Jessica Jones season one put the eponymous hero into a seemingly impossible situation: how do you fight an opponent who can force you to do anything they want? Jessica’s arch nemesis Kilgrave had an incredible power of suggestion; if Kilgrave ordered a person to do something, they were compelled to do it without hesitation, even if it hurt or killed them. Kilgrave is a rapist and abuser who took control of Jessica’s life and forced her to commit horrible acts, including murder.
Kilgrave (played by usually lovable David Tennant) was undoubtedly one of the major ways that Jessica Jones subverted the traditional superhero story in favor of exploring darker themes, deeply personal characterizations, complex dynamics, and rape culture. Tennant gave a brilliant performance, and even when he was not on screen, Kilgrave’s influence was an ever-present threat within the first season of the show.
Despite Kilgrave’s death at the end of Jessica Jones season one, it’s difficult to imagine how the show or even character of Jessica Jones functions without the looming threat of his presence. Kilgrave is confirmed for the second season of Jessica Jones, but presumably, he will appear in flashbacks, dream sequences, and/or Jessica’s PTSD symptoms, and so it’s unlikely the “threat” of Kilgrave will be pervasive. If Kilgrave is not the primary antagonist in the second season of Jessica Jones, then the second season will be drastically different than the first. While the character Jessica Jones will certainly be better off without Kilgrave, it begs the question: can the show Jessica Jones stand up without him?
Jessica in The Defenders
Before The Defenders, audiences did not have a real opportunity to see Jessica Jones without Kilgrave. Kilgrave is certainly alluded to during the team-up, although never by name, David Tennant does not make any cameo in The Defenders, and Jessica is quick to shut down any mention of him. In Kilgrave’s absence, the audience gets to see Jessica on her own terms in The Defenders.
Jessica still lives with the realities of being a survivor of sexual violence, but within the context of The Defenders, she is not as narrowly defined by them. Viewers of Jessica Jones will have a greater understanding of her history, and in The Defenders, they are able to see how the trauma that she has experienced manifests in her behavior: alcoholism, irritability, and anger, wary to trust others. But this viewpoint is a privileged one, and many of the characters that Jessica interacts with, including Daredevil and Iron Fist, don’t have or need that context to team up with her.
Because the audience is already privy to Jessica’s history, The Defenders does not need to explore it with the same level of detail as the first season of Jessica Jones. And the result is a refreshing and complex superhero ready to take on new obstacles. Jessica Jones gives The Defenders a reluctant hero who, despite her best efforts, can’t give up on helping others. She returns to take the case of the missing architect and she also returns to help her newfound teammates – throwing a car through the front of a Chinese restaurant in order to stop Elektra.
Perhaps in response to her history of Kilgrave’s forceful orders, Jessica is resistant to anyone who tells her what to do in The Defenders. Of course, she also investigates the disappearance (and then death) of a local architect in part because she receives a phone call telling her not to investigate. While this is a clue that gives her reason to believe that he is part of something larger, it’s also a stubborn refusal of the mysterious voice. Similarly, when Stick orders her to “Sit down and shut up,” she gives him a look and then walks out. No one, it seems, can tell Jessica what to do.
Tonally, The Defenders is less dark than Jessica Jones season one, but Jessica Jones’ personality is a focal point. Whether it’s her blunt humor or a moment of compassion, Jones is a highlight of the series. “You look like an idiot,” she says when Daredevil wears her scarf to hide his face; later, however, she tells a story to her client about “her friend” and his father, recounting how Daredevil’s father died while trying to do the right thing. It’s a powerful story because Jones reveals that not only has she done her PI homework but that she empathizes with Matthew Murdock after all.
In The Defenders, Jessica can be fearless – after all, very few things seem frightening in comparison to Kilgrave. When Iron Fist refuses to stand down, she helps to break up a fight between him and Daredevil, ultimately knocking Iron Fist out. Even in the final escape from the Hand’s base, it’s Jessica who grabs the elevator cable, saving Luke Cage and Iron Fist in the process.
Jessica in Season Two
It’s difficult to parse what parts of Jessica, then, are in response to Kilgrave or are because of Kilgrave. But ultimately, these parts are still mere pieces of who Jessica is, and she is more than the sum of her trauma: she’s a hero, and she’s a captivating one who’s ready for a new adventure in season two.
Jessica’s problems weren’t magically solved by Kilgrave dying, and she will certainly continue to struggle with her identity as a survivor of sexual violence in season two of Jessica Jones. In that way, Kilgrave may always be present through Jessica Jones at a certain level. But The Defenders shows that Jessica Jones season two doesn’t need to lean on Kilgrave to be successful – its central hero is on a journey, and hopefully, the show will grow alongside her.
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