Designated Evil

Designated Evil is when a writer paints the solution to a problem, committed by a protagonist, as indisputably wrong or evil, but either doesn't make an alternative action clear, or shows the audience that the alternative would have been ineffective. Any protests that the action was necessary will be met with stunned silence or stares, and the question of what should have been done instead is either never asked, never answered, or answered with a solution that clearly would not have worked. Most often, this means some form of killing or violence.

This usually makes a point of sparing the more sympathetic characters the responsibility of dealing with it themselves, while still leaving them to stand as a morally-superior gallery to condemn the character who committed the Designated Evil act. Expect the rest of the heroes to be, at the very least, hesitant to forgive the character who commits the act, regardless of any reasoning or extenuating circumstances. They may not be able to argue the point, and they may recognize that they get to enjoy the benefits of that solution after the fact, but they will still denounce it as wrong, and the character wrong for doing it. The best a Designated Evil character can hope for is to have a few reluctant supporters who refrain from outright condemning them, but won't openly defend their position from the judgement of others: the author is clearly not on their side.

Often, this comes off especially hypocritical if the series has shown it to be perfectly acceptable to kill human villains if they shed their human side, or turn out to be Not Even Human in the first place.

This trope is what happens when you mix Moral Dissonance, a bit of Fridge Logic, and maybe some Values Dissonance for good measure. After all, just what is a right and wrong response to morally complex scenarios can vary just person to person.

As noted above, this is largely a subjective trope. For some, the writers are right, killing a helpless human is always wrong, no matter what. For others, the idea that you should just take away the bad guy's toys and send him on his way despite his multiple murders and likelihood to do it again is infuriating. However, the emotional impact of taking a human life is strong enough that perhaps not being completely sure that the hero is justified in doing so may be reason enough to consider the act immoral. It varies.

Compare Informed Wrongness, the more extreme version where the character's actions aren't wrong in any context. Also compare Felony Misdemeanor for when characters in the work take this attitude, but the work itself does not actually side with their opinions. See also Strawman Has a Point, which is when the designated evil character actually makes a completely legitimate argument for their actions.

Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Largely averted in Trigun; it's made entirely clear that the only person thoroughly convinced killing is always wrong is Vash.
  • Sailor Moon: Uranus and Neptune tend to fall into this trope throughout the anime.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion ends with Homura in this role, with the rare variation in which the designated evil character seems to agree with the others' condemnation. She knows what she's doing is wrong, but Kyubey had already gotten what he wanted by putting her in the Isolation Field: he confirmed the existence of Madoka, all but guaranteeing that the Incubators would eventually be able to control or circumvent the Law of Cycles. Homura may have been selfish in forcing Madoka into a human form that she could have by her side, but the massive power of that love is what made it possible for her to restructure the universe into one that not only neutralized Kyubey as a threat, but gave all the other girls the happy lives they could never have lived otherwise.

