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Great Villians make a television show not only enjoyable but make for a tension-filled hour of television. A great villain heightens the main character’s journey through the show and causes him or her to make decisions that change the course of the series and the hero for the rest of their journey.
Where My Villains At?
“An excellent man, like precious metal, is in every way invariable; A villain, like the beams of a balance, is always varying, upwards and downwards.” – John Locke.
A post or two ago, I wrote about underrated movie villains. These were bad guys, the bad of the bad in movies where the villain hovered over the main character and almost broke our hero. So, today I figured, why not write about villains of the small screen?
True Detective: The Yellow King A.K.A Errol Childress
The villain of True Detective Season one is none other than the Yellow King or as we find near the end of the season, his real name is Errol Childress. His shadow looms large over the first season as our two main characters retell how they solved the murder (kind of) as we learn the real killer is still at large.
The Yellow King is a serial killer who rapes, tortures, and murders women as part of an arcane ritual passed down through his family. Committing the murder of Dora Lange in 1995, Childress wouldn’t be caught until 2012 by detectives Martin Hart and Rustin Cohle, who returned to investigating the Yellow King case.
Errol commits his first known murder in 1995, killing a prostitute named Dora Lange and attaching antlers to her head post-mortem. He then commits a long series of murders from 1995 to 2012, pursued by Louisiana Police Department detectives Rust Cohle and Marty Hart, our heroes who are pushed by not only a rough friendship, they face their own inner demons.
Childress works a menial job as a groundskeeper but is nevertheless extremely intelligent and self-educated, with a vast knowledge of such diverse subjects as literature, science, and religion. He is involved in an incestuous relationship with his sister.
Errol finds his end at the climax of the series when he makes his presence finally known to our hero detectives, who face him down in a maze of sorts where they face their own demon and come out the other side clean.
Breaking Bad: Gus Fring
Gustavo Fring is a great villain and everything our hero wishes he could be. He manages to run a successful chicken empire (think of KFC) but his has a Spanish flair. He is smart, a villain who would be devastating in chess. He is the same as our hero, except he is successful, whereas Walter White is not.
As the series continues, we see Walter White as having an Ego problem. He wants to be the best. What started as a way to make money for his family has become about making an empire worthy of Tony Montana. At first, Fring and White work together, but through various dealings and mishaps, our hero and villain ultimately butt heads, leading to a final showdown between the two that is both genius and satisfying.
Person Of Interest: Samaritan
Samaritan is an artificially intelligent mass surveillance computer system used by the USA. One of the heroes in Person Of Interest is an A.I. known as The Machine. This Machine uses data and helps stop murders before they happen by giving John Reese and Harold Finch the social security numbers of those who either will do murder or will be murdered.
Samaritan comes in during seasons 3 and 4 and is one of the most interesting villains I have ever seen in a show. Samaritan is an all-seeing eye with humans doing its bidding in a war to destroy The Machine and control the masses. Samaritan will make decisions out of pure logic without being drawn into unsavory human tendencies or human inhibitions; it would be the prime candidate for a leader. At least that is what Decima, the group that brought Samaritan online, believes. They follow blindly, and even when Samaritan asks, “What shall I do?” the leader of Decima says “No, dear Samaritan, what will you have us do?” It is a striking moment in the series as the A.I forms into the villain as it tries to right the wrongs of human nature. It is a truly frightening villain and one I love watching every few years.
Lost: Benjamin Linus
Benjamin Linus became the show’s villain during season 2 when he is held captive by John Lock in the hatch. Right from the start, you see his villainous side as he tries to pit Jack and Locke against one another, but he also gets John to question purpose.
He, like Gus Fring, is a smart villain, but he is not fulfilled by greed for money or other worldly things. He only cares about himself. If you and he have the same goal, he is your friend, but Benjamin Linus will stab you in the back when your goals no longer align. He is a monstrous villain and a pleasure to watch over the course of the series.
Many shows around this time had villains who jumped back and forth, not because they had the same goal but because the story had nowhere to go. Once upon a time, made this mistake with the evil queen or heroes with Sylar.
Lost, on the other hand, kept Benjamin Linus a character with one goal, he wants the island and will do whatever it takes to be the island’s leader. He was also a very gracious character, as you felt for him in flashbacks and moments where you saw villainy isn’t black and white. He and Gus Fring share a commonality in this aspect. Both characters have sad backstories that make you understand and feel for the characters and their deeds.
Great Stories Have A Great Villian
Yes, these stories and these shows all have great villains that not only push our heroes to the test but make them question the very purpose of their journey, which is what makes an amazing villain. These villains also have a common theme; their stories of woe are either tragically relatable or sinister enough that we cannot turn away. These are great villains!