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Then Let Me Be Evil

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You're a dick, Grayson.

"Thou call'dst me dog before thou hadst a cause;
But, since I am a dog, beware my fangs."

Sometimes the supposed "forces of good" in a story treat an "evil" character badly enough, for long enough, that the "evil" character just gives up trying to show the heroes that they are not evil and becomes a villain for real. Prolonged exposure to the cynical side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism has conditioned this character to accept the fact that Humans Are the Real Monsters, and if they want to get anywhere in life, they have to be every bit as dirty and cruel as they are.

The villain normally gets to this point by being rejected by the resident morality enforcers and treated to demonization and assumptive behavior. Whether it is due to being of a different nationality, hailing from a (stereotypically) Always Chaotic Evil species in somewhat more justified cases, having bad things happen wherever they go, or having had a few evil moments in the past, they just cannot get a break; even if they try to do good deeds, it will only lead to being horrifically punished for them at worst and having them be disregarded or treated as insincere attempts at fostering goodwill at best. As they see it, their reputation is so tarnished that there is absolutely no way of changing anyone's mind that they are not a monster. So what is the use of trying to be anything other than the monster which they are already seen as?

In some cases, a genuinely innocent person being repeatedly framed up for committing things they never did into a stage where they have no chance to redeem themselves might as well become exactly what they are being framed as and repay their favors onto everyone.

Once this trope has been declared, unlike a lot of Ambiguously Evil characters, the new villains won't be redeemed in spite of their sympathetic traits — this is largely because it took a lot of work to turn them evil in the first place. Interestingly, in spite of all this, they don't look for excuses to kick puppiesthey still have morals, they just exercise a (much) more cynical variant of The Golden Rule. That is not to say that they won't do terrible things — indeed, a Moral Event Horizon may follow. The difference is that while they may wind up doing something truly heinous or, at the very least, becoming horribly callous and ruthless, they won't go around engaging in wanton acts of needless cruelty For the Evulz. However, they tend to be good at being their chosen brand of evil, often to the regret of those that forced them into the trope.

The trope can be played to be more or less convincing for the audience depending on what point the writer wants to make. You can have the statement come across like a cheap Freudian Excuse such that it feels just like the villain is not truly owning up to their own part in their villainy. You could have it come across as a genuine explanation, but still not an excuse; either their actions were too far beyond the pale, or it is a case of "too little, too late". And then again, it could be used as a genuine exposure of mistakes society has made, or even an outright exposure and commentary of the other characters' hypocrisy.

This trope is often a perfect point for the audience to begin Rooting for the Empire; after all, if the character's ascended to the status of a main antagonist because of them being subjected to prolonged (perceived or actual) Jerkassery, then what's the harm in wishing they might finally get a chance to succeed in their new role?

At that last point, you might start wondering who the villain really is, and the trope enters into Designated Villain, Villain Protagonist, and Hero Antagonist areas. You might have fun arguing with people over the authorial intent. There are also quite a few non-evil examples on this page, whose cynicism and bitterness makes them adopt a harsh exterior to hide the kindness that they were never rewarded for.

Compare Driven to Villainy when a traumatic event causes one to become evil. Related to Heel Realization, Internalized Categorism, He Who Fights Monsters, Reformed, but Rejected, Heel–Face Door-Slam, Cycle of Revenge, Trapped in Villainy, Not Helping Your Case, Interrupted Cooldown Hug, Fully-Embraced Fiend, Who's Laughing Now?, Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds, Gone Horribly Right, Monster Façade, and Big Bad Slippage. Contrast You Are Better Than You Think You Are and Becoming the Mask (when a character pretends to be a good guy and gets treated like a good guy long enough that they actually become a good guy).

See also Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, Create Your Own Villain, and Nature Versus Nurture.

SPOILER WARNING: due to the nature of this trope, spoilers abound. You Have Been Warned!


