Tag Archives: Sympathetic Villain


This post contains SPOILERS!


Everyone with any form of social media account has discovered that for some unknown reason MTV’s Teen Wolf has an EXTREMELY active fan following. In this past summer’s Season 3a (3b will be coming in January), the main ‘bad guys’ are a group called the Alpha Pack and a ‘dark druid’ called the Darach. In the Alpha Pack, there is a set of identical twin Alphas (who combine into a really freaky looking mega!wolf sometimes) named Aiden and Ethan.

In all my years as a fan of television shows that have dedicated fan presences online I have never come across a more vastly divided set of fan opinions than those around the twin Alphas. From sympathizers to haters there are so many opinions on Ethan and Aiden. However, recently I came across an anonymous tumblr ‘ask’ a friend replied to (that I won’t link in respect for her privacy) in which the anonymous person expressed their opinion that “The Murder Twins are pure evil and they should have killed them, not let them stick around.

I’ve been meaning to make a post like this for a while now, and this incident has given me a perfect opportunity to force myself to do so. As we know, here at Modern Minutia we have a soft spot for sympathetic villains. As such I feel like it’s about time someone argues the much less popular opinion that they deserve so much more sympathy than this person seems to think.

To start with, let’s look at their biggest ‘crimes’:

  • We meet them as they are trying to get Isaac and his mystery rescuer. (They later help fight her and their leader, Deucalion, kills her.)
  • They later attack Isaac and Scott and then frame Isaac for attacking them.
  • We find out that Ethan and Aiden got close to Danny and Lydia because their leader thinks they will need to kill one of them.
  • They attack most of the pack at some point.
  • Worst of all of these, the twins help kill Boyd.

(The one thing that fans seem to find the MOST unforgivable is their part in Boyd’s death. The most often used line is ‘Are we forgetting they KILLED BOYD?!’ really.)

Yes. They are part of a pack that does unspeakable things and commits horrible acts. There is no denying what the Alpha twins have to be held responsible for. I do agree with the less dramatic and angry fans who simply say that they would like to see them show remorse for what they have done (Though with this show’s seeming phobia to character development, I’m not holding my breath). However, to the fans who feel that they don’t deserve to be forgiven, and ESPECIALLY those who feel they deserve to die, allow me (with the help of a friend who helped me organize these arguments that has no real online presence so will remain anonymous) to outline all of the reasons they deserve sympathy.

Point #1: THEY ARE KIDS!

Apparently this escapes some people’s notice, but these are CHILDREN. Yes, there is the hint that they may not actually be the age they are pretending to be to fit in at the school, but they are clearly somewhere in the range of sixteen to twenty and even if they are legal adults, they’re still KIDS. Even if they are full out evil why would you want to see CHILDREN die?! Who is heartless enough they wish to see children die for their ‘sins’ instead of be given a chance to atone for them?

Point #2: They are ABUSED kids!

Ethan reveals to Scott and Stiles in “The Girl Who Knew Too Much” that they were from a pack of ‘monsters’ who were the type of werewolves that gave the reputation of mindless killing machines to all werewolves. They were the Omegas of that pack, meaning that they were beaten and abused by their brutal pack. They were only able to rise up and kill their abusers when Deucalion came to them and helped out. From this we can infer that, most likely, the twins either are orphans or their parents were part of the group abusing then. They have probably been abused and mistreated from a very young age. They faced so much daily and inescapable torment until Deucalion came and saved them.

Point #3: Deucalion gave them power.

When Derek became Alpha the surge of power made him seek out and turn three teenagers who he knew wouldn’t say no just because he could. Those three teens were all overcome with their new found power as betas. They all displayed their new found power in extreme ways to prove that they were no longer invisible like they were before becoming werewolves. Yes, these four people all had pretty poor lives and were given power. However, Ethan and Aiden went from suffering even worse abuse than Isaac and less attention than Boyd or Erica to suddenly being powerful Alphas in an extremely powerful pack where they were no longer the victims. It is a proven psychological fact that “Even the smallest dose of power can change a person.” Now we look at the sudden transference from ‘powerless’ to ‘powerful’ and who gave this to them? Deucalion. Who gives them their orders? Deucalion. Why does this matter?