    Comic Books 
  • Wonder Woman killing Maxwell Lord. Lord was busily trying to bring about small-scale Armageddon, had control of one of the most powerful beings on Earth, was using that control to have Superman beat Batman to death, and himself said, while under the Lasso of Truth, that killing him was the only way to stop him. Despite this, everyone in-universe acts like Wonder Woman killed him in cold blood for jaywalking, and since DC has a fairly strong tradition of Killing Is Always Wrong, it's heavily implied we're supposed to think this of her too. Unlike other examples of this trope, Wonder Woman is absolutely candid about what she did, including the fact that she considered herself completely justified due to the extraordinary circumstances. And she is also willing- even eager- to stand trial for it. (She is acquitted).
  • The Punisher seems to run into this occasionally, depending on how he's being handled and whether he's in his own book or not. Usually in his own book, he's taking out major drug and arms traffickers, mobsters, and other people that could quite possibly rate the death sentence anyway. Outside of his own book, just to make sure that his war on crime is Designated Evil, some writers actually have him killing white-collar embezzlers.
  • Inverted in ElfQuest during Rayek and Cutter's competition: Cutter isn't clever enough to win the trial of wits, and blusters through the trials with physical skills, except for the last one, where he cheats by using a "magic stone" (a magnet) to retrieve his sword from a crevice. Savah rules him the winner, because Cutter's discovery of its magnetic property was an accident... but that's not true at all. Cutter was the one to chip it off from a larger stone, and the only reason any of the Wolfriders even noticed the damn thing was that it pulls metal objects to itself and clings to them. This is never mentioned and although Rayek rightfully complains that Cutter cheated, as the rules disallowed the use of magic powers and Rayek is a talented telekinetic, but nobody cares what he has to say about it except Leetah, and even she doesn't stand up for his right to a fair contest.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Daybreakers gives us the Mass Execution of the Subsiders via sunlight. Subsiders lose their higher brain functions and devolve into Always Chaotic Evil humanoid bats with Super Strength and flight, and a voracious appitite for fresh blood. Killing them all may not be pretty but it's hardly evil.
    • Killing the Subsiders is presented as the final moral tipping point for Edward's brother. At that point he realizes his choice of allegiance can only end with him becoming a monster like a Subsider. Even though he "was never very good at being human" he chooses to side with humanity and help Edward
  • Gone Baby Gone subverts the trope, albeit dubiously. Once it comes out that Doyle helped kidnap Amanda to save her from her criminally neglectful mother, Patrick reports him to the authorities and Amanda is returned to her mother. At first, it looks like everything — including Amanda's mother's neglect — has been solved, but the last scene, where we learn the mother doesn't have a babysitter and doesn't seem to be looking too hard to find one, implies that the whole thing will eventually start all over again. Oops.

    Literature 
  • Alternate Character Interpretation seems to deliberately leave the invocation of this vague in the case of Dexter. The people he kills are most definitely murderers that have cheated justice, and Dexter often steps up his timetable to take them out if he thinks they're likely to kill again. Opinions in-universe on whether the Bay Harbor Butcher is a hero or a villain differ across a spectrum, and the series itself is murky on the point.
  • In Changes, Harry kills Lloyd in order to assume his mantle as the Winter Knight, and this is presented as his first questionable act in order to save his daughter. However, the old Winter Knight was in a state of perpetual torture, and, at the time of his murder, had gone completely insane from it. Killing him would have been a mercy.
    • This is the first time Harry commits deliberate, premeditated homicide in cold blood. He had previously mentioned having nightmares after killing Corpsetaker in Luccio's body. Lloyd's death underscores Harry's willingness to abandon his values and he acted out of desire for power rather than compassion. This is addressed in Ghost Story, where the evil of what he did and the potential evil he might do with his power is balanced against his motives and the ends he was working towards. The conclusion is that the power doesn't rule him, so he can still do good, be Good in his current situation.
  • In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Marietta Edgecombe rats out Dumbledore's Army, which causes her to breakout in permanent boils because of a jinxed sign-up sheet. You might be thinking that she was just an evil snitch that deserved it, but then we learn from Cho that she only did it out of fear that her mother would lose her job with the Ministry of Magic. Since not much is known about Marietta, Cho may very well have been telling the truth.

