Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Power and responsibility fuel Jessica Jones as it becomes a revenge fantasy

Image for article titled Power and responsibility fuel Jessica Jones as it becomes a revenge fantasy

“The real world is not about happy endings. It’s about taking the life you have, and fighting like hell to keep it,” Jeri Hogarth offers this advice to Hope Schlottman in “AKA Sin Bin” to convince her to take a plea bargain, but Jeri is speaking from a place of power and privilege. She’s not in prison like Hope. She’s not an abuse survivor like Jessica. These two women want more than the pitiful circumstances they’ve been forced into by actions they weren’t responsible for, and Jeri has no concept of what they’re fighting against. She’s a wealthy lawyer that is having her elevated status threatened by the wife she wronged, and she’ll fight like hell to avoid taking responsibility for the bad things she did to get to her position of power.

That’s what it all comes down to: power and responsibility. “With great power comes great responsibility” is one of the basic tenants of the superhero genre, but it doesn’t apply to the world of Jessica Jones. Kilgrave, the character with the most power, doesn’t take any responsibility for his actions and paints himself as either the hero or victim to counter accusations against him. Jessica still has extraordinary abilities, but Kilgrave robbed her of a deeper power, one that she can only regain by making Kilgrave take on the responsibility he’s been evading all his life. She wants a confession out of Kilgrave to free Hope Schlottman, but she also wants a confession so that she can finally see Kilgrave suffer for the horrible things he’s done. A tearful admission of guilt would tell her that he finally understands the severity of his crimes, but she’s never going to get it, and Kilgrave uses Jessica’s need for his confession to gain power over her without the need of mind control.

Jessica has very bad schemes, but her horrible planning is connected to her emotional state at the time. Overwhelmed with guilt, paranoia, and fear, Jessica turned herself into the police in hopes that she’d get thrown in a supermax prison. Now she’s vengeful and seething with hatred, so she hatches a plot that allows her to torture the man that hurt her. She locks Kilgrave in a hermetically sealed cell where she projects the video of his childhood trauma on the wall, and fills the room with water so she can electrocute him when he’s being unruly. Jessica wants to get Kilgrave to use his powers on camera and ideally confess to compelling Hope to kill her parents, but he knows exactly what she’s trying to do and doesn’t follow the script. That just means Jessica can electrocute him some more and beat him with her bare hands when that doesn’t do the trick, and there’s catharsis in causing Kilgrave pain.

Unfortunately, Jessica plays right into Kilgrave’s hands by beating him. Power is about maintaining control, and Jessica starts to lose it when she pummels Kilgrave. This gives him pleasure as he discovers just how passionate Jessica’s feelings are, which makes sense considering how pain and affection are tied together in his mind. Kilgrave hurts others as a way of showing how strong his devotion to Jessica is, and when he’s been robbed of any physical contact with Jessica, each punch feels like a kiss with a fist. “Feel’s good doesn’t it? Being in control?” Kilgrave asks during a brief pause in the punching, and that’s exactly when Jessica realizes how badly she’s been played. Beating Kilgrave on camera isn’t going to help Jessica free Hope Schlottman, so she needs to find a different way to make Kilgrave crack.

“AKA Sin Bin” is at its best when Jessica is in revenge fantasy mode, whether she’s beating Kilgrave in his cage or berating his parents for doing such a catastrophically shitty job at raising a child. The chilling opening scene revealing Kilgrave’s prison immediately establishes that Jessica isn’t fucking around here, and she relishes playing Kilgrave’s jailor. “Smile, Kevin,” Jessica says as Kilgrave’s terrifying home video plays on the wall behind him, and Krysten Ritter’s performance fully captures the venomous loathing Jessica feels for this man. That opening scene starts the episode on a high note, continuing the work of the last episode by bringing more definition to the Jessica and Kilgrave relationship.

These new layers come from shifting the power dynamic, and having Jessica in the authoritative position forces Kilgrave to change his approach. He knows how sensitive Jessica is about the whole hero thing, so he retroactively positions himself as the hero in their relationship. He saved Jessica in the middle of a street fight, dried her tears, took her to dinner, and then they made sweet, sweet love. Is this how Kilgrave actually remembers their first encounter, or is he reinterpreting the past to get a rise out of Jessica? We don’t know, and that’s what makes the character so compelling. It’s easy to believe that Kilgrave genuinely thinks of himself as the tortured hero of this story, and that complete lack of self-awareness makes his actions even scarier.

As I mentioned earlier, Kilgrave fluctuates between hero and victim as a way of avoiding responsibility, and his self-victimization kicks into overdrive when Jessica tracks down his parents and brings them to his cell. Kilgrave’s parents being in New York City right when Jessica needs them is an extremely convenient plot development, as is Jessica realizing that Kilgrave’s mother is the scarred woman at the support group when her boot leaves a print on the woman’s photograph in the exact location as the scar, but writers Jamie King and Dana Baratta make those story shortcuts worth it in Jessica and Kilgrave’s interactions with Albert and Louise Thompson.

When Jessica confronts Kilgrave’s parents in their hotel room, she learns the truth about the medical experiments and their lives with Kevin. Born with a degenerative neural disease, Kevin would have been dead before adolescence if his parents hadn’t infected him with an experimental virus that would repair his damaged DNA, and they tried to stay and live with Kevin until the day he threw a tantrum and had his mother burn her face with an iron. There are multiple sides to every story and Kilgrave’s parents aren’t necessarily the monsters he painted them to be, but Jessica still lets them know that it was incredibly irresponsible for them to run from their immensely powerful child instead of teaching him how to properly use his abilities and interact with others. Unlike Kilgrave, the Thompsons feel genuine remorse for what they’ve done, so they agree to help Jessica stop their son, a decision that has grave consequences.


