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Smug Snake

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"I'll give you a description. A forked tongue, little beady eyes, and he slithers on his belly. You'll find him easy. Just look under rocks."
Mrs. Kandell, Dragnet 1967, "Burglary: Mister"

The Smug Snake is a type of character (usually a villain) who tends to treat friends and enemies alike with equal disdain. They almost constantly speak in a sarcastic tone and punctuate most of their sentences with a smirk. While they aspire to be a formidable and awe-inspiring adversary, they often just become a Big Bad Wannabe, failing in the face of more cunning villains or becoming their servants, in which case they'll generally be The Starscream. Others that fall under this trope are simply in it to bug the good guys and take advantage of their moral insecurity.

A key character trait common to Smug Snakes is overconfidence. The Smug Snake is usually too arrogant to be rattled. Oftentimes, they will view themselves as a Magnificent Bastard. While they may believe that they have the situation under control (whether they do so through blackmail, manipulation, or simply being in a position of authority), there will usually be a hole in that plan that they failed to consider. Perhaps they underestimated their opponents' abilities and claimed themselves unbeatable, or maybe they made a really stupid mistake along the way. They may even taunt someone or something even when common sense dictates that doing so is a good way to get themselves killed. Once that realization hits, expect the Snake to lose their cool right before everything starts falling apart for them. They are not necessarily entirely incompetent, stupid or ineffectual, however, and may succeed with at least part of their goals, but they are still lacking that charm and grace that the Magnificent Bastard possesses, and even the clever ones all too often ultimately are Too Clever by Half. Often a Know-Nothing Know-It-All too, to inspire added bile, though still enough to take the 'sympathetic' out of Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain (the best of them are Insufferable Geniuses heavy on the former and light on the latter). If a Smug Snake considers themself a Magnificent Bastard, then they're a villainous Small Name, Big Ego. When things go badly, the Smug Snake may reveal themself to be a Dirty Coward and pathetically grovel when a former victim asks Who's Laughing Now? or beg the victim to save them in the event of outside danger.


Mostly, a writer will purposely introduce a Smug Snake as a target for audience hate by making them Kick the Dog or bend the rules to get their way and come out smelling like a rose. Basically, this is a villain that's made to be hated and the audience will enjoy hating. This, like all other tropes, can backfire if misused. If the writer still tries to foist the character as a Magnificent Bastard when their previous actions have proven otherwise, the audience will likely stop enjoying hating the character, and instead genuinely hate them as much as they would The Scrappy or the Creator's Pet. Evolving a Smug Snake into a true Magnificent Bastard could be doable, in theory, but shouldn't be attempted lightly, and has only been pulled off successfully in fiction a few times. Ever. Of course, the author might be deliberately doing this, playing a villain up as a Magnificent Bastard when it comes to getting the power they crave, but proving to be so inept at wielding that power once they finally have it that they ultimately are a Smug Snake instead. The line between those two tropes is thinner than it looks after all and the further someone overestimates themself and underestimates the others the closer they lean to Smug Snake territory even if they are normally a Magnificent Bastard. So it is a state of mind directly proportional to the overconfidence and a character who has a good reason to have a high idea of themself will need to exaggerate their self-worth more to reach it than someone who hasn't.


The Smug Snake will rarely be a Draco in Leather Pants, because, as previously stated, they're often created intentionally to be loathed by the audience. (However, it is possible for this to happen, especially if the character is physically attractive — the Trope Namer himself is an example.)

If the Smug Snakes are literally snakes, then it also overlaps with Snakes Are Sinister.

Contrast Worthy Opponent, Evil Is Cool and Magnificent Bastard, who inspire respect and/or admiration from their opponents/the audience, and Awesome Ego, whose brash cockiness is part of their charm (although any of these may be perceived as a Smug Snake by an audience via Alternative Character Interpretation or simply poor writing). Compare and contrast Smug Super, for when the person's arrogance and ego can actually be backed up with feats.

Sub-Trope of the Sin of Pride.

Sometimes Truth in Television, but let's leave it here, so No Real Life Examples, Please!


