AKA You’re a Victim

Kayla Wilson

          “Jessica Jones, you’re a hard drinking, short fused, mess of a woman but you are not a piece of shit.” It isn’t until “AKA You’re a Winner!”, the sixth episode of the Marvel and Netflix series Jessica Jones, that Luke Cage, a bulking hero who can deflect bullets with his skin, utters that line. The gritty comic show was the second to air on the Netflix platform and it seemed as if Jessica Jones held no punches when it came to fleshing out all of the woes and problems of its leading lady. At the center of the superhero show stood Jessica Jones herself, a woman who had been victimized and mind controlled for an entire year before she broke free to become an alcoholic private investigator. As the thirteen episodes explored Jones’ mental trauma and the damage that the antagonist, Kilgrave, had done to her it was made explicitly clear that Jessica was a victim and incredibly damaged because of it. That fact cannot be denied. Even though her status of a victim holds true, Jones herself ends up behaving in a problematic fashion and in turn makes a victim of another. Yes, Jessica Jones is a mess and that is never a secret. In fact, the series was praised for the way that it handled sensitive topic matters such as rape, addiction and posttraumatic stress disorder. Jessica’s behavior towards her love interest and fellow superhuman Luke Cage, however, is far less discussed. Through comparing the characters of Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Hope Shlottman and Malcolm Ducasse in “AKA You’re a Winner!”, it soon becomes clear that victims come in various shapes and forms and even one who is a victim themselves can be the perpetrator in harming another.

            Jessica Jones has been clearly defined as a victim by the time the events of this episode roll around. She bluntly states that she’s a fan of repression instead of speaking out and encourages a friend to go to a support group while looking down on it herself. Slight, incredibly fair skinned and with a perpetual pout on her face, Jessica looks like the kind of victim that you would imagine. There is little life in her eyes and as she sits clutching a bottle at the end of the episode and desolately repeats a mantra to herself it is clear that life has not been kind. Her negative outlook and snarky comments are a part of a shell that she has fully formed around herself. At this point in the series she has developed to the point where she’s somewhat working with others and not just working to get to the bottom of the bottle, and Variety’s chief television critic Maureen Ryan praised this in her review of the series. “One could argue that this Jessica is a bit of an antihero,” Ryan writes. “She makes bad decisions, keeps secrets and isn’t especially responsible....The character’s mistakes and scars end up being as compelling as her halting attempts to do good and right wrongs. Jessica is damaged, but her refusal to let that damage define her gives the series a core of captivating energy” (Ryan).  Praise for the writing and Jessica Jones was mainly centered on her ability to move past the damage that shattered her life, but Jessica unwittingly begins using her victim excuse in the show to defend her poor actions. She snidely comments that she’s rude to everyone and her attempts to help Luke Cage are actually to make up for the pain that she’s caused him, not out of the goodness of her heart. Her lies and inability to let people in are clearly on display and make her independent and tragically flawed. Jessica is a victim, yes, but her attempts at moving past that are problematic and instead cause others damage. Her victim status is cemented in the fact that she was raped and manipulated. She is the one of the clearest examples of a victim on the show, but the past actions that have been done against her do not stop her from hurting others as well.

          Following in the vein of the beautiful and tragic female that has been damaged, this episode shows fellow Kilgrave victim and prisoner Hope Shlottman terminating a pregnancy from her rape. Laying in her hospital bed with a beaten face, it’s an emotionally compelling scene as Hope tells Jessica that “Every second it’s there I get raped again and again. Every second it’s there my parents get shot again and again.” Her mind-controlled act of killing her parents was not her fault. Hope was just as much a victim as the deceased Mr. and Mrs. Shlottman even though she was the one holding a gun. In “Watchng Rape: Film and Television in Postfeminist Culture”, Sarah Projansky discusses rape in television and cinema and how it plays into post feminism. Leslie Kern analyzed this work and writes:

          Projansky argues that one of the most dangerous elements of postfeminism is its ignorance on issues of race, class, sexuality and ability. Throughout the book, Projansky is relentless in her critique of rape narratives as discursive strategies for naturalizing notions of class, race, gender, sexuality and nation. While her research shows that there is versatility in terms of the roles played by differently racialized characters (for example, villains might be either white or black), Projansky illustrates that racial categories in particular have been portrayed as fixed categories. (Resources for Feminist Research)

