Some Ruminations on Television Villainy
After reviewing the DC documentary Necessary Evil, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to villains of all stripes. It’s also been on my mind given my frustration with overly-long story arcs on some television series.
A good hero, we’re constantly told, is defined by the quality of his opponent. Also, we’re told, everyone thinks they’re the star of their own story. It’s when those stories come into conflict do we get an interesting tale.
Over at ComicMix, I wrote in my review for Bones season eight that I thought the threat of Christopher Pelant was being overplayed as he appeared too perfect, too prepared and too perfect. Somehow he managed to drain all of Hodgins’ wealth without any way for uber-tech Angela to trace or retrieve the money (and apparently FDIC insurance covered none of his wealth, leaving him broke,. A thread they’ve ignored). This season, Pelant’s actions have hovered over the opening episodes until recently when he took center stage eliciting groans from me and Deb. He was once more overly prepared and overly good at what he does until Booth finally killed him to save Bones’ life.
But, all along, he was a fairly boring character. Despite his genius, his motivations were murky until the final episode, and his stories may have been dramatic but they failed to engage the audience. Instead, they highlighted how tired the series was getting and that the plug should be pulled sooner than later.
Over on the fresher Person of Interest, the threat of Root, well played by Amy Acker, has been an interesting thread, in part because she’s a complex, interesting, and flawed personality. She’s made enough of an impression to be upgraded to series regular and after a slow start, she is being integrated into the overall storyline so that’s something to cheer.
On the other hand, the threat of HR, lingering since the first season, is dull and boring and overplayed. Why? Because there’s no one to hiss at. They’re a large sprawling organization fronted by a dull white guy and controlled by a shadowy member of the Mayor’s office. Neither has been given a personality and I kept hoping that Carter would expose it, shut it down and let the team move on to more interesting cases. One would think that creator Jonathan Nolan would know the value of a well-developed villain after working on the Batman films with his brother Christopher.
We’re starting to see the same problem develop on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as we see some organization working with the Extremis tech from Iron Man 3 to create their own controllable super-beings. But while critics are rightly pointing out how disappointingly bland our heroes are, the villains are one-dimensional threats that no one cares about. With luck, the various Whedons involved will fix that—and fast—so he series lives up to its potential (and hype).