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Villains: are they ever in the right?

Written by Elizabeth-Rose Sandhu

I once read a post that stated that the reason the villains are so loved, for the most part, is because it’s easy to see ourselves in them. For those of us who have been through some of the most intense and heartbreaking experiences, we have the capacity to be just like them. That’s not to say that all villains are loved, because let's face it, some of them are just pure evil. But there are some who are merely trying to hide their soft hearts under an iron-clad exterior. For example, Regina Mills from ‘Once Upon A Time’, Addison Montgomery-Shepherd from ‘Grey's Anatomy’, and Maleficent from the Disney film ‘Maleficent’ managed to capture the hearts of the audience, in spite of the very thing that should make us hate them. We will look at different types of villains in this article, but also what made them that way.

Generally, “evil isn’t born, it’s made” meaning that becoming a “villain” is more of a transformation than anything else. It’s a conscious choice an ordinary person makes to do the perceived wrong thing. A lot of our classic villains, when given a fair chance to have their story shown, truly aren’t evil at heart, but rather, experienced things which altered their perception of the world they live in. Thereby, this has led them to approach life in survival mode, in a constant state of apprehension and expecting the worst from everybody as it is what they have experienced in their lives. The word ‘revenge’ is often used, because typically a person who chooses to hurt another is looking to get justice.

Let's start with Addison Montgomery-Shepherd, a world class neonatal surgeon in beloved and highly esteemed show, ‘Grey's Anatomy’.

When first introduced, Addison was depicted as the villainous wife of Derek Shepherd. From her first scene and most iconic line “and you must be the woman who’s screwing my husband” she has made a remarkable impact on the screen. Viewers have even said that her fluffy coat, strong makeup and bouncy hair were indicators that she would be the villain trying to drag apart Meredith and Derek. However, It wouldn’t be fair to Derek and Merediths epic love story to say that Addison was in the right for the way she tried to keep them apart and try to save her marriage with Derek.

But then, just when we thought that she was the villain, bitter over the unrequited love from her husband, Addison defends Meredith to a patient regarding the matter of cheating. This scene changed the way viewers saw Addison, as she had the strength to admit that she was the one who cheated first, showing her character to be remorseful and have morals that none would have expected from her first scene. Not exactly your usual villain, is she? Viewers went from hating her to loving her, leading Kate Walsh to get her own spin-off for Addison called ‘Private Practice’ where we see Addison get her happy ending, and eventually we see her come back to Grey-Sloan as seen from the new season. Truly, Addison is one of the most beloved characters on ‘Grey's Anatomy’ nineteen seasons later, due to her kind and caring nature, despite her spiky introduction as the villain, making her strength of character all the more impressive.

Next we move onto our favourite ‘Evil Queen’, Regina Mills from ‘Once Upon A Time’. It’s fair to say that from her very first scene, where she crashes the wedding of Snow White and Prince Charming, she was the villain. However, actress Lana Parrilla has become a fan-favourite for her magnificent portrayal of a woman hell-bent on revenge! Regina Mills is a fictional characterisation of the quote “good can come from evil”.

For people who have watched the show, it is understandable how she became the villain; once a young girl from a highly-esteemed family, Regina fell in love with the stable boy, who was cruelly killed by her own mother, then forced to marry the king. Regina was forced into a life she didn’t want, becoming the step-mother to the young Snow White, who had exposed the relationship between herself and the stable boy, leading to his death. It only gets worse for her, when Rumplestiltskin decides that she is the perfect person to manipulate by teaching her magic, leading to her ultimately becoming known as the Evil Queen and losing herself to her anger (manipulation of her vulnerability played a big part in this). As the Evil Queen she murdered and tortured people in her quest to kill Snow White, despising anything that even held the connotations of happiness or hope. From these things alone, it’s not hard to see why she became the villain. By the end of the series she is crowned the Good Queen, having repented for all the misery she caused. However, despite my ever-lasting love for this character, even I have to admit that her flaws were glossed over immensely. The fact is that she killed and hurt hundreds of people (maybe even thousands) to the point where she was almost executed multiple times, but by the end of the series, she is loved by all in the land. For many viewers, this ending didn’t make much sense, seeing how everyone just forgave her for everything she did. Sure, in principle she earned it by becoming a hero, but realistically it just didn’t seem right. It is difficult to come to a conclusion on her character, as the plot holes of the show really do add a complexity to it.

Maleficent, played by Angelina Jolie, had a right to be angry. With her wings cut off and having been betrayed so that Stefan could become the king, there was a lot of ground for her to seek her revenge. That being said, it was a tad unfair to take it out on an innocent child. She was fuelled by rage and rightfully so, hence, it can’t be held against her desire for revenge and justice for what was taken for her to suit someone else's selfish desires, a value most commonly expressed in the saying “an eye for an eye”. Not to mention the fact that as a magical being she was hunted and ultimately mutilated for who she was by someone she cared about. However, she wasn’t completely without remorse, as shown by her relationship with Aurora, showing her nurturing nature and her depth of love by bringing her back from the sleeping curse with ‘true love's kiss’. This led to Maleficent becoming Aurora’s Godmother, resulting in a happy ending and redemption for Maleficent at the end of the first movie. Many viewers have found it quite admirable how Maleficent grew from love, to anger, to love again, as it shows the transient nature of the mind and how time can change things and remove obstacles.

Clearly, it is true to say that a villain is not just a villain, in most cases. In fiction, generally, something has to happen to a person for them to become a villain, and even then, can they truly be seen as a villain? Or is that just the point of view we are meeting them from?

That being said though, the pattern of tragedy transforming into villainy isn’t always how writers choose to bring about twists in their pieces. For example, Iago in Othello has little substantial reason to ruin Othello’s life, other than being second-best and theorising reasons as to why he might be angry at Othello. Iago generally seems as though he’s along for the fun of it, and is unable to take responsibility when he is finally caught.

Whilst this article doesn’t provide an exhaustive insight into the minds of villains, it perhaps may change your view on people who do bad things, and may even prompt you to consider the thought behind the action of someone you may assume is just ‘bad’. Of course, the people discussed in this essay are just fictional characters, so the forgiveness garnered despite their actions should be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, when someone is unkind in your life, try and think about why instead of reacting. Choose compassion over anger, and perhaps you will learn more about a person in this way.

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