And so we reach the final curtain. We have followed the villain’s path through introductions, evolutions and action, and even the final defeat (if they are to be defeated). But there remains one final thing to go over, and that is the larger picture, the lasting impact, of the villain’s character and the actions that they have taken. In essence, we need to discuss the matter of consequence. And thus:
Consequences – Regardless of their final fate, the actions of the villain should have lasting consequences for the hero.
This entry ties into issues of meaning and value. The story means nothing really if the hero can just defeat the villain and go whistling into the sunset. There has to be some manner of lasting impact from the villain’s plans and schemes, that affects the hero directly, and the world of the story at large. As with anything, this can vary in size and scope, and should be either intrinsically tied to the villain’s own goals and motivations, or perhaps shine a further light on the character of the protagonist in some way: in other words, the consequences may be entirely hero driven or experienced, and be divorced from the villain’s directly (some examples below).
Once we turn the last page or see the credits roll or turn off the TV, we should feel as if this really was a credible threat and a potent force for nefarious ends, and that the hero(es) are lucky that such a threat was defeated when it was. The best way, the only way, to do that is to make sure that the consequences of whatever the antagonist has done are felt, by the characters in the story and by the audience as well.
The con man who tried to cheat the old lady out of her money might end up behind bars, but maybe he managed to siphon off some or all of her cash before he was caught. Or maybe things turned violent before the end, and the old lady ended up in hospital (or worse). Or maybe the detective who tracked the bad guy down got so wrapped up in the case that their own personal life suffered. The supervillain out to take over the world might be finished off with a quip and a wry smile from the spy, but they were presumably able to cause a few disasters before they went. Or maybe they offed the spy’s lover/family/beloved family pet before they were taken down. Or maybe the journey to stop their doomsday machinations leaves the spy cold, bereaved and suffering from a dose of PTSD. And lastly, the planet destroying galactic emperor might be overthrown by the plucky rebels, but they presumably left said galaxy a somewhat scarred place through aforementioned planet destruction. Or, before they were finally defeated, they managed to cut off the hero’s left hand as a final token of remembrance. Or the lowly farmhand turned galactic savior might stand unready to take the Emperor’s place, with a galaxy in ruins and a lot of people to please.
Let’s look at a few examples.
Our last trip around the villain roster wouldn’t be complete without looking at Vader one more time. In the context of A New Hope, Vader’s actions have lasting consequences in terms of his murder of Obi-Wan Kenobi, that denies Luke a teacher in the Force that’s immediately available necessitating him to travel to Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back. But A New Hope, like a lot of first entries in trilogies, has unique properties for this concept, as the villain hasn’t been completely defeated just yet: Vader will be back, and so in a way, the consequences we should be talking about are the consequences of Luke blowing up the Death Star. This action sets Vader on Luke’s trail specifically, leading to their Bespin confrontation in Episode V.
This guy is feeling the consequences.
Then there is Maul. Sidious’ first apprentice exits The Phantom Menace suddenly and with little fanfare, but he does at least leave some lasting consequences behind him, in the form of Qui-Gon Jinn’s death. It’s one of a dozen things in the saga that leads to the creation of Darth Vader, as in Jinn’s absence its Obi-Wan Kenobi who has to step up and be Anakin Skywalker’s master, and proves himself rather bad at it (a plot thread the prequels don’t do anywhere near enough to explore, but it is something they hint at). Aside from that, there really isn’t all that much to talk about with Maul: but for his killing Qui-Gon, he would have left the stage with little to mark him out long-term. The expanded universe adds additional consequences in the form of Maul’s unlikely survival and return to galactic affairs decades later, but I’m not counting that.
Maul. I just got it.
A better character but similar circumstances mark the long-term consequences of Skyfall’s antagonist. Silva is killed by Bond at the conclusion, before he can personally gain his twisted revenge on M, but its al for naught: M’s already been fatally wounded by one of Silva’s henchmen earlier in the finale, and expires in Bond’s arms. More than Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon though, is that M’s death is of a deeper consequence for Bond: the whole idea of the escape to the Skyfall estate was to keep M safe as much as to lure Silva out, and her death mark’s Bond’s failure in a way that Obi-Wan isn’t tarnished with. M’s non-literal ghost will haunt Bond into the events of Spectre, as will the general fallout from Skyfall, with Blofeld later revealed to have been bank-rolling Silva. Silva’s visage, among others, is used as a means to torment Bond in the finale of that film, a way of showcasing direct consequences of his actions.
