Freudian Friday: Come Away With Me

Yep, back by popular demand, it’s Freudian Friday! Let’s get down and dirty with some character analysis.

Today I want to talk a little about Doctor Who companions and their motivations for running away with the Doctor… and naturally, I want to talk about some gender issues in the show.

I’ve been lusting after this t-shirt for awhile:

GORGEOUS Threadless t-shirt design by Karen Hallion

The Doctor beckons, and Belle flies to his side. I actually love this t-shirt, entitled, “Adventure Awaits,” and the Cinderella counterpart, “Come Away with Me.”

But this one’s a little troubling. It’s rather shocking to see Belle dropping a book, of all things (heresy!), though we can probably assume that the Doctor has an amazing library in the TARDIS. She wanted adventure in the great wide open, and she’ll get it… but only if she takes the Doctors hand and follows him blindly.

It gets me thinking about the recent companions and their complete disregard for the lives they leave behind. Amy Pond leaves on the eve of her wedding. Martha Jones leaves a promising career. Rose Tyler leaves a boyfriend and her mother and an entire universe.

Granted, many of them leave behind dull, troubled lives. Donna Noble left a rather insipid existence to become fairly badass (though the results were disastrous), and Rose’s life and boyfriend were rather humdrum. Clara Oswold… well, we don’t really understand her motivations yet, do we? But when the Doctor comes along, generally cute and funny, and offers adventures untold in spaces unimagined, the companions snatch the opportunity to leave behind their dull existence and literally fly into a new one.

Young, bright women, abandoning their lives and family to join a mysterious man in his time-travelling spaceship. He beckons, and they come running… and don’t even get me started on how many of these women want to get it on with the Doctor. He’s irresistible, it seems.

There are a very few male companions in the 2005 reboot. Mickey and Rory accompany Rose and Amy, respectively, and Craig has a few of his own adventures with the Doctor. Donna’s grandfather tags along briefly, as does Captain Jack, whose motivations are sexually tense to say the least.

Most of them come along in the hope of some improved image of gallantry: Mickey, Rory, and Craig all want to mack on their ladies, all of whom have more or less abandoned them in favor of the sexy, exciting Doctor.

That doesn’t say much about the women in this universe, does it? They’re turned on by power and adventure, and consequences be damned if as pursue those qualities.

I don’t want to discuss River Song too much here, because a) she’s awesome and b) she carries her own set of fraught sexual issues.

On its face, the Doctor’s offer of adventures in space and time seems liberating. Come away with me, and I’ll show you the universe. It all hinges on him, though. These women, once on these adventures, have far less agency than they did in their ho-hum lives. They get to save children and aliens and the world—and the Doctor himself—but they invariably end up damaged, either emotionally or physically, and with no capability of returning to their normal existence.

Rose is thrown into a parallel universe. Donna has her eyes opened and then, lest the brightness of broad existence kill her, forcibly closed. Amy gives birth to and loses a daughter, and is thrown from her time to live out an existence she would never have chosen. We’ve already seen Clara die twice, and we’ve barely seen her at all.

So is it worth it? Would you trade adventure for certain emotional torture? And is it acceptable for the Doctor to continually snatch ordinary young women from what might have been ordinary, successful-in-small-ways lives?

And what does it say about Doctor Who as a show that the theme is one of a man enlightening and awakening pretty girls?

This is one of those questions that I hate to ask: I hate to scratch the shiny veneer of a show that I love. But there are some troubling issues here.

What do you think, readers? Are the Doctor and his writers misogynist pigs? Do the female companions actually benefit from his company? Would you go away with him?

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Freudian Friday: Arlene Fowler Bellefleur

Let’s talk about a “normal” this week. One of the poor, less-talented, non-paranormal folks running around in the True Blood universe, dealing with a world populated by vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters, witches, fairies, and who knows what else.

Back, fiend!

