Warning: This article deals with and discusses content involving sexual violence, as well as graphic and disturbing imagery. Please be advised that the discussion may contain triggers.
This article also discusses Jessica Jones Season 1 in its entirety, so if you haven’t watched it yet, be warned that there are spoilers ahead.
If you’re one of the thousands of Netflix users who thought they could stick a toe in the new original series Jessica Jones when it premiered on Friday, then your weekend probably looked a lot like mine: a full-on binge-watching Jessica Jones marathon.
With Jessica Jones, Netflix once again enters the Marvel universe, this time with a dark, gritty take on Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos’ comic book series. Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones is a smart, powerful, wonderfully snarky private investigator, and — though certainly not your typical superhero — instantly hypnotizes viewers into wanting her to win whatever battle she fights.
Equally as hypnotizing are the bold ways in which the show deals with rape and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Season 1 of the show is dedicated to Jessica defeating Kilgrave, a terrifying villain who possesses powerful mind control that enables him to use any other human being to carry out heinous acts of torture and murder. His powers leave his victims in a trance, which also allows him to force victims into sexual relationships and rape them. His control doesn’t take away his victim’s emotions, morals or memory — it just makes them powerless to say no to Kilgrave.
In his wake, Kilgrave has left a heap of citizens suffering from the aftermath of being under his control. The series bravely explores what happens to these people as they begin to deal with the trauma they experience, Jessica being at the center.
“The thing about PTSD is that it’s not just a memory, it’s feeling like you’re back in that situation,” Ritter said in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times. “So it’s about building all of those situations and your reactions to those situations. It’s something I worked really hard on because you want to do it justice.”
And do it justice she — and the other actors — did. Here are some examples.
1. Her first flashback
Within the first 10 minutes of Episode 1, Jessica is triggered by watching a man — who we later learn is Luke Cage — take a woman home from a bar. It sends her into a vivid flashback of Kilgrave whispering in her ear, “You want to do it. You know you do.” Jessica is instantly transported back to a moment in time that was traumatic for her, just as Ritter had suggested in her interview. Jessica carefully recites the street names near her childhood home to calm herself and come back into the present moment.
2. Dream flashback
Also in Episode 1, Kilgrave visits Jessica in her sleep by pulling back her hair and licking the side of her face. Vivid nightmares are another way someone with PTSD relives their traumatic moments, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website for the National Center for PTSD.
And while 5% of the general public complains of chronic nightmares, 71-96% of those diagnosed with PTSD may have nightmares, according to the site.
3. Hope Shlottman’s paralyzation
Yes, Kilgrave has the ability to keep his victims frozen in one place, but when Jessica finally tracks down fellow victim Hope, it’s obvious she’s not just trapped by her captor’s mind control. One glance at the look on Hope’s face and the viewer can see that she is also paralyzed with fear due to the horrible experiences she has encountered during her imprisonment.
We know that Kilgrave has made Hope and Jessica do horrible things through mind control, and this scene with Hope in particular seems to be a nod to how domestic abuse victims feel trapped into staying with their abuser. Later in the episode, Jessica makes Hope say out loud, “It’s not my fault.” The fact that Hope had such a hard time saying the phrase is a testament to the fact that many victims of abuse blame themselves.
4. Flashback on the train
In Episode 2, Jessica has another PTSD flashback to the moment after she killed Luke’s wife and Kilgrave is screaming, “Come back here.”
At the onset of the flashback in this particular scene, Jessica is surrounded by happy relationships — romantic and maternal — on a train. Some PTSD survivors do report that feelings of happiness can be a trigger.
5. Jessica gets a look at Kilgrave’s face
Upon seeing her abuser’s face for the first time since leaving him, Jessica is instantly transported back to what she considers her most traumatic moment — when he forced her to kill Luke’s wife — in Episode 3.
6. Hope’s pregnancy
The trauma caused by Hope’s sexual abuse is painfully evident in Episode 6 when she reveals that she is pregnant with Kilgrave’s baby and had orchestrated her own brutal prison attack in effort to cause a miscarriage.
“I’m pregnant. Still. I can feel it… growing, like a tumor,” she says to Jessica. “Every second it’s there, I get raped again and again. My parents are shot again and again. I want to live. I want to have children, but I don’t want to give life to this… thing. I won’t do it.”
7. Kilgrave’s own PTSD
It’s a documented fact that kids affected by childhood trauma often go on to become perpetrators of violence themselves. While Kilgrave’s childhood trauma was in an effort to save him from an illness, it can even be argued that the villain also has PTSD from the horrific lab experiments he underwent while he was young. His evil ways are result of his defense mechanisms he developed to deal with the physical and emotional pain he endured. “Kevin died in that lab,” and Kilgrave was born, in Kilgrave’s own words.
Kilgrave’s PTSD is not lost on Jessica, and she uses it to her own advantage when she imprisons him.
8. Jessica’s drinking
Jessica’s alcoholism isn’t a specific “time” that the show dealt with her PTSD, but it’s clear that she’s taken on the habit as a way to cope with her trauma. It’s an effective mechanism to illustrate how her pain is with her in every minute of every day.
Without ever even showing a single rape scene, the makers of Jessica Jones were still able to take viewers inside what it might be like to be a survivor of sexual violence and/or trauma. It will be interesting to see if the series continues to address Jessica’s PTSD in Season 2 and what kind of other social issues the show might tackle.