To say that Jessica Jones’ handling of Kilgrave is an improvement over the Alias comic book is a major understatement. Brian Michael Bendis’ interpretation of Purple Man is an utterly unsympathetic character, a remorseless maniac who breaks the fourth wall and talks about being in a comic book and is as obnoxious as he is repulsive. While there’s no physical rape committed against Jessica in the comics, Purple Man uses his mind control to sexually abuse Jessica in different ways, making her watch other victims and then forcing her to beg him for sexual satisfaction that he never grants her. It’s deeply disturbing and unpleasant, and the writers of Jessica Jones make a very wise choice in adding the motivation of love to Kilgrave’s character. His actions on the show are still disturbing and unpleasant, but they’re rooted in legitimate affection for Jessica that he doesn’t know how to express without hurting others.
“AKA WWJD?” is the most revealing episode of Jessica Jones’ first season, exploring Jessica and Kilgrave’s dysfunctional dynamic while delving into the backstories of both characters. Primarily set within the walls of Jessica’s childhood home, the episode is one long battle for control, with Kilgrave trying to use Jessica’s memories of happiness to manipulate her into loving him without being mind controlled and Jessica playing along until she gets the pieces in place to enact her own plan. The tension between Jessica and Kilgrave invigorates Krysten Ritter and David Tennant’s performances, and their scenes together have a depth of emotion that isn’t reached anywhere else this season.
The episode starts with a tour of Jessica’s house to highlight the importance of this space on her psyche, and Ritter fully captures Jessica’s increasing horror as she realizes the extent of Kilgrave’s obsession. He takes pride in how meticulously researched his recreation of her home is, but Jessica isn’t impressed that he used a magnifying glass to learn which CDs she had in her bedroom. She’s totally creeped out, but she knows that she can’t let Kilgrave see her fear, so she makes her behavior even more aggressively hateful. Kilgrave and Jessica are both performing for each other, with Kilgrave working to build an illusion of suburban domesticity that Jessica refuses to accept because she knows better than to trust him.
Jessica rips up the purple gown Kilgrave leaves for her to wear to dinner, and when she joins Kilgrave for the meal, she guzzles a bottle of wine as quickly as she can before fleeing back to her bedroom. That dinner is where we start to see more of Kilgrave’s perspective regarding the abuse Jessica suffered, and he’s shocked that Jessica blames him for her drinking problem despite the fact that she drinks to numb the pain that has lingered ever since their time together. He blames Jessica for killing Reva because he told her to “take care of her,” not kill her, and his victim-blaming is a classic move to avoid responsibility for his actions.
That rocky first night goes as expected, but writer Scott Reynolds introduces a new twist to Kilgrave and Jessica’s dynamic the following morning when Jessica’s nosy neighbor interrupts their breakfast in the backyard. Inviting Mrs. De Luca to join them for breakfast is a cruel way of forcing Jessica into a role that she doesn’t want to play, and adding an innocent life to the mix means Jessica has to play along. But once Mrs. De Luca starts bringing up the past that Jessica clearly doesn’t want to talk about, Kilgrave swoops in to the rescue of his beloved and makes the neighbor pay for hurting Jessica. He uses his mind control to compel Mrs. De Luca to admits that she never knew Jessica’s family was going to die in that accident and that she only says she did to feel important, and Jessica lets Kilgrave use his powers when it means gaining satisfaction for herself. It also sets up the possibility that maybe Kilgrave’s abilities can be harnessed for good, which Jessica will explore further after she learns Kilgrave’s tragic backstory.
Kilgrave makes the tiniest bit of progress with Jessica during breakfast, but it’s immediately erased when he touches Jessica’s hand, breaking the main rule that he never touches Jessica without her genuine consent. He thinks this one “good” deed for Jessica somehow makes up for all the bad from before, but Jessica won’t let Kilgrave forget that he raped her over and over. The conversation that ensues is the most important exchange of this entire series, finally cementing the details of Kilgrave’s abuse while showing how Kilgrave rationalizes his actions in his head:
Kilgrave: What part of staying in five-star hotels, eating in all the best places, doing whatever the hell you wanted, is rape?
Jessica: The part where I didn’t want to do any of it! Not only did you physically rape me, but you violated every cell in my body and every thought in my goddamn head.
Kilgrave: That’s not what I was trying to do.
Jessica: It doesn’t matter what you were trying to do. You raped me, again and again and again.
Kilgrave: How was I supposed to know?! Huh?! I never know if someone is doing what they want or what I tell them to!
Jessica: Oh, poor you.
Kilgrave: You have no idea, do you? I have to painstakingly choose every word I say. I once told a man to go screw himself. Can you even imagine? I didn’t have this. A home, loving parents, a family.
Jessica: You blame bad parenting? My parents died! You don’t see me raping anyone!
Kilgrave: I hate that word.