Arlene Fowler Bellefleur is a waitress at Merlotte’s, a coworker of main-character Sookie, mother of two wee-ones, gossip, four-time divorcee, and a seriously normal normal, terrified of vampires and anything else not fully human. When we meet her, she’s dating René Lenier, a laid-back (seeming) Cajun guy who turns out to be a racist (if that’s an appropriate term for someone who hates vampires) serial killer.

Okay, so much for the normal.

She survives the death of her murderer boyfriend with as much aplomb as we could expect anyone to have. She moves on, only to fall prey to the spell of a passing maenad and find herself (almost by default) dating a shell-shocked Iraq War veteran who turns out to be just about the nicest man in the entire show.

Sounds like a happy ending, right? Wrong. She quickly discovers that she’s pregnant with murderer-man’s potentially evil baby.

It turns out the baby is pretty weird. He likes decapitating barbie dolls and becomes fond of a seriously creepy doll, and then gets chummy with a ghost-woman who wants to steal him.

Arlene holds it together through this… more or less. She also learns to adapt to the craziness of the paranormal world she hates so much, gradually learning to deal with a vampire coworker and accept her seemingly-supernatural son. When baby Mikey is kidnapped by said ghost-woman, she’s frantic. She refuses cousin-in-law Andy access to her children until he gets over his addiction to vampire blood.

Arlene’s is probably the most promising story arc in the entire show. Not only does she come to love a good, genuinely kind (if damaged) man, she grows into a strong, flexible woman who will protect her children above all else. Her unfolding plotline in season 5 seems like it will allow her to dip into her thus-far untapped reserves of strength.

We don’t know much about Arlene’s background, except a little bit about her romantic history. All we know about her children’s father is that he was wild and he eventually left. We see her break down after René’s death, but she doesn’t mourn the murderer for long, instead responding to the timid approaches of Terry Bellefleur. But when Terry starts drifting away from her in season 5, Arlene fights for him, approaching the squadmate triggering Terry’s break-down and telling him to help Terry sort out his issues: she refuses to lose a man she is invested in.

But what triggers the shift and makes Arlene realize her own capabilities? Is it losing control to the maenad’s spell? Is it coming to see that, without her, her children have no one? Or is it that the world around her, filled with people she fears almost beyond reason, has driven her to adapt and use her strength to protect the ones she loves?

We’ve seen Arlene go from a comic-relief character, protecting her children against “good” vampire Bill with silver bracelets and having an exorcism performed on her home to a capable, collected woman actually seeking out a problem and dealing with it before it turns into a disaster… and that’s impressive progress.

Freudian Friday: “He’s Too Good for Me!”

This post is going to branch beyond fantasy, because it’s a trend that’s bugging the heck out of me. We could also call this post Freudian Friday: “I’m Just Not Good Enough!”

You see, I read 50 Shades of Grey while I was away. It was… not the best… but I’m not going to review it in depth. What irks me enough to write about today is the main character’s perpetual insistence that she’s too plain, too boring, too normal to be with the rich, attractive, intelligent, athletic, attractive (yup, throwing that in twice, ’cause the main character is always bringing it up), and deeply disturbed Christian Grey.

The internet has pulled the book to pieces because it’s based on a piece of the author’s Twilight fanfiction, and the resemblance to Twilight is impossible to miss… but frankly, 50 Shades makes Twilight look like a portrayal of a nice, healthy relationship between two nice, healthy people.

I’m not talking about the BDSM elements, either: that’s probably material for another, very different post.

I’m really talking about the female lead’s attitude toward herself. The last fifteen years have seen a lot of books, television shows, and movies that revolve around a plain (or Hollywood Homely) main character who attracts a stunningly attractive man and then can’t believe her luck, even when he turns out to be a controlling a-hole. The heart-warming idea these works are supposed to convey is that real beauty is on the inside, and sometimes even ridiculously handsome men are smart enough to see the wonders of a Plain Jane or at least a Normal Nancy.

“Bizarre what some men find attractive,” says ANOTHER WOMAN about adorable Bridget.

