Jessica Jones and Hannibal: A Friendly Double Feature
Jessica Jones is just the kind of show I can't shut up about. Before that, it was three seasons of NBC's Hannibal. When I initially thought to write this piece, I thought I'd be talking about the unique female friendship between Jessica and her sister Trish, and the toxic, obsessive relationship super villain Kilgrave has with Jessica. But as I flipped between episodes of Jessica Jones and rewatching Hannibal from season one, I realized, what Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham have is something comparative to both.
And so today, in the spirit of romance, I'm here to talk to you about male and female friendships - complete with sexual undertones, platonic appreciation, and unnatural obsessions. It's a #chickflickfebruary TV double feature.
Jessica Jones (2015)
Kilgrave says that. Kilgrave, the big bad super villain. Kilgrave, nerd in a purple suit. Kilgrave, purveyor of mind control. Kilgrave, meninist extraordinaire.
In other comic book movies and television shows, the big bad is after something. Something big. Something larger than life. Usually world domination or a "new era" or something equally as unachievable.
Kilgrave is just after Jessica Jones.
Like a jilted lover, or in this case, a jealous fanboy that just can't get on his obsession's radar, he is willing to do anything to get the attention he feels he deserves. Mind control, murder, rape - it's all in the cards. And like the worst offenders of contemporary feminism, Kilgrave doesn't bother to see the "rape" element to his powers. He wants Jessica. He deserves Jessica. He will do what he can to acquire Jessica. The end justifies the means.
But when Kilgrave dismisses Jessica and her sister Trish as "bitches," he calls attention to his greatest weakness: his masculinity. I mentioned "meninist" not because I want you to spend an hour searching the hashtag on Twitter wondering what kind of world we live in, but because Kilgrave is exquisitely modeled after these "regular" guys (and some women, too) who see women bonding together as a threat to their own existence. To the meninist, feminism is something to be destroyed. To Kilgrave, the friendship between Jessica and Trish is keeping him from having Jessica all to himself. And that's a problem.
Jessica Jones is about regular people
My dislike of superhero material generally comes out of my
inability to relate. Alan Moore's Watchmen (a graphic novel and film I really love) said it best with its cast of immoral and cast-off costume heroes, whom no one trusts and no one really understands.
Jessica Jones is that rare entity that shows regular people with regular problems, who simply have irregular means to deal with them. It's sort of like watching your own problems come to life on steroids. Jessica can't get away from that abusive ex - he keeps trying to break into her mind. Trish's childhood successes are marred by a reclusive adulthood that keeps her hiding in a panic room, and that promising new boyfriend turns out to be kind of a jerk - a pill-popping, freakishly violent science experiment of a jerk. So, regular problems - irregular solutions.
Trish and Jessica are the only relationship that matters
For all the effort Kilgrave and Will put in to destroy these two women, it is their relationship with each other that ultimately saves the day.
As far as sex is concerned, both women have it. Trish with a pre-lunatic Will, and Jessica with fellow super strong person Luke Cage (also, a cool thing about this show - women are not only allowed to have sex on-screen and enjoy it, they're never punished for it). But neither relationship is lasting, for two very different reasons, and even when they are ongoing, the dominant relationship on-screen is the friendship between Trish and Jess. This is the relationship we're asked as viewers to care about. This is the relationship that we take down the to the wire in the last episode of the season, waiting to see who Jessica will choose.
She chooses her sister. And that's not a spoiler, because Jessica Jones never pretends to be anything but a feminist love story between two girls who are the better for having each other.
Don't quote me on the exact syntax here, but after Will spends the night at Trish's house, she reminds him the next morning, with absolutely no sugar-coating, that just because they "had some fun" last night doesn't mean he gets a say in what she does with the rest of her day.
Did I mention Jessica is there in the morning? Helping herself to the orange juice in the fridge? If you had any questions about the priorities of this show, look no further than this scene.
*You can watch season one of Jessica Jones on Netflix Instant
Friendship can sometimes involve a breach of individual separateness.
Perhaps the most unnerving thing about Hannibal is how Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter really, truly, become friends.
'Freinemy' might be the term that comes to mind.
But a friendship - a deep, weighty, important bond - is precisely what they have. Some of that is natural: from the very first episode, Hannibal seems uniquely able to understand Will and his complicated thought process, and Will able to experience the methodology and non-feeling of a sociopath in sheep's clothing. They're a match made in mentally disturbed heaven.
The rest of their friendship develops over time. Through conscious manipulation, a bit of "Kilgrave-light" mind control (on both parts), and a melding together of personalities that does the opposite of what Jessica Jones does - shows us the dangerous nature of coming too close - instead of finding power in closeness, Hannibal shows us the frightening reality of losing our personalities in one another.