There’s so much to unpack in this scene, particularly in regards to Kilgrave’s sense of entitlement and privilege and how it severely damages the way he interacts with others. He tries to make Jessica understand the difficulty of his life by saying how hard it is to go through the world with everyone following your every command, but she has no sympathy for his plight. Kilgrave doesn’t know if people are doing what they want or what he tells them to do, but there’s an easy solution to that problem: ask them what they want. When it comes to consent, this is a huge issue for men, and entitlement and privilege play a big part in that. We live in a patriarchal society where men are in power, and the oppression of women throughout history has given men an unjustified sense of superiority that leads to the further oppression of women.
It doesn’t matter what Kilgrave’s intentions were or how bad his upbringing was; nothing excuses his physical and emotional rape of Jessica, but what “AKA WWJD?” does is provide perspective that helps the viewer understand the factors that created Kilgrave. Once upon a time he was just a boy named Kevin, the son of scientists that tortured him by putting him through grueling examinations in hopes of awakening the gifts inside his mind. When Jessica sees the video of Kevin’s medical tests—the video that was in the box she dug up before killing Reva—she begins to look at Kilgrave in a different light, and while she still hates him for what he did to her, she sees this as an opportunity to potentially make a lasting change to Kilgrave’s personality by finding a way to fill the deadly need for affection that his parents cursed him with.
While this series struggles with the complexities of Jessica and Luke’s romance, it soars when it complicates Jessica and Kilgrave’s dynamic. At its core, their connection is victim and abuser, but this episode explores many different aspects of that relationship and even makes an argument that Kilgrave could change and become a good person. For a brief time, Jessica becomes a mentor to Kilgrave and gets him to use his powers to get a taste of the hero life, and the two of them team up to stop a hostage situation. He gets a huge rush off the genuine awe and gratitude shown to him by the people he saves, but it quickly becomes clear that Kilgrave’s lack of a moral foundation is too big a hurdle. He’s not compelled by a sense of duty to do good for other people, and instead views positive actions as a way to balance the scales for his negative ones, not understanding that saving lives doesn’t automatically make up for the lives that he’s ruined. Maybe if Jessica had known Kevin, she could have directed him on a path of good, but it’s too late to turn Kilgrave into a hero.
Plot twists are one of the defining elements of crime noir, and “AKA WWJD?” focuses on misdirecting the viewer to set up one hell of a twist cliffhanger for Jessica, Kilgrave, and Simpson. We’re supposed to believe that Jessica is falling for Kilgrave’s big act, or at least is convinced enough that she’d be willing to try and turn him into a hero, but she’s lulling Kilgrave into a false sense of security. The script makes the viewer think that there might actually be hope for coexistence between Jessica and her abuser, and then, during a quiet dinner of Chinese takeout, Jessica makes her move, knocking out the hired help before drugging Kilgrave, throwing him over shoulders, and taking him away from the house.
It’s a fantastic twist that is a triumphant moment of victory for Jessica after her psycho-drama nightmare, and it’s a huge relief that Jessica refuses to let Kilgrave off the hook. The twists keep coming, though, and the episode ends with Mrs. De Luca delivering Simpson the bomb that he planted in the basement of Jessica’s house earlier, which she then sacrifices her life to detonate. It’s a cliffhanger that does phenomenal work building excitement for the next episode, and it maintains Kilgrave’s threat level even when he’s unconscious. At the end of this power play, Jessica finally has control, but there’s still five more episodes for her to lose her grip on the man that ruined her life.
- What is the worst thing Kilgrave forces Laurent and Alva to do this episode? While they thankfully don’t actually rip each other’s faces off, that’s probably the most chilling command given, although forcing them to stare out the window without blinking is really horrible too. (It looks like the actor playing Laurent blinks during that moment, which hurts the illusion.)
- Wendy gets a really great scene in this episode when she explains what attracted her to Jeri during their meeting to discuss the terms of their divorce, and the hurt and remorse in Robin Weigert’s performance is a stark contrast to the cold, stoic character projected by Carrie-Anne Moss. I still wish the series showed us one moment where we could have seen this loving aspect of Wendy and Jeri’s relationship before it fell apart.
- Simpson takes his white knighting to another level this week, putting Jessica’s life in danger by interfering with her infiltration of Kilgrave’s operation, and then acting like he’s the noble one when he tells Trish to leave Jessica alone because she can’t risk getting hurt and becoming a bigger problem. Simpson is the one fucking up, but somehow Trish is the person that’s a bigger liability here.
- “You’re not all hard edges, Jessica Jones.”
- “How do you people live like this? Day after day, just hoping people are gonna do what you want. It’s unbearable.”
- “You really do have a knack for destroying the poetry of the heart, don’t you?”
- “I have a conscience. It’s just more…selective.”
- “If I’m not back within two hours, please remove the skin from each other’s faces.”
- Kilgrave: “We can go about our business. Move along. Move along.” Jessica: “Obi-Wan Kenobi.” Kilgrave: “But cooler.” Even Jessica Jones is joining the Star Wars bandwagon!
- “You’ve never paid a goddamn tax in your life.”
- “First step in heroism: don’t be a prick.”