Here’s just a small selection:

  • Bridget Jones’s Diary (1996), which I love, portrays an awkward, normal woman who really thinks that, at 130 pounds, she needs to lose weight. She goes on to snag TWO handsome, rich men who love her just the way she is.
  • Twilight (published 2005-2008), in which Bella, who at least perceives herself as plain, wins the heart of sexy-vampire Edward. She spends a lot of her free time thinking about how she’s just not good enough to have won him. The series ends with her becoming a beautiful vampire and thus “worthy” of her mate.
  • Ugly Betty (2006-2010), which I’ve never watched, has the whole less-than-lovely-woman built right into the title. I gather that the awkward title character and her handsome boss become friends, and Betty overcomes her awkwardness enough to become a magazine (sort of) bigshot.
  • Drop Dead Diva (2009-present), portrays, weirdly, the soul of a beautiful young wannabe-model who refuses to “go into the light” after her death, and ends up in the body of a plump (but still beautiful) lawyer. The show continues today, but it revolves largely around the main character’s quest to make her former body’s fiance continue to love her, new figure and all.
  • 50 Shades of Grey (2011), a titular reference to the shades of effed-upness shown by the love interest, portrays a basically normal girl getting swept up into the sexual life of a 27-year-old billionaire and wondering how she could possibly have done to deserve it.

As I said, that’s just a small sample. And it’s quite a trend reversal from what TV Tropes calls, “Ugly Guy, Hot Wife,” prevalent in sitcoms, in which a seriously unattractive dude lands a total hottie… and as far as I’ve seen, takes it as his due and never broods about how he’s just not good enough.

All in all, the pattern suggests that “normal” women should be grateful to have attracted “beautiful”men and that they should put up with any sort of bad behavior, up to and including outright abuse, in order to keep their beloved happy.

Talk about inferiority complex: These women feel so inferior to their mates that they will try to lose weight, try to change their interests, try to adopt an “alternative” sexual lifestyle, or even die and become a vampire, all in the name of “keeping” the man.

This is not a good message to send.

What do you think, readers? Why are inferior-feeling women a much-enjoyed trope in books, television, and movies?

Freudian Friday: Steampunk and Corsets

Today we have an AWESOME guest post by Liv Rancourt, one of my very favorite blog-readers and blog-writers! This is really exciting for me, because I’ve always wanted to see what another writer/reader/viewer might do with the Freudian Friday concept. In case you haven’t noticed, I love the idea of taking fantasy, sci-fi, and paranormal genres seriously, and it fills my heart with joy to see another writer looking at the issues that inform the genres we love. Plus, Liv wrote about steampunk, and my very first book (which you will likely never see) is steampunk. I love steampunk. I love the fashion, I love the books, I love everything about it. So take it away, Liv!

Thanks, Kristin, for the chance to sit in on one of your Freudian Friday posts. I really appreciate the opportunity. Now, this is going to be a little different than your usual “martial-arts-expert-knife-wielding-hootchie-mamas and the vampires who love them” kind of post. I’m going to be talking about Steampunk, and more specifically, one fashion choice that I think is curious. Here goes…

Once upon a time, women wore undergarments UNDER their clothes.

I know. Can you believe it?

And then, things changed, as they do. First it was the hint of a slip, and later, maybe, a bit of lace at the décolletage. And then Madonna strapped bullets to her chest, and all bets were off.

Steampunk fabulous.

Fast-forward another twenty years, to a certain subset of the young and trendy who are making their way down city streets dressed in long skirts and bustles and corsets.  They’re wearing goggles and brass buttons, with dangling watch gears as jewelry. It’s Steampunk, darling, an awesome hybrid of Victorian romance and post-apocalyptic grungewear that’s making its way to a city near you.

Did I mention these girls are likely wearing their high-neck, ruffled blouses UNDER their corsets? That is, if they’re wearing a blouse at all. This isn’t your mother’s Mohawk, my dear.

