Everyone has their favourite type of villain. Not ‘antagonist,’ as that can refer to any number of obstacles going against our main character. I’m talking the human obstacle: the dark overlord, the crime kingpin, the local psychopath. Some of us like them remorseless and cold, some like them tragic, some like them mysterious, and some like them with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
I like it when they have families, but not families that are downtrodden and fearful of them. I don’t want a cowering wife or cautious husband, and dead-eyed children. If the Dark Lord has a wife, she’s his Queen and a badass in every measure. And these two? If they have kids, they are surprisingly doting parents, and those kids aren’t in the dark about what their parents do. Hell, they might even be on the way to taking over for mom and dad.
I really enjoy seeing the typical, loving family dynamic applied to villains. While some might say it’s been done to near cliché-ness, I still enjoy the contrast. We don’t expect villains to be loving, or we expect that the loss of their loved ones is the reason they’re villains. But I like the idea of a family scheming together, without all the plans to kill each other off for power or have one betray everyone else to the heroes (I’m looking at you, Overlord’s-Daughter-who-falls-in-love-with-the-Hero.) Seeing that family dynamic in our villains gives the audience a reason to like him, a possible weakness for the hero to exploit, and world-shattering consequences should anything happen to any member of the villain’s family.
That doesn’t mean I don’t like the idea of tragedy surrounding the villain’s families, or said families being the key to the villain’s redemption. If I had to pick my current favourite villains (though, by season three, they’re more ‘morally ambiguous’ than outright evil), I would say it’s Queen Regina and Rumplestiltskin from ABC’s Once Upon a Time. Both are heavily motivated by family, a factor which leads to their downfall, and later redemption.
Regina is shown before her time as the Evil Queen as having a very close and loving relationship with her father, while she seeks her mother’s love and approval. Though she is more driven by her desire for revenge, her actions lead her to kill her beloved father as payment for the curse that sets the series off. In recent seasons, she’s less antagonistic towards the other main characters, but not exactly one of them. Her desire to change is influenced by her love for Henry, her adopted son. Regina’s family based character development is a wonderful thing to see. It’s well-paced, sticks to her character, and doesn’t play off her maternal instinct as a weakness. Her badassery hasn’t decreased at all.
Rumple is a more clear-cut example of family motivation. He kills and takes on the mantle of the Dark One to gain the power to prevent his son from being sent off to war. Despite his best intentions, this power corrupts him, and gradually pushes his son away. Though he wants to give up magic to make his son happy, he’s been corrupted by the power and can’t bring himself to do so, even when it means his son is lost in another world. Much of his motivation from that point is centered on getting to where his son went and reconciling. Like Regina, this leads him to become less of an antagonist, and more of an ally.
Really, I don’t do the characters justice in a hundred words. If I haven’t already spoiled too much of it, I suggest you give the series a try.
Perhaps it’s my love of my own family that makes me enjoy this dynamic in a villain. I think a good family brings out a lot of potential for character development.
What about you?