Kilgrave AKA Kevin Thompson - Piece of ... Work

I've seen some really varied responses to the Kilgrave character, and I'm still mulling my own feeling over, so perhaps it's worth it to have a thread about him.

 

The concept and actions of the character disturb me more than any other Marvel villain.  Really, I can't think of a villain I find more horrific right now.  He lived in a world where he is the only person with free will.  He was never denied anything by anyone in the last thirty years.  When the series started he was such a malevolent idea, strengthened by the suffering Jessica still clearly felt and the destruction of Hope's life and family.  This was a man who held captive men and women with a word.  He raped bodies and minds.  He used everyone he came into contact with, without remorse, whether he wanted a cushy place to stay or a pair of kidneys.  Seeing the survivors' group meeting further reinforced the monstrosity.

 

And then we met him.  And got to know him.  And that sense of menace started to fade.  Up close he was a bored, amoral stalker who denied the idea that he was a rapist.  He was petty, petulant, and self-important.  He loved to hear himself talk, and claimed to be in love with Jessica.  He behaved oddly at times, even over the top.  Jessica captured him, then tortured him, and made him look more pathetic.  And he got himself killed by being gullible.

 

This dissonance between who the character started as and who he ended up being bothers me.  I don't think he was made sympathetic, and I'm glad.  His childhood suffering explains how he came to be without justifying what he does as an adult.  I was expecting to be afraid of this character throughout, and while I remain disgusted by him, getting to know him diminished him as a villain.  I hope this was deliberate - to show that as horrible as his actions were he wasn't some supernatural and all powerful beast.  He was an insecure, childish man interested in his own well-being and pleasure.  He just happened to have the power required to enforce his will.  And everybody suffered for it.

 

In the end I think I liked what the smaller moments had to say about him.  The 'pick up that cup of coffee, throw it in your face' command.  The black look he gave Ruben when the latter announced that he was in love with Jessica.  His easy disillusionment with her behavior while playing house.  The disdainful glance he gave Jessica when she was using her hand to serve herself at breakfast.  His disgust for the taste of the burger Jessica gave him while he was a prisoner.  His efforts to influence Jeri into letting him go.  Even his moderate interest in having Jessica show him how to be a good guy.

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 And he got himself killed by being gullible.

I don't think it was being gullible that got him killed, I really think his obsession had gotten to the point where either he was going to make his powers work on Jessica and force her to love him or die trying. Remember it was maybe a day before his death where he took a drug that had a 60% chance of killing him because if it didn't kill him it might increase his powers to the point where they would work on her.

 

I think the creepiest thing with Killgrave is that a lot of the times he did evil shit just for evil's sake. Like he went out of his way to be a crazy bastard even when he didn't need to. 

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I can't really agree there was dissonance, because I saw it as just different perceptions of who he was. He seems scary and menacing and dangerous, because he is. When you realise what he can do, he's a terrifying prospect. But as a person, he is petulant and whiny and refuses to take responsibility for the things he's done. He really is an allegory for the abusive partner in a relationship. 

 

He wasn't on some quest for global domination, or to get rich. He didn't need any of that, because he could get money whenever he needed, he could get material riches just by telling people to give him stuff. And he could get any woman to sleep with him just by telling them to. He was doing this stuff because he felt like it, not for any grand reason.

 

Kilgrave was smart, but he wasn't some genius, being able to anticipate and counter every possible threat. He did a good job, but his undoing in the end was because he was venal, cruel and he was obsessed with Jessica. I found it fitting.

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I think his petulance and immaturity and self-centered worldview is what makes him so dangerous. He doesn't care about the ripple effects of his actions, and he doesn't see that he is still responsible even if someone else acts out his orders. If he were a smart, cunning villain, he could be running a company, amassing a legitimate fortune, and influencing a number of people, but he's so immature he's living exactly the life a teenage boy would want if  they had his powers. 

 

It means that while he's not a threat to the fate of the world, or even the city, he's a very real and extremely dangerous threat to literally every person who meets him, and that's what makes him so scary. Meeting Kilgrave means you may end up dead, or a murderer, or a drug addict, and you can't stop what he tells you to do...that visceral loss of free will is a primal fear, and Kilgrave represents that perfectly. 