But what IS it? What is Steampunk? It is a literary, design, fashion, and intellectual movement that looks forward by looking back, if you will. Here’s an explanation I pulled off Wikipedia:

Steampunk is a genre which originated during the 1980s and early 1990s and incorporates elements of science fictionfantasyalternate history, horror, and speculative fiction. It involves a setting where steam power is widely used—whether in an alternate history such as Victorian era Britain or “Wild West“-era United States, or in a post-apocalyptic time —that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy.

It carries the  romanticized optimism of a country that conquered the world (Victorian England) or the North American Continent (Wild West steampunk) into our modern times. Some argue that this nostalgic view glosses over poverty, racism, and other social ills (like, say, the suppression of women’s rights).  Maybe it does, but to me it seems a more optimistic worldview than the nihilistic punk attitudes that were the norm when I was a kid in the ‘80s. Instead of saying, “we’re all gonna die,” it says that with a little ingenuity, we can figure our way out of this thing. “The iconic machinery of that age was—and still is—a symbol of strength, hope and ambition. It was powering the Victorians into a bright future.” (The Booktionary, 10/6/10)

For that, I’d strap a few cogs and gears to my belt, you know?

But would I put on a corset? Now that’s a different question. In addition to art, literature, and to an extent, philosophy, Steampunk aficionados also use fashion to express their viewpoint. In the face of modern technology, so much of which is invisible, Steampunk puts the working bits front and center. The pseudo-Victorian waistcoats and cutaway jackets for the men, and bustles and corsets for the women, are all prominently decorated with buckles, gears, and other trinkets. It’s an elaborate, exuberantly stage-y form of dressing that expresses creativity and optimism.

At least on the surface.

Along with glossing over social ills, the genre may also carry forward social and behavioral norms that aren’t so positive. Like, I don’t care how cute an outfit is, if I have to get the vapors when I wear it, no thanks. “All of this fits into a larger framework of the ‘retrosexual’ agenda. This conservative movement appears to have picked up steam (excuse the turn of phrase) within the past few years, and its major tenets are to reclaim strong dichotomous gender roles from times before the current ‘post-feminism’ era, back when ‘men were real men’ and ‘women were ladies.’”  (The Gatehouse, 11/1/10) The roots of Steampunk reflect a culture that grew up before women had the right to vote, and had a generally dependent role in society, and while I doubt many 21st century women would choose to adopt that kind of lifestyle, I worry that there’s an insidious subtext at work here.

“In eras past, as a required fashion staple, corsets were sometimes considered to be the epitome of conservative male oppression of women with their restrictive binding.” (Streetdirectory.com) I’m not talking the naughty black lace things that are sold in adult toy stores. These are real, honest to God corsets, made with heavy fabric, stays, boning and laces. As a kid, my worldview was framed by women burning their bras on the evening news, and to me the corset has always represented restriction and control. When I see young women choosing to wear such a garment, it bothers the old-school feminist in me. The question I have to consider, though, is in terms of the Steampunk movement, who is doing the controlling?

A corset as outerwear is an unmistakable statement. It’s flipping a sartorial bird at something.   “The corset worn outside and used as an article of sexual attraction displays a woman’s pride in her figure, and as it is a counter-cultural choice put up against the tee-shirt and the sports-bra, it becomes a symbol of self-control and uprightness, freely chosen.” (Steampunk Empire, 6/5/11) Who knew?  I mean, there’s certainly more fabric involved than Madonna’s bullet bras. On its own, a corset is fairly discrete, keeping private things private, if you will. But I’ve been thinking about it, and I have the feeling that showing off my figure in a corset would feel a lot more revealing than just about anything else I can imagine wearing.

I might have to try it.

So grab your buckles and bustles and strap on your goggles, ladies and gents. It’s time to look to the future by reimagining the past.  I’d dearly love to find something to feel optimistic about, and if it takes wearing a corset, then lace me in. Do you agree? Do you think the modern incarnation of the corset is a statement of choice and self-control, or is it a throwback to a social system that would be better left to history?

