Kilgrave is the obvious abuser in the show. He’s the clear villain. He’s got his own evil design theme. But he’s not the only one. Jessica Jones is practically a Love, Actually of abuse. Abuse is everywhere in the world of Jessica Jones. It’s in Jeri Hogarth sending not one, but TWO super humans to bully her all too mortal ex-wife into signing a divorce settlement, by any means necessary. It’s Hogarth’s ex-wife saying "You were a bastard to everyone else but you were kind to me. I was special." Which is pretty much How to know you are probably dating an abuser 101. It’s there in pretty much everything Trish’s mom does.
Trish's mom seems to engage in a constellation of abuse, physical, emotional, verbal. She exploits Trish (and anyone she can get her hands on) financially. And she uses that exploitation as an excuse to call Trish fat, force her to vomit, strong-arm her to into adopting a classmate and physically abuse her. The only way she gets away with it is that Trish doesn’t want to be seen as a victim, she doesn’t want to be seen as a cliché. She’s embarrassed by the abuse she experiences, which is pretty common for survivors. But it’s that shame that lets Dorothy Walker keep exploiting, and presumably abusing, children. This is yet another reality of abuse that is slipped into the show. Abuse is always messy. No one gets away unscathed. A clean break is simply not possible.
But the abuser that gets the most screen time, aside from Kilgrave, is Simpson. I haven’t seen anyone write about it but Simpson represents a better-known form of abusive relationship. And maybe that’s why it hasn’t gotten much ink (or any as far as I know.) Kilgrave is an exquisitely rendered portrait of a verbal abuser, a kind of abuse we rarely talk about and almost never see on screen. But Simpson, even though he’s never really called on it, is a more run of the mill physical abuser. I like to call it the Stanley Kowalski model of abuse. He's sexy, he's aggressively masculine, he's an animal in the sack. He's just so damn manly that he can't help but fly off the handle and beat up the lady he's dating. But he's sorry. He's oh so sorry. He just took too many drugs. That wasn't *him.* DOES THAT SOUND FAMILIAR?
Simpson is not just butch. He is, in fact, toxically masculine. He's filled with rage issues. He's made intolerably insecure by Jessica Jones being stronger than him. He’s spent his whole life wanting to be the Masculine Savior. His male toys saved his female toys. He joined the army and later the police force so he could be a big damn hero. But somehow, when he gets super human strength, his first big act is not to jump between a child and an oncoming car, or pull someone out of a burning building, or even get a kitten out of a tree, it’s to attack his girlfriend and an old man. Oops.
But it's no accident at all. Simpson exhibits classic red flags from the moment he and Trish begin to hook up. His first choice of girlfriend is someone with a history of abuse, and someone who is willing to talk to him after he's already tried to kill her. Doesn’t it seem weird to anyone else that his way of apologizing for attempted murder isn’t, like, chocolate, or a bath bomb, or (preferably) a sincere apology followed by the offer to leave Trish alone and never ever bother her again? Instead he apologizes by giving her a gun and the gift of head. Which Trish seems to enjoy, but it has the all too convenient side effect of binding her to him. (and also connecting sex with violence. That might be a different article.)
The moment he starts hooking up with Trish, he starts driving a wedge between her and her best friend. He gets her to ignore Jessica’s calls, despite the fact that Jessica’s crazy stalker has recently come out of the woodworks. And once he's done giving head, he starts being unpleasant to Jessica, almost before he can get his pants back on. The actual first line Simpson has after we see him going down on Trish is one where he contradicts Jessica. In fact, most of his lines in that scene are him contradicting Jessica. He immediately assumes that the fight against Kilgrave is HIS fight, and he should be the one to lead it. NOT BECAUSE HE'S A BAD GUY OR ANYTHING, JUST THINGS WOULD BE BETTER IF HE WAS IN CHARGE BECAUSE...UM....WOULD YOU LIKE SOME MORE HEAD? He brushes off Jessica's intimate knowledge of Kilgrave's motive and methods. He brushes off her incredible strength. Because what's all that when you've got a shady military background and a penis?
The next scene he has alone with Trish, he starts by condescending to her, and then interrogating her about her best friend. He whines that Jessica doesn’t like him very much, that she scares men off, and where did she get those superpowers anyway? The tension between him and Jessica, never goes away. He bristles whenever she calls the shots or implies that maybe all her problems can’t be solves by shooting them. He never gives up on trying to get Trish on his side.
He even gaslights Trish briefly when he disappears and she is, understandably concerned. He’s been looking for a super human serial killer. One that made him try to kill Trish. He suddenly stopped responding to her calls and texts. But when she tracks him down and asks where the hell he’s been, he acts like nothing happened. Like she’s crazy for worrying about him. Why would she worry? He’s just hanging with his boys. He doesn’t quite say “What’s all the drama babe?” but he may as well have.
Simpson is also a poster child for the masculinity so fragile hashtag. Throughout the show his insecurity is palpable. It’s covered up by manly bluster, but it’s there all the same. He’s rankled by the fact that Kilgrave had power over him, by the fact that Jessica is stronger and faster than him, by the fact that Trish is all too happy to say “last night was fun but that doesn’t mean I want your opinion.” The final straw for his fragile ego is when some pretty boy (Kilgrave) tricks him into getting blown up by his own damn bomb.
What is the solution to this insecurity? MORE MANLYNESS! Man pills! To make him super strong! No need for those other pills that give him balance or the ability to relax, all he needs is strength and rage and a little more strength and rage. And then, OOPS he just happens to use all this strength to attack his girlfriend. And then he shows up at her job when she won’t talk to him so he can make her forgive him. And then he attacks her again. Whoops! What a weird coincidence that he just can’t stop going crazy and trying to beat up his girlfriend. It’s almost like he’s been planning it the whole time.
In a way, it’s almost a relief when Simpson turns into Nuke and attacks Trish. Because he’s finally coming out as the villain he’s always been. He’s spent most of the series posing as a hero, but a REALLY ANNOYING hero. He is basically a better-written version of Riley from Buffy. He’s an old school hero trying to play out his narrative in a show that doesn’t have a place for him. Jessica is the hero. She’s flawed and she’s female but she’s the only one that can save the day in this story. And the only way for Simpson to be a hero in this show is for him to shut up and help Jessica (take note, male allies.) But Simpson would rather be a villain than play lieutenant to a girl. So he becomes Nuke, a character so toxically masculine that even Frank Miller thought he was evil.
(If you're not much of a comics person, that's like Ayn Rand writing an example of capitalism gone too far.)
In checking to see if anyone had already written about it, I stumbled across a rumor that Nuke will be the Big Bad for the next season of Jessica Jones and I was SO HAPPY. After she offed Kilgrave, I really wasn’t sure where the show could go. It had done such a great job of exploring this woman recovering from an abusive relationship, I wasn’t sure what a satisfying next step would be. But if Jessica Jones, patron saint of survivors, is going to go from fighting her own abuser to taking on the abuser of her best friend, that sounds very satisfying indeed.