With spoilers for: The Dark Knight
A few weeks ago, I did a short piece on Jesse Pinkman and concluded that there are many, often conflicting, ways of making a character likeable. Today, I just want to hit that point home a bit, by turning your attention to antagonists – and how they often come with characteristics which make us support them more than we probably should.
You know my powers, my dear Watson, and yet at the end of three months I was forced to confess that I had at last met an antagonist who was my intellectual equal. My horror at his crimes was lost in my admiration of his skill.
This quote follows Sherlock Holmes’ first encounter with Moriarty, and I love it because I think it perfectly encapsulates how most of us react to a good villain. Antagonists are usually the main source of conflict in a story, so it seems to follow that they should be incredibly good at what they do – incredibly good at stopping the hero from achieving his goals. However, by making them this way, writers often endow them with a level of excellence, lacking in most of the other characters, including the hero.
A good example of this is the Unstoppable Evil archetype, home to characters such as the Salamanca twins from Breaking Bad. These are the two silent, almost mechanical cartel hitmen, barely with a moment on screen where they’re not shooting someone, beheading someone or trying to find means to facilitate either of those activities. Natural to their line of work, they don’t have much going for them on a moral level – and they aren’t exactly providing the comic relief either.