By now, I’m going to assume a good chunk of you have watched Jessica Jones. (If not, SPOILERS FOR EVERYTHING.) Or, if not, you’ve at least heard that David Tennant’s Kilgrave, AKA Purple Man, is one of the best villains the MCU has turned out. Unlike Daredevil, which went the sympathetic route for the excellent Wilson Fisk, Jessica Jones made Kilgrave straight up the most terrifying baddie the MCU has ever had. Is it because of the mind control? Sure. Mind control is inherently scary and dickish. (Sorry, Professor X.)
But it’s also because Kilgrave is a m’ladying, fedora-tipping “Nice Guy.”
On a show created by Melissa Rosenberg, no less, who’s putting some serious karma points back into the universe after writing the Twilight movies, featuring teenage girls’ favorite
romanticized abuser dreamy vampire Edward Cullen.
Patriarchy is literally the villain. Literally. That’s what it is. Here, Jessica Jones. Have your Furiosa Seal of Approval.
As we eventually discover, Kilgrave’s big, bad villain motivation is that he’s in “love” with Jessica, who when the show starts is still recovering from the time she spent under his control. Superpowers aside, there is a lot in how Kilgrave acts that echoes how toxic masculinity manifests in the real world.
—Jessica explicitly calls what he did to her rape, both mental and physical, and it drives Kilgrave off the deep end, because… he is not what a rapist looks like, you guys! She didn’t explicitly say ‘no,’ so it wasn’t rape, of course? The lines, the lines…. they are so blurred!
—The controlling behavior, like forcing her to send him a selfie every day in order to keep Malcolm safe and assuming that his favorite meal (which they ate a lot when she was under mind control) was of course hers as well.
—The possessiveness, shown in his conversation with Luke Cage: asking whether Cage “bugger[ed] my chances with her” and reacting violently to them having been together.
—“I’ve been asking the impossible of you. I see that now. I wanted you to love me. But you’ve never loved anyone. You’re not even capable of it.” Even his failure to win her over is because she’s defective. It can’t be his fault. He’s such a Nice Guy! He bought her old house and filled it with her dead family’s belongings! That’s not creepy, it’s a grand romantic gesture. It’s chivalrous, and she’s a bitch for not appreciating it.
—And, of course: The way he’s always telling her to smile.
Adding a whole extra layer of meaning is the fact that Kilgrave is played by David Tennant, who uses the exact same accent as he did during his time on Doctor Who. He even throws in a few pitch-perfect “Weeeeeellllll”s. Not only does it make Kilgrave exponentially more creepy that this is the Doctor murdering, raping, and torturing, it has a lot to say about abusers—namely, that they don’t have “abuser” tattooed on their foreheads. Kilgrave seems harmless to people who pass by him on the street, but you never really know. It’s Schrödinger’s Rapist in action.
The issue of a misogynist, abusive prick lurking under the exterior of a seeming ally is even more directly explored in the character of Simpson, AKA Evil Steve Rogers.
Unlike Kilgrave, barring knowledge of the comics (Simpson eventually becomes Nuke), you don’t know from the get-go that Simpson’s going to be a villain; he’s just another poor schmuck who was mind-controlled into doing some seriously awful stuff, namely trying to kill Trish. Completely horrified by his actions, he woos his way back into Trish’s good graces, working past her understandable trauma (he did attack her, after all, and she has a history of being mentally and physically abused by her mother) to convince her that he’d never, ever hurt her. He wants to do everything he can to help! He’s her ally.
Until he becomes convinced that the best way to handle the Kilgrave situation is to kill him, the wishes of Jessica and Trish—you know, the women who have been handling the situation—be damned. That’s when he starts to lie to and manipulate Trish, eventually lashing out against her physically. Because he was under the control of a combat-enhancement drug at the time, it’s obviously not his fault, though. He couldn’t control it! And anyway, if those silly wimminz had just listened to him instead of trying to keep Kilgrave alive in order to save Hope from a lifetime of incarceration (girls—so soft-hearted!), he wouldn’t have had to hurt them in the first place.
Though they’re enemies, Kilgrave and Simpson have a lot in common. They both cloak their abusive, stalkery ways behind facades of socially acceptable masculinity—the enthusiastic, socially awkward nerd who wouldn’t hurt a soul and the supportive, caring boyfriend—of the sort that hide villains in the real world, too. Both Kilgrave and Simpson feel they know what’s best for the women in their lives and behave violently when said women don’t conform to their wishes. Both of them refuse to accept responsibility for their abusive actions. Both of them think they’re heroes, like a man who calls a woman a bitch (or shoots up a school) because he feels entitled to female attention or one who feels just awful about slapping his girlfriend… she shouldn’t provoke him next time.
And, most importantly…
The show doesn’t let them get away with any of it. Rosenberg and the rest of the show’s creative team make it very clear that Kilgrave’s obsession with Jessica isn’t “cute” or “quirky.” Simpson may want to achieve the same thing as Jessica does (defeating Kilgrave), but he’s not any sort of “anti-hero”—he’s a straight-up villain, and a dick to boot. And both men, in the end, get the shit kicked out of them by the women they abused.