    Live Action TV 
  • Jack Bauer executing Dana Walsh toward the end of 24 was meant to show the audience that Jack had well and truly Jumped Off the Slippery Slope in his quest for revenge, and everyone in-universe is absolutely horrified that Jack would do something so out-of-character as to kill somebody who was defenseless and surrendering to him. This glosses over the fact that Dana was definitely not a helpless civilian; she was The Mole who'd committed several cold-blooded murders just that day. The sequence leading up to her death was a lengthy chase and shoot-out as she attempted to escape custody, and the only reason she was defenseless was because she'd just emptied a gun trying to kill Jack.
  • Gunn killing the professor that sent Fred to Pylia in Angel. Not only was this portrayed as an evil act, but as him taking the evil onto his soul so that Fred wouldn't do it.
    • Angel and crew's aquisition of Wolfram and Hart in the last season of Angel. Despite characters good and evil telling them that they would be corrupted and that it was proof that they had failed as heroes, most of what was shown was just the opposite. Angel fired or killed the firm's evil employees and maintained a very strict policy on not killing humans, he cut loose the firm's more sinister clients and benefactors, and one episode even showed Gunn using the company's resources and legal power to fight corruption and help people. This was made worse by Angel himself flip-flopping on the issue. One episode would end with him thinking that they had made the right choice, the next would show him thinking that doing good was nearly useless, and that he had given up all his principles.
    • Angel letting Drusilla and Darla snack on the Wolfram & Hart lawyers in season 2. It was a good indication that Angel was going down a darker path as it's generally something he wouldn't even think of doing, and he can be blamed for not sticking around to stop the two afterwards, but we're apparently supposed to fault him on principle for not saving a bunch of people who willingly and knowingly work for the personifications of evil who are responsible for much of mankind's suffering. Furthermore, Lorne directly states that it was going to happen no matter what Angel did, and the Powers just didn't want him around for it.
    • Just prior to their joining W&H, there's the team fighting and ultimately killing Jasmine, which gets Lilah to come back from the dead to compliment them on destroying a perfect chance for world peace. Which rather ignores the fact that this peace would have come at the cost of all personal freedom, and Jasmine's immediate reaction to them ruining her plan was to try to destroy the world. Well, that's one way to get peace...
      • Not to mention that Jasmine had to feed on humans in order to survive and keep her power. Of course, Wolfram and Hart probably doesn't have as much of a problem with that part.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer has a similar problem in deciding when and if killing a human is Crossing The Line.
    • It seems like Buffy had some problem with slaying vamps en masse, as Faith and Buffy slaying a nest during daylight hours was posed as part of Faith's slippery slope. Partially because Buffy was *gasp!* skipping school, but maybe the writers think that kind of slaying is bad sportsmanship or something.
    • Giles kills a helpless Glory-in-Ben-form. He says he has to, because he knows Buffy won't (and it's strongly implied that he doesn't tell anyone and lets them believe they just died of prior injuries). On the other hand, there's the whole hell dimension thing.
  • The finale of season 4 of Doctor Who: the Doctor's half-human clone kills the Daleks in order to save everything else that ever lived, will lived, or had lived in the multiverse. The Doctor not only exiles him to another dimension which he'll never be able to leave for this action, but makes sure to take a potshot blaming this supposedly inexcusable act of violence on the clone being part human. One supposes that literally uncountable numbers should have died just so the Doctor wouldn't have a squidgy feeling about how they were saved.
    • Not to mention that the Doctor has (tried to) commit genocide of the Daleks at least three times previously, and him not wiping them out the last time he had the chance led to the devastating effects of this story. Also the Daleks survive anyway and end up causing even more trouble across the Universe.
  • Wizards of Waverly Place had the episode "The Good The Bad And The Alex" in which one character tries to end the whole one wizard per family rule: this is treated as wholly and unequivocally evil without any explanation as to why; the show goes so far as to KILL this character for her evil deeds...and then make a joke about it
  • A nonviolent example happens in Glee when Finn snaps and calls Kurt's decorating "faggy" and immediately catches Hell for it, because Kurt is flamboyantly homosexual. Said decor matters because it's the bedroom they're about to be sharing, as their parents are getting married. The interior design itself, which Kurt changed without consulting Finn, was chosen as a blending of masculine and feminine sensibility as a sort of visual metaphor for the two of them connecting as a couple. We the audience are supposed to lose sympathy for him because he uses derogatory slang, but this ignores the fact that Kurt knows Finn is straight and has been sexually harassing him anyway, and indeed, only set their parents up in order to have an easier time of seducing Finn in the first place . Finn might have been able to their parents to complain, but pretty much the entire universe is on Kurt's side, especially Burt, who throws Finn out of the house over it.
  • Merlin's Uther had plenty of legitimate Kick the Dog moments, but every now and then he'd turn out to be right. For example in "The Curse of Cornelius Sigan", Camelot is being attacked by a bunch of unkillable Gargoyles. Uther decides to seal off the castle so they can't get in. His son Arthur chastises him for abandoning the people outside, but Uther merely responds there's nothing they can do to help them and that they need to save the people they can right now. Arthur refuses to accept this and rides out to defend the city from the Gargoyles... Except his attack against them was completely ineffective. They were only stopped by Merlin defeating the Warlock responsible for reanimating them, which was both done without Arthur's knowledge and incidental to his own attack. All Arthur accomplished by trying to fight them off was putting himself in danger.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Third edition considered using poison an evil act. One sourcebook explained that using poison caused undue suffering, and specifically exempted knockout poison (but not stat-reducing poisons, or natural poisons from class-feature mounts or animal companions) as evil. Apparently, fire, lightning, acid, summoned thorns, and good old-fashioned spiky bits of metal are drastically less painful than nearly any poison. Ironically, poison that does Strength or Dexterity damage can only ever paralyze the target, and would be vital for bringing someone in alive.
    • Another ridiculous 3E restriction was that Rangers could choose their own race as a "favored enemy" only if they were evil. Since intelligent humanoids can be of any alignment, there's nothing inherently evil about training to be a better hunter of your own species. This was removed in 3.5 as the designers realized how stupid it was. Especially since half the bonus apply to mundane, out-of-combat skills, thus you can pick a "favored enemy" less for the combat bonus and more for the advantages given to peaceful interactions.
    • By default, the game universe has Good and Evil as objective forces that can be drawn on for magic just like Fire, Air, and so on. The rationalizations are... dicey. Imprison Soul, okay. Sadism and Masochism are unfortunate to have in melee, even if the mechanical effects are useful. ...Cheat? The most absurd example is a spell that does nothing but reveal when people are low on health.