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I like your responses Kel Varnsen, Danny Franks, and questionfear.  It's true that he is a scary, scary person in part because of his indifference.  The more I read and the more I think about it the more my initial concerns after finishing the season fade.  I thought he was a good villain, but I'm starting to appreciate the depiction more.

 

ETA: The ways in which he deluded himself - that his parents were only experimenting on him, that he's never killed anyone, that he gave Jessica a chance to leave and she didn't take it - are an interesting parallel to being able to tell other people what to think.

Edited by MisterGlass.

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I have only seen the pilot so far, so I am posting without reading other comments for fear of spoilers, but I am so fascinated by the concept of this guy's powers that I wanted to weigh in.

 

I find myself pondering "what would happen if I got the same powers he has?"  IOW, are Jessica, Hope, and her parents unlucky that the guy who got these mind-control powers is super evil?  Or would having those powers corrupt almost anyone?  Maybe it depends on how old you are when you develop them (I'm thinking about that classic "Twilight Zone" episode about the little boy who has godlike omnipotence).

 

What would even qualify as using said powers ethically?  To be truly ethical, you really probably shouldn't use them at all, except maybe in self-defense or to save someone else from violence.  But that would be awfully boring, and I doubt many people would have that level of self-restraint.  I expect I'd be doing the "look up the recipe and make me my favorite dish" thing, but hopefully not the "enslave pretty women" thing.

 

But then that makes me think of something else: what if you can't turn it on and off?  How could you ever even flirt with someone and preserve their free will to be uninterested?  If your only choices were to psychically kidnap and rape a potential sexual partner, or to be celibate, the percentage of people (men especially) who would stay on the side of "good" becomes vanishingly small IMO.  Which makes these powers a kind of curse, really.  (Maybe that's the test: if you were truly evil to begin with, they wouldn't feel like a curse at all.)

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I have only seen the pilot so far, so I am posting without reading other comments for fear of spoilers, but I am so fascinated by the concept of this guy's powers that I wanted to weigh in.

 

I find myself pondering "what would happen if I got the same powers he has?"  IOW, are Jessica, Hope, and her parents unlucky that the guy who got these mind-control powers is super evil?  Or would having those powers corrupt almost anyone?  Maybe it depends on how old you are when you develop them (I'm thinking about that classic "Twilight Zone" episode about the little boy who has godlike omnipotence).

 

What would even qualify as using said powers ethically?  To be truly ethical, you really probably shouldn't use them at all, except maybe in self-defense or to save someone else from violence.  But that would be awfully boring, and I doubt many people would have that level of self-restraint.  I expect I'd be doing the "look up the recipe and make me my favorite dish" thing, but hopefully not the "enslave pretty women" thing.

 

But then that makes me think of something else: what if you can't turn it on and off?  How could you ever even flirt with someone and preserve their free will to be uninterested?  If your only choices were to psychically kidnap and rape a potential sexual partner, or to be celibate, the percentage of people (men especially) who would stay on the side of "good" becomes vanishingly small IMO.  Which makes these powers a kind of curse, really.  (Maybe that's the test: if you were truly evil to begin with, they wouldn't feel like a curse at all.)

 

I don't want to spoil anything, but I will say that the show does touch on these ideas, in a couple of different ways.

 

A character with these powers could easily be written as a hero, even a tragic hero, if presented in a different way. But the idea of having the power to control meaning corruption is inevitable is an age old one. Could Kilgrave have been a hero, if he had a different personality and upbringing? Or would he have been doomed to the temptation that his powers present? It's completely subjective, of course, but I tend to think that simply having the abilities he has would lead him down a slippery slope. There are too many of life's little frustrations that could be defeated with what he can do, too many opportunities to improve your life by just a little bit, with some seemingly inconsequential, justifiable (to yourself) application of that ability.

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Absolutely agree. I would hope though that most people would not descend down that slope as far as what we saw in the elevator at the end of the first episode (which is still the only one I have seen). That appeared to go way beyond selfishness into pure sadism.

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Absolutely agree. I would hope though that most people would not descend down that slope as far as what we saw in the elevator at the end of the first episode (which is still the only one I have seen). That appeared to go way beyond selfishness into pure sadism.

