by Steve Rosenstein
Did you feel that David Tennant’s portrayal of Kilgrave in Marvel’s Jessica Jones was a bit over the top? Did he make you squirm? Did he make you question your own actions? Did it make you angry? Were you not pleased that a man who can cause anybody to do anything that he said by just telling somebody to do it was not a world-conquering Dr. Doom wannabe? What were his goals? Pretty similar to yours and mine, he wants what he wants, and he simply has to ask for it. Scary stuff when what you want is something that other people don’t want to give. Cars, houses, services, sex…Yet that was our villain in Jessica Jones, no aspirations above filling his own desires. A comic book villain who hits close to home, a villain whose every action is a metaphor for rape, except when he actually rapes; one who doesn’t even know that what he is doing is wrong. Sound familiar? Don’t get me wrong, Tennant’s Kilgrave is the perfect villain for this show.
Everybody in this program is broken, living out bleak existences in a bleak backdrop. The cinematography is set up to reflect this. Jessica Jones is recovering from her previous experience with Kilgrave, but don’t think that that is the only thing that broke her, that was just the straw. See, these characters have rich histories; they were not simply dropped into the plot and set free, they are fully fleshed and dynamic. Almost every shot is set to remind you of this; broken fences, cracked plaster, gray pallets; all set to remind you that Marvel’s Hell’s Kitchen is a bleak place with hope at a premium. The players, from the title character to the rich lawyer are all patently unhappy and at some sort of bottom, struggling with their own desires. And while most are emotionally stunted, severely handicapping them in attaining some sort of satisfaction beyond gratification in this gray world, the only real hint of color is purple, and that is the color of Kilgrave, the Purple Man. The only character in this series who gets what they want, who has color in this bleak world, is the most despicable character in the show.
This all sounds like a recipe for a downer of a series, but it is quite the opposite. The thing about Jessica Jones is it is a series based in the tradition of superhero comics, so despite the fact that Jones is at rock bottom and carrying a shovel, she is able to fight back. She (slowly) comes to find out that she is not alone in the world, and the more she integrates herself into the lives of other people, the more she is able to put up a fight and take back her life. She is able to reconcile her past and take steps to recover herself. A pretty positive message, considering. I don’t think that this story could have been told with any other character. Jones is introduced to us as broken, both in this show and in Alias, the comic where the character first appeared; unlike, say, Arrow (not picking on Arrow, I like that show) where Oliver Queen is slowly broken before us due, in no small part, to his own decisions. She has had much thrust upon her, and yet she is able to pick herself up, dust herself off and stop being a victim in a world that sure as shit wants her to be one. Jones and the other “good guys” are able to work together, despite starting out all alone, while ultimately Kilgrave, who can control anybody, is all alone. So, hope does spring in Hell’s Kitchen, but it is a group effort.