    Video Games 
  • Warcraft has several examples:
    • The Culling of Stratholme. Upon finding a city 100% infected by The Virus and likely to turn into a slavering horde of zombies within a day, Arthas chooses to exterminate the population. This is portrayed as his Start of Darkness, and prompts his superiors to attempt to relieve him of command. However, as much as Uther and Jaina protested the morality of Arthas' choice they weren't presenting him with any alternatives (other than an inane "There must be another way!"), and his decision, while cold, likely saved lives in the end (he'd have lost a lot more soldiers battling an undead army than a bunch of sick civilians). What's more, it was not strictly necessary in that level to kill the population while they were still in human form; it was instead possible to wait after destroying the buildings—after a few seconds, the infection would finish turning the occupants into undead, and one could finish them off then.
      • Furthermore, the Plague of Undeath is literally impossible to cure and extremely fast-acting, something that Arthas would know about from the siege he just escaped from. Everything we know about from the game is that, really, Arthas didn't have a choice; Mercy Kill the infected, or wait for dawn and have an entire city's worth of slavering ghouls swarming out to devour every living being in sight.
    • The Alliance locking the Orcs up in internment camps after the events of Warcraft II is often depicted as morally wrong in Warcraft III and World of Warcraft. Consider, however, that the Orcs had just cut a bloody swath through the Eastern Kingdoms, destroying Stormwind and decimating several of the other Kingdoms. Releasing them was not an option, they'd have likely regrouped and invaded again. At the time the war ended the Alliance didn't know about the blood curse and merely believed the Orcs to be Always Chaotic Evil. While many of the Orcs were terribly mistreated in the camps, they were formed as an alternative to the Genocide Dilemma and not just because Humans Are Bastards as the Horde would have you believe.
      • Also worth noting that the reasoning behind the camps was well-intentioned from Terenas's end. They were supposed to be used to educate the orcs on human customs and, when the orcs had been integrated and were ready, they would start being reintroduced to humanity. The problem was that Lord Blackmoore was kind of a drunk, paranoid ass with delusions of grandeur who, along with his men, made the camps a living hell for the orcs—they were often denied food until the brink of starvation and got little to no medical attention.
  • Faldio in Valkyria Chronicles. He effectively saves all of Gallia from being crushed by the tank-destroying, laser-firing, invincible enemy commander by inducing those same powers in Alicia. He achieves this by shooting her, since he knows her powers can only be awakened via near death experience. He gets severely punished for it, but no one ever mentions the fact that, well, nobody else had any better ideas, and since Faldio knew Alicia, as a Valkyria, would have supernaturally powerful regeneration, which she already had even before her powers were activated, no one would be harmed long-term. He did know that it would drastically change her life, but he also had to make a judgment call: changing one girl's life, or watching hundreds of thousands be snuffed out? No one cares about his viewpoint (the closest anyone comes is Varrot being reluctant to punish him as severely as would ordinarily be warranted) and no one considers what would have happened if he hadn't done it. Faldio even points this out, and no one has an answer.
    Welkin: "Tell me why... why did you have to shoot her?!"
    Faldio: "The people... Gallia needed her. Now let me ask you a question: how else do you think we could have won that battle? If not for Alicia's power, Gallia would have most certainly lost."
    Welkin: "I still can't..."
    • This is actually worse when you consider the logical question, "Why didn't he just ask her and let her make her own choice?". The reason is simple: one of the many, many lessons the story tries to teach is Ambition Is Evil. If she said yes, she'd be negating the whole game's moral stance. If she said no, we wouldn't have a story at all.
  • In the first Ar tonelico game, some bigoted thugs are threatening the pacifistic reyvateil who runs the bar and also happens to be the best friend of one of the protagonist's possible love interests. Violence is quickly becoming imminent. The protagonist steps in and tells the thugs to back off. One of the thugs attacks the protagonist. The protagonist beats the snot out of him. Cue chewing out from the bar lady and the party, because "violence is never the answer". Apparently, he should have just taken the beating and hoped that the thugs would leave afterwards. To rub it in, the protagonist takes this lesson to heart and stupidly takes a pointless beating in its name shortly thereafter. Mercifully, these incidents are never referred to again.
  • ADOM has a Character Alignment/Karma Meter system where the character ranks between Lawful and Chaotic. It's pretty clear that "Lawful" is largely equivalent to morally good and "Chaotic" to evil. That said, you might wonder at how you get Chaotic points for killing Lawful creatures — even if they attack you first and are trying to kill you.

