The Wikipedia article on the show offers a good summary: “Following a tragic end to her brief superhero career, Jessica Jones tries to rebuild her life as a private investigator, dealing with cases involving people with remarkable abilities in New York City.”
It’s an adaptation of a Marvel comic character of the same name. Based on the reviews of social media posts, blogs, and reviews, I thought it worth checking out, especially with its themes of dealing with trauma, recovering personal agency, and rebuilding one’s identity.
Without giving away any spoilers, the show certainly lived up to the hype. The main villain, Kilgrave, played by David Tennant, was alarmingly creepy and sympathetic at the same time. In a Guardian interview, Tennant described Kilgrave as having the power to compel people “to do whatever he says.”
Of his character, he added, “How can you tell if people are doing things because they want to or because you’re asking them to? How can you have any sense of what the world is or how the world should be if your world is so particularly unique?”
The show affected me in ways that were unexpected, particularly in the relationship between Jessica Jones and Kilgrave. At one point early on, Jessica rescues a young college girl who’s been under Kilgrave’s thrall. Once they’re back at Jessica’s office, she makes the girl say, “None of it is my fault.”
As the series progresses, Kilgrave compels people to do darker and increasingly destructive things, things that suddenly seem to them perfectly reasonable and rational once he asks.
The show asks some fundamentally unsettling questions about human behavior: namely, is Kilgrave planting desires in people’s minds, or is he just accessing something that was already there?
Jessica Jones triggered some pretty powerful memories and feelings, having been a willing prisoner of sorts myself for twenty-eight years. That’s something one hears a lot in circles of survivors of Christian fundamentalism. You can’t know that you’ve been programmed virtually from birth to accept:
- everything in the Bible as inerrant and immutable;
- anything a pastor or divinely-appointed leader (essentially, every adult male studied in the Bible) says as absolute truth;
- that any natural human desire not sanctioned by your church as part of God’s design (and let’s face it, your church always gets it right and everyone else is headed down the road to perdition) is sinful and an abomination;
- that there’s only one way to heaven, and that’s the path your pastor and your church sets.
It’s not that fundamentalist Christians are mindless robots who can’t think for themselves. However, for those raised in sheltered communities where there were no other voices, no alternative perspectives to challenge the Bible-centric conservative Christian views, and especially in communities where insiders are taught to fear and mistrust outsiders, the question of agency becomes much fuzzier and difficult to unravel.
So when I see videos of children at Creationist seminars proclaiming that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, that humans rode dinosaurs, and that evolution is a lie from Satan; or homophobic Christians at rallys with signs declaring that gay people are an abomination, I don’t see much difference between them and the people Kilgrave turns into murderous maniacs with just the merest hint of suggestion.
As the Jesuit saying goes, “Give me a child until the age of seven, and I will give you the man.”
I found myself identifying most with Kilgrave’s victims, individuals who wound up on the other side of what essentially comes down to rape, and are now unsure of where the line between before and after is. They didn’t want to do whatever it was Kilgrave compelled them to do, and yet the desire to follow his command was stronger. To violate someone’s agency and compel them to act against themselves and their own values is a deeply perverse act.
Right now, the word counter at the bottom of the page reads 666. The rational part of my brain says that it’s just a number. No special significance. Yet there’s another part of my brain that still sees that as a sign of the Antichrist, a being that is very real and will appear soon. I know that the latter thought is irrational, yet it sometimes still springs to mind first.
For me, and many others, the words “None of it is my fault” are nearly impossible to say, because they don’t seem true. All of those times that my mind and body were telling me I was attracted to men, but the part that was under the thrall of evangelical Christian teachings told me that was sinful and disordered… that was still me that believed it.
True: it was the fault of having been raised in that environment my entire life, of being exposed daily to that ideology, and of the people who were supposed to be my guardians, but it was still me that performed the action.
… it’s a deeply unsettling constellation of emotions.
For victims of Kilgrave, they can’t return to the person they were before. But for survivors of fundamentalist Christianity, there is no “before” to go back to. Only a past of lies.
The question I raised most recently with my therapist is whether I can ever truly escape the influences of the brain I grew up with—if I’m building a new identity with old tools.
Of course, my perspective is different now. My beliefs are radically different. Yet I still view relationships through a lens of fear. I still see myself as unworthy, worthless, and broken.
It’s how to move forward that is the challenge. When you have nothing really to look back to as a frame of reference, it’s disorienting to try to find a workable path on your own. Others can help, but it’s usually just you, the ghosts, and the demons.
Happy New Year.