 

 

A great deal would depend on how mature you were when you got that ability, and how much empathy you were capable of. Kilgrave was definitely at a disadvantage getting these powers at age 10. At that age, people just want what they want. They don't really care about others' free will. However, I doubt that most people would use their powers as cruelly as Kevin uses his. Having people stab themselves, jump off bridges, throw coffee in their own faces...he knows damn well that they don't want to do that.

 

He is very sadistic. In his shoes, I'd have told people to go away, or go home, or go about their business, not go stare at that fence forever. No one would ever have to ask me if they could blink.

 

I'm pretty sure in his shoes I would be guilty of a few rapes before I figured out that's what it was, because I probably wouldn't realize, or wouldn't want to realize that people were going out with me because I asked them to. But I would outgrow that and learn a workaround, because not knowing if someone wants you for you would be awful. I'd figure out to use the phone to ask people on dates, to ask them what they wanted instead of telling them what I wanted, and to try to keep things as open as possible. And if that didn't work, I'd just swear off relationships and talk to people online and on the phone.

 

Although I probably wouldn't just walk up to people and make them give me their clothes, their money, etc...I probably would abuse the power to get scholarships, jobs, opportunities, perhaps parts in plays. Taxicabs, certainly.

 

I try to imagine the other characters with his powers. Jessica would shut herself away from everyone, communicating only via phone or email or in anonymous notes or graffitti, but she'd use the power to control villains. Malcolm would use the power so subtly he might not even realize it was even there--he'd find out accidentally one day, I'm sure. But he'd use it to help people. He'd tell people to do what they really ought to do in order to be happy and healthy, and only in sessions, and he'd probably get a lot of clients coming to him to stop smoking, lose weight, etc....what he wouldn't do, is use it to make someone go out with him. He'd probably ask people out via graffitti or text messages.

 

It is a testament to Tennant's talents that even when I knew he was a rapist, a murderer, and a sadist, I still hurt for his unrequited "love" for Jessica. I think with a different upbringing he would have turned out a lot differently. But I liked that they pulled Jessica away from the whole "love of a good woman" fallacy.

Edited by Hecate7.

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I like a lot of your points Hecate7.  Of all the characters, I agree Malcolm would have the best chance of being a hero with this ability.  While I think Jessica would save people, I think she would also be drinking for free and not working as a sandwich.  I think Trish might actually be too overt with the power to be useful.  She might want to go big in saving people, and be exposed.  She'd need her superhero costume.  (It occurs to me just now that the sandwich was Jessica's first actual superhero costume.  Aww.)

 

I don't think anyone who got this kind of power before or during adolescence would stand a chance of using them correctly unless they had a strong friend, mentor, or parent to ground them.  Kids often have difficulty with empathy, and with seeing beyond their own needs and wants.  The real struggle of growing up is learning that the world doesn't revolve around you, but that you can have your own place in it.  If a kid with these abilities had someone they admired and would accept that person telling them they were doing the wrong thing, then just maybe he or she could escape being a villain.  Kilgrave's parents were afraid of him, and ran away from him.  And sense he was an ill child he probably had few other people in his life.  I liked that they posed the question of whether he could reform in later life if he had someone to act as his external conscience.  It's a maybe, but I think he would get bored and frustrated after such long reliance on his powers.  He'd need constant rewards to make changing his behavior worthwhile.  That would require someone to be at his beck and call as surely as if he were controlling them, and it makes since that Jessica was not the one to do that.

 

I'd say age 25 and beyond, a person not already headed in the wrong direction would have a chance of being a good person.  Late teens and early 20s a gray area.  It would be so hard to learn to interact with people.  Even saying "Tell me about your day" would be a violation because someone would have to tell you when they'd rather not talk about it.  It wasn't just orders that would be an issue; when Kilgrave was asking questions, people felt compelled to respond.  You really would have to function as though you couldn't speak to have a 100% authentic in person interaction.  Notepad and pencil, text messages, or perhaps a text to speech app.  That's a significant daily sacrifice to do the right thing.  And then feeling guilty when you slipped and told a restaurant full of people to be quiet?

 

Spelling edit.

Edited by MisterGlass.

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Overall, I just think using these powers for good or evil really doesn't trump overriding someone's free will. There is a reason for the saying: The road to hell is paved with good intentions. We never know what the repercussions on someone's life are. We simply don't have the right.

