They Look Just Like Everyone Else
"Well, what else is there to do when life turns on you and you've retreated into some small room? You look out your window. You see people come in and out of this phone booth. The same ones every day. You make up names for them. You imagine their stories. But eventually, you get tired of imagining and follow one of them. And you hear all of his lies. And you decide that his sins should be punished. Some guy shouting into a cell phone full of self-importance isn't gonna notice me."
This is when a villain doesn't look like a villain, and is even more terrifying because of it. This does not apply to particularly handsome or charming villains - that goes under Evil Is Sexy
. Characters following this trope look completely ordinary. You could pass them on the street and never notice them
, let alone suspect they murdered someone just the other day.
In fantasy and science fiction shows, this is often what makes Mundanger
villains so terrifying. While the normal beasties the protagonists hunt down and slay are obviously fantastic monsters that don't exist in our world, these
monsters could be living right next door.
Please note: The identity of many of these villains may be part of a reveal
, so please use spoilers wisely.
An Enfant Terrible
is usually one of these. Contrast Obviously Evil
and Devil in Plain Sight
. Compare Manchurian Agent
, where they genuinely are like everyone else until triggered. Related with but not to be confused for They Look Like Us Now
, where previously inhuman beasties learn to pass for human. The Nondescript
is when their "normalness" is taken so far that people can't even remember what they're like.
This is Truth in Television
. Who knows? Maybe one of the tropers could just be this.
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Anime & Manga
- Monster: While the Big Bad is an exception, the most evil and dangerous characters are often the most ordinary-looking: Hartmann and Franz Bonaparta come to mind.
- In the "Greenback Jane" arc of Black Lagoon, Jane and the protagonists are pursued by a band of bounty hunters. One of them eschews the series' Cluster F-Bomb style and speaks in Gosh Dang It to Heck! terms and at face value is a wholesome, Mr. Rogers-ish guy. It turns out, he's a pyromaniac who previously torched his wife so that he could smell her flesh burn.
- JoJo's Bizarre Adventure villain Yoshikage Kira actively cultivates this image, making himself as nondescript as possible to disguise his Serial Killer activities.
- In Dragon Ball Z, Krillin is surprised to find that Androids 17 and 18 (immensely powerful cyborgs that caused a Bad Future in an alternate timeline) look just look like regular people you'd see walking down the street. This is justified as they were once human, although even then they both happened to be juvenile delinquents.
- The Titan Shifters in Attack on Titan. The revelation that they exist becomes a source of extreme paranoia for the military, since there is absolutely no way to detect them.
- In Death Note, Light Yagami being the smart, charming, supposedly kindhearted honor-student son of the Chief of Police makes it difficult for many of the characters to take L's accusations seriously. L seems to be the only one who really believes that Light is Kira until very close to the series' end.
- This is a common theme in Hell Girl. The evil person during most episodes are often seen as ordinary or even respectful by other people, leaving the victim no choice but to summon Ai Enma (Hell Girl) for revenge, knowing they're damning their souls too.
- InuYasha: Sango reflects at one point that, according to her father, the most dangerous kinds of youkai are those that can assume human form.
- In Tokyo Ghoul, Ghouls look exactly like humans and are nearly indistinguishable from them. Some humans even wonder whether they really exist, and express surprise when discovering that Ghouls look human. This is driven home when Ken Kaneki manages to score a date with a beautiful girl, and their wonderful evening ends with her trying to eat him. CCG Investigators are trained to watch for very subtle signs someone might be a Ghoul, but even then the law restricts them from acting until they actually see a Ghoul's Game Face.
- Thessaly the witch in The Sandman. She appears to be a mild-mannered glasses-wearing citizen - like Clark Kent in a way. Except for the part where Superman doesn't obsessively hunt down and kill anyone who attempts to hurt him.
- This is one of the nightmare-fueling qualities of the Collectors story as well. On one end of the spectrum, you have cereal fans who look like sweaty, loserish sexual predators you'd steer clear of at any costs. On the other, you have those who are ordinary-looking in the extreme... and just as vicious.
- Mr Fun from the Batman mini-series Batman Family.
- Kevin from Sin City is just a guy in a sweater and glasses. You wouldn't believe that he is a martial arts master, to say nothing of his knack for eating people. For extra uncanny points, it's a Charlie Brown sweater. Ratcheted up by casting Elijah Wood in the film.
- Most Batman villains, even if they start out as relatively normal criminals, wind up disfigured and/or embracing some kind of super-villain gimmick. But not James Gordon Jr., an ordinary, bookish-looking lad who happens to also be a sociopath and serial killer.