Point #4: Loyalty

Obviously, anyone who is saved by another person expresses gratitude towards that person. Anyone who is given power by someone else also has gratitude for that as well. Hand in hand with gratitude comes loyalty. If they challenge his orders, they are challenging the loyalty they feel to the person who saved them. Think of someone who did something for you that changed your life for the better. Now imagine that being the ONLY person who has EVER shown did anything that changed your life for the better EVER. The pull to pay them back would be tremendous. This is the type of pull that Ethan and Aiden face. They owe everything to Deucalion. They owe their power to Deucalion. They owe their very lives to Deucalion. That brings us to…

Point #5: Fear

While Deucalion saved them, and they are loyal to him, they also fear him. He may not abuse them the way their old pack did, but he does discipline them. We saw him strike them across the faces and cut their cheeks, so there is at least a measure of discipline. Beyond that, however, is the knowledge of how strong he is and what he could do to them if he chose to. They have been under his command long enough to see him kill people. If not Deucalion, the others in the pack are loyal to him and wouldn’t hesitate to do his bidding. While many fans would argue here that ‘I would chose death over committing murder’, there is another thing to remember.

Point #5 continued: Fear for each other

They are the Alpha twins. It is possible that if there was only one of them, they might would chose death over being forced to kill. Many people would die for other people. Many of us would sacrifice ourselves for perfect strangers, even. It’s different, though, when it’s someone you care about that is threatened. Ethan and Aiden know that if they question Deucalion, he can hurt the other twin. It’s likely they have suffered watching their brother hurt before in their days of being abused children. Anybody with a close sibling knows that you would do anything to save them. How many times have we said, “I would kill for my family”? Only identical twins can really understand the bond between them. Aiden and Ethan are all each other has. They are part of each other. They are (literally) two halves of a whole. They are both well aware that, “If I anger Deucalion he won’t hurt me, he’ll hurt my brother and it will be my fault.” So they know they are on their own with only each other to trust.

Point #6: They have NO REASON to trust the Beacon Hills pack.

While the viewers know that Scott and his friends would likely help Ethan and Aiden defect, they have no reason to trust them. They have no reason to trust anyone. They have only ever known being either used or abused. They have likely never known kindness in their whole lives. They grew up knowing that they can only trust each other and, when Deucalion saved them, he only did so to use them for his own devices. They have no reason to suspect that, if they defected from Deucalion, they wouldn’t have two packs after their blood, not just one. Even though we see Ethan at least showing the beginnings of remorse for what they have done, Ethan and Aiden both know that their options are to stick with Deucalion and survive even if it means doing bad things, or run away and try to survive with even more people wanting them dead.


We get at least some idea that they didn’t want to kill Boyd. There is no denying that there was reluctance in their part. However, Kali’s order to hold Derek’s claws so she could drop Boyd on them is still an order. They knew that saying no would mean turning their backs on their pack with no other pack to run to for protection. They are CHILDREN who have MOST LIKELY never known any kindness before Deucalion’s semblance of compassion, who have no reason to think they will find anything but threats from anywhere else, who fear for their lives and the lives of each other, and who have a reluctant loyalty tying them to Deucalion and his orders.

I don’t mean to get belligerent, but I really just fail to understand how anyone can say ‘they deserve to die’. I understand those who wish to see them show remorse and atone for their actions, I too want to see this. The way this show is written, we often don’t GET that sort of character development, so I generally just infer that it’s there. I can understand if a fan can’t accept that because most shows aren’t so lacking in the character moments, but ‘they should have killed them’?

I really don’t think so.

(Opinions are welcome, but please don’t argue with each other in the comments. Logical and calm explanations only, please!)

Leave a comment

Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Loki: Exploring The Development of A Sympathetic Villain

Many of you may remember the post about the Five-Part Spectrum of characters. In that, we mentioned the Sympathetic Villain and used the Marvel Cinematic Universe‘s Loki for that example. In celebration of the Thor 2: The Dark World being released, let’s take a closer look at what makes Loki a Sympathetic Villain throughout the three films he has been in.


ScreenHunter_253 Nov. 08 00.09

In Thor, we meet Loki as the eponymous hero’s little brother. He is very much the proverbial ‘spare’ to Thor’s ‘heir’ in their father’s eyes. Odin, the King of Asgard and their father, is not alone in showing favoritism to Thor. All of their friends seem to ‘put up’ with Loki because he is Thor’s brother.

And then the truth is revealed. In the photo above, Loki has just discovered from Odin that he is not only not REALLY Odin’s son, but he is not even the same species. Instead, he is the abandoned child of Asgard’s sworn nemesis, Laufey of Jotunheim.

