Trapped in Villainy
A villain only performs villainous acts because, if they dont, theyll die.
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.
ExamplesAnime 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Vampires have to drink blood, either killing the victim outright or Turning their victim, like it or not or they starve to death.
- 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.
- There's a Gilbert and Sullivan opera with this premise, "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.
- 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.
- In Dragon Ball Multiverse, the novelization implies this is pretty much the only reason why Bujin still hangs out with Bokack.
- 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.
- Stalin's subordinates. He was notorious for having people who failed or displeased him purged, not just people who belonged to "enemy" groups as Hitler did.
Hello, Unknown Troper. You'll need to get known to lend a hand here.