Created By: ThePope on February 24, 2012 Last Edited By: morenohijazo on January 31, 2013
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Trapped in Villainy

A villain only performs villainous acts because, if they dont, theyll die.

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Trope
So you've got yourself an Anti-Villain. He's a pretty decent guy, and if you were on his side, you'd probably be best buds. And yet he constantly wants to kill you. Why? Can't you guys just talk it out? I mean, surely you can come to an understanding. What's the worst that can happen?

Oh wait, that's right: his boss will kill him.

See, many a Big Bad rules through fear, and that includes his subordinates. As such, they'll often threaten their Mooks, their Quirky Miniboss Squad, and even their Dragon, with death (or some other severe punishment) should they fail in their tasks. That doesn't seem too bad to a villain if they see themselves working for the Big Bad indefinitely, but if they have a Heel–Face Turn, a Heel Realization, or realize that they dug themselves too deep, what are they to do? Defy the Big Bad and get killed for it? Or keep on doing the villain's dirty work, even if that means just digging themselves even deeper into their disastrous situation? It's quite a conundrum.

Sometimes, a villain will find protection from the Big Bad (or those higher up on the food chain than him) by joining up with the good guys and using them as his shields. However, this isn't quite as easy if the villain is stuck in a hostage situation, or if their boss has the power to remotely kill off the former villain should they ever hesitate to perform the duties. But their strongest weapon is, again, fear. Even if it would be ridiculously easy to join the heroes (clinging onto their honor aside), sometimes a Big Bad will have such a strong grip of fear over his minions, that they don't even dare to try to betray their master.

The "oppressive force" in question doesn't always have to be a Big Bad, or even a villainous character. The former villain may have wielded a dark power, and failure to continue doing their job will cause the power to turn on them. This may be brought on by Horror Hunger, if an evil character has to feast on something...unpleasant, and after deciding he doesn't want to be evil anymore, will remain incapable of fighting his urges (at the risk of death).

See Anti-Villain for other forms of non-evil villainy. Compare with Punch Clock Villain, where the villain does their evil deeds just because it's a job, and hey, they have to be paid (but they don't feel anywhere near as much remorse for it). This often occurs due to a character who is Driven to Villainy, but then wants to get out. Contrast Just Following Orders, since that is used as an excuse after the fact, and in most cases they didn't have much of a problem following orders at the time.


Examples

Anime and Manga
  • Black Ghost in Cyborg 009 is fond of picking a hero, then going out and getting a nice and sympathetic guy (or tracking down the hero's loved ones if Black Ghost is feeling particularly mean), forcibly augmenting them with cybernetic parts, and ordering them to go kill said hero or the self-destruct mechanism in them will explode. He does this so often that it's practically his modus operandi.
  • Played with in Code Geass R2: after becoming The Emperor, Lelouch instructs his most faithful followers (particularly, Sayoko) to surrender to his enemies and to claim that they only obeyed him out of fear. But then again, he is not exactly a villain.

Film
  • In Blood for Dracula, we get perhaps the most sympathetic version of the count: a sickly, dying vampire that needs the blood of a virgin in order to avoid a very painful death. He considers this a curse and doesn't seem to enjoy killing.

Literature
  • Harry Potter has Draco Malfoy who, for the first five books, is just a nuisance for Harry to deal with at school. Once he joins the Death Eaters, however, things change. He's given the job to kill Dumbledore, which seems simple enough in theory. But once Draco realizes that he can't follow through with murder, he remains hesitant throughout the next book, and only stays in Voldemort's service because he's terrified of the man.
  • In The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom, as a prisoner, is interrogated by a Nazi, who at one point comments that he is "less free" than she is, and is generally shown to be quite human but forced into what he does by his superiors.
  • Murtagh in the Inheritance Cycle.

Live-Action TV
  • In an episode of Bones the Perp/Victim of the Week was strapped into a bomb vest and forced to rob a bank or else the bomb would be set off.
  • Rebecca in Burn Notice. The only reason she was working for Anson was because he had her brother captive.