Hannibal is to Will, as Kilgrave is to Jessica
Hannibal seeks to control Will; for play, experimentation, and his own pleasure. Just as Kilgrave hopes to use his power to make Jessica his significant other - at first manipulating her, but eventually, winning her emotions over, really and truly. What both Hannibal and Kilgrave want is not a forced friendship, but to force a real friendship into being. It is warped thinking. But if we know anything about domestic abuse, we know it is more than possible to do this to someone.
Kilgrave is of course, in love with Jessica (or so he believes). Is Hannibal in love with Will? They never have sex (although an intricately cut scene between Hannibal, Alana, Will, and Margot implies it). But of course Jessica and Kilgrave never had consensual sex, either. And if the literal mind-fuck Hannibal performs on Will isn't some form of bizarre, unwelcome intercourse, I don't know what else to call it.
Will is more often than not, being crushed under the weight of Hannibal's efforts: being framed for murder, psychologically manipulated, and ultimately left to suffer the effects of a serious but treatable brain disease because his friend sits back and does nothing (except when he is doing sick, sick somethings).
Either way, Jessica and Will are analogous in their abuse by the other. They are pinned down, given no choices or even an ability to recognize that there are choices, and then made to feel crazy or unstable for rejecting the abuser's friendship later on.
Will finds himself in a mental hospital, unable to convince a soul what he believes Lecter did to him. Jessica hiding from Kilgrave, trying to forget what he did, day drinking herself into oblivion (or as far into oblivion as super heroes can go).
But sometimes, Will and Hannibal are more like Jessica and Trish.
Brothers and sisters, best friends, the only person in the world who can possibly understand the other.
Like Jessica and Trish, Will and Hannibal have a particular shared life experience. The girls suffer the emotional abuse of Trish's mother Dorothy, and ultimately, the loss of their families. In that abandonment, the teens find something to bond over.
Both Will and Hannibal have been accused of murder. And Will, even after the discovery of Hannibal's worst qualities (and manipulations of his own mind and body), still sees the similarities in their thought processes - something Will Graham, forever loner, can't take lightly.
So here's where things get complicated.
Hannibal takes great advantage of Will, but it is out of intense interest - however clinical and cold. It is important to note how much others take advantage of Will - namely Jack Crawford, who does so in the name of the greater good. But in fact, Jack has less interest in Will's general well-being than Hannibal, who at least cares enough for his friend to never stop tracking his every move.
Sending Will into crime scene after crime scene, and Will getting sicker and sicker, Jack doesn't stop until things are too late. And unlike Hannibal, Jack has no sociopathic tendencies to blame that dangerous selfishness on.
Will Graham is a victim, that is certain. Of whom - that's a much broader question.
Friendships can empower or overpower.
In the case of Trish and Jessica, we know that their bond is the power that overcomes all other things.
But for Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter, the connection is so overpowering, so intertwined, so indistinguishable, that it is the downfall of both.
There is no doubt in my mind that Hannibal and Will are, by the end of the series, real friends. But that manufactured friendship, that forced friendship conceived of by Lecter and put into play, is like the encephalitis that invaded Will's brain - biological, inevitable, and entirely treatable. It's just a question of how long each will entertain the existence of the other.
If you have come to the end of the series, you'll know the final scene solidifies this dynamic between Will and Hannibal. Friendship as downfall is beautifully articulated.
If you are just beginning, notice the way the camera positions Will and Hannibal. Often together, usually alone together, there is a romance between them greater than any other couple on the show. The scene in the first episode where Hannibal brings Will an omelette in his motel room is like a very kind, very promising, slightly strange first date.
If You Like it, Watch:
To be perfectly honest, I don't think there's anything out there like these shows right now. Seeing heterosexual friendships being given the freedom to explore the sexuality and love inherent within them is some seriously progressive territory. We are such prudish people when it comes to understanding the nature of human bonds, it's honestly hard to come by anything doing what these two shows have succeeded so beautifully in doing. But if you'd like some points of comparison, look at:
Another film about sisters where the sexual relationships take a back seat to the bonds the two girls have with each other. Katherine Isabelle is also in Hannibal (and American Mary, and anything else good in horror these days, IMO).
Yes, it's probably about Scientology. But more so, it's about the relationship between two unlikely men, one determined to fix the other. There is no greater romance, and no greater heartbreak, than what goes on between Lancaster Dodd and Freddie Quell in this insane epic.
I reviewed both of these under similar theses (minus the mind control elements). You'll find genuine and problematic same-sex relationships in both.
Want in on the February Challenge?
Start with the first post – All That Jazz is a Chick Flick
Check out previous picks, like Floria Sigismondi's The Runaways.
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