Jessica Jones and the Mechanics of “Post-Series Depression”

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Image from afterellen.com

Warning: The following content contains spoilers.

While I should have been studying for exams, I finally gave in to the hype and watched the first episode of Jessica Jones… and then the second episode, quickly followed by the third. Several days later, I found myself finishing the entire first season and dealing with that strange post-series depression; the kind of ache that arises only after you know you have finished a great show.

I know I’m late to the party since Jessica Jones aired on Netflix in November 2015, but this empty, void-like feeling after finishing this great show has got me thinking—why do we feel this way only when we have finished something that we really enjoy? After mulling over this for quite some time, I decided to do what I always do when I do not know the answer to something: write about it. I have decided that the answer to this question lies within Jessica Jones itself, or more specifically, its treatment of human psychology.

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Image from screenrant.com

For those of you who haven’t seen the show, Jessica Jones is a Netflix series produced by Marvel that follows the titular character’s quest to stop a mind-controlling psychopath named Kilgrave. Kilgrave himself is fixated on Jessica, and will stop at nothing to possess her. The show is one of the few television programs that accurately depicts a psychologically-tormented protagonist with an equally psychologically-complex villain. Characters on both sides of the good/evil spectrum suffer from mental illness. This is one of the reasons that Jessica Jones is so complex and compelling—it shows that people with mental illness are neither inherently bad nor good. Illness has no direct causal effect on a person’s morality, and thus we must examine the other, deeper reasons behind a character’s actions.

Everything about Jessica Jones is phenomenal, except for one glaring aspect that I find myself somewhat troubled with: Kilgrave’s death. There were so many interesting avenues to develop—Kilgrave was obsessed with gaining power and in one of his last scenes, his father warned him that the serum to expand his abilities might kill him. It was the perfect set-up for his death: in trying to develop his powers, his quest to become more powerful would end up killing him. Jessica’s ethical conundrum of having to kill someone would be avoided because Kilgrave’s own mad desire for control would do it for her.

So imagine my disappointment when Kilgrave falls for Jessica’s trap and gets himself killed in what felt like the most anti-climactic death in the entire series. I was so upset at this seeming cop-out of an ending. I ranted to all my friends about it, wrote this angry blog post about it… until I started thinking about why I was really so distraught by Kilgrave’s death.

I missed him.

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Image from screenrant.com

I missed Kilgrave, the psychopathic, mind-controlling, cold-blooded murderer who rapes women and makes people commit suicide with his voice alone—but let me explain. I did not miss the unspeakable acts that Kilgrave committed. Rather, I missed Tennant’s chilling yet incredibly entertaining performance of him. I missed seeing what Kilgrave was up to next, and guessing at how he was going to carry out his next grand plan. Most of all, I lamented the potential to explore the possibilities of Kilgrave’s powers as a villain.

It is here that we come back to that empty feeling, that “post-series depression” we all get when we finish a great show. I would like to examine the effects of post-series depression first through the series’ most captivating (albeit disturbing) character, Kilgrave. He is a textbook psychopath, cunning and manipulative with an aura of superficial charm, and a complete lack of guilt for the atrocious acts he has committed. He does not see people as individuals, but rather as tools for his entertainment; characters in a play of which he is the director. We see this in the way he treats and imagines Jessica—although he claims to love her, he has no problem in trying to kill both her and the people she loves. What Kilgrave loves about Jessica is his ability to control her, to possess her, and it is this control that Kilgrave misses about Jessica when she is gone.

On a less extreme level, we miss our shows in the same manner. We miss our everyday interactions with them, seeing the characters we love, and the degree of control in what we choose to watch and when. Once the show finishes, we do our best to find other shows similar to the one we have just finished, but it is never really quite the same. Kilgrave’s character demonstrates the darker implications of this emptiness, since he tries to replace Jessica with Hope Schlottman (with the hope of filling the void), but this ultimately fails. Kilgrave’s behaviour demonstrates that possessiveness towards the things we love is not by any means the kind of relationship we should strive for.

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Image from rollingstone.com

Jessica is the offered solution to this problem in the show. Although she suffers from depression and PTSD, she does not let these illnesses define her, nor is she isolated by them. On the contrary, Jessica has people she cares about and people who care about her. Despite her repeated attempts to “not give a shit,” she finds herself caring about people anyway, and in the end she chooses to accept these friendships rather than reject them.

It is worth noting that all of Jessica’s plans to defeat Kilgrave fail, and it is not until she starts including her friends in her plans that they start making progress. She includes her best friend, Trish, in her plan to take down Kilgrave. In addition, the very last scene shows Malcolm, one of Jessica’s allies, answering Jessica’s phone at her apartment, and viewers are left with the hopeful assumption that Jessica and Malcolm are to run Alias Investigations together.