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  • The ancient Romans called this sort of character a "Ballio", after the villain of Plautus' Pseudolus. Ballio the pimp is a raging egomaniac who threatens his courtesans with demotion to low-class whores—and floggings—if they fail to obtain rich birthday presents for him from their lovers; and he takes a nasty delight in telling Calidorus that his [Calidorus'] beloved is about to be sold. Ultimately, when he's been tricked out of the deal, he resolves to hang himself.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Redd White from the first Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney game is so overconfident in his blackmail network that he hits Phoenix just to show he can get away with it and then testifies in court to spitefully frame Phoenix for murder. All evidence so far has contradicted Phoenix being the killer, and White doesn't even try to match up his testimony with that from the previous day's trial.
    • Richard Wellington from the second game's first case is egotistical and nowhere as smart as he thinks he is. Also, his testimony is pulled apart by an amnesiac Phoenix.
    • Matt Engarde from the second game. He hires someone to do the job for him and easily outsmarts the Magantama the first time, can put a facade that fools most people and he nearly breaks Phoenix with a Sadistic Choice. He even wins in the bad ending. However, he barely falls short of being a Magnificent Bastard because he makes the fatal mistake of thinking to blackmail a hitman. That exposes him to Phoenix and makes the assassin turn on him. His breakdown also shows he is a really Sore Loser.
    • Juan Corrida, victim of the final case. He can be incredibly petty and even break the law just to stop being Always Second Best to Matt. Unfortunately for him, Matt surpasses him even in scheming and villainy.
    • Dahlia Hawthorne, the primary villain of Trials and Tribulations. Though she bears loads of surface-level charm and she's been masterminding crimes since she was fourteen, she's consistently shown to be nowhere near as clever as she thinks. She's a Bad Liar (she falls for the I Never Said It Was Poison trick twice in the same case), she gets Out-Gambitted regularly, and her crimes are consistently sloppy. In a later "The Reason You Suck" Speech, Mia simply points out that, for all her boasting, none of her schemes were actually successful.
    • Subverted with Luke Atmey in Trials and Tribulations, who acts condescending to Phoenix for the entire first day (investigation and trial) until he's caught. And then you find out he manipulated you into coming to that particular conclusion so he could play the justice system. In fact, the entire first day was a major case of Obfuscating Stupidity on his part. He still suffers the sin of Pride (which ultimately leads to his downfall), but aside from that, he's an extremely capable and dangerous criminal whose claims of superior intelligence may be more than just hot air. Had he not made one (easily missed) mistake at the end, he would have gotten away with murder.
    • Ambassador Quercus Alba in Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth acts like a condescending asshole every minute after The Reveal, flaunting his Diplomatic Impunity in Edgeworth's face until it's revoked. And he still acts like a smug asshat, stubbornly repeating that none of your evidence proves he committed the crime.
    • Alita Tiala from Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney originally acts as the defendant's eager fiancée, until she reveals she's an arrogant Gold Digger who only hired Apollo because she was under the impression that the office he's employed under is a third-rate and questionable law firm that will get the defendant convicted for sure. That backfired.
    • From Apollo Justice, Daryan Crescend laughs disdainfully at almost every accusation Apollo throws at him, convinced it isn't enough.
    • Florent L'Belle from Dual Destinies is an obnoxious jerk who takes every opportunity to laugh disdainfully at Apollo. But while his scheme is clever, it's also ludicrously complicated, to the point where a bumbling thief who decides to steal the treasure L'Belle is after for a lark ultimately tears it apart.
    • Nearly every prosecutor in the entire series that you go up against is a smug prick in one way or another and they become it even more when the tide turns in their favor. They'll present every counterargument dipped in snark and contempt for the player character while making them feel dumb for not seeing the flaws in their own logic. The moment things start turning in your favor, the prosecution will either come up with flimsy logic or shout some variant of This Cannot Be!. The only prosecutors that avoid the trope are Miles Edgeworth (who was a smug bastard before he went through Character Development), Klavier Gavin (who just teases Apollo Justice rather than putting him down) and Simon Blackquill, who also just teases and intimidates, but he only pretends to be a bad guy.. Winston Payne is the most notable example, aa he really can't back up his ego and this trope is the worst thing that can be said about him.
      • Manfred von Karma is a very good schemer, and he is also a prosecutor who can intimidate the Judge. He comes close to becoming a Magnificent Bastard, as he puts up an incredibly good fight and has a record of fourty years of victory, but he is too arrogant and some of his taunts backfire on him (though he IS prepared for such a thing), is also incredibly petty and he makes the fatal mistake of committing murder because of a penalty he got, plus framing the victim's son for it. Also, he is such a Sore Loser it becomes the final nail in his coffin, as his scream of defeat is what gives him away to Edgeworth.
      • Nahyuta acts like a Holier Than Thou jackass constantly. He subverts this trope, as he was forced by actual Smug Snake Queen Ga'Ran to act like that. The queen herself puts up a good fight, but only because she abuses authority. She still loses.
  • Dennis from Double Homework thinks he's superior to everyone, and it shows in his voice. He has supreme confidence in his ability to manipulate others. However, he ultimately loses his battle of wits with Dr. Mosely/Zeta, and she has him taken away for execution.
  • Fate/stay night:
    • Shinji Matou. In all three routes (Fate, Unlimited Blade Works, and Heaven's Feel) he's shown to be overconfident, unintelligent, and tries to win through manipulating more powerful characters (e.g. his servant Rider, Gilgamesh, and Sakura). However, it always turns out badly (and sometimes bloodily) for him. Actually, he's being manipulated, by his grandfather Zouken. This is most obvious in Heaven's Feel (where his actions form most of the impetus for Sakura's gradual Sanity Slippage, culminating in his eventual death and her Freak Out), but is also true in the other two routes.
    • Gilgamesh. Oh, sure, with his enormous strength and power he could easily have become a much more successful villain, but he's just so damn egotistical that it winds up costing him dearly in each route he appears in, particularly in the UBW route, where he foolishly underestimates the power of Shirou ultimately.
  • Minotaur Hotel: Argos is a literal example, being an actual serpent and smug as all hell.
  • Eva-Beatrice of Umineko: When They Cry is incredibly arrogant as she treats her allies poorly whenever they fail to entertain her and acts jerkish any time that she feels safe. She's also reduced to a screaming mess when things don't go her way.