In alot of stories there is something to cause conflict, we usually call this something a villain. The villain exists because let’s face it a story would be as dull as dirt with just main protagonists. Granted a story doesn’t need a villain gloating twirling his evil mustache at the hero. Sometimes the conflict is something beyond anyone’s control, but today we will be talking of how in many works of fiction villains can be defeated in a variety of ways. Sometimes fans are satisfied, sometimes they’re not. Note I will be primarily covering select solutions to villains from works of fiction I’ve seen or read or watched, if you wish to counter argue some points you are welcomed to do so in a respectful way.
Spoilers for Many Works of Fiction, gosh I gotta find a way to write these things without spoilers.
Kill the Son of a Bitch!
That’s right, sometimes the solution to all of the conflict it for the hero to kill our antagonist! We see this action frequently in fiction these days where a villain is so bad they just need to be killed. The hero either kills out of necessity of a final solution unwillingly, because it needs to be done, or just because the villain needs to die.
This is somewhat common in anime and manga; in the Sailor Moon manga our heroines kill nearly all the villains they run into without any hesitation or second thought to the idea of killing someone because they are a bad person. I had an issue with this problem since when I got to read the Sailor Moon manga I had already watched the anime where alot of these villains didn’t die. This is probably so since Naoko Takuichi had to continue to get to the main plot of the story and didn’t have time to develop most of her villains and needed a reason for Sailor Moon to show off her fancy new powers for the new arc.
Both the anime and manga of Dragon Ball featured Goku and friends usually kill the antagonists they run into because it was their only resort after Piccolo and Goku fought in the world martial arts tournament (so many beings in that fictional universe that have the power to destroy planets with ease). In this situation though it’s because said villains are threatening the planet earth on a regular basis and don’t seem to think killing innocent lives is a bad thing.
This isn’t something restricted to just anime and manga; Disney is guilty of this too, just not too often. In Sleeping Beauty the good faries having had enough of Maleficent screwing around with them and ruining their best flowers take Prince Edward and show the bitch and her minions who’s boss. They turn her beloved pet crow to stone and enchant a sword that Edward throws into Maleficent’s heart killing her efficiently. Even in her version of the story Maleficent is pushed far enough that she has to kill her enemy for the greater good.
There is also Mulan, while she technically isn’t a princess (she only hugged the emperor of China), she has the highest headcount of any of her princess counterparts committing mass genocide against the Han via avalanche and launching a giant firework/rocket into the leader of the Han. Tiana kills Dr.Facilier and while not exclusively Disney, Dorothy Gale did kill two witches, both times as accidents though. Same for her book counterpart. Same goes for Anastasia who unlike the previous girls in this paragraph kills her foe in cold blood.
Back to television this is very common on kids tv; most seasons of Power Rangers have the Rangers kill the main antagonist because they’re evil. Not all antagonists are killed, but I’ll get to that later. So far all three seasons of Agents of Shield have had to resort to killing the antagonist of the season because they’re that insane. And finally on Doctor Who, while the Doctor himself has a rule set for himself that he won’t kill an enemy (post reboot anyways), that doesn’t mean his companions are always as compassionate/willing to follow his set of rules.
Finally in literature it is a common theme in dystopia novels that the final solution to defeating an enemy is through killing. In The Hunger Games series it appears Katniss’ solution to the issues in Panem is to kill president Snow, however rather than killing THAT antagonist, Katniss chooses to kill president Coin realizing she’s just as evil (possibly more evil) and lacking in compassion as Snow.
In contrast with above, the heroines of The Lunar Chronicles only choose to kill Queen Levana because she’s that insane, has the power to control people against their will, and is just that much of a jerk to make people miserable. She even tries to pull the compassion card with Cinder by just asking the lead heroin to let her “just be pretty again” before attacking Cinder in a rare moment of gullibleness.
Then there’s The Chronicles of Narna where despite being Christian literature many foes are killed. Not in cold blood though, but rather because the enemies are just variations of Satan. The final book in the series does have all the remaining antagonists and grey area entities fates left ambiguous (probably in hell) and in a unique twist all of the protagonists died.
God/Nature/Gravity/Someone Else Does the Dirty Work
This is more common in children’s entertainment where it’s not such a good thing to have the protagonist kill, so why not have nature or gravity do the dirty work for them? This is very common in works of Disney so I won’t list any specific movies from Disney where this happens.
