When a certain (allegedly) non-villainous character starts getting explicitly dark character development, they are being painted into the Villain Corner.
This new development can be either subtle or blatant, gradual or abrupt. The character can be an old friend of the protagonist, a friendly acquaintance, a former Mentor
, or any other type of automatically respected person; the character can even be the actual protagonist. It can involve the revelations of dark deeds from the character's past, or manifest in new actions or attitudes which go against the established grain. In any of these cases, the audience is not supposed to suspect anything evil about this person; indeed, there may not be
anything evil about them, at least initially.
The key to this trope is ambiguity. Once a previously good character begins to undergo this treatment, the narrative typically will become increasingly mum about their actual motivations and alignment. This can serve as an unintentional (or intentional) Lampshade Hanging
, as it is a sure sign that we're not dealing with the sympathetic character
we started out with.
This tactic can
be handled well, and can add nuance and intrigue to an established character, shaking up potential story arcs and fan expectations. But when executed poorly, a clever audience will have them picked out from the beginning like an oak tree in a beanfield, even if the other characters don't see it
Compare Knight Templar
and Well-Intentioned Extremist
, which is where this trope often ends up. See also Anti-Villain
Anime and Manga
- While it's no secret that Cassidy from Preacher was never a saint, beginning with "Dixie Fried" he started to act more bastardly than was common up to the point, and then came "All Hell's A-Coming" where we find out just how bad he really is, and for how long.
- The Ultimate version of Reed Richards, who had three interconnected miniseries dedicated to going off the deep end.
- The Warhammer 40,000: Eisenhorn Trilogy uses this on purpose, to show how an Inquisitor can go from Puritan to Radical in the course of duty. It displays the slide as a series of decisions that gradually get more and more radical as time goes on (ie summoning a daemonhost to kill a Titan - but only after exhausting all other options, even the one that resulted in the Love Interest going into a permanent coma)
- Eisenhorn isn't really an example of a Villain Protagonist, as all through the series his motive was to protect innocent people (particularly those around him) and this didn't change a bit. Eisenhorn didn't change his motives but his perspective on Imperial dogma did change. The irresponsible action that caused his death was letting Pontinus Glaw live as a prisoner and giving him an approximation of a body rather than just destroying him. Hardly an evil action.
- In The Dresden Files books, Harry's mentor and teacher Ebenezar McCoy turns out to have a license to kill... and in fact to break any rule of magic he damn well wants to. However, he's not shown to abuse this power; the ambiguity comes solely from Harry's realization that the laws of magic aren't as black-and-white as McCoy taught him.
- Delivered somewhat in Harry Potter (it turns out not quite as outright villainy, but as Omniscient Morality License and really bad youthful influences) via a surprising instance of Posthumous Character.
- Angel, in Season Two
- And again after they take over Wolfram & Hart. The second time though, he was doing it to intentionally mislead the bad guys into thinking he had been corrupted so he could infiltrate their inner circle
- Based on the most recent episode, Henry from Eureka
- Averted in that he didn't do anything truly villainous, and continued to stay the same friendly face he had been. Truthfully, all he did was take more of a Darker and Edgier turn.
- Lex Luthor has undergone this treatment in Smallville. We already know where that one is headed.
- As of S9, Chloe Sullivan seems like she's on that path as well.
- Peter from Degrassi The Next Generation is in and out of the Villain Corner like a grade-school dunce. In his first appearance, he's a blackmailer; afterward the show desperately tries to make him seem like a good guy (including mandatory Freudian Excuse). But then he has several more Kick the Dog moments, most notably when he helps a pedophile stalk somebody... and then an additional season of "no, he's really a decent guy." And after that, (judging by promos) it looked like he was going to be evil again. But as it turns out, you can Never Trust a Trailer, and after one episode of appearing to be evil it turns out he's still good.
- In Supernatural S4, one common complaint was that it was impossible to empathize with Sam for betraying Dean and siding with Ruby because not enough was done to reveal his motivation for it. Ultimately, Sam was briefly an example of this trope, and this point has been addressed in S5.
- Gaeta in the finale season of the Battlestar Galactica remake. His motivations (and emotional breakdown) are made clearer if one has seen the webisodes.
- In The Order of the Stick, the wizard Vaarsuvius began showing signs of Jumping Off the Slippery Slope after the defeat at Azure City left him (her?) suffering from Bad Dreams over the failure of hir arcane power to save the day. It started with being a Jerk Ass to the rest of the party, progressed to casually murdering Smug Snake Daimyo Kubota and then threatening to kill Elan, and finally to a full-blown Deal with the Devil that eventually led to a near genocide of the Black Dragons that very nearly pushed hir over the Moral Event Horizon. Fortunately, V shows signs of desiring to redeem hirself at the end of the arc.
- The universe has made sure to give V another slap for the last action by revealing that the family of black dragons and relatives s/he murdered were related to a large, powerful family of wizards that really got around, meaning V murdered people whose only sin was to sleep with a member of this family.
- In Sluggy Freelance, while Dr. Schlock was always more concerned with saving his own hide than anything else, still seemed like a pretty sympathetic guy until he took over Hereti-Corp. After that, a storyline focusing on him was actually titled "A Year in the Life of a Villain."
- In The Wotch, Miranda West has always been a Jerkass, but when she transforms Natasha Dahlet of DOLLY into a living, sentient dolly it's a pretty sinister act, even if it was delivered to a villain. Miranda's catapulting leap into the Villain Corner continued even further when she ruined the life of a young man by permanently swapping his gender and then did the same to two innocent friends of his, just to point out how serious she really is about upholding the Masquerade.