Jessica Jones doesn’t give a fuck. She uses an Acer and drinks Wild Turkey (yes, the product placement is noticeable). And when she’s not taking pictures of people having affairs or getting drunk to cope with her PTSD, she’s staving off the memory of the one person who knows that she gives too much of a fuck: Kilgrave. Her entire being has been trained to reject the possibility of love ever being a reality in the wake of being mind-controlled by the nefarious British man who had the gumption to change his name from Kevin Thompson to Kilgrave (“why not just Snuffcorpse?”).
At the outset of Netflix’s latest show to center around a superhero based in Hell’s Kitchen, Jessica (Krysten Ritter, who has continued to make her way up the ranks of the TV universe) comes across as your average chip on her shoulder alcoholic/private investigator. But a run of the mill missing persons case alerts her to the fact that Kilgrave (David Tennant), who she thought she had left for dead about a year earlier, is alive and well and now controlling the mind of an innocent NYU student named Hope Shlottman (Erin Moriarty). After rescuing Hope from Kilgrave’s posh hotel room–which he inevitably just asked someone to give him–Jessica is certain she’s safe from his powers now that she’s been sequestered from him. When her parents, who Kilgrave referred to Jessica as a means to torment her, come to pick Hope up from Jessica’s apartment/office, she assumes that her client will be fine. But once in the elevator, Hope takes on a devious expression as she pulls out a gun and kills her mother and father, all as a result of Kilgrave’s orders.
Jessica’s first inclination is to run, take a flight out of town to Hong Kong–she even lets down her barriers to ask her estranged best friend/foster sister, Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), for some money to escape, but then she realizes that the same logic she applies to her clients when she tells them what they don’t want to hear also applies to her: “Knowing it’s real means you gotta make a decision. One: keep denying it. Or two: do something about it.” Jessica chooses the latter, setting the stage of the plotline for the duration of the season. From the second episode, “AKA Crush Syndrome,” onward, Jessica’s entire focus is finding out how to hone in on Kilgrave and his weaknesses in order to take him out. To do this, she needs the help of a ruthless Midtown lawyer named Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss, a long way from The Matrix) to defend Hope in the murder case that’s about to make her life even more traumatic. For Jessica, part of getting at Kilgrave is preventing innocent people from the damage of his fallout. At the same time, she knows that he’ll only hurt another person to get to or at her.
The gradual unraveling of Jessica’s past and how she came to be under Kilgrave’s mind control is peeled away slowly–almost as slowly as the removal of her own many-layered shell. Ultimately, Jessica was just like everyone else who falls victim to his powers: at the wrong place, at the wrong time–saving her then unknown (to her) neighbor, Malcolm (Eka Darville), from being pummeled by garden variety NYC muggers/tormentors when Kilgrave saw her strength at work and became enamored of her. To numb this part of her past, Jessica drinks–heavily. And yet, the alcohol only seems to make her P.I. perception even more finely tuned as she follows the trail of victims and clues Kilgrave leaves behind for her.
As Jessica says, “People do bad shit. I just avoid getting involved with them in the first place. That works for me.” And yet, her superhero nature and inability to let defenseless people go unprotected keeps her constantly involved in entanglements that she could just as easily be free of. Case in point is her attraction to Luke Cage (Mike Colter), a Hell’s Kitchen bartender with just as much of an attitude as Jessica. Her motives for spying on him become clear later, when it’s revealed that she killed his wife, Reva (Parisa Fitz-Henley), while under Kilgrave’s control. Her guilt over this event is what haunts her more than anything, and therefore leads her to monitor Luke, as though acting as his dark guardian angel. But, inevitably, her attraction to him gets the better of her, leading her to get more involved than she should or wants to. Their connection is further sealed when she finds out that Luke, too, is “special.”
This makes matters more complicated when Jessica is finally forced into confessing the truth about what she did to Reva to Luke, who ends up under the influence of Kilgrave. It’s moments like these when her repetition of the phrase “Birch Street, Higgins Drive, Cobalt Lane” (a coping mechanism designed for that brief period when she was in therapy) does her no good. All she can do is search for a way to take out Kilgrave, and she finds it when she tracks down the doctor who treated him after he was run over by a bus. She is attuned to the detail that Kilgrave refused to be put under while being operated on, leading her to the epiphany that if she can knock him out with the powerful anesthetic Sufentanil, she can render him incapable of controlling anyone while she presents him to the jury as evidence that Hope’s mental domination was very real in that second of shooting both her parents.
Jessica’s unconventional methods of investigation also lead to an accurate depiction of New York–regardless of the fact that it’s a New York presented in “the Marvel universe.” For instance, the New Yorker’s need to be in your business, as when Jessica curtly asks a mechanic for some information and he notes, “Rude girl is lonely girl.” She gives it right back to him by asserting, “I’m counting on it.” Indeed, Jessica’s vehemence about being alone pervades her entire persona, and stems from her belief that getting close to someone will either lead to her getting hurt or her unwittingly hurting someone else. In the fourth episode, “AKA 99 Friends,” Jessica is assigned to tail yet another alleged cheater, prompting her to quip, “Carlo’s clearly not in a rush to get home. Cases like this remind me why I’m single.” Everything about the idea of surrendering to another person sounds wretched to Jessica, and is further iterated by Kilgrave’s obsession with her. If he had maintained his callous lack of interest in another human being as per usual, he never would have bothered to subject so many to his force in order to lure Jessica back to him.
The damage Kilgrave inflicted upon Jessica’s psyche and perspective on love is ultimately summed up during her search to find out why Hope abandoned her friends and family. Jessica remarks, “Hope’s going overboard to make her boyfriend happy. She’s either an idiot in love or she’s being conned. Which amounts to pretty much the same thing.” And so, if we’ve learned anything from the first season of Jessica Jones, it’s that love is a deception best left untouched.