Well, now, Kilgrave has set out quite the homecoming for Jessica, hasn’t he? That house he snagged at the end of “AKA You’re a Winner!”—he’s done it up just like she remembers it, every last detail painstakingly researched and set in place to make Jessica feel more comfortable. The security guard is a new addition, though. The chef and the maid, too. You’d think she would be more grateful for the care he put into the project, except, of course, for the fact that he’s a raping, mind-controlling, murdering asshole. Jessica Jones hasn’t made the rape metaphor explicit in the text for most of the season, but “AKA WWJD?” lays it all out there.
It isn’t a pretty sight, but damn if it doesn’t make for grossly compelling television. Marvel productions, speaking in a general sense, are bound and gagged by an overarching directive to stay loyal to the source material, as though the source material for comic books is sacrosanct; the truth is that sometimes, breaking from the source is the very best thing you can do when adapting material from the page to the screen. If you’re the kind of comic book fan who’s jonesing for grimdark comic book movies and television, then Jessica Jones is obviously your cup of tea, but “AKA WWJD?” goes pitch black in comparison to the Alias graphic novels. Not that Kilgrave didn’t make Jessica do and observe some messed up stuff in their pencil and ink forms, but what Jessica endures in the Netflix series is a whole other kettle of awful.
So here we are, having a wide open discussion about the nature of rape in a Marvel joint. Primarily, “AKA WWJD?” revolves around Kilgrave trying to win Jessica over with his thoughtfulness, which eventually gives way to dialogue about the abuses he inflicted on her. The hell of it is that Kilgrave just doesn’t see what he and Jessica did together as rape. How is that even possible? Turns out that ol’ Kilgrave doesn’t have a ton of control over his brainwashing mojo; any words he phrases as a command or an order must be obeyed by whoever he’s speaking with. Maybe Jeri Hogarth ought to think twice about viewing Kilgrave’s abilities through rose-colored glasses. When you can’t even ask someone to pass the salt without having to pause and wonder whether they’re doing it because they want to or because you made them, all the glossy sheen of mind control rubs off instantly. That’s not a way to live.
“AKA WWJD?” does the impossible by making us feel sorry for Kilgrave, if only just for a moment. He’d be slightly more sympathetic if not for his various entitlements. The guy simply will not accept, for example, that Jessica killed Reva because of his command. “Let’s be clear, I did not tell you to kill Reva,” he says to Jessica, as if to correct her recollection of that night. “If you remember, I said take care of her, not kill her. You chose to punch her.” This, unsurprisingly, doesn’t sit very well with Jessica. You’d think a man with limited physicality would be wary of pissing off a woman with super strength, particularly since that man has promised not to use his own super powers on her. He has his own contingency plans in place to keep Jessica from popping off his head like a champagne cork, but that isn’t a way into a woman’s heart.
But with “AKA WWJD?” Jessica Jones invites us to wonder how lonely his life has been thanks to his “gifts.” It’s odd, isn’t it, pitying a rapist? But most rapists don’t spend their childhoods being subjected to weird experiments by their parents, and most rapists actually have to try to rape a person. For Kilgrave, it’s all effortless, and he’s clearly the product of some poking and prodding. Make no mistake, though—he’s still a terrible person, and his refusal to acknowledge his culpability in his own behavior makes him as frightening as it does pitiable. The show doesn’t want us to give him a pass, or even to lend him condolence. His willful ignorance is quite possibly his most dangerous characteristic. Even when Jessica takes him on an impromptu hero’s mission, he nearly forces a man to kill himself. Is that what a good guy looks like?
So when Jessica knocks him the hell out and makes off with him at the end of the episode, it comes as little surprise. (Hey: She can fly!) Kilgrave is too much of a threat to be left out in the open, and besides that, Simpson keeps trying to intervene. And lord knows Simpson will only screw things up or, worse, wind up under Kilgrave’s thrall. But the funny thing with Kilgrave, as Simpson and the audience learn in one ruthless blast of comeuppance, is that no matter how hard you plan, he ends up getting you anyway.
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing online about film since 2009, and has contributed to Paste Magazine since 2013. He also writes for Screen Rant, Movie Mezzanine, and Birth.Movies.Death. You can follow him on Twitter. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.