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The Top 9 Lessons That TV Villains Taught Us

Ty Sheedlo |
October 15, 2013 | 5:40 p.m. PDT


Despite what your mother might tell you, television can teach you a lot. Mr. Rogers taught us all to be a good neighbor, Michael Scott how to be a fun boss, and Lindsay Weir taught us how to survive in high school. But it’s not just the stars of the shows who teach us; we can learn a lot from their enemies and adversaries. Here of the Top 9 Lessons that TV Villains have taught us. 

1. Benjamin Linus - "Lost" - “Trust no one.”

Those who watched Lost while it aired first knew Michael Emerson as Henry Gale, a man who crashed on the island in a hot air balloon. The survivors of flight 815 (like the audience) were suspicious of his story. They interrogated him, and discovered his true identity was Benjamin Linus, mysterious leader of The Others. After his escape from captivity, Linus antagonized the survivors, forming alliances with anyone he could for his hidden agenda. He manipulated, betrayed, and used practically every character over the show’s six seasons. In the end, we learned that when Ben is involved, count on getting double crossed.

2. Gus Fring - "Breaking Bad" - “No half measures.”

Though it was Mike Ehrmantraut that coined the phrase, Gus was the method in action. Fring, owner and operator of fast food chain Los Pollos Hermanos, hid his meth empire right under the DEA’s noses. Fring constantly challenged Walter, from politely telling him he needed to find a more stable partner than Pinkman, to viscously cutting Victor’s throat as an example of his power. He was a foil in every way to Walt, leading him to become the Heisenberg we know and love to hate. With his explosive farewell in the Season 4 finale “Face-Off”, the audience learned just how far Walt would go to save his baby blue. 

3. Sylar - "Heroes" - “Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.”

Zachary Quinto was a stand-out as Gabriel Gray, a watchmaker turned super villain. He took on the name of Sylar, killing super-powered humans and dissecting their brains to see how they “tick.” Sylar can then replicate the power; by the end of the series, he has twenty-some odd abilities ranging from telekinesis to shapeshifting. But his power came with a price. By replicating others’ abilities, he has in a way, absorbed foreign DNA, and corrupted his own. He goes insane with the power, and like the quality of Heroes itself, became a shell of the amazing creation that he once was. 

4. Azula - "Avatar: The Last Airbender" - “Your friends are what make you strong.”

Princess of the Fire Nation and a prodigy in the art of Firebending, Azula is one of the coolest villainesses of all time. Her sociopathic rage and decent into insanity can all be traced back to one thing: her inability to form relationships. As a child she is jealous of her brother Zuko’s relationship with their mother. Her “friends” Mae and Ty Lee are less friends and more pawns that she controls as means to an end. When she fights with Zuko, Azula is a stronger adversary than the Fire Lord. But left alone, Team Avatar shows her that no ship is stronger than friendship.  

5. Joffrey Baratheon - "Game of Thrones" - “Be content with what you have.”

The sniveling son of Cersei and Jamie Lannister, Joffrey rules over Westeros with a paranoid, evil fist. Perhaps the most hated character on television right now, the young king is one part awkward teenager and sociopathic prostitute-killer. As the oldest grandson in the richest family in Westeros, he is used to getting what he wants by throwing tantrums. But this method won’t work for a king. He should treasure the throne for now, because given George R.R. Martin’s love of offing characters, he might not be King Joffrey much longer.  

6. Newman - "Seinfeld" - “Anyone can have an nemesis.”

Jerry Seinfeld isn’t a typical hero, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have a nemesis. Newman takes true glee in annoying Jerry and messing with his life. His schemes were ridiculous and hilarious, and made Newman a fan favorite. However if his plans befell us, we’d probably hate Newman as much as Jerry did. 

7. Mr. Burns - "The Simpsons" - “Money can’t buy you love.”

Charles Montgomery “Monty” Burns owns the Springfield Power Plant in the fictional town where America’s favorite family, the Simpsons, live. He is a vaudevillian villain, an ancient evil that audience’s love to see get his comeuppance. Along with his assistant Smithers, Burns constantly tries to increase his capital, because being a billionaire isn’t enough. And while it is fun to laugh at him, he is living (albeit fictional) proof that money isn’t always “excellent.” 

8. Angelus - "Buffy: The Vampire Slayer" - “Your best friend can become your worst enemy.”

I could chose any villain from Buffy for this list, because each is among the greatest of all time on television. Buffy is the show that coined the term “big bad,” meaning the primary antagonist for an arc of a TV show. And though Season 6 features this writer’s personal favorite, it is Season 2 that features the most shocking reversal of character. After a night of passion with her boyfriend Angel (a vampire with a soul), Buffy learns that a moment of absolute happiness would cause his soul to leave his body. So Angel goes back to his old ways as an evil blood-sucking fiend, and tries to open a portal to Hell. Now Buffy, in typical slayer fashion, must defeat her ex-boyfriend to save the world. Thank you Joss Whedon, for all of the tears. 

9. Plankton - "Spongebob Squarepants" - “F is for friends who do stuff together”

The tiny owner of the Krusty Krab’s rival, the Chum Bucket, Plankton has tried to steal the secret formula more times than we can count. Each time, Spongebob or Mr. Krabs dash his hopes of having a successful restaurant. He has been confused for a jelly bean, spit out of straws, and blown-up by his own robot. And he doesn’t really seem to have learnt anything from his past mistakes. The one lesson that the little green organism may have absorbed, was from his time pretending to be friends with Spongebob. Their catchy song about F.U.N. will at least forever be ingrained in any kid from the 90s heart.

Reach Staff Reporter Ty Sheedlo here



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