top Shelf Perverts” continues that horror-movie aesthetic—Jessica walks around with (sometimes literal) bloody hands, and worries that her incredible shame is turning her into a literal monster.
With her back against the wall, Jessica comes up with a plan to get herself locked in a “super max” prison. This is ostensibly a plan to trap Kilgrave behind seven levels of bars and security cameras… but it’s also a way to end her suffering, to “take herself out of the equation.” Despite Malcolm and Trish’s objections, Jessica delivers Reuben’s severed head to the police station and confesses to his murder. She tells Officer Clemons (Clarke Peters) that she’s a sociopath, a “top shelf pervert”, who belongs behind bars.
So, imagine Jessica’s confusion when the police just… let her go. Kilgrave has mind-controlled the entire police station, forcing everyone there to hold themselves at gunpoint, release Jessica, and erase all evidence she was ever there.
This is an exceptional, deeply frightening scene—a tense, dialogue-heavy confrontation while surrounded by people who have been made terrifyingly motionless, emotionless, almost irrelevant. This is the real horror of Kilgrave: he turns people turned into objects. We see how he can change not just how they act, but even how they remember their experiences afterwards.
Kilgrave tells Jessica that he has no interest in controlling her, because he loves her, and he wants her to choose to be with him willingly. Jessica Jones does a great job of dramatizing Kilgrave’s inability or unwillingness to understand how consent works—he can’t or won’t grasp the nuances of why people do the things he wants them to.
Throughout these two episodes, Kilgrave keeps his word and refrains from mind-controlling Jessica, but he has no problem coercing her in several other ways. He accidentally refers to her as a “thing” instead of a person; when she reminds him that he raped her, he only says “I hate that word.” Kilgrave has a comic-book “scientific” explanation for “how [he] was made”… but there’s nothing essentially fantastical about him. He’s a frighteningly realistic monster because, minus the powers, we’ve all met people a lot like him.
In “AKA WWJD?”, Jessica “willingly” returns to her childhood home to stay with Kilgrave. Cue the “trippy psychodrama nightmare Barbie Dream House bullshit”. He has painstakingly redecorated the house to look exactly like it did when she lived there—it’s an attempt to either recreate Jessica’s happiest memories or recreate her worst nightmares, but either way that doesn’t seem to be a distinction that Kilgrave is capable of making.
So Jessica and Kilgrave just kinda… hang out and talk for a couple of days, engaging in a weird battle of wills. This sequence definitely isn’t the hostage situation it might sound like—it’s as complex and clever as it’s dark and disturbing. Ritter and Tennant are absolutely mesmerizing as they lie and manipulate and push each other’s buttons. Jessica puts her disgust and fear to one side, figuring out her next move—how to record Kilgrave without his knowledge, how to stop him from hurting his slaves (Adela Maria Bolet and Robert Verlaque), when to protect other people from him, and when to take his side.
Jessica even considers the idea of redeeming Kilgrave, or at least of harnessing his powers and using them for good. Kilgrave humors Jessica as she shows him how he can help people instead of hurting them—resolving hostage situations without bloodshed, for example. Kilgrave enjoys the experience, and shows interest in becoming a “dynamic duo” who earns people’s “awe and gratitude”.
In a particularly heartbreaking conversation, Jessica asks Trish if this strategy of redemption—however unpalatable—might be the right course. After all, this might be the opportunity to “change the world” that Trish has been waiting for. And in their own very different ways, Jessica and Kilgrave are hungry for an opportunity to “make it right”.
Jessica and Trish’s dilemma is not compelling because Kilgrave is particularly morally ambiguous or redeemable—he’s really not. But their dilemma is compelling because Kilgrave’s evil isn’t essentially alien or unique. Jessica’s fictional world is full of people who abuse the power they have over others.
Take, for example, Jeryn Hogarth. She definitely has some dark secrets in her past, both professionally and personally. She’s willing to use Jessica’s powers to get whatever she wants from her ex-wife (Robin Weigert)—by any means necessary. You certainly wonder what Hogarth might do with powers like Kilgrave’s if she thought she could get away with it.
And then there’s Trish’s mother Dorothy Walker (Rebecca De Mornay). Before her ill-fated attempt to frame herself for Ruben’s murder, Jessica goes around “tying up loose ends”—and one of those ends is making sure that Dorothy never hurts Trish again. Dorothy isn’t a comic-book science experiment gone wrong, but she is a monster nonetheless—the kind of monster who’d abuse the power that a parent has over her children.
“AKA WWJD?” ends with a literal bang. Jessica takes off with an unconscious Kilgrave, while Simpson and his army buddies get all blown up by one of Kilgrave’s slaves. What would Jessica do? The answer, apparently, is fly away. Well, maybe jump super-high. Same difference.
If Jessica’s going to “change the world,” she’s also not putting up with any more trippy psychodrama nightmare bullshit.