    Western Animation 
  • On Total Drama Action, Courtney is immediately set up as the villain because she keeps complaining about her team, and then later she manages to get Owen eliminated. This is apparently supposed to make us dislike her, given how everyone else jumps to his defense... but what the writers don't seem to realize is that to many fans, Owen is a Creator's Pet (and he participated in another season, despite already winning, which makes it pretty unfair), so while Courtney seemed a bit overly vindictive, it wasn't exactly all that bad. Alejandro's dislike of Owen in the next season may have been a similar case, though given how much Owen really was annoying Al, maybe it was more of a Fandom Nod. Owen does get eliminated because Courtney voted for it, but what about the other teammates? Oh, right, they voted for Courtney, even though they were told by Chris that voting her off was off-limits this time around. Their votes were negated, while Courtney's remained valid. So, the characters are all upset that Owen got voted off and blame Courtney, even though it was their fault per the stated rules.
    • The writers also expect us to dislike Gwen in the beginning All Stars series because of the bad things she did in earlier seasons. Gwen's actions of her trying to do good things are treated as designated evil, as we are supposed to side with Chris for putting her on the evil side of the team.
  • Every single time Squidward from Spongebob Squarepants calls SpongeBob out on his tiresome behavior qualifies as this. The writers expect us to dislike Squidward for not wanting to spend any time with SpongeBob, and it ignores the fact that Spongebob is quite a nuisance to the squid.
  • An episode of Arthur has Arthur getting in trouble for hitting D.W. after she breaks his model plane (which she was told not to touch multiple times). Their parents never discipline her and D.W. finishes the episode still blaming Arthur for the whole mess, so telling on her obviously wouldn't have helped Arthur in any way. If he hadn't hit her, there would have been no consequences for her at all.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: In "Voyage of Temptation" Obi-Wan and Duchess Satine are facing off against Tal Merrik, who has rigged the ship they're on to explode. When they corner him he starts taunting them that they'll have to kill him to stop him and neither of them can -Satine because doing so would violate her pacifistic ideals, and Obi-Wan because of his feelings for Satine- and gleefully announces he's going to blow up the ship as soon as he gets off. Before this can go any further, Anakin sneaks up behind Merrik and stabs him in the back, killing him. This is portrayed as morally reprehensible on his behalf, complete with disapproval from Obi-Wan and the first few notes of Darth Vader's leitmotif playing ominously in the background. But Merrik had just outright said he was going to kill everyone on the ship. There was no clear alternative to stop him from doing so, and Jedi are allowed to use lethal force when necessary. Dialogue even indicates it's what Obi-Wan himself thought needed to happen, he just couldn't bring himself to do it in front of Satine. But despite all this, we're supposed to see Anakin as having done the wrong thing.