Maybe the right way to love our shows is not to find another one to replace them with, nor to let post-series depression keep us from discovering new things, but to share our experiences with the people we care about. Having a good relationship with art means having a good relationship with people; we should want to share the things we love with others, not keep them exclusively to ourselves. It’s the reason we always want our friends to watch the same shows that we do, so that we can talk about the shows with them and have a shared experience. In a way, it is like we are keeping our experience of the show alive in our everyday conversations so that, technically, a show is never really over if we keep talking about it—and that, I think, is a comforting thought.

-Contributed by Carine Lee

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What Does It Mean To Be “Crazy”? Discussing Mental Health And Comic Books With Elaine Will

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Illustration by Elaine Will

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Discussion around mental health has been growing over the past few years. Though the graphic fiction medium isn’t one to shy away from such discussions, it’s always a treat to find a comic, like Look Straight Ahead, so focused on understanding this issue.

Penned by up-and-coming Canadian author, Elaine Will, this fantastically real journey follows high school student Jeremy Knowles through his struggles with mental illness, depicted in one of the freshest and most accurate takes on the subject in years. I was recently fortunate to have the opportunity to talk to Elaine about her book and the importance of representing mental health in graphic literature.

How long did it take to write Look Straight Ahead?

Well, it took four years to draw the graphic novel, but it probably took more like ten years altogether to figure out how to write it.

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“Look Straight Ahead,” by Elaine Will

Any specific reason?

I couldn’t decide exactly whether I wanted to tell a story about myself or a fictional analog, or whether I wanted it to be grounded in reality or more sci-fi. There was a version I started in about 2003 that was a lot more sci-fi and I was in it as a character and there were some completely fictional characters in it, and it was a prose novel, and I decided, “well I’m not that great at writing prose, so…”

Well you can draw pretty darn well, so that turned out well.

[Laughs] Thank you.

So where did the inspiration come from?

In 2002, I suffered a nervous breakdown in my senior year of high school—I guess I always call it a nervous breakdown, but I guess it was really a psychotic episode.

So it’s both a bit based on you and a bit based on a fictional analog as well?

Yeah, and I decided to do that in the end because a problem with writing autobiographical stories is there’s always the danger of alienating your friends or family if they don’t like the way they’re portrayed. I thought it would be best to fictionalize everything. So the characters—some of them are based on real people and some of them are composites.

You have some really great fantastical visual elements, you said it was almost a science-fiction story. Why did you choose to depict Jeremy’s mental illness in that way?

It was just the best way I could think of to describe it, like I had to have some sort of visual metaphor because it’s such a difficult concept to try and put into words—or even images—especially for someone who hasn’t experienced it. And I wanted to give an impression of what it was like for someone who hasn’t experienced it.

So you use the characters of ‘God’ and ‘Prinzhorn.’ Why did you use these characters as physical personifications?

‘Prinzhorn’ is actually German. He’s named after a psychiatrist from the early 1900s who collected artwork by mental patients. And I guess ‘God’ represents the euphoria I felt during my manic episodes, and this strange power that I felt I had been imbued with. The demons represent depression and the way that it constantly drags you down into a hellish pit.

Why do you think it’s important for mental illness to be portrayed in graphic fiction?

I think it’s very important because it’s a medium that’s very accessible, especially to young adult readers who may be struggling with mental illness. They probably need it most, and it’s important for them to read stories that represent what they might be going through. I’ve heard from a number of readers who’ve said they’ve had similar experiences, and that my book helped them. I’ve also heard from a couple of people who said they came to a greater understanding of mental illness through my book.

That’s awesome! That’s a real testament to the power of this art form we’ve got here. So based on that, what do you think is the most important thing that readers should take away from your book?

I would say, “There is hope and you aren’t alone, and if you have a story of your own, you might want to share it.” I understand that maybe some people don’t want to, but it’s important to open up discussions surrounding mental health, lessen the stigma, and perhaps even encourage better mental healthcare.

And now a question that I pulled from reading the back of your book. It says here that the book will ask “What does it mean to be crazy, anyway?” I was wondering if you could answer that.

Well, there’s a section in the book that I often read when I’m asked to do a reading, because I think that it sums it up quite well. It’s when Jeremy’s first admitted to the hospital and he’s having a conversation with Ian, the cool older guy that he meets there. Ian says, “Well, sometimes I think that you and I are the enlightened ones and everybody else is actually crazy,” because if you think of all the crazy things that happen in the world and this horrible capitalist system that we live in that favours the rich, and that sort of thing, I think the normal reaction is to perhaps fall into depression. It’s no wonder there are so many people struggling with depression, you know? In the difficult world and the difficult times that we live in?

That’s an interesting thing, because that’s such a dark statement, but at the end of the book, we know what you’re trying to have them come away with: that there is hope and you can make it better. When a story can tackle both sides of the story well, that’s sort of the hallmark of a good piece of literature.

