Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Top Five: TV Villains

And now for the second installment of Beautiful & Beloved Bad Seeds - TV Edition! For my Top Five Movie Villains - go here. This list was harder to pare down, since it's difficult to have a good show that runs for several seasons without the writers attempting to create some sympathy or understanding for the villains. This, however, often runs into the problem of the writers prioritizing the likability of the villain over consistent characterization.

This is the difference between good and great writing for me - good writers can humanize a villain but a great one will humanize him without apologizing for him.

Without further ado:

Cersei Lannister (Game of Thrones)
Oh, Cersei. I have this theory that almost any smart, proud and ambitious woman could be Cersei if she was thrown into the right circumstances. Or maybe I just feel like I would be Cersei if I was born into her life. Historically, there have been some women who have been able to wield power through the limited channels of traditional feminine roles. The Empress Matilda, for example. Isabella of France. Eleanor of Aquitaine. Agrippina the Younger.

The art of bearing children and realizing you have to weaponize them. Operating under a veneer of delicate diplomacy at all times while holding a knife to your rival's jugular. The necessity of relying on and trusting men to work for you, though society gives even the worst and weakest of them more tangible power. The rage of being forced to do all these things instead of relying on one's own abilities... The rage must be immense. Cersei Lannister, as a character, is a perfectly written Tragedy. It could never end well for her.

Steerpike (BBC's Gormenghast)
Jonathan Rhys Meyers' best role, I think. It kind of went downhill for him after this... Steerpike was my favorite villain of my formative years. He's practically a working class hero, really! How can it be wrong for a poor kitchen wretch born into drudgery and hopelessness to hope for something more? To be worth a damn. To have responsibilities and expectations. Especially since the young Earl was an ungrateful little prat who wanted to run around in the mud outside instead of shouldering his duties.

Livia (I, Claudius)
Another prime iteration of the Cersei type, I think. Though with less rage and disappointment and more tar black humor. Though both of their sons were monstrous, she was luckier than Cersei Lannister- her husband had some decent qualities. Livia also had the ability to believe herself working for a larger picture, for the greater good. Whether or not that's actually true is, of course, debatable.

Alice Morgan (Luther)
Perfectly written red-haired sociopath. Hilarious, straight-talking and scary as hell. Paradoxically, she represents both Detective Chief Inspector John Luther's attraction to the dark side but also the light of truth in his life. His perfect half, you catch yourself thinking at times, but then again... WAIT, she's a coldblooded murderer. Though he's not such a pure snowflake himself...

Tony Soprano (The Sopranos)
The Sopranos was a hard show to watch. I expected the show creators to create more sympathy for Tony as the show went on. I thought they might make the Mafia lifestyle a heartwarming male homosocial bonding fest. But they didn't. And that's the beauty of this show - Tony Soprano becomes more and more fully a villain as each episode unfolds. He is fully human and fully villainous at the same time. His self-delusion, his sentimentality, his well intentioned lies are all things we can recognize in ourselves, but the actions resulting from Tony's weaknesses are both encouraged and made justifiable by the system in which he operates. I think it's fascinating that loyalty is supposed to be hallmarks of both Tony's biological family and his criminal family, but for all their hearty demonstrations of love, their relationships are governed above all by fear and self-preservation.