Our listener Michael Lucero felt so moved by another listener’s comments he felt compelled to write this letter defending the show’s portrayal of villains. A lot of good points (even if we do enjoy a little mustache twirling every now and then). Thanks, Michael! You can check out more of his work at his website.
Hey Bill & Anne Marie,Yes, as you probably guessed from the subject line of this email, this is going to be another long-winded, philosophical letter.I wanted to respond to the listener who said they wish that Once could have some villains who weren’t evil just because they’d gone wrong somehow in the past (I’m paraphrasing; I don’t remember their exact wording) but because they were evil for evil’s sake. While I do agree that the show needs to find some more original motivations for the characters, and that the villain’s story arcs seem to have very few differences in terms of their emotional histories, I absolutely do not want to have someone who is evil for evil’s sake, for the simple reason that this would be very boring and yet another example of lazy writing.Why? Because this would be a completely simplistic and and unrealistic image of human nature. We often complain that stories are too black and white, but what we usually mean is that the heroes are too good, with very little flaws. Well, this would be an apt complaint for a story that had a villain who is too evil, too perfectly black, with few or no good motivations or good moments in their history.The fact is, it’s impossible, in the real world, to want evil just for evil’s sake. It’s simply not how the human mind works, or any spiritual mind, I would say. The most evil figures you can think of, in history or in stories, wanted things that were ultimately good, or that in their minds were seen as good, but were chasing those goals in evil, twisted ways with evil, twisted thoughts. That’s what evil is: good, but twisted, taken in the wrong way, at the wrong time, in the wrong circumstances.Even if the motivation is to make sure that one is never threatened again, or that one can rule over everyone else, or that one can avenge the death of a loved one, those evil motivations are at heart a desire for something good (safety, order, justice), but pursued in twisted, inappropriate, ignorant, and incommensurate ways.I also disagree that Rumpel was evil for evil’s sake, even though at this point, he seems the most consistently . The entire story is his quest to redeem his past mistakes, to reunite with his son, and now, after his son is killed, to make sure he can never be in a situation where his family is in danger again. His actions are deceitful, self-centered, obsessive, manipulative, and exploitative. Yet the basic desires at the heart of his motivation is love, and the desire to protect the ones he loves.Does this justify what he does? Absolutely not. The fact that evil is dependent on good for its own existence does not in any way make evil a legitimate thing. Nor does it make the evil actions less deserving of our hatred. But it does mean that the person comitting the evil warrants sympathy, and especially pity.There’s a lot more that could be said about this, but I’ve already written a long enough letter, which I don’t expect you to read on the show. But it’s been bugging me that people on this podcast, and definitely on others as well, are making this sort of remark, when a purely evil villain is just as unrealistic as a purely good hero.Keep up the great work, and thanks for the #PrisonBill shoutout! Take care,Michael Lucero