 

Which, for me, makes using them wrong in principle, regardless of the reasons we would use them.

 

A lot of these superhero stories paints saving people as this ultimate good action. But there is no such thing as ultimate good or ultimate evil. So, we can talk to the people who lost family and friends in the carnage that was the Avengers movie. Did it save a lot of people from being enslaved by these alien creatures and Loki. Yes. Did it hurt a lot of people too? Also yes. Can we ever guarantee that our "good" actions are purely that? Almost never. Sometimes, it's just a numbers game. Saving more people than getting the whole planet enslaved? Some of the once who lost family in the carnage might have opted for the latter. Free will. You can't save them all. And it's not entirely your decision what is better for someone.

Edited by supposebly.

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The comic, and soon to be TV series, Preacher is based on a character who could also command people to do whatever he wanted. In part because the lead character got the abilities after he was older and had a moral center, he uses the abilities with restraint and generally only against bad guys.

 

Kilgrave showed a small taste of what he could do for good when he ended the hostage situation without bloodshed.

 

But because he was so amoral and self-centered, it probably never occurred to him to use his power to stop terrorist plots or end homelessness or create world peace or any number of things that someone might be able to do where the ends might arguably justify the means.

 

Edited by Chicago Redshirt.

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Could he have actually done that, though? His powers didn't permanently change someone's mind and they wore off after a certain amount of time. He'd have to be constantly "resetting" the people he was controlling.

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Agreed, it isn't really a world changing power because the influence is temporary.  I suppose you could catch some politician on the way to a vote, or convince a monarch to abdicate.  That seems like too broad a reach to be heroic, though.  That's more like a back alley approach to world control.

 

I think freeing the hostages is one approach to using the powers for good.  If you went around telling robbers to lay down their weapons, put up their hands, and wait for the police, you would more or less be doing the same thing that other crime fighting superheroes do, except they have to resort to physical confrontation.

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The comic, and soon to be TV series, Preacher is based on a character who could also command people to do whatever he wanted. In part because the lead character got the abilities after he was older and had a moral center, he uses the abilities with restraint and generally only against bad guys.

 

Kilgrave showed a small taste of what he could do for good when he ended the hostage situation without bloodshed.

 

But because he was so amoral and self-centered, it probably never occurred to him to use his power to stop terrorist plots or end homelessness or create world peace or any number of things that someone might be able to do where the ends might arguably justify the means.

 

You know, I didn't even think of Jesse Custer when considering Kilgrave's powers. I suppose that's a good example of just how differently they deploy them. Of course, Jesse wasn't above inflicting cruel and unusual punishment on people using the Word of God, but the writing was such that you felt those people deserved it (in the cruel, crude way that only Garth Ennis can make you feel that). But even then, the characters in Preacher seemed to be distressed at doing what Jesse said, and aware that it was being forced upon them. Kilgrave's victims don't even get to acknowledge that, because he suppresses their own will so completely.

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One of the concrete examples where Jesse and Kilgrave differ has to do with Tulip, who starts off the story as Jesse's ex-girlfriend. When they reunite, there are still sparks, but Tulip is not interested in being together romantically at first. Another character suggests to Jesse that he could make Tulip get together with him. Jesse's response is that if he did, he would rightly burn in hell.

 

Kilgrave had no problem making Jessica, Hope and God knows how many other women (or men) pleasure him. In fact, part of his obsession with Jessica IMO stems from the fact that as far as he knows, she is the only one who is immune to his mind control. And he is explicitly willing to risk death for the chance to control her again.

 

On another note, I wanted to pass along something that was brought to my attention that I thought was a nice nod.

 

There is an exchange at some point when Jessica is talking to Kilgrave and he mentioned how his parents left him when he was ten. Jessica's response is "You're not ten any more."

 

David Tennant, of course, is famous for playing the 10th Doctor on "Doctor Who," often referred to as 10.

Edited by Chicago Redshirt.

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One of the concrete examples where Jesse and Kilgrave differ has to do with Tulip, who starts off the story as Jesse's ex-girlfriend. When they reunite, there are still sparks, but Tulip is not interested in being together romantically at first. Another character suggests to Jesse that he could make Tulip get together with him. Jesse's response is that if he did, he would rightly burn in hell.