Peace,

Liv

Liv Rancourt writes paranormal and romance, often at the same time. She lives with her husband, two teenagers, two cats and one wayward puppy. She likes to create stories that have happy endings, and finds it is a good way to balance her other job in the neonatal intensive care unit. Liv can be found on-line at her website (www.livrancourt.com), her blog (www.liv-rancourt.blogspot.com), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/liv.rancourt), or on Twitter (www.twitter.com/LivRancourt).

If you’re interested in reading more about Steampunk or corsets or both, check out the sites I either quoted or drew from for this post:

Battle of the Sexes: How Steampunk Should Be Informed by Feminism

CorsetInformation.com

Steampunk (Wikipedia)

Steampunk, Spirit of the Time by Mark Hodder

The Corset: A Symbol of Powerful Female Expression

The Future of Steampunk by Paul Jessup

The Old West Brings Steam by Felix Gilman

The Symbolism of Steampunk

What Is Steampunk?

Freudian Friday: The Winchester Boys

Those are some good looking guys.

We’ve been on a Supernatural kick.

I did not expect to like this show. We were looking for something new to watch and Drew said, “You might like Supernatural. It’s sort of urban fantasy and sort of soap opera-y.” (I’d just given up on The Vampire Diaries and was in drama-withdrawal.)

We gave it a try, not expecting much… and, despite a few cheesy moments, we were completely hooked. The brother relationship is realistic, the paranormal stories are often freaky, and the soap opera drama is pretty minimal—and it doesn’t hurt that the cast is ridiculously attractive.

So, if you’re not a CW-watcher, here’s the scoop on Supernatural: After their mother died when they were a kid, Sam and Dean Winchester were raised by their father to be “Hunters” : sort of like all-purpose Ghost Busters who deal with ghosts, ghouls, demons, vampires, werewolves, zombies, angels, and, well, everything. Dean steals Sam away from college to hunt for their father, and they have a lot of arguments about whether or not they should take orders from the missing man who raised them to be soldiers.

The first few seasons involve the brothers’ hunt for the demon that killed their mom, and the discovery that said demon was trying to turn Sam into the Anti-Christ Demon-General. Many crazy hijinks, the death (and resurrection) of each brother, and big adventures ensue.

I’m currently in Season 5, and the focus of the plot is, well, the Apocalypse. Sam accidentally set Lucifer free, and we’ve learned that he (Sam) is Lucifer’s “Vessel” (aka “meat suit”), while Dean is the Vessel for the archangel Michael. The angels are fighting to win the Apocalypse, the demons are trying to, well, end the world, I guess, and no one cares what happens to the humans in the meantime. And the two Biggies need the Winchesters bodies to fight their big boss battle. Apparently.

Need a second to catch your breath? Okay. Here you go. Ogle away:

The Winchesters and their semi-fallen angel sidekick, Castiel.

So, we have a lot going on there. Judeo-Christian mythology obviously plays a huge part in the show, but God in all his forms seems to have left the building. He’s an absentee father whose two oldest sons (Michael and Lucifer) have been fighting over what’s important.

Ultimately, it’s a show about sibling rivalry: older, rule-abiding Dean and younger path-forging Sam, fighting over whose approach is right. Sam walks a fine line, even (SPOILER) ingesting demon blood to enhance his psychic demon-fighting powers. Dean, though (SPOILER) corrupted during his time in Hell, ultimately believes that doing what is right will save the world. Meanwhile, Angel Michael does the will of a Father he no longer knows, while Lucifer broke away from the other angels because he believed their vision—and their father’s vision!—had been clouded. (So he claims, anyway.)

It does raise a lot of important questions: Do we do as our parents tell us, or do we try to blaze our own trail? Do the ends justify the means? What role does free will have in a world where beings far more powerful than us can claim our bodies for their own purposes?

Since it’s Freudian Friday, we have to talk about the whole father-issues bit. The parallel is not hard to spot: hard-ass John Winchester putting the fight before his own sons and absentee God putting his Creation before his children. (This is all debatable, of course, and I’m not here to talk theology: this is a fictional show, people. Remember that before you get upset.) Dean and Sam, and Michael and Lucifer, are struggling to deal with their father’s choices, and, in that struggle, they have to learn how to follow their own consciences. The show’s ultimate question is how to carry the burdens our parents left us.

