My niece Kristi (the same one who, a few years ago, deviously showed me the first the first three or four episodes of Lost and then went back to California, leaving me addicted) visited recently. While here, she insisted on showing me the first few episodes of a new show that has her hooked–The 100. Yep, she got me again.
One of the things I’ve found fascinating about this show is that, so far, the characters set up to be horrible villains in the first few episodes have become disturbingly sympathetic–not to mention complex. There was the young man who was supposed to be a traitor but was actually covering for someone else, sacrificing his own relationship to help another. And there’s the violent bully whose childhood flashbacks show why he is the way he is, and who is starting to morph from bully to leader. There’s the military man who pushed through a horrible policy to reduce surplus population, but turns out to have deep beliefs, remorse, regrets, and self-doubt.
It’s sort of like the first wave of villains are morphing into the protagonists, and other characters are rotating into the villain slots. It will be interesting to see whether the trend continues, and those bad guys in turn show that they’re really tortured, redeemable characters who will then step aside for the third villain wave.
I don’t think this is just a trend on The 100. I’ve watched ABC’s Once Upon a Time up to about halfway through the second season. During that time, the wicked witch Regina started out as the consummate villain–the source of the curse that all the rest of the characters were suffering. But she gradually became sympathetic and passed the villain mantel on to her evil mother.
When I was a kid, villains were villains. At least that’s the way I remember it. But then came The Empire Strikes Back.
And Darth Vader was still terrible, but we learned about his connection to Luke, and somehow you could sense there was something more to Vader. I think people actually started rooting for his redemption. I actually loved this and found it refreshing, instead of the cardboard black-hatters I was used to.
Since then, I’ve seen loads of villains who morphed into heroes, or whose tragic backgrounds made them sympathetic. Maybe Vader set a trend. So much so, that as I was doing a re-read of the Harry Potter series, I actually found it refreshing that Voldemort was just evil through and through. He was so horrible, I didn’t want any excuses of childhood trauma or whatever, and was quite pleased to see that he was just as creepy and messed-up when he was a cute orphan as he was years later with red slit eyes and no nose.
But then again, J.K. Rowling also wrote Severus Snape, who is possibly the greatest, most complex villain/hero/whatever in the history of literature.
So what do you think? How do you like your villains? Fun to hate, like Voldemort? Redeemable like Vader? Hard to define, like Snape?