Mythology and Folk-Tales
  • Vampires have to drink blood, either killing the victim outright or Turning their victim, like it or not or they starve to death.

Tabletop Games
  • Forgotten Realms: Prior to his apotheosis, the mercenary Kelemvor Lyonsbane would transform into a dangerous werepanther due to a family curse if he did something out of kindness.

Theater

Video Games
  • Dr. Cossack from Mega Man 4. Sure, he's not threatened to death, but what about his daughter?
  • Starcraft II: It's revealed at one point that Tychus Findlay's armor is both unremoveable and can be remotely activated to kill him. So at the climax, he's about to shoot the now deinfested Kerrigan or be killed by Mengsk (it's the only reason he was released from prison in the first place. Raynor shoots him.
  • The Reapers in The World Ends with You are mostly Punch Clock Villains, but they do point out that if they don't erase players, then they get erased instead.
  • During the events of Soul Calibur IV, Sophitia Alexandra is threatened with the death of her daughter Pyrrha by the Soul Edge, and ends up fighting anyone who would destroy it.

Web Comics
  • In Dragon Ball Multiverse, the novelization implies this is pretty much the only reason why Bujin still hangs out with Bokack.

Western Animation
  • In The Dreamstone most of the Urpneys are impersonal dim wits who only follow Zordrak's orders because of his tendency to turn Mooks into stone or feed them to his carnivorous pets should they annoy him. Granted it's not so much they have a conscience as much as they'd just prefer not to be sent out on dangerous missions with ridiculous gadgets in tow to steal from angry Noops and Wuts.
  • In the 2002 version of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Skeletor traps He-Man with a gem that forces him to be evil or else die. The heroes eventually reverse-engineers this to get Skeletor to only be good, but in the end, both devices break, as nothing would really change from this.
  • In the first season finale of Teen Titans, Slade forces Robin to become his apprentice and turn on his comrades, or else they will die.
  • In Adventure Time episode "Jake vs. Me-Mow", Me-Mow forces Jake into killing Wildberry Princess with the threat of death.

Real Life
Community Feedback Replies: 48
  • February 24, 2012
    Speedball
    This might overlap too much with Horror Hunger, but I like the distinction.
  • February 24, 2012
    ThePope
    Noted in the description.
  • February 25, 2012
    ZombieAladdin
    Anime And Manga: Black Ghost in Cyborg 009 is fond of picking a hero, getting a nice and sympathetic guy (or tracking down his or her loved ones if Black Ghost is feeling particularly mean), forcibly augmenting them with cybernetic parts, and ordering them to go kill said hero or the self-destruct mechanism in them will explode. He does this so often that it's practically his modus operandi.
  • February 25, 2012
    Sackett
    Replaced "sanction" with "protection" in the description. I'm sure the word you meant was "sanctuary" but that word is a bit too precise for the meaning you want.
  • February 25, 2012
    phantomreader42
    There's a Gilbert And Sullivan opera with this premise. I think Ruddigore? There's a baron who is curse so that he has to commit a crime daily or die. The resolution is he reasons that, by the terms of the curse, if he refuses to commit a crime, he is courting death by his own act, that is to say, attempting suicide. But attempting suicide is a crime. So he fulfils the terms of the curse by refusing to do so.
  • February 26, 2012
    Damr1990
  • February 27, 2012
    Arivne
    ^^ You are correct, it was Ruddigore.
  • February 27, 2012
    Stratadrake
    Needs A Better Title. I get that "Food chain" is being used metaphorically here, but that pre-existing term is too well-entrenched in its established meaning.
  • February 28, 2012
    ThePope
    What would you suggest, then?
  • February 28, 2012
    Otakukun
  • February 28, 2012
    ThePope
    Maybe Trapped in the Sorting Algorithm of Evil? Or is that too much of a mouthful?
  • February 29, 2012
    Bisected8
  • February 29, 2012
    Generality
    Or something as simple as Unwilling Villain?
  • February 29, 2012
    ThePope
    Unwillin' Villain could be a pretty funny play on words.