Years worth of pent up frustration and anger come pouring out of Kilgrave when his parents enter his cell, effectively making Kilgrave a more sympathetic character before he commits another atrocious act. Kilgrave and his parents have two very different memories of the past; Kilgrave laments how he had to make people feed him and shelter him and care for him after he was abandoned, but his father argues that Kilgrave was always good at ordering people around, including telling his parents when they could urinate. That small detail shows how twisted Kilgrave’s mind was as a child, and having total control of others made him view people as playthings from a young age. Because his parents fled instead of explaining his powers to him and teaching him responsibility, his perspective of the world became even more warped, and that damage done to Kilgrave’s psyche is irreparable.

The reunion of parents of child begins with revelations and apologies, and ends with bloodshed after Louise stabs her son in the neck with a pair of scissors. This is all part of Jessica’s plan to get Kilgrave to use his powers on camera and in front of Detective Clemons, who has been handcuffed to a post, and as expected, it’s a plan that goes very, very wrong. Kilgrave commands his mother to stab herself with the scissors for each year they abandoned him, and Jessica can’t stop it because Jeri cut the wire connected to the electrical conduit in the cell.


Everything quickly goes to shit as Jessica hurries into the room while Louise bleeds to death in the shallow water, and Kilgrave is able to make his escape when Trish decides to follow Simpson’s bad advice and tries to shoot Kilgrave. Luckily Trish empties all her rounds before Kilgrave tells her to put a bullet in her head, but it’s still too late. Kilgrave is loose and he’s mad, which is a very bad combination. It’s not all bad news, though, and despite the total clusterfuck at the end of this episode, the final moment is one of personal victory for Jessica Jones because she’s free. She grabbed Kilgrave’s arm to keep him from escaping, and when he told her to let it go, she held on tight. He doesn’t have power over her anymore, and that’s an amazing feeling.

Jeri Hogarth’s divorce drama has been gradually escalating in the background for most of this season, and the relevance of this subplot finally becomes clear when Jeri and Kilgrave meet in this episode. Jeri is one of the many x-factors Jessica doesn’t consider, and with Wendy now demanding 90% of her wife’s assets, Jeri needs a quick solution to her problems. Kilgrave picks up on her anxiety and takes advantage of it, and by the end of the episode, he’s convinced Jeri to sabotage Jessica’s operation.


The sexual attraction between Jeri and Pam has been the defining element of their dynamic since the first episode, and sex still dominates when the show explores the emotional foundation of their relationship in “AKA Sin Bin.” Jeri and Pam talk about the first time they met while Jeri fingers Pam, and Pam cuts the sexual activity short as a way of pushing Jeri to seize control of the situation with Wendy. The series has struggled with this subplot and giving it appropriate emotional weight, largely because ultimately Jeri’s story is intended to serve Kilgrave’s. The writers need someone to help Kilgrave go free, and the divorce thread has all been a way of putting Jeri in a position where it makes sense that Kilgrave would be able to manipulate her.

Simpson wants power, too, and he gets it by reuniting with his military doctor after the explosion and getting his hands on some super-soldier drugs. I had read that the character Nuke would be appearing in Jessica Jones, but I didn’t make the connection to Simpson until he says Nuke’s signature line: “Give me a red.” Nuke has no connection to Jessica Jones in the comics, but the inclusion of the character in the TV series is exceptionally clever. He’s a great metaphor for institutionalized toxic masculinity via the military, but him taking a red pill has extra significance in a world where The Red Pill is the name of an online community dedicated to “discussion of sexual strategy in a culture increasingly lacking a positive identity for men.”


Simpson wants so badly to be the hero, to have that positive identity, but he immediately starts abusing the drug that gives him power in order to achieve his goal. He’s explicitly told not to take another red pill, but he does so anyway because the faster he gets more power, the more effective he can be. Nuke’s drugs being red, white, and blue is an idea pulled straight from the comics, and it immediately makes Nuke representative of a greater American perspective, one that is rooted in authority and aggression. (This idea is really hammered in the character’s comic-book design, where he has a big American flag tattooed on his face.) When that authority is compromised, Simpson responds with aggressive force, and when a literal bomb doesn’t work, he turns himself into a nuke that can obliterate Kilgrave. The problem with nukes is that they cause a lot of collateral damage, which we’ll see plenty of when Simpson goes off in the next episode.

Stray observations

  • Speaking of power and responsibility, teenage Jessica Jones had a high school crush on Peter Parker in Alias.
  • How lucky is Jessica that she got a quarantine chamber with a projector already set up?
  • Does Clemons throw away his coffee and hot dog because Jessica ruins his appetite or is he going after those pastrami fries? If it’s the latter, why throw away the coffee? Why is Detective Clemons so wasteful? These questions will never be answered.
  • Trish is a fool for leaving a super shady Jeri alone with Kilgrave. I thought you were better than that, Trish.
  • “‘Kilgrave’? Talk about obvious. Was ‘murdercorpse’ already taken?”
  • Kilgrave: “I never realized you were such a bitch.” Jessica: “Yeah, well, this bitch is in control of you now, asshole.”
  • “Feel’s good, doesn’t it? Being in control?”
    “If that Jeri comes back, I’m in. All the way.” So much innuendo.
  • “Dude, you lost a jacket, move on.”
  • “So you infected him. Wow. I wish I had a Mother of the Year award so I could bludgeon you with it.”