Jessica Jones’ Luke Cage is a victim. In case you missed it in the title, I wanted to get that announcement out of the way first thing.
Jessica Jones deals with victimhood in a variety of ways: Jessica herself is Kilgrave’s victim, and is slowly drinking herself into oblivion. Trish Walker, Jessica’s childhood best friend, is a victim of her mother’s driving ambitions, and as a result has cut her from her life completely.
Luke Cage is a big buff dude with unbreakable skin. He’s the last guy you’d think of as a victim…making it that much more important that we recognize him as one.
When we first meet Luke, he’s picked up a woman at his bar and brought her up to his apartment. We’re watching him through Jessica’s eyes, and we see him with the woman—but not really with her. He’s disconnected, adrift, using sex in an attempt to assuage his pain just as Jessica uses alcohol.
Jessica killed Luke’s wife. It wasn’t Jessica’s fault; Kilgrave ordered her to; but Luke’s wife’s death has had a profound on him, and in between sex with virtual strangers (but not married strangers) he spends his time hunting her killer.
He doesn’t know it’s Jessica, and his time spent with her helps heal them both. She wrestles with the secret, and eventually she tells him to keep him from killing an innocent man.
Luke becomes a victim all over again, this time Jessica’s. She didn’t tell him the truth, let him have sex with her, confide in her, get close to her, all while knowing that his wife’s blood was on her hands.
Of course she’s sorry. Who, with a conscious, wouldn’t be? But that doesn’t exactly help Luke, and he cuts himself off from Jessica completely.
Then, just when Luke thinks he’s out, Kilgrave uses him to get close to Jessica. He plants words in Luke’s mind, has him forgive Jessica for everything…and then reveals that he, Kilgrave, was in control the whole time. He orders Luke to kill her, and to end the fight Jessica shoots Luke in the head with a shotgun.
Luke’s skin is unbreakable, as I mentioned, but the bullet’s impact does internal damage, and Luke is left unconscious, his brain swelling dangerously.
All of our expectations are flipped upside down: Jessica has victimized Luke. First by sleeping with him while withholding such a vital, personal truth, and then by shooting (and very nearly killing) him.
It’s obvious she cares for him. She never meant to hurt him, or get him caught up in Kilgrave’s nonsense.
But she did hurt him, emotionally, mentally, physically; and if it hadn’t been for Jessica, Kilgrave never would have gone after Luke at all.
Okay, but, why is Luke’s victimization so important?
Well, first, the show avoids the “angry black man” cliche. Luke is angry, and has every right to be, but the show never takes the easy way out. Even when confronted with Jessica’s bombshell about his wife, he doesn’t react with violence—though Jessica (and we, as the audience) expect him to. It would’ve been easier for Jessica if he had, because violence is something she can understand, but it would have been a cop out on the show’s part.
Every day we turn on our TVs or sit down to watch a movie and we see women as the victims. Men hurting women, controlling them, destroying their lives. Luke Cage’s victimization is important because it shows a truth that media so often fails to depict: anyone can be a victim. It’s not about physical size or strength; it’s not about gender or skin color; anyone can be hurt by anyone else, even when the one doing the hurting has the best of intentions.
That might sound like a grim and dismal message, but that’s not what I mean. We as a society need to understand that “victim” isn’t a dirty word. It doesn’t mean “weak” or “frail.” By depicting a man like Luke Cage—a big, buff superhero who will soon be the star of his own Netflix series—as a victim, Jessica Jones is saying that victimhood isn’t shameful. It isn’t the providence of women alone.
Any of us can be hurt, the show says, but just like the members of the Kilgrave support group, together we can pick ourselves up and put ourselves back together—unbreakable skin or not. Luke walks away from Jessica’s apartment in the end without saying goodbye to her. We can only imagine what season 2, and indeed Luke Cage have in store for the character, but I for one am looking forward to watching him pick himself up and put himself back together again.
Images curtesy of Netflix, made by me