    Though Unwilling Villain is a bit too vague.
  • March 1, 2012
    moriwen
    In The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom, as a prisoner, is interrogated by a Nazi, who at one point comments that he is "less free" than she is, and is generally shown to be quite human but forced into what he does by his superiors. (Overlaps with the Real Life Nazi example, and is also a literature example.)
  • March 1, 2012
    JonnyB
    The movie Crank might be this. The protagonist has to keep moving and doing things that keep his adrenaline flowing - often very illegal things - because if his heart rate slows to normal, he will die.
  • March 1, 2012
    Generality
    ^ I think that because he is, at least nominally, the hero of the film, it doesn't count.
  • March 2, 2012
    ThePope
    That new title any better?
  • March 2, 2012
    Stratadrake
    Eh, no. Maybe "Food Chain Of Evil", but not "Evil Food Chain".

    ...Except that FCOE is already something else.
  • March 12, 2012
    ThePope
    Tried changing the title.
  • August 26, 2012
    morenohijazo
    In Dragon Ball Multiverse, the novelization implies this is pretty much the only reason why Bujin still hangs out with Bokack.
  • August 26, 2012
    Psi001
    • In The Dreamstone most of the Urpneys are impersonal dim wits who only follow Zordrak's orders because of his tendency to turn Mooks into stone or feed them to his carnivorous pets should they annoy him. Granted it's not so much they have a conscience as much as they'd just prefer not to be sent out on dangerous missions with ridiculous gadgets in tow to steal from angry Noops and Wuts.
  • August 27, 2012
    captainsandwich
    Rodger from American Dad gets sick unless he is a jerk, they didn't exactly explore the mechanics of this, so we arn't sure of how big of a jerk he needs to be in order to be healthy. He is a Heroic Comedic Sociopath but i think that is close enough. I believe Dark Eldar from Warhammer40k are like this, but it should be noted, its completely the fault of their wickedness that they got in that situation in the first place, now its just enforced by a evil god that loves consuming their souls (note said god isn't their boss). Also is Les Collaborateurs related? If this trope is exclusively about a boss pressing minions into evil, the trope name should be more exclusive.
  • August 27, 2012
    Koveras
    • Played with in Code Geass R2: after becoming The Emperor, Lelouch instructs his most faithful followers (particularly, Sayoko) to surrender to his enemies and to claim that they only obeyed him out of fear. But then again, he is not exactly a villain.
  • August 27, 2012
    Psi001
    ^^ Roger is hard to define, since, that one episode aside, he still has severe apathy issues and is even a self proclaimed sociopath. Even if he didn't have to be a jerk, he likely still would for kicks.
  • August 27, 2012
    MrRuano
    In the 2002 version of He Man And The Masters Of The Universe, Skeletor traps He-Man with a gem that forces him to be evil or else die. The heroes eventually reverse-engineers this to get Skeletor to only be good, but in the end, both devices break, as nothing would really change from this.
  • August 27, 2012
    azul120
    • In the first season finale of Teen Titans, Slade forces Robin to become his apprentice and turn on his comrades, or else they will die.
    • In Adventure Time episode "Jake vs. Me-Mow", Me-Mow forces Jake into killing Wildberry Princess with the threat of death.
  • August 27, 2012
    ThreeferFAQMinorityChick
  • August 28, 2012
    morenohijazo
    What about Rebecca in Burn Notice? The only reason she was working for Anson was because he had her brother captive.
  • September 30, 2012
    morenohijazo
    @Psi001 So, what should we do with Roger?
  • September 30, 2012
    Psi001
    • Dunno, maybe a Played With example, he's forced into villainy, but at the same time, he's a sociopathic Jerk Ass that enjoys most of it anyway.
  • October 2, 2012
    dvorak
    Mythology and Folk-Tales
    • Vampires have to drink blood, either killing the victim outright or Turning their victim, like it or not or they starve to death.
  • October 3, 2012
    GeminiSparkSP
    What about Dr. Cossack from Megaman 4? Sure, he's not threatened to death, but what about his daughter?
  • October 9, 2012
    FalconPain
    The He-Man example is correct but chronologically backwards: Skeletor put the "make evil" harness on He-Man well after Man-At-Arms had put the "make good" belt on Skeletor. Also, it's not quite an example, as He-Man literally forces the harness off himself through his sheer goodness and never actually has to do anything evil; Skeletor was forced to be good for an entire act.
  • October 9, 2012
    JohnDiFool
    Wasn't this the case with some people in the Saw films?
  • October 9, 2012
    morenohijazo
    ^^ So, it's correct or not? :-(
  • October 9, 2012
    FalconPain
    In hindsight, I'd have to say no, as while the plot potential was there, He-Man didn't do a single evil act.
  • October 9, 2012
    StarSword
    I like Unwillin' Villain for the title.

