Horror Writing

Horror Writing: On Liking Problematic Characters.

Liking the bad guy

First, I feel I should warn you. This blog is a rambling mess. I have no idea what point I was trying to make; I honestly don’t think I had one. It was a brain vomit about how weird I feel liking problematic, asshole characters.

I have warned you.

I’ve always been a fan of the villains.

They’ve always been the most fun, challenging, and interesting characters in a lot of stories.

But recently I’ve been giving it some thought.

It’s one thing to enjoy over the top villains for how much fun they are, is another thing to engage with a more in-depth villain who is relatable, flawed and interesting. But what about the more insidious villain? The one who’s ‘evil’ but authentically. The one who engages in abusive behaviour?

I recently discovered the 2018 remake of She-Ra, I know I’m late to the party as the show is already finished after five seasons (FYI I’m loving that we seem to go back to giving series endings before they become stale). My first taste of this show was on YouTube where clips kept popping up on my newsfeed, I met a few of the characters and saw enough of the show to know I want to watch more.

Spoilers below–though not that many, as I’ve not watched a lot of the show yet.

There are several villains in this show, such as Catra, a flawed, vulnerable and very relatable character who does a lot of ‘evil’ stuff but is always a ‘real’ person with depth and who is visibly hurting. Then there’s Hord Prime who seems (please bear with me, I’ve not watched much of the show yet) to be more of the grand universal destruction type of villain.

Then there’s the villain who triggered my thought process here, Shadow Weaver.

Immediately I was drawn to Shadow Weaver. Her design is awesome, her voice actor is amazing, and my first introduction to her was her self-sacrificing redemption moment. I fell in love with this character without knowing a great deal about her. Seriously, though, how can you not love someone who’s last words are ‘You’re Welcome’ when they destroy themselves to save the two principal characters?

There are clip-shows on YouTube highlighting Shadow Weaver being sarcastic, sassy, and entertaining. All the things I love in my villains. She also has actual moments of vulnerability and gets an interesting backstory where you can understand, though maybe not agree with, why she made the decisions she did.

Then, as I explored the show a little more, I saw why Shadow Weaver was a villain. She does a lot of the typical cartoon villain stuff, running the hoard under Hordak, trying to capture and harm the heroes. But then I saw more of her relationship with Adora and Catra, and I felt a little uncomfortable about how much I liked this character.

She’s abusive, particularly to Catra who she constantly gaslights, tears down, and emotionally manipulates. She tries to justify it in one scene where she admits that she sees a lot of herself in Catra and as she had to fight for everything, she could not see why it should be different for Catra. Personally, I saw this moment as Shadow Weaver saying she sees herself in Catra and she hates herself so she’s a dick to Catra. But that explanation does not justify, or excuse, the level of cruelty she inflicts on Catra who was a child in her care. Even when Shadow Weaver starts actively working with the ‘good guys’ she’s still trying to influence Adora and Catra. It’s uncomfortable to watch.

So, Shadow Weaver is an abusive and problematic character.

These types of characters are important in storytelling, these kinds of people exist outside of stories, and I think it is important that stories reflect the actual world. It highlights abusive behaviours and can help people who have suffered under such behaviour identify it, and address it. It also mirrors society, bringing light and attention to the fact that this gaslighting shit goes on in all kinds of relationships. An abusive relationship does not have to be a romantic one, it can be parental or friendship.

So, while I am extremely pleased to see a character like Shadow Weaver in a show aimed at a younger audience, I am slightly unsettled by how much I like her. Even knowing and acknowledging her shitty behaviour I still find her entertaining. I mentioned before how amazing her voice actor is and I think has a lot to do with why I like her, she’s well written, well voiced and fun to watch. Which ultimately makes it hit even harder when she does something despicable and manipulative to people who are starting to Trust her, aka Glimmer.

She reminds me of Dumbledore a little.

Dumbledore was fighting for the ultimate good of defeating the Dark Lord Voldemort, but he used Harry to accomplish his own goals with the idea that Harry would probably die at the end. When shadow Weaver leaves the Hoard and goes with the good guys, her goal is to free the magic and defeated Hoard Prime, a wonderful goal, right? But she doesn’t seem to care who she hurts to accomplish this.

Does that make her an anti-hero?

Either way, it doesn’t change my uncomfortable feeling of liking such a problematic character.

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