Saturday, February 18

Villains: Heroes in their own minds

My friend posted a quote the other day, attributed to a Karen Marie Moning book: “Evil is a completely different creature, Mac. Evil is bad that believes it’s good.”

This quote got me thinking about villains in general and a current favorite TV show in particular. In their own minds, every villain believes he/she is the hero of the story. They are convinced that what they are doing is right and correct.

One of my favorite TV shows this year is “Timeless”. IMDb describes it as “An unlikely trio travel through time in order to battle unknown criminals and protect history as we know it.” The Mason Company invents a time travel machine – two of them, actually. Garcia Flynn steals one of them and begins a campaign to change history and rid the world of the mysterious group Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse has been around since the beginning of America, composed of influential people through history. They believe they know best what is right for the country, and they are ruthless in pursuing their goals.

One of the things I like about this show is the complex characters. Most of the characters are neither all good or all bad, and I think that’s what keeps them from becoming cardboard cut-outs. Each is convinced of the rightness of what they’re doing.

Flynn is an interesting character. A former NSA asset, his family was killed by Rittenhouse when he began asking questions about them. His goal is to destroy Rittenhouse in the past so that he can bring back his family in the present. Though his intentions are noble, his methods are not. He will stop at nothing to meet his goal, killing anyone who stands in his way. Sometimes he has his doubts, but in his mind, he’s doing the right thing.

Even Wyatt, one of heroes of the show, falls into the trap of believing the end justifies the means. A few years previously, Wyatt’s wife Jessica was murdered. In a desperate attempt to get her back, he steals the time machine and goes back to 1983. His mission is to prevent the parents of the man who murdered Jessica from ever meeting and conceiving him. If the murderer is never born, then Jessica can’t be killed by him. But nothing goes to plan. Despite vowing that no one would get hurt, a man is accidentally killed, and in the end it doesn’t bring Jessica back.

I love villains because they bring the conflict to a story. But I love them even more when they’re complex and believe they’re the heroes of the story.

Who’s your favorite literary villain? Why do you like him/her?


  1. I don't know that I have a favorite villain, but I have a favorite villain-writer--J. K. Rowling. Great post, Jana.

  2. I love villains. A well-developed three dimensional villain is imperative to a great book and they are as integral to the plot of my stories as the hero and heroine.

    One of my favourite villains on television is from The Blacklist, Raymond Reddington. Just when you're thinking, okay maybe this guy isn't so bad after all, he does the most wretched thing. But he also has a weakness, which is also critical in creating a great villain.

  3. The Timeless crew do a bad job of saving history as we know it. LOL But, it's a great show and I agree about Flynn and Wyatt.

    I like villains who surprise me like Gone Girl's Amy. Or Red Reddington as Karyn suggested.

    In the Canadian series Continuum, they had a similar quandary as Timeless in that you believe that the villainous group from the future, Liberate, are bad guys but somewhere along the way you realize that while their actions aren't always the best, they may actually be the good guys.

    And it is also time-travel.

    1. Actually, that's one of the things I love about Timeless--the good guys keep failing! It seems like in every show or movie they fix the timeline in the end, but in this one it never quite works out that way.

  4. Great post, Jana--I haven't watched Timeless yet, but I've thought about. So, now I think I'd better give it a try! Thanks!

  5. I know he's not a "literary" villain, but Darth Vader us my favorite. Great post!

  6. One of my favorite shows--I hope against hope that Timeline gets picked up next year. One of the great things about it is the way you don't quite know who the good guys are--or if there are any, really.