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Arc Villain
The Super Trope to Filler Villain and Starter Villain, an Arc Villain serves as the Big Bad for one Story Arc, having an Evil Plan, The Dragon, and Mooks with which to threaten Our Heroes. After that, though, he's killed off, sent into a Humiliation Conga, or makes a Heel-Face Turn, and Our Heroes go on to unrelated adventures and the next arc.

There's no Man Behind the Man for the Arc Villain and no greater threat inspiring him, and he's certainly not something so minor as a Monster of the Week. At the same time, he isn't really the ultimate Big Bad of the series, either, since his defeat doesn't mark the end of the plot - or even the end of the hero's character arc. He is only the in-universe Big Bad for a limited time, after which someone new takes over the position.

Isn't the same as the situation where a character is intended as the ultimate Big Bad, but a Post Script Season (or sequel) starts an entire new story. In fact, Arc Villains are often used as middle rungs on the Sorting Algorithm of Evil.

Compare Big Bad Wannabe. Contrast Disc One Final Boss and Interim Villain.

Examples

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     Anime and Manga  

     Comics  
  • In most contemporary Super Hero comics, which are written with collected editions in mind, this has effectively replaced the older villain-of-the-month trope.
  • The longer, four-issue story arcs of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW) each have their own villain:
    • The "Return of Queen Chrysalis" arc (issues 1-4) has the titular Changeling Queen.
    • The "Nightmare Forces" arc (issues 5-8) has the new Nightmare Moon, Rarity.
    • The "Reflections" arc (issues 17-20) has the Mirror Universe versions of Celestia and Luna.

     Fan Fiction  

     Film  
  • The SPECTRE organization for the Connery and Lazenby eras of the James Bond series, with the exception of Goldfinger.
    • Likewise, the Quantum organization for the Craig-era films Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

     Literature  
  • Newsflesh:
    • In Feed it was Gov. David Tate
    • In Deadline it was Dr. Joseph Wynne.
  • Nicodemus in The Dresden Files. He's one of the few villains who has so far remained unconnected with the Black Council.
  • The New Jedi Order has several of these, which makes sense when one considers that the series is largely composed of linked duologies and trilogies that together tell a Myth Arc. The most prominent are Shedao Shai from the Dark Tide duology, Lord Nyax and Czulkang Lah from the Enemy Lines duology (each holding down their own half of the story arc), and B'Shith Vorrik from the Force Heretic trilogy.
  • The Artemis Fowl series has one every second book. There's Artemis himself in the first book, John Spiro in book 3, Leo Abbot in book 5, and Turnball Root in book 7. Opal Koboi is a recurring villain in the other books, though she's part of a Big Bad Duumvirate with Briar Cudgeon in book 2.
  • Daughter of the Lioness has Bronau as the main antagonist for the first book. His recklessness first indirectly endangers the Balitangs (and makes their exile among the raka less easy thanks to his flagrant racism), then through his smugly inept plan to seize the throne through Sarai. Book two is about the wider rebellion throughout the Isles.