I have been criticized for the ending of the book: that perhaps it was too abrupt. But, I didn’t want to tell anybody how they should recover, and my own recovery was actually every bit as swift. One thing I maybe should have included is that maybe you won’t ever be “cured” if you have a mental illness, but you can manage it, and you can live a “so-called” normal life.

Ha. “So-called.”

So-called, yeah. That is, if you have access to the right sort of resources, which unfortunately many people don’t. I was really fortunate to have a really good psychiatrist who never argued with me about my delusions, because he knew that they were real to me. And I don’t think it is humouring to work with people with their delusions, you know?

To validate them.

Yeah. I think that’s important because you’re just going to make someone more upset if you try to argue with them.

To wrap it up a little bit, what are you working on now? Do you have anything in the works?

I’m finishing up a graphic novel called Dustship Glory, which is an adaptation of a novel about a Finnish immigrant farmer who lived in Saskatchewan during the 1930s and tried to build a huge steamship in the middle of his wheat field—this is a true story. I’m also going be working soon on a graphic novelette that my partner Mark wrote called “Arcade”, which is a metafictional story about an old, forgotten retro-videogame character called Axe-man. He’s a Viking warrior with an axe for a hand, and faces the destruction of his world because the cartridge chip is deteriorating, and he has to get the attention of a retro game character in the real world.

And as someone who’s breaking into the industry, what advice would you give to any people who are trying to get into the graphic fiction industry, or even just start making comics themselves?

Start making comics and exhibit at as many shows as you can. And one thing to remember about shows is that you might not always make money. I think Noah van Sciver said it best when he said “be prepared to be at a signing at a store where hopefully one person will show up and cough on you,” which is very true. Not every event will be like that obviously.

But you’re going to have your fair share.

Yeah [laughs].

 

You can follow Elaine’s work at http://lookstraightahead.tumblr.com/ or http://blog.e2w-illustration.com/ where you can find a webcomic version of Look Straight Ahead. You can also purchase the book on Amazon.

 

-Contributed by Stephan Goslinski

Mentally Ill Monsters: Mental Illness in Horror

There are a few well-trodden settings for horror stories: the haunted house, the carnival, the ghost town, and—my area of interest—the asylum. This last setting has been used in such narratives as American Horror Story: Asylum, Outlast, and Shutter Island.

While I am a proponent of exploring mental illness in stories, especially in speculative fiction, the asylum setting in horror has got to go. There is absolutely no place for it in creating a healthy, positive self-image for people with mental illness.

At its least harmful, the story sympathizes with the mentally ill, but still ultimately Others them. This is the case with Shutter Island. The protagonist, Teddy, is mentally ill and the entire film’s plot is centred on an unorthodox treatment to “cure” him. While we can sympathize with the mentally ill protagonist (and it is a good thing that we see the world through his eyes), the outcome is far from healthy—he is condemned to a gruesome treatment that no mentally ill individual could look at with hope. While lobotomies are no longer a common treatment, there is no hope left for Teddy, who does not want to live as a “monster.”

And that is precisely the problem. Each horror setting has its own token monsters: there are ghosts in haunted houses, creepy clowns in carnivals, and cultists in ghost towns. The mentally ill are the monsters in asylums. We are stigmatized as odd, different, and wrong by society, and we are represented as evil, often murderous monsters in horror stories, to be pitied and/or feared.

The mentally ill face enough stigma and hardship in their day-to-day lives without having to consume media that literally paints them as inhuman, evil monsters.

Asylums are a cruel part of our past. While contemporary psychiatric not perfect, we have improved from past methods of complete social isolation, non-consensual treatment, and torture. We need to remember this past, so that we can continue to progress into healthier and more positive healing.

Setting horror stories in asylums is not a part of this remembrance and it is a hindrance to healing. Even if mentally ill people steer clear of these damaging stories, non-mentally ill people will not. They will continue to consume the images of individuals so violent they “need” electroconvulsive treatment and lobotomies, or of people in straightjackets foaming at the mouth. The invisibility of contemporary mental illness furthers this belief that all mentally ill people are less than human, need extreme treatment, and are monsters.

We are not monsters and we are not here for your shock-value or thrill-seeking.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I love seeing mental illness in speculative fiction. In fact, it’s what I want to focus my research on in graduate school. Writers can do this without making mentally ill people the monsters – just look at the Harry Potther series!

J.K. Rowling created Dementors, the physical manifestation of depression in the Harry Potter books. Mental illness is technically the monster here, but it is disconnected from the individual, and becomes something the individual can control and defeat. This is actually a helpful tactic in thinking of your mental illness!

Clearly it is possible to include mental illness in your narrative without harming mentally ill people. Speculative writers and fans need to resist the asylum trope, and think critically about narratives that use it.

-contributed by Emily Maggiacomo