 

Kilgrave had no problem making Jessica, Hope and God knows how many other women (or men) pleasure him. In fact, part of his obsession with Jessica IMO stems from the fact that as far as he knows, she is the only one who is immune to his mind control. And he is explicitly willing to risk death for the chance to control her again.

 

And funnily enough (not funny, haha), the same character who suggested that to Jesse did indeed use his own way of forcing Tulip, late in the story. And it didn't differ much from what Kilgrave did to Malcolm.

 

I think Preacher does a good job of showing what a man with iron strong morals can do with power like that. And while his morals don't always lead him to make the right decision, and show him to be inflexible and self-righteous, they do stop him from having to confront that slide into darkness that Kilgrave practically threw himself down.

 

Another character that I couldn't help but equate Kilgrave with is Rogue from the X-Men. At least, when he complained about not really knowing when he's using his powers, and whether he's forcing people or not. Rogue could have no physical connection, and Kilgrave could have no emotional. They both wanted that connection, but Rogue took great pains to never expose anyone to her powers, knowing the abuse it constituted, and the harm it could do.

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I decided to watch this show because I wanted to see Kristen Ritter's and David Tennant's performances together, and in that respect, boy I was not disappointed.

 

The one thing I wonder about now, though, is what the dynamic would have been like if Kilgrave had ever succeeded? If he had managed to gain control over Jessica again, how much longer would he have been interested? I'm assuming he would have done a lot of the things he told himself he was anticipating, but then what? His obsession with getting her back had literally been the motivating force in his life for... the last year? (I'm sorry, I don't remember how long it had been since Jessica had walked away from him.) How long until the excitement of having her back wore off?

 

Or would he be perpetually paranoid that she would somehow break free again, and spend the rest of his life enacting various psychotic measures to ensure that did not happen?

 

It seems clear his only favorable option would have been for her to "choose him". No wonder he was so hung up for so long on the glimmer of hope of that she could actually want him of her own free will.

 

(Side note: David Tennant's performance was nothing short of brilliant, to make me sit around contemplating the life someone as despicable as Kilgrave would have had if he had succeeded. The whole scene when he was deciding it was worth it to have his father inject a potentially fatal serum into the base of his skull (which required him to submit himself to the exact physical position that he had been in repeatedly as a child when he thought he had no control) because of how badly he wanted to control one person again -- that went so far for me in showing how much control Kilgrave had lost over himself, that even self-preservation took second-place to his obsession with Jessica. It made his downfall that much more fitting.)

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ETA: The ways in which he deluded himself - that his parents were only experimenting on him, that he's never killed anyone, that he gave Jessica a chance to leave and she didn't take it - are an interesting parallel to being able to tell other people what to think.

 

There was also a small, small point hubby and I noticed -- in Jessica's flashback of the night she met Kilgrave, she had saved Malcolm from getting beat up by a couple of thugs and in doing so, she caught Kilgrave's eye.  But in a later episode Kilgrave makes mention of the "fact" that HE (Kilgrave) saved HER from "getting her ass kicked in an alley one night."  (May not be an exact quote, I'm basing this on one viewing of the show.)  It's almost like his mind takes everything he does and automatically twists it around so he thinks he's the good guy in all of this, or at least that his actions are somehow justified.

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I've just started watching this one, in part because a friend recommended it but also in big part because I love David Tennant from Doctor Who, and he is really bringing it as Kilgrave.  Look forward to watching the rest.

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On 1/22/2016 at 11:59 PM, Taryn74 said:

 

There was also a small, small point hubby and I noticed -- in Jessica's flashback of the night she met Kilgrave, she had saved Malcolm from getting beat up by a couple of thugs and in doing so, she caught Kilgrave's eye.  But in a later episode Kilgrave makes mention of the "fact" that HE (Kilgrave) saved HER from "getting her ass kicked in an alley one night."  (May not be an exact quote, I'm basing this on one viewing of the show.)  It's almost like his mind takes everything he does and automatically twists it around so he thinks he's the good guy in all of this, or at least that his actions are somehow justified.

That's pretty much how he seems to work- he either doesn't care, or he's made himself the good guy in his mind.

David Tennant really made him pretty fascinating.

Edited by methodwriter85.

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