AKA Gaslighting: Killgrave and His Mirrors

I haven’t killed anyone.”

Instead of trying to copy the thrill of Daredevil and its political scheming, the creators of Jessica Jones took a different path to hell. Where Matt faces physical and social injustice with villains to match, Jessica is caught in a world of psychological abuse, and Killgrave is the physical embodiment of such evil. Horrifying as Killgrave’s powers can be, his ordinary talents are far more terrible. Even if superheroes aren’t usually your thing, David Tennant’s performance and —-‘s brilliant writing make Jessica Jones the most engaging study in gaslighting and psychological abuse you will ever see.

We meet Killgrave through Jessica’s PTSD before we ever see him in the flesh, which gives the audience an advantage over every character in the series. We’ve seen his rage and his perversion – and the fallout – before his swagger or grin. By the time we meet him in person, his joy brings the audience nothing but disgust. But the people in his wake are only afraid – and confused. The staff of Killgrave’s favorite restaurant don’t know how to cope with the experience, and the only question the waiter has for Jessica is whether or not Killgrave is coming back. It isn’t a hopeful inquiry. The waiter can’t fight off Killgrave’s attacks, because all he does is speak. The only escape is to keep away altogether.

It only gets worse from there. Although he often repeats how much Jessica means to him and how far he is willing to go for her, he shows no actual interest in her desires. He takes memories he stole from her during the days of his control and uses them to create his idea of perfection. He surrenders just enough control to make himself feel justified – offering to buy the house – but he never really loses control of the situation. Then he shows off his grand gifts and gestures. They have cost him nothing personally, but he’s too busy singing his own praises to notice. This is psychological abuse at its finest. Killgrave positions himself to play the martyr, the devoted lover, without sacrifice or discomfort. He still lives in luxury, bringing in wait staff and personal guards.

Jessica is less than thrilled at the invasion of her very raw and personal history, and her greatest frustration is the simple fact that Killgrave won’t even admit to wrong-doing. He even echoes the rapist’s cry: “I never know!”

Killgrave claims patience and devotion, but when Jessica turns him down (once), he scrabbles for his old control. In truth, that’s all he’s ever wanted, and he says as much to Jessica in other words. He only realized how much he “loved” her when she walked away. Now, that’s not such a strange refrain – especially in pop songs – but context is key. Killgrave has controlled literally everyone around him since he was a child. He gets what he wants. Every time. Jessica isn’t his love – she’s his distraction. And she’s his boogeyman: the one person who could come after him. When he realizes that he can’t just turn Jessica into his willing, quiet ladylove with a couple million and a week’s voluntary imprisonment, he feels justified in playing the victim and running back to his old ways.

He believes that while Jessica ought to be punished for failing to rescue him (after he forced her to murder a woman), he could/should be immediately forgiven for trying to kill her during the climactic fight on the docks. And it’s easy to see why. Although Killgrave’s desires are painfully shallow and so self-obsessed they’re practically ingrown, he sees himself as the only character with depth in the entire story. Everyone else is a puppet who is in use, will someday be in use, or ought to stay on the shelf where they belong.

Jessica is hardly the sole victim of gaslighting and other psychological abuse, either. “Patty” faced a childhood controlled by her mother’s demand for perfection (and money). Jeri Hogarth manipulates and carefully abuses her wife, and the conversations surrounding her suggest that this is not a one-off relationship. It’s interesting to note that Jeri only realizes – to some extent – what she’s becoming when she sees Killgrave in action and joins the ranks of his victims. But by then it’s too late for her to salvage her happy ending, and as is too often the case, the people around her pay an even heftier toll for her actions.

This careful world building sets a backdrop of dysfunction to set off Killgrave’s colors – purple, for the king of demons. Mind control is intimidating, but it doesn’t give you the same bad taste at the back of your throat that Killgrave does when he tells Jessica to smile. The only thing that sets Killgrave apart from the abusers mirroring him throughout the story is his role as the lead villain. The audience is left to make the connections about the rest of the show’s abusers on their own.

Killgrave couldn’t have more fitting powers. Gaslighting and mind control are not so far removed, and Killgrave wields both with dazzling skill. Only one of his puppets has ever escaped, and her freedom is not guaranteed.

M. Leigh Hood is a rare beast of the Cincinnati wilderness typically preoccupied with writing, nerding, and filming The Spittoon List. For more articles and stories by M. Leigh Hood, look HERE.


Noir 011616 Banner

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar