I’ve been watching a lot of Once Upon a Time these days. It’s a show about fairy tales, old novels, famous poems, and pretty much anything in classic literature that Disney owns the rights to. Which is why next season, I expect a story line taking place in the Star Wars Galaxy.
I’m planning on doing a full write-up on this show, so I’m not gonna go into too much detail here. But suffice to say, one of the show’s most interesting elements is how they took classic villains; like the Evil Queen from Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin from… Rumpelstiltskin, or Captain Hook from Peter Pan; out of the old black and white, binary morality model of story, and turned them into interesting, dynamic, and even sympathetic characters. They’re given tortured back stories, explaining why they act villainy. We see them motivated not by greed, selfishness or vanity, but by things which we, ourselves, might find ourselves motivated by. We even see them side with the heroes whenever they feel the need. Which is actually more often than not.
But as a consequence, when we meet a real villain, one that we really have to hate, they end up taking off the brakes and turning back to the old tropes. But even then, they still avoid the binary morality trap, by giving the villain a back story we can understand. I mean, he was still an unsympathetic prick, but you understood why he was an unsympathetic prick. Even a stupid, selfish, amoral reason, is a reason.
But the important thing to note is that the old villains sided with the heroes to fight the real villains. Regina Mills, for instance, has had a very clear arc over the series, and is now one of the show’s most heroic characters, willing to give of herself for the sake of others. Or at the very least, for the sake of her son.
And her story’s been clear, and consistent. She worked hard to be good, and we all know why. She’s a character we can fully understand.
In contrast, another show with a former-villain turned supposed-good-guy has not been so consistent. It’s been more confusing, and bizarre, instead. And I’m starting to think he never went through any type of character evolution at all. Instead, he’s still the same douchebag he’s always been.