Everybody Loves a Villain

Walter+White%2C+the+protagonist+of+AMC%27s+%22Breaking+Bad.%22

Photo courtesy of AMC Networks.

Walter White, the protagonist of AMC’s “Breaking Bad.”

Shay Martin, Staff Writer

A trope in fiction that has always interested me is the idea of a villain protagonist—a character the story revolves around, but what they do is morally wrong, at least in the eyes of the world around them. The story will still have an antagonist, who will likely be the real “hero” of the story. Some of the most famous examples include characters like American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, Breaking Bad’s Walter White, or even Thanos from the Avengers saga. While these characters are extremely well written, they are often misunderstood by some people. More often than not, I see people idolizing these characters, believing that their actions make them cool or relatable.

The misunderstanding of these types of characters, especially male ones, are often found among supports of men’s rights groups, such as MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way) or Incel (Involuntary Celibate) culture. These groups are often extremely anti-women and see the characters as a peak alpha male: they often aspire to be like them. Take, for example, Patrick Bateman. In American Psycho, Bateman is a successful, charismatic stockbroker but leads a secret second life as a serial killer. Because of his charisma and sexual prowess shown in the film, some people look up to him as the ideal personality. But obviously, Bateman is a film character, and, as the title suggests, a psychopath. Attempting to replicate his personality, in reality, definitively does not make someone appear more charismatic.

Light Yagami from the anime and manga series Death Note is another fictional serial killer. In the series, he discovers a notebook that gives him the power to kill any person he wants by just writing down their name, so long as he has their real name and face in mind. Once Light gets a hold of this power, he declares himself a god, and begins killing criminals and other people he determines to be “evil” in an attempt to form a new, perfect world. Light is undoubtedly the villain in his story, yet often in discussion boards about the series, you can find people saying things such as “You know, Light actually had the right idea, but he just went about it the wrong way.” This is just wrong on so many levels. Light’s perfect world would be perfect only in his own view. Mass killing anyone, even criminals, in order to make a “perfect world” is just genocide. 

Breaking Bad is called the greatest show on television more often than any other show put to air. With a 9.5 overall rating on IMDb, there is not a single episode to receive under a rating of 7. Because of this, many consider the series’s main character, Walter White, to be the finest example of a villain protagonist. He starts his methamphetamine empire simply to pay for medical costs for his cancer treatment, but slowly devolves into more and more of a monster, as he begins murdering and abusing people to get to the top. Obviously, he is a terrible person—but an excellent villain. There should be no reason anyone should look up to him, and yet people still do. They see him as someone who’s “sticking it to the man” and “forging his own path in life.” White is not a hero by any means. He’s just a maniac who kills people in order to sell more of the drug that does incredible harm to anyone who uses it. He is a textbook villain, with no redeeming qualities.

Protagonist villains are incredibly well written and are amazing tools to make someone see another side or viewpoint of the story, even if that viewpoint is not agreeable. However, certain types of people will take their existence too far and become inspired by the actions, no matter how evil, of the character that they see.