The Captain Hook Effect

"...but if you make a hot villain then people will get thirsty and demand redemptions and refuse to acknowledge their evil actions, no matter how despicable." - booksbymiranda

Billy Hargrove (single tear) from Stranger Things
Photo Cred: Netflix

We’ve seen it thousands of times. A new villain walks on screen. They’re hot. Like really, really hot. Depending on their age, maybe uncomfortably hot. But there they are, looking all perfect with their sweater vests, or their leather jackets, doing terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things. And we let them. We defend them. We want to see them redeemed. Nay, we demand they be redeemed or else. But as a creator, where does that leave you? On the one hand, we’re trying to send a message. We think we’re being pretty clear. Sometimes we even think we’re being so obvious it hurts, and yet, the audience sees the face and gets confused. Is that our fault? No.

We are not in any way, shape, or form responsible for the reader’s moral education. We are there to tell a story.

Yes, we still need to be aware of the lessons we are sending out into the universe, especially the subconscious ones, but where the viewer decides to land on the spectrum of right and wrong isn’t up to us. As a member of said audience, I think it’s about time someone reminded us all of that fact. Because we’re running the risk of getting some subpar entertainment in the very near future.

Loki Odinson tied up
Photo Cred - Thor: Ragnarok

In the case of Billy Hargrove, for example, it became obvious very quickly what was going to happen. He was the polar opposite of Steve Harrington, who had morphed into the surrogate dad to the main characters between seasons one and two. He was the human villain in a supernatural world. He was there for one specific purpose: to show us all that sometimes our worst nightmares aren’t made up of anything otherworldly at all. Sometimes the villains are real people with complex issues. They’ve suddenly found themselves capable of evil they never knew existed. Slap a baby-faced actor on that and you’re in trouble. You’re almost incapable of not wanting to save that character. You fantasize about running away together and rehabilitating them into something resembling a functioning adult, especially if you're a nurturing soul. That’s a dangerous precedent to set any way you cut it.

I mean, come on, we constantly tell people that if someone is picking on you it’s because they like you and then we get shocked when someone falls (and writes fanfiction) for the villian with serious psychological issues. Or worse, stays in a relationship with someone they definitely should not. Why exactly? It speaks to a much deeper problem, sure, but one we can address as both creators and viewers. But we do have to speak up.

The other side of the argument, especially for creators, is that if you make their outward ugliness match their inside ugliness, you are at risk of equating things people can’t change about themselves to evil. That’s not the point. Actually, that detracts from it. If we make it confusing for the viewer, that’s more realistic. Real bad guys aren’t walking around with obvious signs of vileness. They are one of us. That’s the scariest part. But if the stories we read, watch, and are entertained by don’t reflect the true nature of the world, we have another problem. The point of storytelling is to warn and to help. Will you ever have to stop your uncle from killing your father in order to take over your family fortune? Umm, I hope not. But if you do find yourself there, you’ll know what to do because of the countless tales that showed the hero navigating that very precarious situation. All writers are trying to convey emotions, though. In order to do that, there must be a villain, and sometimes they aren’t redeemable.

Killian Jones
Photo Cred: Once Upon A Time

The Captain Hook Effect is strong with this generation, but that’s okay. It makes traversing this landscape that much more exhilarating, for the reader and the creator. Just remember to see each character for what they are. At the end of the day, they’re make believe, and while we hope everyone has something to offset their wickedness, sometimes that’s not the case. No matter how attractive they might be.