In Quantum Of Solace, the long-term consequences of Green’s plots are more negligible. He was never really targeting Bond directly in the first place, and his plan to hold Bolivia’s water supply to ransom is never something the series is going to re-visit. Green is also largely disconnected from Quantum’s larger role in suborning Vesper Lynd as an agent provocateur within MI6, and his killing of Strawberry Fields – Quantum Of Solace’s throwaway Bond girl – isn’t something that will leave a lasting impression on the audience. In Spectre, Quantum is largely forgotten, subsumed into the larger parent organization, and Green’s visage barely makes an appearance in the same manner that Silva’s does, with Vesper substituting for the most part.
Still a stupid finale.
Our last entry wouldn’t be complete without one last look at Heath Ledger’s Joker. The obvious consequences for his role in The Dark Knight is his murder of Rachel Dawes, which emotionally cripples Bruce Wayne: following the conclusion of the film, he holes up in Wayne Manor, living as a recluse for several years, haunted by the memory of Rachel and his (mistaken) belief that they were about to end up together before his war on crime turned her into collateral damage. Batman’s withdrawal from the crime-fighting life is also a consequence of the Joker’s other major action that coincided with Rachel’s death – the flip side of the coin as it were – namely, the mutilation and insanity of Harvey Dent. His rampage at the end of the film leaves numerous people dead, including himself: Batman is forced to take the fall so that Harvey’s memory, and life work, will not be tarnished irrevocably, his action serving as the final defeat of the Joker. The Joker presumably is in “a padded cell forever”, but even ignoring his larger effect on Gotham, his actions have left Batman a shell of his former self by the time The Dark Knight Rises comes along.
Compare to another Joker, Jared Leto’s, in Suicide Squad. While not the primarily villain of David Ayers film, he’s still a very important antagonistic force in his own right. yet his impact on the narrative is a thing of diminishing returns. He “rescues” Harley Quinn from the titular team after the half-way point of the film, but this plot point is overturned rather quickly. In the final moments, he breaks into Belle Reeve and rescues her again, killing a few more people in the process. So, I guess the consequences of his actions are that the Suicide Squad are down a member for the next mission? That Joker and Harley will be able to terrorise the world again (if Batman doesn’t just catch them again)?
And what about some films I’ve watched, or re-watched, recently? 1994’s action game-changer Speed has Dennis Hopper in the antagonist chair as disgruntled and slightly mad/eccentric ex-cop Howard Payne, who has a penchant for blowing things up as he looks for a bump in his retirement fund. And while an entertaining bad guy, by the laws of standard action fare we don’t really get the feeling that there will be a lot of consequences from his actions. Sure. he’s blown a few people up throughout the course of the film, including poor Jeff Bridges, but Keanu Keeves and Sandra Bullock still get to go off into the sunset at the conclusion, in a final scene that is more overtly positive than negative about the experience that they have been through.
Pop quiz asshole.
Lastly, lets look at Kylo Ren from The Last Jedi though, as stated, we should be careful to acknowledge the perils of analyzing the middle thread of a three part story arc. There are major consequences aplenty arising from Ren’s actions, that will presumably be felt on into Episode IX: his assassination of Snoke that will possibly create a power vacuum; his assumption of the “Supreme Leader” title at the head of a resurgent First Order, but with no clear indication that he’s the right man for the job; his part, however tangentially, in the death of Luke Skywalker, whose physical impact on the universe is now ended; his unintentional pushing of Rey towards the Light Side, which refutes the very title of the film. Ren’s no nothing villain, and his deeds have repercussions that will be felt far and wide.
And that’s it then. In the coming weeks, I was thinking I might do some quick case-studies of villain characters that I haven’t previously discussed, going through my points beat by beat, to get an idea of my thinking towards the concept