We can’t entirely blame the fathers, though. All of these men (human, angel, devil, or otherwise) do have free will. They choose for themselves how to approach their battles, and although they may have taken birth order attitudes toward the world, they each take repeated tumbles from the posts they were raised to sit.

Phew. That’s pretty heavy stuff for what seems like a lightweight show.

What do you think, readers? How do Sam and Dean carry their father’s torch? What do you think of their attitudes and approaches to the battles they fight? Why have they fallen into traditional birth order roles, and how have they broken out of those roles?

Freudian Friday: Xander Harris

Damaged Xander is serious.

Good old Alexander Harris: carpenter, Zeppo, sidekick, general, best friend, almost-husband, and heart of the Scoobies. Without him, the gang would fall apart. Without him, Buffy would have given in to her tendency to treat others like weapons. Without him, Willow would have destroyed the world.

But what do we know about the man himself? What makes Xander tick?

When we first meet him, he’s a nerdy, awkward guy who quickly falls head-over-heels for sexy new-kid Buffy and never realizes his cute pal Willow has the hots for him. He rolls with the punches, accepting the existence of vampires and the death of his friend Jesse with minimal angst.

Although he lacks a superpower and takes a lot of the hardest hits for the Scoobies (hyena-possession, syphilis-infection, eye-reduction), Xander keeps his irrepressible spirits up and continues to feel special just to be included in Buffy’s supernatural world. Throughout the show, he rarely gives in to his doubts—though the women in his life (Anya, Willow, Cordelia) tend to bear the brunt of his moments of weakness.

Xander’s relationship choices are probably his biggest flaw: he seems incapable of entering a relationship that is not doomed, dangerous, or taboo. His attraction to Cordelia sees to stem (at least at first) from a mutual dislike. He becomes involved with Willow only when they’re both in other relationship and it’s a risky, sexy game. And finally, he dates Anya only because she chooses him and then, at first, because it’s convenient. We also can’t forget the odd assortment of demons, bug-women, and evil-doers that he dates along the way.

Why is Xander so prone to falling for women who don’t really care for him? And, once they do care for him, why does he end up hurting them deeply?

Xander hurts Anya in the short-term so he won’t hurt her in the long-term?

Since it’s Freudian Friday, let’s look at some of the supposed root causes. We learn that Xander’s family is dysfunctional to Nth-degree, and we get to witness that horror secondhand through Xander’s tale of woe and firsthand at Xander and Anya’s catastrophic wedding. Xander’s parents are hateful to one another, and Xander fears he’ll end up in the same sort of semi-abusive relationship with Anya.

His father is an overbearing a$$hole who demeans his mother; perhaps we can assume that Xander picks women who walk all over him in a desire to not be like his father. That doesn’t really explain, though, why Xander ends up hurting all three women who care for him the most.

Is it insecurity? He’s the only one of his crowd without a magical power or supernatural ability, so he acts out by acting like a jerk? I don’t really think that’s quite the answer. He’s insecure, yes, but his choices have more to do with a lack long-term planning: perhaps his constant exposure to danger makes him act recklessly, choosing to seek pleasure in the now rather than looking toward long-term happiness. That’s a problem both Buffy and Willow deal with, as well.

What do you think, readers? What is it about Xander that dooms his relationships? Are all the Scoobies adrenaline junkies who are incapable of long-term, successful love?

Xander’s love for Willow saves the world.

Freudian Friday: A Good Villain

First order of business — to those of you who get email updates, I sincerely apologize for publishing earlier this morning my idea for a blog post: writing a good story without a villain. Call it a preview of coming attractions. (And also picture me smacking myself on the forehead repeatedly. Doh!)

Second order of business — I’m still looking for guest posts to run in mid-June when I’m away getting married and stuff. So, if you’re reading this, let me know if you’d like to see your own content here. I will owe you cookies and/or a future guest post.