Why this is important:

This is the MOST important point in Loki becoming a Villain in any form. This is the moment that pushes Loki over the edge from feeling a little left out to feeling completely betrayed. This is also a key point to him being a Sympathetic Villain because the viewer empathizes with him. You see a son learning that the reason he feels unloved is because, not only is he adopted, but he is the same ‘monster’ that his family is famed for destroying. This is a prince who was raised on the stories of Frost Giants being the most vile, horrible things in all the realms. He has lived his life hearing stories and playing games as a child in which he and his brother slayed the ‘horrible beasts’ just like their father, only to discover that he is one.

Beyond this moment:

In Thor, Loki’s ‘villainous’ deeds, while very undeniably villainous, were all actions carried out in an attempt to make his father love him as much as he loves Thor. He takes his father’s throne when his father is injured to prove to his family that he’s not worthless. He goes to Laufey – his birth father – and helps him sneak into Asgard on the pretense of murdering a bedridden Odin only to use it as an opportunity to kill the ‘horrible monsters’ in Odin’s chambers to try and prove himself. Even his attempts on Thor’s life are Loki’s way of trying to protect Asgard from an unprepared Thor taking the throne.

In conclusion:

Loki in his first MCU appearance is the villain that nobody could hate. He is essentially a prince trying to make his family love him and choosing all the wrong methods to try and do so. The viewer watches him fall to his ‘death’ and, rather than be glad the villain was defeated, mourns him.

The Avengers


In The Avengers, Loki is our main villain. This time, he is clearly a very deranged villain who is harder to find sympathy for. Loki appears in a top secret laboratory via a magic portal he opened using the Tesseract that is being studied in this lab. He then steals the Tesseract, takes hostages, and goes on a murder spree that kills 80 people in two days.

However, from the moment he arrives, we can see that he is clearly not well. In the above photo, you can see how sickly he looks and you can see that his previously green eyes are now an eerie blue just like the Tesseract. In a scene further into the film, we see Loki going into some form of trance to discuss the plan with his co-conspirators, at the end of which, one says to him, “You think you know pain? He will make you long for something as sweet as pain!” 

Why this is important:

Loki is clearly not okay. We are given the idea that he fell into the ‘abyss’ between the realms and languished there for a while before Thanos and who knows what other unknown evil collected him. His appearance and this clear indication that his co-conspirators are really his masters help support the implication that he was held captive and tortured.

In conclusion:

What mental break Loki suffered in Thor has clearly been compounded with brainwashing and torture for who knows how long in The Avengers. The actions in this film are more villainous, and less excusable, but there is still this idea that this is a man who has been driven to the edge and then, quite literally, tossed off it and into the hands of torture and abuse that has driven him fully insane. His actions are less understandable, but the viewer still feels sorry for how he got to this point.

Thor 2: The Dark World



In Thor 2: The Dark World, we meet Loki as he is being sentenced to imprisonment. Odin makes it clear that the only reason Loki is receiving this leniency for his actions on Earth as opposed to execution is because his mother, Frigga, loves him still as her son and Odin loves his wife. We then see him in prison talking to Frigga, who asks after he denies vehemently that Odin is not his father if he also doesn’t think of her as his mother. There is a moment where his anger drains and he reaches out to touch her only to reveal to us that – surprise! – Frigga is a glamour she sent down to the cells in her absence (Odin decreed that Loki never see her again).

And then, of course, Frigga is killed by the Big Bad of the film, Malekith. In the photo above, Thor comes down to talk to Loki about helping him defeat Malekith and when he asks him to drop his glamours, this is what he finds. In the photo, Loki has shed his nice clothes, he has destroyed his cell, he has stopped caring for his hair, he has bloody feet from walking on the broken dishes he shattered in his grief fueled rage, and he is lying in a pitiful heap as he mourns his mother.

Why this is important:

Loki isn’t THE villain of this film, but he is still clearly not a ‘good guy’. This set up gains him so much sympathy because virtually every viewer either has experienced or can imagine the complete and utter devastation of losing a mother. The viewer overlooks his past wrongs, forgets for a while that he is ‘evil’, and is left with a broken man who has lost the one person who loved him unconditionally before them.

Beyond this moment:

Loki actually doesn’t betray Thor, contrary to every expectation every viewer had. The empathy the viewer feels for him in his hopes of helping his brother kill their mother’s murderer makes the viewer almost forget he is evil, but it doesn’t erase the expectation of him betraying Thor in the end.

