It’s Like Gravity: Jessica Jones And The Power Of Fear
“Kilgrave, in many ways, can be seen as an avatar for all of mental illness… Further developing the comparison, we see through the entire thirteen episodes that the Purple Man’s true power and freedom comes from his ability to stay invisible to the public at large.”
In his Dork Shelf article, “4 Reasons Jessica Jones is the Definitive Post Traumatic Hero,” Peter Counter talks about why the TV show’s representation of PTSD is so accurate, powerful, and important. Jessica Jones, the character, has PTSD. It doesn’t define her, but it does affect her.
Another trait that affects her? Her superhuman strength, which according to the comics, she acquires after an accident involving radioactive chemicals. (This accident is referred to only in passing on the TV series.)
These two qualities present an intriguing dynamic. Since so many superheroes are defined by their superhuman strengths (and weakness, like Superman and Kryptonite), it’s important that Jessica Jones is never depicted as invulnerable. In fact, she’s shown as quite the opposite; she’s shown as human.
Her drinking problems began before she met Kilgrave; in a flashback in episode 5 (“AKA The Sandwich Saved Me”), she is shown quitting what is apparently another in a long series of mind-numbing office jobs, asking Trish how she should add “day drinking” to her resume. Her superhuman strength hasn’t done much for her career options.
That strength made her attractive to Kilgrave, but in the end, it didn’t protect her from him. His invisibility is perhaps more dangerous than if he could actually make himself invisible. In the world of Marvel’s The Avengers, skills like super strength and invisibility are accepted, even if not everyone feels comfortable knowing they exist (see also episode 6, “AKA You’re A Winner!”).
Jessica committed heinous acts while under Kilgrave’s spell, but she was able to fight him off and survive, even if the cost of that survival still presents obstacles to not only Jessica herself, but the other people in her life. She can break locks, bend rebar, fight off several would-be assassins at once, stop a car in its tracks, and kill a person with a single, well-placed shove, but she can’t be rid of Kilgrave’s evil.
It’s the worst kind of fear; living in terror of something that no one can see, something that not even the victim who is suffering can physically touch. What’s more frightening: being physically hurt or being mentally hurt, or to quote The Joker in The Dark Knight, “You have nothing, nothing to threaten me with. Nothing to do with all your strength.”
This idea of the invisible enemy can be also found in The Avengers movie from 2012, when Hawkeye tells Black Widow, “You don't understand. Have you ever had someone take your brain and play? Take you out and stuff something else in? You know what it's like to be unmade?”
Truly, it is a terrifying concept. After a sexual assault, and the subsequent PTSD that ensues, many women wonder if they look different, if people will look at them and see that they’ve been a victim. That feeling of being broken or unmade transforms a physical act into a metaphysical burden.
But the thing about survivors of trauma is that we don’t have to be defined by what happened TO us. Jessica Jones, for all her flaws, shows us that there is a way out, a way to reclaim our minds and our sanity. That fear may be there, but it doesn’t need to define us.