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.
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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.
- They start Season 3 looking for the three Talisman, which are hidden three humans' Pure Heart Crystals. Said Talisman will summon the Holy Grail and save the world from the Silence. The bad news is that said people will die without their crystals, so Sailor Moon won't have any of it. When Uranus and Neptune turn out revealed to be Talisman holders, Sailor Moon still won't let them sacrifice themselves... despite having done just that in Season 1. Of course, it turns out that the Talismans actually CAN be safely removed from the crystals.
- During the season's second half, Uranus and Neptune try to deal with the other problem - the Messiah of Silence. Said Messiah is currently possessing Hotaru, aka Sailor Saturn. A slightly more ambiguous choice... until the Messiah awakens and takes full possession by swallowing Chibi-Usa's heart crystal. Even so, Usagi's giving her the Holy Grail is still treated as the best choice... even though it forces Hotaru to perform her own Heroic Sacrifice, becoming Sailor Saturn to destroy the now-present Silence and along with herself. Again, it all turns out okay, though in a more cynical story, they'd have all died several times over.
- Chi-Chi's over-protectiveness of Gohan qualifies for this trope. Sure she may be have seriously Skewed Priorities and she may pushy, nagging, abrasive, and temperamental with her views on how important Gohan's studies are to her, when really, she just wants the best for her son and she just doesn't want him to grow up without an education like Goku did. This is presented as evil since it also clashes with Goku's idea on taking Gohan to fight dangerous monsters, and she is even hated by the majority of the fandom because of this.
- The dislike comes from her Education Mama priorities meaning she doesn't care if people die because Gohan couldn't help his dad.
- 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. Rayek abides by the rules of the contest, even though he could have solved all the challenges with his own innate telekinetic powers. When understandably he pitches a fit over it, no one cares except Leetah, but she doesn't stick up for him. Rayek didn't cheat, but lost anyway, because the authors wanted Cutter to win in a way that made Rayek look petty and mean.
- The trial is second out of three. And Leetah didn't stand up for Rayek, because the only person who had the right to judge the trial already announced Cutter as winner. Using the magnet is not seen as cheating, because Cutter used it simply as a lucky charm and didn't have any concept for magnetism. He argues that when he first encountered the stone it pulled his sword into it and he only thought that Skywise would be able to use its magic, but that's still how he used it to win the contest. Cheating, or just selective stupidity?
- 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
- A Few Good Men has Jessep's infamous Motive Rant, wherein he casts himself in the position of Designated Evil, overlapping with I Did What I Had to Do.
- In Ice Age, Diego plans to lead Manny the mammoth to the rest of the pack so they can kill and eat him. Even though Soto and the rest of the pack are completely remorseless, they still need meat and given that many of their number have been killed by the humans, they'd be less successful in hunting and therefore an opportunity like Manny would be even more crucial to their survival. Also, this happens before Diego starts to bond with the protagonists, making it seem less like a betrayal and more like a logical strategy to ensure the pack's survival.
- 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.
Live Action TV
- 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.
- 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.
- Third edition Dungeons & Dragons 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. 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.
- 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.
- 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, 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.
- Less dire example in "Arthur's Big Hit". Arthur spends time and effort building a model plane, which his younger sister immediately wants to play with as if it were a toy. Despite being repeatedly told not to touch it, because it isn't a toy and doesn't belong to her, D.W. steals it, breaks it, and then blames Arthur for its destruction and is amused at his anger. So he hits her, and is instantly and completely condemned for it by everyone around him. Typical of Designated Evil acts, this is treated as the worst possible response, but D.W. is never disciplined for her behavior, even after their parents insist she'll be 'dealt with', which renders the alternatives to violence explicitly pointless. If he hadn't hit her, she'd probably be helping herself to everything he owns. Later, Arthur gets hit by someone else for literally no reason. Arthur then agrees that it was the same exact thing as the earlier incident.
- DW was punished, just off-screen. Arthur's parents make it clear that they would have dealt with it if Arthur had told them what DW did, and Arthur didn't even try to tell them, so it's not like he had no choice in hitting his sister.
- Arthur complains about DW's behavior all the time, and when she's being a brat, they're conveniently nowhere to be found to be told; he chases her off as best he can because they're not around to tell. DW's punishment never explicitly occurring is part of what contributes to Arthur's Designated Evil status: just watching the episode, unless you're willing to assume that DW was punished offscreen, she pretty much gets a Get Out Of Jail Free card because Arthur made her cry. The episode never acknowledges that she did anything to provoke Arthur, and equates Arthur being the subject of (to him) random violence to his snapping at DW's repeated aggravations.