          Hope as a white female has been abused, yes, and her story parallels Jessica. She terminates the pregnancy within the episode and makes it clear that one day she will have children that will not be Kilgrave’s. On the other hand, another leading player of the episode is ex-addict and African American man Malcolm Ducasse. It is inherently known that Hope’s actions were not her own and she was not to blame. Even though Malcolm, however, had been coerced into drugs his actions are not regarded the same way as Hope’s are. “It’s a question of who I am,” Malcolm tells his support group. “He turned me into a liar, an addict, a thief. I don’t know if it was in me from the beginning or if it is a part of who I am now?” While Hope is never asked if she was a killer by nature and Kilgrave just woke it up in her, Malcolm takes his life and history and consideration and wonders if he was always meant to be the person Kilgrave made him even though he had once been clean with a life and no interest in drugs. Hope and Jessica’s status as white women give them a kind of privilege despite their actions, something that the other victims on the show are not granted.

          Being bulletproof does not make you invincible. It also does not make you impervious to vulnerability of being harmed. By the time the sixth episode of Jessica Jones rolls around it is quite clear that the leading male protagonist, Luke Cage, is pretty close to being invincible. His skin can literally deflect bullets and the artistically played holes; tears and smudges of soot and blood over his unharmed skin make a visual statement that it is nearly impossible to take Cage down. Standing next to the drunken, cussing Jones, Cage does look more like a hero than the leading lady. Despite his credo to protect only what is his, he makes a point to show that he keeps his words and follows the law. When the impatient and gruff Jessica is ready to get into a fight with thugs on the street, Luke steps in and stops it. As a white woman she has a layer of privilege and could get away with that sort of behavior but Luke reflects on his status as a black man and what that means and reminds her that there are cops and laws to consider. In every way Luke seems to be the antithesis to Jessica. Despite them both having powers and being incredibly strong they are vastly different people and that at times overshadows their similarities. As quoted above, Luke makes a point in to tell Jessica that she is not a piece of shit as her mind controlled actions were not her own, even though Cage does not know the extent of them. That all changes, however, when Luke realizes that Jessica was the one to kill his wife while under Kilgrave’s control. The truth only comes out when Luke is about to kill a man that he believed killed his wife and Jessica tearfully admits it was she who committed the crime. Here we see Luke, who was portrayed as being so strong, as a victim himself. He was the victim of lies and deceit, of trusting a woman who could not be honest with him. Luke’s critique on Jessica is then about her dishonesty, not if she was truly a killer without the influence of Kilgrave. He gave the following monologue to Jessica, retracting her words from earlier in the episode:

You slept with me. You made me think I could get past it. Did Kilgrave force you to do that? You let me be inside you. You touched me with the same hands that killed my wife while you knew. If I never found about Charles, would you have ever told me the truth? I was wrong. You are a piece of shit.

          Jessica Jones showed how a victim could be created from a situation that was not rape. Jessica did not mind control Luke, but she did manipulate him into sex even though she claimed it was never supposed to happen. It is far easier to point out Jessica as a victim than Luke by appearance and background, but both can be placed in the same category at different degrees. Her dishonesty led to pain for Luke and a fracturing of the relationship that they were building as lovers and friends. Her victim status did not prevent her from acting in an unacceptable way, and the realism from the situation shows just how messy lives can become.

          Through reflecting on the four characters in the episode, it becomes clear that a victim is not defined by their past, skin color, or gender. Even someone who has been victimized can in turn put someone else in the position they were in and hurt others. Past troubles do not excuse problematic actions in the present. Jessica’s damaged persona led to her shutting out and deceiving someone in an intimate matter and worsened the situation tenfold. The erroneous flaws of the shows leading character made Jessica Jones a thought provoking and deeper look at the mental trauma that one can experience, and when that all came to a head it provided accurate examples of how anyone can victim regardless of status.

  In a surprising and fresh analysis in response to the assignment to review one singular science fiction, horror, or speculative television episode from any time period , Kayla Wilson examines the ways that the character Jessica Jones of the Netflix series Jessica Jones (2015-), survives rape and mind control at the hands of villain Kilgrave, as well as ongoing PTSD and alcoholism only to victimize her friend, love interest, and fellow superhero, Luke Cage, through her own reckless and callous behavior. Slight white women emotionally victimizing hulking black men is something only very rarely explored. Ms. Wilson makes room for Jones as both survivor and predator.