In conclusion:

There is some argument to be made that Loki isn’t the ‘bad guy’ in this film, but he is a Villain in general, so the sympathy the viewers feel for him at the loss of his mother will remain to be thought of later in his story as he becomes the Villain once more.

This sympathy viewers have for Loki, regardless of currently not being the main protagonist, makes him even more of a Sympathetic Villain.


Posted by on November 8, 2013 in Uncategorized


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The Modern Anti-hero: What IS an anti-hero?

According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary entry, the definition of an anti-hero is

Antihero- a main character in a book, play, movie, etc., who does not have the usual good qualities that are expected in a hero;

a protagonist or notable figure who is conspicuously lacking in heroic qualities

In literary circles, there is much debate over what exactly an anti-hero is. Some believe any hero without heroic qualities (he lies, cheats, steals, etc.) is an anti-hero (think of Robin Hood). Others believe any ‘dark’ character would be an anti-hero (think Sirius Black post Prisoner of Azkaban). It is even argued that a non-protagonist-or-antagonist villain is an anti-hero (think Gollum). There are debates between what the actual characteristics of an anti-hero are. Is it a dark, gritty hero? Is it a selfishly motivated hero? Is it a villain with good intentions? All of these are debated ideas of what the anti-hero is in literature. The fatal flaw in these examples, I find, is that there seems to be a hard-line of choices between Heroic protagonist, anti-heroic protagonist, and villainous antagonist.

In “Exploring The Dark Side: The Anti-Hero’s Journey”, James Bonnet says,

“Villains become anti-heroes when the story is about them; when we see the process they undergo to become villains.” 

However, in modern media and pop culture, it’s easier to see beyond this solid three-part spectrum and allow for a more flexible way of identifying a character in the story.  I would argue that the best way to clearly identify characters is a five-part spectrum:  Hero, Dark Hero, Anti-hero, Sympathetic Villain, and Villain.

Hero: The hero is your clear and true ‘good guy’. I don’t agree with the idea of ‘absolutely heroic traits only’ because unless we’re talking about Jesus or Captain America, almost every hero has his or her flaws. However, a true Hero is the clear and obvious ‘good guy’. Usually this person is the protagonist of the story who swoops in and saves the day.

A good example of the hero in modern media and pop culture: Image

Harry Potter, the eponymous protagonist of J.K. Rowling’s wildly popular Harry Potter series, is a great example of a pure, unadulterated hero. From the very beginning, the reader/viewer (depending on whether you’re talking about the book or the film) knows that Harry Potter is the ‘good guy’. He’s the protagonist who constantly saves the day, saves his friends, and saves the world in general. There are flaws, sure, but they are minor compared to his large heart and refusal to give up. You are left without a single doubt that he is a hero.

Dark Hero: The Dark Hero is one of the gray areas that usually ends up being called an ‘anti-hero’ incorrectly. A dark hero is a character who has flaws of character that make them harder to like. They may even come across as a not very good person only to grow and change into a better person because of the events of the story. The Dark Hero often doesn’t want to be a hero at first but finds himself or herself unable to stand by and not intervene.

A good example of a Dark Hero in modern media and pop culture:


Oliver Queen, the vigilante superhero from the Green Arrow comic series and, most recently (and pictured above) from the CW’s Arrow, is a perfect example of where Dark Hero diverges from ‘anti-hero’. Sticking with Arrow for this example, Oliver Queen begins in his back story as a pretty unlikable character. He’s the type of trust fund kid who is a bad son, a bad boyfriend, a bad brother, and an all around bad person. His story changes when tragedy strikes. He becomes a better person through a series of dark events and terrible situations and he comes out the other side as a vigilante who seeks justice. Many would perceive his former ‘bad guy’ traits combined with his vigilante justice as an anti-hero. Where he diverges from the ‘anti-hero’ spectrum is that his motivations go from ‘right the wrongs of his family’ to ‘save the city’. Like any hero, he sees injustice and wants to fix it. His methods may be rather dark (what with his method of ordering the bad people to ‘fix it or die’ often leaving behind the bodies of the bad guys) but he is still, at the core, a hero saving the day for non-selfish motivations.

