Monday, October 25, 2010

A Villain Worth Celebrating

A common complaint about villains in stories and film is that at some point their motivation all boils down to ruling the world. The super-cheesy ones say so plainly with malevolent glee and tack on an evil laugh at the end—“And then I will rule the world! Muah-ha-ha-ha-ha-haa!” Mike Myers mocked this tendency brilliantly in the Austin Powers movies. But why do they want to rule the world? Because it’s there?

They’re power-mad, these villains, and we rarely get any idea of what truly motivates them. Take Darth Maul in The Phantom Menace, for example—what drove him to hate so much? What was his beef with the Jedi? We never find out. He’s one of the flattest characters ever. He had a cool Halloween mask for a face, a neato double light saber and a gliding motorcycle thingie—but he was completely boring. Darth Vader was (and is) a much better villain, because we know what happened to him and we can empathize a bit with what turned him to the Dark Side—namely, the death of his mother.

But even though Darth Vader is one of the greatest villains ever and rightly deserves his top-ten seeding in the Suvudu Cage Match, I think there’s another villain in that particular tournament of evil that deserves a lot more respect: Gaius Baltar from Battlestar Galactica.

The genius of Baltar is that he’s always able to convince himself that he’s doing the right thing, the best thing for everyone—it’s just a coincidence that it’s also the best thing for him personally. Occasionally, he’s able to convince people—and perhaps us, the viewing audience—that he’s actually the victim. Nothing is ever his fault. He doesn’t have an evil bone in his body.

He sure does have a selfish bone, though.

To my mind, Baltar is the best villain ever because any one of us could become him. We couldn’t become Sauron or the White Witch or the Terminator, or many of the others in the Suvudu Cage Match: they’re all one-dimensional bogeymen, a foil for the naïve hero. But we could (and we do) make choices based on our own selfish desires. Like Baltar, we could descend into corruption in our pursuit of power, fame, fortune, and the sensual luxuries that are supposed to attend them. And we could tell ourselves, all the while, that we are the heroes of our own story; we could even pile on great heaping dollops of this faith or that, as Baltar eventually does, and give our actions the hue of religious righteousness.

If you want to see someone truly go to the Dark Side, Baltar is the one to watch. The villains from Star Wars go there and get symbolically cloaked in darkness, but they, like many other fictional villains, are a bit over-the-top, a bit too cartoonish, and thus they are entertaining more than truly horrifying. Baltar, however, is wholly loathsome and terrifying, because I can easily imagine him in our world today; I think there may be a few copies of him running around right now.

Now through Thursday, you can go vote for Baltar in the Suvudu Cage Match. He’s up against the White Witch from Narnia. I wrote up the prediction for how I think it will go—and if Baltar wins, I’ll get to write more. I think he should win the whole tournament, and with your help, he will! Spread the word, please—a vote for Baltar is a vote for well-rounded villains that we love to hate. While you’re at it, vote on the other matches, too—it’s tremendous fun and a chance to geek out about your favorite bad guys.

If you’re visiting my blog for the first time because you saw my write-up on Suvudu—welcome, and thanks for visiting! Take time to explore the archives, follow me here or on Twitter, and feel free to say howdy in the comments!

1 comment:

  1. I think you're right about what makes a villain most compelling is when they honestly believe they are acting in the interest of others-- I'm not sure I ever buy Gaius as that kind of villain, or even as a villain at all, but I definitely understand where you're coming from. Those are, by far, the most dangerous characters!