     Live Action TV  
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: This show is famous for having one Big Bad per seasonal arc: the Master, Angelus, Mayor Wilkins, Adam, Glory, the Trio, and the First Evil.
  • Almost every season of Dexter has involved some kind of Arc Villain; the Ice Truck Killer in the first season and the Trinity Killer in the fourth season are the two that fit this trope the best.
  • Nimueh from the first series of Merlin.
  • NCIS has a fair few of these, although there aren't excessive numbers of them; perhaps 1 every season or two. Notable Arc Villains include Ari Haswari for seasons 1, 2 and 3, La Grenouille for season 4 and Colonel Bell for season 7.
  • 24 has quite a few of these: Victor Drazen for season 1, Stephen Saunders for season 3, Habib Marwan for season 4, and Alan Wilson for season 7. The others don't technically count as seasons 2 and 5 had the Big Bad working for someone else, while seasons 6 and 8 moreso featured a Big Bad Ensemble. Season 5's Big Bad went on to also later be part of 8's ensemble.
  • The Disney Zorro series was almost unique among 1950s television by using an arc-based plot format; following the defeat of Capitan Monistario halfway through the first season, a brief breather was followed by the arrival of "The Eagle", who drove most of the plot for the second half of the season. The second season reverted to a more episodic format.
  • Luther was episodic for its first series, but its second one introduced an arc driven format that would persist until its end. In Series 2, London Gangster Baba served as The Big Bad of the series, while serial killers Cameron Pell and Robert & Nicholas Millberry served as the villains of its first and second arcs (Luther would investigate their cases on the job, while dealing with Baba off the job). In Series 3, Internal Affairs officer George Stark was the series' driving antagonist, while the Shoreditch Creeper and Tom Marwood acted as the villains of its first and second arcs.
  • Johnny Crowder, Boyd's bitter, jealous cousin, was one of these for the first part of Justified's fifth season. Having been a recurring cast member in the previous four seasons, Johnny returned as The Man Behind the Man to many of Boyd's problems at the start of Season 5. He masterminded an attack on a heroin shipment in Episode 2, seized control of Hotrod Dunham's organization in Episode 5, and came gunning for Boyd in Episode 7, where he was promptly taken down,, leaving the rest of the season open for bigger players with connections to both Boyd and s.
  • The CSI Crime Scene Investigation franchise has had several examples (most of them Serial Killers and/or users of Criminal Mind Games). Notable examples include Paul Millander, the Blue Paint Killer, the Miniature Killer and "Dr Jekyll" from "The Mothership", the Mala Noche cartel from "CSI: Miami" and the Cabbie Killer and Shane Casey from "CSI: NY".
  • Hannibal has Serial Killer Garrett Jacob Hobbs as the Arc Villain of Season One. Though Hobbs dies in episode one, a good deal of both Will and Abigail's storylines and conflicts can be traced back to him, thanks to Will's guilt over killing Hobbs and Abigail's survivor's guilt due Hobbs killing eight teenage girls as substitute for her, respectively.
    • Mason Verger acts as Arc Villain for the latter half of season 2. Will and Hannibal's desire to help Margot, Mason's abused sister, places both in the line of Mason's "hobbies."
  • Like CSI, Bones has its own ensemble of Serial Killers, each with a specific modus operandi: Howard Epps, The Gormogon, The Gravedigger, Jacob Broadsky and Christopher Pelant.
  • Criminal Minds had George "The Boston Reaper" Foyet, an unbelievably horrifying Serial Killer even for this show who becomes obsessed with Agent Hotchner after the latter refuses to make a deal with him: Hotchner lets Foyet go free, and Foyet stops killing. Hotch having more spine than Foyet thought he would causes Foyet to switch his target from "anyone who gets in my way" to Hotch in particular.
  • Once Upon a Time uses this trope a lot.
    • Season 1: Regina and Rumplestiltskin in a Big Bad Ensemble. They're still a big part of the show, just not as villains.
    • Season 2: Cora as the Big Bad for most of the season, replaced by Greg and Tamara in the last few episodes.
    • Season 3A: Peter Pan as the Big Bad.
    • Season 3B: The Wicked Witch of the West as the Big Bad.

     Video Games  
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, Keeper Zathrian is the Arc Villain of the Nature of the Beast quest and Uldred is the Arc Villain of the Broken Circle quest, though the other major quests track back to either Loghain or the Archdemon.
  • Azala in Chrono Trigger.
  • While Mass Effect doesn't exactly have "Arcs" per say, it's worth noting that many of its side villains are standalone, found in single missions or 'campaigns' of missions, where a group of sidequests make up a single story. In the sequel, most of them are antagonists to a certain squadmate on a personal level, and so act as the main villain of that character's loyalty mission. Notable examples include Major Kyle, Helena Blake, and Lord Darius in the first game and Gatatog Uvenk, Weyrloc Guld, Tarak, Enyala, and Donovan Hock in the second game.
  • Used fairly commonly in World of Warcraft. VanCleef is behind the low-level Defias arc, Naralex's Nightmare and the Crone of the Kraul are responsible for The Barrens' arcs, and following their father's (retconned out of continuity) death, the Big Bad Duumvirate of Onyxia and Nefarian are behind quite a lot of the rest of the plot.
  • Grubba in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door's Chapter 3. He's the only Chapter Boss never to come in contact with one of the major villains, if you count the original purpose of Smorg as canon.
  • Kid Icarus: Uprising, with its gameplay divided into chapters, has several Arc Villains. Medusa for Chapters 1-9, Viridi for Chapters 11-14, The Aurum for Chapters 15-17, The Chaos Kin for Chapters 18-21, and Hades for Chapters 10, 22-25, and while he serves as the overriding villain for the whole game, he doesn't become a direct threat until those chapters.
  • The Last of Us seems to have this in the form of a major threat persistent through each chapter, who is eventually faced as the boss near the end of it. You have, for each arc from start to finish: the dodgy arms dealer Robert from the Escape from Boston arc, the Bloater from the Bill's Town arc, the Looter's Humvee from the Pittsburgh arc, the cannibal paedophile David from the Winter Resort arc, and Marlene for the Jackson City arc.
  • Ōkami has three major villains for the three main areas.
    • Orochi for the Kamiki Village arc.
    • Ninetails for the Ryoshima Coast arc.
    • Lechku and Nechku for the Kamui arc.