On to Freudian Friday madness. I’ve noticed lately that I’ve been talking a lot about difficulty connecting with a show or a book if it lacks a good villain.

That’s not quite the oxymoron it seems—villains are people, too, you know. They had parents (usually), birthday parties, first loves… and a really intriguing villain gives the audience glimpses of that past and the personality it created.

So if you’re looking to raise—I mean, write—a good villain, keep the following traits in mind:

1. Humor
Part of what makes Joss Whedon’s work so great is his love for a comedic villain. We’re rooting for our hero, sure, but the villain is just so damned funny we can’t help but like him a little, too. Take Captain Hammer. He’s a smarmy, self-involved jerk, sure, and apparently frightened of geese, but he’s frickin’ hilarious.

Who could resist that insincere smile?

Even though we’re rooting for Doctor Horrible, it’s hard not to love Captain Hammer—his fists are not the hammer, he doesn’t need tiny cue cards, and he’s played by Nathan Fillion. How could we not join his groupies?

(Note that extreme good looks didn’t make this list… but they certainly don’t hurt.)

2. Vulnerability
While we’re on Doctor Horrible, let’s talk about the man himself. He “has a PhD in Horribleness,” so, even though he’s our hero, we know he’s looking to become a Big Bad. But his other name is Billy, he wears slouchy-hoodies, he’s too scared to talk to his crush, and he’s played by Neil Patrick Harris: he just screams sensitive soul.

What a crazy random happenstance!

We also know, though, that he keep stalker-photos of his crush and feels wildly inadequate compared to his aforementioned nemesis, Captain Hammer. The fact that he’s vulnerable makes him likable, easy to relate to—he really is a good villain. It’s the exploitation of that tragic flaw that pushes him into the Evil League of Evil.

3. Real Concern for Something or Someone
I’ve mentioned before that I think Mayor Wilkins is an awesome villain. He’s got the humor, and his concern for Faith makes him vulnerable: it’s what enables Buffy to kill him. The Mayor’s love for Faith shows that he’s more than just an evil dude looking for ascension and life as a big snake-demon. He’s also a man with fatherly impulses, someone who wants to sponsor and protect young people.

Sure, he’s evil–but he’s also a family man.

We occasionally get to see him through Faith’s eyes as the only person who ever truly believed in her. And that makes him far more interesting than a villain who only wishes to destroy everyone he touches.

4. A Little Bit of Crazy
One of my personal favorite Buffy villains is Glory, the exiled Hell-God who wants to kill Buffy’s sister Dawn and use her magical Key energy to open the doors back to home-hell. As a god, Glory operates on a completely different plane than the human characters, and Her Sparkling Luminescence is completely batshit crazy. One of her powers is draining humans of their sanity, turning them into some kind of sleeper-agent mindless zombies who eventually activate to do her bidding.

The Most Unstable One claims sanity from nice people like Tara.

Her madness makes her alien, and she’s more frightening because of it. Someone who neither understands nor cares about our “rules” and works completely outside of them is more difficult to beat—and more outrageous to watch.

5. Belief They Are Doing Right
Finally, a convincing, near-likable villain believes she is doing right. While I could talk about Marnie/Antonia from True Blood or the Lord Ruler from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, let’s stick with the Joss Whedon theme, and get Willow into the mix. No, she’s not a true villain, rather more of an antagonist (which nebulous difference I won’t get into), but she is a Big Bad at one point, with an endgame first of vengeance and then of destroying the world.

Big scary veins aren’t a good look for anyone.

Willow turns evil because she wants to avenge Tara’s murder, and she’s driven to destroy the world because she can’t stand the pain that fills it. Dark Willow has a point: the world is a terrible place, especially in the Buffyverse, and sometimes it does seem like a supervillain would be justified in destroying it all and starting over from scratch. We feel for Willow, even as we’re rooting for Xander to stop her. A goal we can understand makes a villain reasonable, and makes the hero’s triumph more difficult and more bittersweet.

What do you think makes a good villain, readers?