Outside of Disney this is fairly rare, but since it wasn’t always a Disney franchise there is the original Star Wars trilogy. Luke goes on a mission to try to redeem his dad and has to deal with the constant sarcasm of Emperor Palpatine, Anakin reawakens in Vader and kills Palpatine for Luke leaving the young Jedi fairly pure still.
The first few seasons of Power Rangers actually has all the villains constantly trying to one up each other rather than having the rangers kill the main antagonists. Supposedly had the franchise not been a success, actress Machiko Soga would have been flown to California from Japan so they could film the five rangers placing her and her team back into a dumpster and sending her back to space.
While the antagonist doesn’t have to necessarily be killed for this solution, it is a good way to keep the protagonist from getting their hands dirty and keeping a fairly clean image and my second least favorite approach to the problem.
The Nonviolent Solution and Possible Redemption
Continuing with Power Rangers in what was thought to be their final season Power Rangers in Space where all hope is lost in the universe and five Rangers on earth and other rangers teams/allies fighting a losing galaxy wide battle against the Alliance of Evil consisting of all their previous foes teaming up together and doing planet wide attacks rather than sending one monster at a time. Zordon orders Andross the red ranger in this hopeless moment to kill him thus reducing nearly all the villains to ashes and redeeming villains such as Rita, Zed, Divatox, and even bringing Andross’ sister back from the dead.
Power Rangers Time Force went a step further and rather than killing the monster of the week, the rangers arrested them and froze them to be imprisoned. It is in the finale that the main villain Ransik chooses to surrender to the rangers in a moment of realization at the evil he has caused after nearly killing his daughter Nadira. Nadira had previously turned against her father after being told by a friend to break the cycle of hate that had caused the events of the season (oh and helping a woman give birth when she went into labor when Nadira was robbing a store). Ransik chooses to surrender to the rangers and be arrested.
As stated above in the Sailor Moon anime many villains and antagonists are in fact still alive because Usagi and friends treasure life and the power of love and friendship is that strong that all enemies can be redeemed. Didn’t work for Nephrite though. The French/Korean children’s show Miraculous LadyBug actually runs on this where on a weekly basis the protagonist Ladybug has to use her Lucky Charm powers to solve problems without killing any of the antagonists.
This is also a major issue with the children’s cartoons Avatar The Last Air Bender and Avatar the Legend of Korra where both incarnations of the Avatar choose not to kill the final antagonist. For Aang in the final episodes of the series he is conflicted by his personal belief that killing is wrong despite the past Avatar incarnations saying that it was his duty to kill Fire Lord Ozai belief’s be damned. However a new option is presented and Aang jumps at that opportunity to save the day. In Legend of Korra, the lead heroin does kill one of her adversaries, but admits she regrets that there was no way for her to save him. In her series finale she approaches Kuvira and rather than using force against her talks her down into surrendering. Kuvira does not get off easy with Korra’s friends though.
Finally there’s the Twilight saga, as bad as the series is I do respect it for one reason. Rather than going for the bloody intense fight that Stephenie Meyer had been building up to in the final book Breaking Dawn our author chooses to have our protagonists and antagonists not go into battle with one another.
I will say that despite how anticlimactic this solution is at times, this is my preferred solution to a story since in real life (joking aside with my friends) I am a pacifist and I’m not particularly fond of violent solutions to problems.
Why Does it Matter?
Fifteen years ago today there was an event that affected people around the world and changed the world we live in. Where lives were lost and people felt emotions from sorrow to anger. It was the day my dad took me aside and decided to take the religion he had chosen for me more seriously by telling me that the people responsible for so much death were bad people, but that not all the people of the Islamic religion were responsible for all the potential days meant to be lived by those people lost.
Ten years later on May 2nd 2011 Osama Bin Ladin had been killed. I remember that day crying because I realized something horrible. That in the act of him being killed by US soldiers and celebrating his death that we had sunken to the level of evil (conspiracy theories aside (all conspiracy theory comments will be deleted btw)) needed to claim so many lives. I know not all of the world felt joy in his death, but it felt very wrong to me at that moment and even now that it had to be the final solution to a problem that still hasn’t been fixed as a result in today’s world.
To finish this, I’ll leave a quote from Fred Rogers; When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look at the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”