     Webcomics  
  • Damien in El Goonish Shive.
  • In The Order of the Stick, the main villain is Xykon the sorceror, but there are several lesser antagonists:
    • Daimyo Kubota is a villain in Azure City (and in exile) in the No Cure for the Paladin Blues and Don't Split the Party story arcs.
    • Bozzok is the leader of the Greysky City Thieves' Guild and the villain from Haley, Celia, and Belkar's perspectives in Don't Split the Party.
    • General Tarquin is only an Arc Villain in the Empire of Blood story, but he thinks he's the Big Bad and his son is The Hero.
  • Loan Shark Kim Lurker from Tower of God in the first "episode"note  of season two.
  • Inverloch has Berard for the main antagonist for the first three volumes. He has nothing to do with Kayn'dar, but he stalks the party while they look for clues about Kayn'dar. After he kidnaps Acheron for a Forced Prize Fight, Varden kills him and the story turns completely to Kayn'dar.

     Web Original  
  • In Atop the Fourth Wall, there usually is one major villain per story arc:
    • Mechakara in "His Heart is Steel".
    • Dr. Linksano in "The Other Insano".
    • Lord Vyce in "All That He Sees, He Conquers".
    • The Entity in "A Piece of the World is Missing".
    • Lord Vyce again in "His Blue Soul".
    • The "Guns and Sorcery" story arc is where the main villain is harder to place. Holokara serves as the main antagonist for the first half of the arc, the Gunslinger is the major antagonist for most of the story and Dr. Insano just steals the show by the end of the story arc.
    • Lord Vyce for a third time in "Ghost of the Machine".

     Western Animation  
  • Commander/Admiral Zhao from Avatar: The Last Airbender was part of a Big Bad Ensemble with Zuko in the first season, but he was barely even mentioned following that. In the next season, the most we have is that he was the first that entered the library made by Wan Shi Tong, which led to...problems when the Five-Man Band showed up in it.
    • Long Feng in the latter half of the second season as well, who ends up making the mistake of getting into a Big Bad Duumvirate with Princess Azula.
    • The Legend of Korra will have one per story arc.
      • Book 1: Amon/ Noatok
      • Book 2: Unalaq and Vaatu
      • Book 3: Zaheer and the Red Lotus
  • Ben 10: Omniverse
    • Arc 1: Khyber (working for Malware, the real villain)
    • Arc 2: Malware
    • Arc 3: The Incurseans
    • Arc 4: Albedo
    • Arc 5: Zs'skayr and Lord Transyl
  • Legends Of Chima:
    • Team of Cragger and Crooler while Crooler is manipulating Cragger with the Persuader Plants
    • Worriz after Crooler breaks the Crocs' pact with the Wolves, with Crooler trying to regain lost footing
    • Cragger after he's corrupted by the Fog of Destiny and has Crooler imprisoned
    • Team of Scorm and Spinlyn
    • Sir Fangar
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic uses a different villain for its multi-part episodes barring the opening of season 4:
  • The Spectacular Spider-Man was divided into 3-4 episode arcs. Though Tombstone and Norman Osborn vied for the position of Big Bad of the overall series, each arc had its own central villain(s):
    • Arc 1: The Lizard
    • Arc 2: Tombstone
    • Arc 3: Green Goblin
    • Arc 4: The symbiote, ultimately leading into Venom
    • Arc 5: The Master Planner, aka Doc Ock
    • Arc 6: Venom
    • Arc 7: Tombstone, Doc Ock, and Silvermane in an Evil Versus Evil scenario, though it turns out they were all being played by the Goblin
    • Arc 8: Green Goblin ultimately revealed to be Norman Osborn
  • Since Star Wars: The Clone Wars follows an anthology-format of loosely connected Story Arcs, most of the villains have role only in their own arcs, and never show up again. Also an interesting case in that, a number of them are small scale dragons to Dooku, instead of independent antagonists with an agenda of their own. Examples of this type include Osi Sobeck, Moralo Eval and Riff Tamson.
  • In Teen Titans, we have Slade for the first two arcs, Brother Blood for the third, Trigon for the fourth, and the Brain for the fifth.
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