Anti-Hero:  The Anti-Hero, when consulting the five-part spectrum of characteristics, is more closely defined than the dictionary definition. An Anti-Hero is, in it’s most simplest form, neither a villain or a hero. The Anti-Hero is selfishly motivated in his ‘heroic’ actions. It isn’t a villain who does ‘evil’ things, but rather a person who does heroic things almost incidentally while doing stuff for only their own gains.

A good example of an Anti-Hero in modern media and pop culture:


Sherlock Holmes, from Sherlock, is a great example of an Anti-Hero. As a consulting detective, he obviously does ‘good’ things since he helps the police catch criminals. Unlike a hero, though, Sherlock Holmes is a cocky, arrogant, rude character. His main motivation for helping people is to prove that he’s smart enough to do it. He isn’t completely cold and he isn’t a villain, but he doesn’t have any characteristics of a hero. Even when he is self-sacrificing for various reasons, Sherlock Holmes only does so for the people he cares about for his own reasons. An Anti-Hero is almost precisely that: a character who mostly does heroic deeds for selfish reasons. An Anti-Hero often has shining moments of heroism before returning to their selfish state. The emphasis on selfish nature is pretty much what sets apart the Anti-Hero from the Dark Hero.

Sympathetic Villain: The line between Anti-Hero and Sympathetic Villain is a little more concrete compared to the line between Sympathetic Villain and Villain. Still, it is an important distinction when searching for the motivations of a character’s actions. The Sympathetic Villain is one that is popular in many forms of modern media and pop culture. The characteristics of a Sympathetic Villain are almost the opposite of the characteristics of a Dark Hero. The Sympathetic Villain most often starts out as a good or at least neutral character who, when something bad happens, becomes villainous. Often, a personal traumatic event or a history of emotional trauma is present before the Sympathetic Villain slips over the edge into villainous territory. The character is still a villain, still commits villainous acts, and is still viewed as the ‘bad guy’, but often the audience feels bad for the character even as they wish for their defeat.

A good example of a Sympathetic Villain in modern media and pop culture:


Loki of Asgard, the Marvel character, is a good example of a Sympathetic Villain, especially for a film based on comic books where your villains are usually cold, hard villains. Loki is a Sympathetic Villain because his actions throughout his storyline in Marvel films are able to be understood with a level of empathy from the audience. His original villainous actions are more devious with the intentions of making things right than ‘evil’ until emotional traumas send him overboard. In a later film when he is closer to a ‘pure’ Villain in his actions, it is hinted that he has been tortured to insanity so the audience still feels sorry for him, even though he is the bad guy of the story. The Sympathetic Villain is often used to engage the audience so that they are able to identify and empathize with both sides of the story being presented in an attempt to draw them in and create emotional attachments with the characters. The same way the Dark Hero draws the viewers emotions in, the Sympathetic Villain is responsible for the same thing.

Villain: The Villain is exactly what you think: the bad guy. However, the difference between a Sympathetic Villain and the pure, honest Villain is that the Villain has very few or even NO redeeming qualities. There is nothing to really draw sympathy from the audience. There is nothing to excuse their actions in any manner. The Villain does bad things and has no justification, perceived or realistic, for said actions. In most cases, the Villain is the one character that exists to play antagonist opposite of the ‘good guy’ and will eventually be defeated most of the time.

A good example of a Villain in modern media and pop culture:


Kate Argent from Teen Wolf, while probably less known than many Villains, is a good example of a Villain because she embodies the traits of having no redeeming qualities, earning no sympathy from the audience, and having no real excuses for her actions. Kate Argent’s penchant for torturing her victims, her history of horrific acts (for example, burning down a house with a family with children inside), and multiple references to pedophilia and past statutory rape make her a character so ‘evil’ that she rouses absolutely no sympathy from the audience. Therefore, she is just a Villain. A GOOD villain that audiences love to hate, but still a non-sympathetic villain.

While there are many opinions on what is and isn’t an Anti-Hero, the five-part spectrum of characterization definitely makes it easier to identify what isn’t an Anti-Hero. By following the motivations, it becomes easier to understand where a character falls in this spectrum, and knowing the type of character you are dealing with makes understanding and appreciating their actions and reactions so much easier. When you better understand what motivates the character, what the character’s goal is, what means the character is willing to go to to achieve those goals, and what the outcome of those actions will be you become a more active participant in whatever media you are presented. This in turn makes the experience of these works that much more enjoyable.

And in the end, enjoying the work you’ve immersed yourself in is the whole point.


Posted by on September 26, 2013 in Uncategorized


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