- Supernatural. The fact that the demons and monsters can and will look like anyone else is very heavily used on the show.
- Not often used on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but this quote deserves mention.
Willow: (in reference to a murderer) It could be anyone. It could be me! ...it's not, though.
- Two of Cold Case's most notorious killers embodied this trope to a T. One, George Marks, was overweight, balding—and a rabid misogynist who kidnapped women by disguising himself as a cop, then forced them to strip to their underwear and run through the woods for hours before finally finishing them off with a gunshot to the chest. The other, John Smith, was incredibly average looking and well-mannered, easily tempting his victims to walk away with him. And, you know, his name was John Smith, which is probably the blandest name in human history.
- The Game of Thrones versions of Roose Bolton and Ramsay Snow. Rather than the Obviously Evil father-son duo of the books, the show has replaced the hush voiced pale lord whose face is described as coming across like a mask and his hulking, fish lipped brute of a bastard with a handsome older gentleman and a charming, energetic youth. Do not be fooled.
- The villain of the pilot episode of Grimm is a mailman who wears loafers and cardigans, collects porcelain figurines, does needlepoint, makes homemade chicken pot pies, and eats people. note
- All wessen, since most of the time humans cannot see their true form.
- The defendant in the Law & Order episode "Hubris" is a mild-mannered real estate salesman and a regular Casanova with the ladies. As it turns out, he also murdered his girlfriend, the old couple who were employing her, and her 6-year-old daughter, all to cover up a fifth murder that he had already committed years before. And while the detectives know he did it because they see security camera footage of the crime (suppressed at trial, natch), the audience never sees him doing anything criminal or sinister at all. To the very end of the episode, this mass murdering scumbag just looks like everyone else.
- The Big Bad of the Law & Order: SVU season 13 finale/season 14 opener is a frumpy, average-looking woman who is first introduced tending to the animals on her farm. She looks more like an elementary school teacher than someone who's engaged in sex trafficking, arranged a string of murders, and is using her prostitution business to blackmail half the cops and prosecutors in the state of New York.
- On LOST, a show filled with so many pretty yet stupid people, it's mild-mannered ferret-faced chartered-accountant-lookalike Benjamin Linus who really runs the table.
- The Yin Yang Killer from Psych. Turns out she was standing right there among the crowd in the background of nearly every scene.
- The killer in "A Study in Pink", the first episode of Sherlock.
- Moriarty looks snazzy in a suit, but he also has no problem blending in and convincing others that he's just a normal guy on several occasions. When he's wearing his baseball cap and jacket, you wouldn't give him a second glance on the street.
- This trope happens a lot on The X-Files, since the villains usually take pains to blend into society and are only outed when unnatural things start to happen:
- Eugene Tooms in the episodes "Squeeze" and "Tooms".
- Also Donnie Pfaster of "Irresistible".
- John Lee Roche, the serial-killer-of-girls on "Paper Hearts", looks and talks like a balding salesman, which he was before he got caught.
- The vampire town in "Bad Blood."
- The villain in "Folie a Deux" was a giant monster, disguised as a human being in a normal company.
- Though not a villain, the alien in "The Unnatural" lived convincingly as a human baseball player.
- The brain-eating man in "Hungry" took pains to disguise himself. Undisguised, he resembled a cross between a bald man and a shark.
- The Alien Bounty Hunter can shape-shift into anyone he wants.
- The Super Soldier human/alien hybrids are indistinguishable from humans until you look at the back of their neck. Or they kill you. Whichever comes first.
- Heroic variant: The Regents in Warehouse 13 are not at all what Artie expected. However, they all look a little too ordinary...
- Some artifacts are a non-human version of this. Who would have suspected that the tip jar at a food truck was behind a mini-Zombie Apocalypse?
- In the Babylon 5 episode "Intersections In Real Time," Sheridan has been captured and is being tortured in a prison cell somewhere. The Torture Technician is a mild-looking bureaucrat who administers Electric Torture and poisoned food likes it's just another day on the job. Word of God is that this was all intentional, as he wanted to remind his fans that not all evil men act evil. At the end of the episode, we discover that the government has a seemingly unlimited supply of these guys and will simply swap them out until the prisoner breaks.
