Warning: Spoilers for the first two episodes.
Better writers than I have already gushed about how great Jessica Jones is, and praise be upon them because they are largely the reason I started watching it recently. Specifically, a lot has been written about how the show baldly deals with rape and rape culture embodied in the form of the mind-controlling villain Kilgrave, played by David Tennant. Side note: I kind of hate this show for letting Tennant use his Tenth Doctor accent because it’s going to make listening to his new audio adventures with Donna Noble really, really awkward considering what he eventually does to Donna against her will.
Back to Jessica Jones.
Kilgrave, also known as the Purple Man in the original comics, is one of the most powerful mental dominants in the Marvel Universe, even getting elected president for life in one alternate timeline. It’s not that he makes you do something against your will. It’s that he makes his will yours. When Kilgrave uses his powers to tell someone to do something, it doesn’t occur to that person that he or she will do anything else. Any attempt by an outside party to alter the actions Kilgrave dictates in his victims is met with violent resistance.
Two episodes into the show, I noticed a recurring theme that is one of the most subtle references to how society just doesn’t get the difference between sex and rape. The first is in “AKA Ladies Night” with Hope Shlottman (Erin Moriarty). Kilgrave leaves her in a hotel room and Jones (Krysten Rtter) finds her in bed having been unable to move for five hours because Kilgrave told her not to. She confesses she has wet the bed in that time.
Fast-forward to “AKA Crush Syndrome,” where Kilgrave invades an apartment and takes over the lives of the family living there. When one of the children questions him, he orders the boy to go stay in the closet, and upon seeing the boy’s sister, sends her there as well over her protestations that she has to go to the bathroom. The last we see of her is a puddle of urine flowing out from under the closet door.
Thematically, this odd fixation on people peeing themselves while under another person’s control is interesting for a couple of reasons. The first is that Kilgrave survived a brush with death before the series begins by forcing an EMT to donate both kidneys to him even though Kilgrave only needed one. The EMT now lives helpless, constantly on a dialysis machine. In a very real way, Kilgrave’s ambivalence toward the bathroom needs of other people is a basic, concrete indication of his sadism.
The other is because it brings back a famously bone-headed moment in the war on rape. In 2013 the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs issued an advisory that encouraged rape targets to urinate, vomit or defecate on themselves as a means of last resort. Scorn from all sides was heaped on this incredibly misguided idea.
Rape is about power and anger, not sexual desire. A rapist is not going to be “turned off” by a victim urinating on herself or himself because the arousal is in the infliction of pain and control. Rape is not a sexual misunderstanding between parties. It is the removal of choice from one party.
A rapist doesn’t care if you wet the bed… and neither does Kilgrave as long as he gets what he wants. To understand that is to understand a whole lot more about why rape happens, why it remains so common and why we are still rubbish at dealing with it. Every time one of Kilgrave’s victims loses control of her bladder, it’s because control belongs to him alone.
One final note…I studied to be a clinical hypnotist, and though I graduated, I have never professionally practiced for personal reasons. Still, I occasionally will make tapes for friends and family along the lines of losing weight, handling anxiety or just general relaxation.
I end every tape the same way.
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I’m going to count down from ten to one. When I reach one, you will wake up feeling better and more refreshed than you ever have. Unless you are using this recording to go to sleep, in which case when I reach one, you will fall into a deep sleep and wake up in the morning feeling more refreshed than you ever have.
It’s a simple courtesy. If a person wants to spend 20 minutes in the afternoon having his or her session, that person can get right back up and go on with his day. If he wants to use it at night, he isn’t wide awake afterwards and unable to sleep.
Kilgrave could do that. He could tell Hope, “Don’t move. Unless you have to pee, in which case go to the nearest bathroom, urinate and then get immediately back in bed.” He could have done the same for the little girl in the closet, or he could have been satisfied with one kidney from the EMT. He isn’t, though. These thoughts literally don’t occur to him at all. Jessica Jones is basically pissing the message, “Rape is not about love, loneliness or desire,” in the snow at the audience’s feet.