    Tabletop Games
    • Forgotten Realms: Prior to his apotheosis, the mercenary Kelemvor Lyonsbane would transform into a dangerous werepanther due to a family curse if he did something out of kindness.
  • October 11, 2012
    AP
    Film example:

    • In Blood For Dracula, we get perhaps the most sympathetic version of the count: a sickly, dying vampire that needs the blood of a virgin in order to avoid a very painful death. He considers this a curse and doesn't seem to enjoy killing.
  • October 11, 2012
    Chabal2
    Starcraft II: It's revealed at one point that Tychus Findlay's armor is both unremoveable and can be remotely activated to kill him. So at the climax, he's about to shoot the now deinfested Kerrigan or be killed by Mengsk (it's the only reason he was released from prison in the first place. Raynor shoots him.
  • October 11, 2012
    Chernoskill
    " Wasn't this the case with some people in the Saw films? "

    I'd say so, yes.
  • January 10, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In an episode of Bones the Perp/Victim Of The Week was strapped into a bomb vest and forced to rob a bank or else the bomb would be set off.
  • January 23, 2013
    Desertopa
    While I'd hate for the YKTTW comments to devolve into a discussion of politics, I find the claim that "If the Nazi Party was comprised only of people who whole-heartedly believed in their doctrines, and weren't there solely because they were afraid they, or their friends and family by relation, would be axed, Hitler's "army" would be more like a small hate group comprised of just a few hundred people." pretty unlikely, given that Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, which contains a passage stating that if 12,000-15,000 Jews were gassed, then "the sacrifice of millions of soldiers would not have been in vain," before being elected. Hitler may not have campaigned on a platform of committing racial extermination, but his doctrines of racial superiority and conflict were very open prior to his election.

    Stalin's subordinates are more likely to be examples, since unlike Hitler he was notorious for having people who failed or displeased him purged, not just people who belonged to "enemy" groups as Hitler did.
  • January 23, 2013
    Chernoskill
    I have to agree, the Nazi Party example is a bad one, especialy without any kind of hard numbers. Even if we disregard Mein Kampf, it's still not feasible to say that most people were members solely beause of fear of repurcussion. Nazi Membership was basically a requiredment for reaching higher circles in society, so even if some didn't wholeheartedly agree with the Nazi leadership's policies, they still didn't let get in the way of gaining personal advantages.
  • January 30, 2013
    MokonaZero
    In Blaz Blue Hazama will actually disappear if people didn't hate him so much although he has a backup plan to stop that. Although, he actually enjoys being evil, so in a sense he'd probably still be evil otherwise.
  • January 30, 2013
    azul120
    • During the events of Soul Calibur IV, Sophitia Alexandra is threatened with the death of her daughter Pyrrha by the Soul Edge, and ends up fighting anyone who would destroy it.
  • January 31, 2013
    morenohijazo
    ^^ Not sure if that counts. What do you think, people?
  • January 31, 2013
    Desertopa
    I'd say no. A character with a Bad Boss who doesn't want to do evil things but won't risk the repercussions of defying authority is Trapped In Villainy. A character with a Bad Boss who's also Axe Crazy of their own initiative is not.

    Last hat added.
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