- Breaking Bad contrasts the over the top antics of the Ax-Crazy Salamanca clan with the ordinary looking members of Gus's criminal organization. The Salamancas rely on intimidation and crazy violence for their reputation. Gus prefers to blend in and appear to be extremely boring and affable. He also goes to great lengths to make sure that his underlings do not attract any unnecessary attention. Walt strides the line between these two extremes as he knows that he has to be as nondescript as possible but his pride and ego constantly prompt him to do things that will get him noticed. Further, Todd is a heartless, casual sociopath who looks like one of the show's more boring or typical characters. While he looks like an ordinary man, after killing an innocent little boy his reaction is, "Shit happens."
- To an extent, BOB from Twin Peaks. He basically looks an extra from a bar scene - a denim-clad old man with stringy grey hair who smells like burnt motor oil. In fact, given that his entire presence in the show is basically a case of Throw It In, his appearance is mostly modeled on what the set dresser happened to be wearing the day he got accidentally caught in the shot. On the other hand, you probably couldn't have a conversation with him, since he mostly runs around snarling at people and hiding in the woods.
- This also applies to Leland Palmer, seemingly a perfectly normal family man and lawyer... who is actually a Serial Killer who has been raping his own daughter for years, under the Demonic Possession of the above BOB.
- American Horror Story: Asylum: Dr. Oliver Thredson, a compassionate and upstanding psychiatrist who is actually the infamous serial killer, Bloody Face.
- In the series Adam-12, Reed and Malloy were helping a female officer conduct a rape-resistance class at a local college. When one of the attendees asked what would a rapist look like, the lady cop pointed to the pair of heroes and said, "Just like them. A man."
- Most of the accused on Canadian courtroom series This Is Wonderland. Since most of the show was set in small claims courts or mental health court, most of them were normal people who had just made terrible mistakes or had been put in a terrible situation. This made the rare appearance of a genuine monster all the more startling.
- In the Masters of Horror episode "Pick Me Up", the dueling serial killers Walker and Wheeler both look fairly inconspicuous as a young drifter and a middle-aged trucker, respectively. Walker discusses the trope proper:
Walker: Your genuinely dangerous individuals — they almost never look crazy. They don't have any weird tattoos, they don't have any weird stitches on their face, funny-shaped heads. They are NOT predictable.
- In Graceland, FBI Agent Paul Briggs has a confrontation with the always masked cartel hitman who years earlier forcibly addicted Briggs to heroin and killed a bunch of his fellow agents. In the aftermath of a Gun Struggle, Briggs pulls the hood off the dead assassin... and sees the ordinary face of some guy he doesn't know. Briggs goes as far as to lampshade this trope and berate himself for having expected anything else. (Unknown to Briggs, the real assassin is still out there... and he's also a guy who Briggs doesn't know and looks just like everyone else.)
- Dahlia Hawthorne from Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney looks just like an ordinary human being, but she's actually one of the most vicious villains in the series.
- Adachi from Persona 4
- From Last Window, we have the incredibly ordinary-looking Dylan Fitchar◊, who we discover is a mole for Nile, the crime syndicate that is behind every terrible thing that happens to people in both this game and Hotel Dusk: Room 215.
- There are tons of examples from western RPGs that feature many different NPCs. Often the character models of some of the most evil characters, such as Bann Vaughan from Dragon Age: Origins or Nassana Dantius from Mass Effect 2 don't really look that much different or more sinister than the character models of any of the other NPCs of their race.
- In Mitadake High, every sprite looking the same except for their hair and gender can easily provide you with this trope, as one out of the players has to be the killer. Subverted (at least for the characters) if the killer is the "Creepy Red-Haired Guy".
- Mega Man Battle Network 3 has one subplot in which a bunch of generic NPCs turn out to be undercover World 3 agents planted in a strategic location specifically to provide cover stories for a more conspicuous (and well-known) agent.
- Terrence from KateModern.
- The majority of characters in Survival of the Fittest are Ordinary High School Students, meaning that oftentimes people who choose to play the game fit this trope in some way or another. This is particularly true in regards to v4, where there has been an increased focus on realism. Many, many characters in pre-game come off as people who you could easily find at your school in real life, but once you get to in-game... well, it brings out the worst in people. Danya himself can fit as well, as aside from bearing scars from attempts on his life he's described as someone who wouldn't particularly stand out in a crowd; Bryan Calvert even says Danya looks like his father.
- In Batman: The Animated Series, the Clock King is the only self-created supervillain in the series to avoid the tropes in the Evil Makeover index. Aside from his gadgets, he's just a guy in a nice suit.
- This was used to great effect with the Fire Lord in Avatar: The Last Airbender. You only ever get to see his silhouette against a wall of flames for most of the show's run, and when his face is finally revealed he looks like a completely normal and even fairly handsome man.