We all have our favorite and least favorite tropes. From love triangles to slow burns, tropes are often the best ways to showcase great characters and storylines. They can also be frustrating and make you question why it is even a trope at all. In this bi-weekly column, we’ll take a deep dive into some of the most classic television tropes.
Villains — they’re literally in every television show. And because of the repetitive nature of this trope, when a television series is able to effectively pull off a villainous storyline, it is goddamn refreshing.
This trope is especially fun because it comes in various forms. Sometimes villains are only in an episode or two, other times it’s an entire season. Maybe they’re labeled as the villain from the start, or maybe the person you least expect has a dark side. Whatever it may be, villains give writers of a television series the ability to let loose and think outside of the box.
As someone who used to watch a lot of procedural shows, I find that the villains that stick around for a long time tend to be the most fascinating.
The Reaper from Criminal Minds and 3XK from Castle come to mind as both of these villains lasted more than one season. You’d never know when they’d pop up, and when they did, they would leave you sitting at the edge of your seat.
These villains worked so well, not only because of the amount of time we got to spend with them, but because they also were perfect foes of the main characters. And for shows that constantly solved cases in one episode, it was nice seeing them actually have a challenging case for once. It’s a great way to spice things up and make you want to invest in watching an entire season.
“200” is easily one of the best episodes of Criminals Minds and it also served as the brutal conclusion of this multi-season storyline. It was essentially a cathartic experience to watch Hotcher finally beat the man who took so much away from him. This only happened because the writers were able to carefully plot out The Reaper’s entire storyline.
However, a villain truly shines when they’re able to terrify not just the characters on screen, but the viewers watching as well. For me, no character has terrified me more than Black Jack Randall from Outlander. No matter how many times I’ve seen Outlander, the way Tobias Menzies portrays Black Jack will continue to give me nightmares.
You just know that whatever that man is doing, he’s probably harming something or someone.
And let’s be real, the main reason Black Jack Randall was so scary was that Tobias Menzies truly went above and beyond in making sure we believed that he was the devil incarnate. That goes to show that a villain is only as good as the actor who plays them. If you don’t have a solid actor, then you probably won’t get the same effect.
Look at Teen Wolf. While Dylan O’Brien is known for playing Stiles in the hit MTV series, he really hit his peak when we played Nogitsune. Even though I love Stiles, and I loved how O’Brien played him, watching him as Nogitsune reminded me of just what a fantastic actor he really is.
It’s pretty obvious that a show is only as good as the actors they select to play certain characters, but I think this applies even more to villains. They really have to go toe-to-toe with some of television’s greatest heroes — and that isn’t always easy.
But when I think of the villains that just didn’t work out, I don’t attribute it to bad acting. If anything, villains that fail to wow audiences tend to do so because of the anticlimatic journey it ends up being.
Pretty Little Liars is a prime example of this. At the end of season two, when they revealed that Mona was “A”, I was over the moon. I thought that this was such as great plot twist because it proved that Mona was more than just Hanna’s entitled best friend. It added layers to the character and made me actually interested in where her storyline was going to go.
That being said, every other villain reveal in Pretty Little Liars from that point forward was just awful. Sure, Charles was an okay villian, but you cannot tell me that Spencer’s long lost British twin as the series’ big bad was the best they could do.
I think the real reason that she didn’t resonate with me as a great villain was because she didn’t have good reasoning behind what she was doing. In order for a villain to be effective to me, I want to be able to at least understand where they’re coming from and why they’re doing the things they’re doing. If I don’t get a good explanation, then I will never be impressed.
The Walking Dead is a show that excels in providing the audience with motivations behind people’s actions. Not only do I think The Governor was The Walking Dead’s greatest villain, but he was also one of the best villains of all time. The intriguing thing about him was that you could view him from Andrea’s perspective and you’d think that maybe he’s not a bad guy. But if you took a walk in Maggie and Beth’s shoes, that’d be a completely different story.
Even the creeps at Terminus has a reason for what they were doing (as insane as their reasoning was).
I would bring up Negan, but I actually stopped watching The Walking Dead right before he bludgeoned Glen and Abrahan to death. However, I did hear that they’re giving him a redemption arc these days which is wild to me. In my column about redemption arcs, I touched on the idea that some villains shouldn’t be redeemed. To me, Negan is the least deserving character to receive a redemption arc. I also stopped watching that show a long time ago so who knows what they’re doing.
Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of random television, but after writing this piece, I now crave a show with a fantastic villain arc. I should just rewatch season three of Wynonna Earp and appreciate the beauty that is the Bulshar storyline.
What Wynonna Earp did in season three is what every show should aim to do. Have a season-long villain storyline, but don’t have it completely dominate the season. “I Fall To Pieces” is probably one of my favorite episodes of the series, and it doesn’t even cover Bulshar. I think the point of this episode is to have some light amid all the darkness that is normally being shoved in our faces.
Villains can be a lot of fun, but too much of them can be exhausting. Being able to balance the light and the dark is a testament to a great television show.