Television is easily one of the most used mediums of entertainment in today's world. Millions upon millions roll into the world of their favorite shows as an escape and a distraction. There is one genre of TV shows that I have noticed, and think discovered, becoming more and more popular, which is that of a "likable villain."
There seems to be more shows that center around a main character who does bad things, yet for what seems like a good reason. The power of making the audience adore these characters doesn't come from their actions, but the empathy created by their backstory and why they do what they do. Just to clear the air ahead of time, there will be absolutely no spoilers for any of the shows I will talk about, so worry not.
There is one example that comes to mind immediately when one thinks about a villain who is the main character of a show, and yet is still "the good guy." I could not be talking about any other character other than Walter White from Breaking Bad. Quick little synopsis on Walter for all of you non-fans. Walter learns that he has lung cancer, and that he will die soon if he doesn't get treatment, which still is not a guaranteed cure. After skulking around for some time, he comes to the realization that he could use his chemistry/science background to cook meth and make money quickly, but with a big risk factor. As his empire grows, the morality of his actions shrinks at the same rate. Regardless of what Walter does, the audience always supports him because of the empathy set up in the beginning. Walter merely wants enough money to pay for his children's college, get his necessary chemotherapy and live happily. The realization that he cooks a drug that is extremely addictive and fatal slips through the cracks like sand through your fingers. Skyler, Walter's wife, is seen as annoying and intrusive when realistically she does what any worried wife does when their husband disappears for hours on end. No matter what happens to Walter, the viewer sees it as unfair because he's just trying to do the right thing, but when you look at the whole picture, Walter is truly the villain who is just clothed in a sheep skin.
While Walter is a great example, he easily not the only good one. There is one character who I find worse than Walter, yet just as "good." Dexter Morgan, from the renown show Dexter is a forensic blood spatter analyst for the Miami metro police. His hobbies include his love for his job, having space to think and be alone and being a serial killer. Now I know what you're thinking, "WHAT? He's a SERIAL KILLER? How can possibly think he's good?" You would be entirely right, except for the fact that he only kills those who have killed before and gotten away and the police wouldn't be able to find. As he says, "I take out the trash, the trash that would otherwise be left to putrefy." How could he be bad if he is trying to save lives by killing those who would take them for no reason other than enjoyment. Of course, if you look at the whole situation, you quickly realize that he works for the Miami police, meaning that he could just as easily plant evidence of one of his targets at a crime scene instead of killing them. But that is the icing on the cake: The show works tirelessly to cover up the fact that Dexter ENJOYS each kill, and that it adds order to his chaos. When you look at the show and it's reality, killing is just one of those things that is horrifically hard to sympathize with, and yet Dexter is still seen as the good guy in my eyes. Fun fact: If Dexter Morgan were real, he would top the most successful serial killer in America, Gary Ridgeway, by 100 percent with nearly 140 kills (about 60-80 intentional).
Characters like Walter and Dexter have existed for a long time already, with characters like Bonnie and Clyde or Robin Hood. They are not the first, but they are the most-watched and known of the "likable villains" as I have come to call them. Keep in mind, there are endless examples. There is Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield from Pulp Fiction, and Tony Soprano from The Soprano, I used Dexter and Walter merely because I am most familiar with them and could see the strongest argument using them. Last thing I will say about this genre of villains seen as good guys is that it makes for some of the most touching, frightening, thrilling, saddening, funny, ironic and cringe-worthy moments I have experienced in any form of entertainment to exist.
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