Knight of Cerebus

That was a very abstract, almost avant-garde episode with Q and what he was trying to prove with the Enterprise, telling Picard to be aware because there are some bad-asses out there that you're not prepared for no matter what you think. This is just a lesson to you to keep your eyes and ears open because there are things out there that you don't understand, and here's an example.
— Director Rob Bowman on Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Q Who"

In order to add more drama to a series which has been, up until that moment, lighthearted and comedic in nature, a villain (or antagonist of some sort) is introduced and is portrayed as a genuine threat, in contrast to the bumbling and comedic villains the heroes have faced before.

This villain's arrival is usually heralded by a sudden downturn in humor, to show the audience this guy means business. In other words, a catalyst for a drastic change in mood toward the dark and dramatic.

In shows that are generally Lighter and Softer, said villain may have some light-hearted or comical traits, but still gives a much higher sense of dread and genuine threat to the heroes than previous adversaries. Some cases of the trope may be harder to define by comparison in a particularly ineffective Rogues Gallery, though a clear cut example at the very least can actually place the protagonist in real danger compared with the Harmless Villain that poked his poodle in a previous arc. A typical symptom of Cerebus Syndrome.

A Knight of Cerebus is very likely to be Dangerously Genre Savvy, but also runs the risk of becoming a Villain Sue. Arguably a subtrope of Threshold Guardians. See also Dead Serious, Not-So-Harmless Villain. The show may Shoo Out the Clowns first. Often, this results in a case of Vile Villain, Saccharine Show. When this kicks off Cerebus Syndrome, his or her arrival is a Gut Punch. Sometimes, this type of character, if bad enough, can be a Complete Monster if they have no redeeming traits and do terrible things by the standards of history in an initially more lighthearted series.


Other examples:

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  • Adventures in Odyssey is largely a realistic show about realistic small-town problems, frequently more comedy than drama. It had a few forays into serious territory early on, whether it was an adaptation of a Bible story or a robbery... but when Dr. Blackgaard showed up, things changed.

  • Camelot is extremely lighthearted up until Mordred arrives, and then starts building toward a genuine tragedy. This could easily have caused Mood Whiplash, but it's handled extremely well.
  • Also in Into the Woods when the female giant shows up in act II, lets just say things go down hill from there.
  • Don John from Much Ado About Nothing is definitely a Vile Villain, Saccharine Show and his Evil Plan causes Cerebus Syndrome to kick in.
  • Great Britain is initially something of a Black Comedy romp about the poor ethics of the British tabloid press, with Paige Britain using her sex appeal and lack of morals to get further ahead. However, two characters manage to cause Cerebus Syndrome to kick in during the second half:
    • The model Stella Stone is at first something of a joke, appearing to be a Brainless Beauty that gets a boob job to sell more photos and get better work on Page 7 of the Free Press. However, come the second act her character arc turns into a depressingly real look into anorexia. Her condition eventually worsens to the point that she cannot recover, one of her family members (it's not revealed who) leaks this to the press, and eventually Paige heartlessly buys the exclusive rights to her death story for 100,000.
    • Kieron Mills, a man suspected by some members of the public of either killing his daughters or selling them, is something of a plot device for the first act, with him being used as a joke about the tabloid press going berserk about paedophilia. His being arrested is also a case of Black Comedy due to the absurd headline that he is given. However, the scene where he and Paige talk in the mental institution is not Played for Laughs, where Paige's questioning makes him go berserk. It later turns out that Free Press were completely wrong about him, and that the bodies of his daughters were found far away from where he was suspected to have done things. Of course, by the time they find this out, it is far too late and some fellow inmates have stabbed him to death in a misguided case of Even Evil Has Standards. This kicks off the climax and causes the humour to more or less disappear entirely.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • New World Order. They debuted in one of wrestling's most cartoony eras and proceeded to utterly annihilate every face who stood in their way. They were led by Hulk Hogan, formerly an Invincible Hero, now a cruel and vindictive heel who loved to play the numbers game. Hell, they were so dark that Sting went through a personality 180 from a cheery surfer to a brooding Crow-type just so he could effectively combat them!
  • The Undertaker's Ministry of Darkness. They crucified and hung their enemies, kidnapped women, brainwashed midcarders, made blood pacts in the middle of the ring... only infighting and The Undertaker getting injured put an end to them.
  • The Nexus made their debut by savagely beating down everyone around the ring- and we mean everyone. The faces, the heels, the trainers, the announcers, the commentators... they even destroyed the ring! Wrestling/RAW ended with the seven of them standing tall, everything around them utterly annihilated. And it got worse from there.
  • The Wyatt Family. With the WWE's current Lighter and Softer atmosphere, it's really jarring to see a gimmick like this one, especially considering it may be one of the most disturbing and genuinely unnerving characters in the history of the company.
    "Hey, wanna see something... really scary?"
  • A well-booked Monster Heel usually qualifies, since they will steamroll face after face until someone puts them down. Well-known examples include Kane, Brock Lesnar, Mark Henry since his 2011 Face-Heel Turn, and even Beth Phoenix.
  • The Shield. While they've started to fall apart in 2014, they debuted as a brutal SWAT Team-like trio who would steamroll anyone with flawless teamwork and then Triple Powerbomb them through a table.
  • Randy Orton. It's easy to forget that, prior to the summer of 2007 when he really began to establish himself as a main-event heel, WWE had for months and months been a carnival of kooky gimmicks: evil cheerleaders, a leprechaun, a "monster" who ate worms, Booker T thinking he was a medieval king, Mr. McMahon getting his head shaved...Even the (kayfabe) destruction of McMahon's limo and Chris Benoit's (real-life) death earlier that summer couldn't quite put a damper on the silliness. Then Orton loses his title bout against John Cena at SummerSlam, pouts about it...and, after Jonathan Coachman tells him that he hasn't "proven himself" yet, kicks Cena's father in the head just to guarantee that he'll get a rematch.
  • Seth Rollins has gotten progressively unhinged, then came the last RAW of 2014. He holds Edge hostage and actually threatens to kill or at least paralyze him via Neck Snap. When John Cena tries to save him, Seth orders him to stop and laughs that if Edge is unable to hold his daughter for the rest of his life due to paralysis, it is all on Cena's head. Cena gives in to all of Seth's demands, only for him to calmly say, "Damn, you gotta know me better than that, John. I'm gonna kill him anyway." Fortunately, Cena was able to stop him from stomping on Edge's neck, but still.
  • Kevin Steen was already a pretty dark character in his "wrestling's worst nightmare" persona, but then he came to NXT under the name Kevin Owens. He has since established himself as the darkest, cruelest, most heartless heel in NXT's young history- injuring anyone who he doesn't like, damn near killing his former best friend Sami Zayn, and generally asserting himself as someone who does not give a damn about who or what he breaks on his way to the top.
    • Case in point, he vowed to beat John Cena at Elimination Chamber 2015 and he kept his promise, not only throwing everything he got, but also got a CLEAN win over Cena, which very few in the WWE have managed to do.

  • Makuta from BIONICLE started out menacing enough, but his constant defeats and failures gradually robbed him of his credibility. After the original head of the Story Team left, the character of Makuta underwent a serious retcon, which resulted in him turning into a calculating mastermind who had planned his victory from the start, turned out to be the Bigger Bad behind a lot of former villains, and by the end of the story arc, ended up winning.

Alternative Title(s):

Cerebus Knight