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  • Alice Cooper's "No More Mr. Nice Guy":
    I used to be such a sweet, sweet thing / Till they got hold of me.
  • This is the ending of Tripod's song "Suicide Bomber"—the falsely accused bomber is awaiting release after repeated torture, and is already planning to blow up a bus.
  • Happens in Adam WarRock's song "Sad Ultron". All the newest incarnation of Hank Pym's Ultron wants is to hang out and be accepted, but because all previous versions of him went all Knight Templar and evil, everyone assumes he'll do the same — thanks to being shunned and hated, he turns evil on principle.
    "Sorry y'all, I tried to be a nice dude, fuckin' human intelligence made me wanna fight too/And that's ironic, isn't it? The fact that human indifference made a robot turn evil and villainous/Fuck it, I'm engaging a plan to kill Hank Pym/ Ask me if I'm one of those nice robots, I'm not him."
  • From Killer Mike's "That's life", where he gives his views on many of the current issues of the day and authority's failure to handle them
    Ask em am I a bad guy? "Ya Goddamn right!" I done seen how ya do a nigga when he doing right.
  • "Down With The Sickness" by Disturbed, especially the child abuse segment which is about "mother society beating down on the freaks."
  • "Meet The Monster" by Five Finger Death Punch.
  • One English dub of Servant of Evil has a variation:
    They say you are a lady of vice and disdain, then I am evil as well, with the same blood in my veins.
  • Eminem has explored this topic in many of songs, but it becomes a primary element in the sequel to his hit song "Stan", appropriately enough, titled "Bad Guy". The final verse really drives the trope home, with Stan's younger brother, Matthew, mocking the rapper, as the young man takes vengeance on Eminem, for driving Stan to suicide.
  • "Behind Blue Eyes" by The Who. Townshend wrote it as a Villain Song for an abandoned concept album, telling the story of Jimbo, "forced into a position of being a villain whereas he felt he was a good guy."
  • Lil Nas X invokes this in the music video for "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)." After a lifetime of being told queer people were going to Hell, he films a music video where he rejects Heaven, slides down to Hell on a stripper pole, gives the devil a lapdance, then kills him and takes his crown.
  • In the iconic (and often misunderstood) Black Sabbath song "Iron Man", a hero from an apocalyptic future is sent back in time to save the world, but the process turns his body to metal. When he arrives in the past, humanity panics, thinking him some kind of alien monster. He eventually snaps and becomes the one who destroyed the world in the first place.
  • In the Elvis Costello song "Miss MacBeth", an old woman is mocked and tormented by the young children of the neighborhood, who call her a witch. She eventually decides to become one, and engages in arcane rituals to visit pain and suffering on the children.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • La Parka Jr was antagonized by the original, for being an imposter, to the point L.A. Park joined La Sociedad. Cibernético and Los Bizarros antagonized La Parka Jr. for "betraying" AAA, even after he returned, almost as much as they did La Sociedad, who were actively trying to make a mess of AAA. After their mutual elimination from Copa Antonio Peña at the 2011 Héroes Inmortales, La Parka Jr. officially joined La Sociedad.
  • After Drew Blood was kicked out of CZW by Devon Moore, he decided that if he was going to successfully get revenge on the resident scumbag of the company, he was going to have to become the devil. He later recruited Rory Mondo to his cause, who had similar feelings about Moore's Tag Team partner Danny Havoc and Matt Tremont, whom he convinced had been abandoned by The Nation Of Intoxication and "the marks". Ron Matthis meanwhile agreed to join "The Forgotten Ones" in their "Devilry" so long as it got him on shows.
  • Kevin Steen was on board with Jimmy Jacobs and Steve Corino's efforts to reform him at first, but after Ring of Honor security kicked him out of the building upon his return to explain this, he joined the House of Truth in attacking Corino. This led Jim Cornette to proclaim that Steen would never have another match in ROH again, and that led Steen to convince Jacobs and Corino that Good Is Dumb and kickstarted SCUM (Suffering Chaos Ugliness Mayhem) and their effort to destroy the company and eventually the wrestling industry (Chikara was to be next on their hit list, and Jacobs almost did take it down with The Flood).
  • One possible interpretation of Muhammad Hassan. It seemed that the original intention of the character was as a face due to being constantly Mistaken for Terrorist after 9/11— but audiences kept treating him as a heel, and the character became exactly the sort of stereotype that it was originally meant to campaign against.

  • In Bat Boy: The Musical, "Apology to a Cow" ends with this.
    Bat Boy: "I don't want to harm you, I only want to KILL!
    You shall have your monster, I shall drink my fill!
    At last I am embracing my bloody destiny!
    Dear Mom and Dad, this place will be
    The last thing that you ever see!
    Revenge will be a home for me!"
  • In Les Misérables, Valjean briefly does this after society doesn't give him a fair chance for being on parole. This prompts him to decide to become a thief. Fortunately, the first person he chooses to rob is a very kind and forgiving bishop who covers for the theft and insists that Valjean pay him back by becoming a good man.
  • Shakespeare loved this trope:
    • Perhaps most famously, Shylock of The Merchant of Venice is often interpreted as this and provides the page quote. The play establishes early on that Antonio, The Protagonist, is at the very least verbally abusive of Shylock due to Shylock's Jewish faith. When Shylock sees the opportunity to get revenge on Antonio and do it legally, he jumps at the opportunity, even though he knows it is villainous: As he states at the end of his famous "Hath not a Jew eyes?" speech, "The villainy you teach me, I will execute." Whether Shylock is intended to be this or an Anti-Villain Jerkass Woobie, and whether the play is truly anti-semitic or Fair for Its Day, is left up to modern scholars and audiences to decide — Shakespeare certainly isn't around to tell us.
    • Don John, the Designated Villain of Much Ado About Nothing. He protests his state thusly:
      "I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace, and it better fits my blood to be disdained of all than to fashion a carriage to rob love from any: in this, though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain. I am trusted with a muzzle and enfranchised with a clog; therefore I have decreed not to sing in my cage. If I had my mouth, I would bite; if I had my liberty, I would do my liking: in the meantime let me be that I am and seek not to alter me."
    • Similarly, the bastard son Edmund in King Lear laments that he is categorized as base and lowly since he is "illegitimate." Since he is going to be treated unfairly regardless of how well-behaved he is, he resorts to evil to try and increase his standing.
    • Richard III has the titular Villain Protagonist give his motivations in Act 1, Scene 1:
      "And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
      To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
      I am determined to prove a villain
      And hate the idle pleasures of these days."
    • Aaron the Moor in Titus Andronicus is not only happy to live up to the Roman's wicked expectations of him, in the end he finds he repents only the meager good he may have done.
    • Averted, however, by Iago and Caliban (of Othello and The Tempest respectively), who make comments to the effect that they're just born to be evil.
  • Similarly to "No Good Deed", Shrek: The Musical has "Build a Wall".
    Shrek: I'm gonna be what they want
    I'm gonna be what they say
    Hey world, I'll do it your way!
    You're looking for a monster, it's your lucky day
    I'll be what you want!
  • The titular song from Twisted quite fittingly twists this trope. After listening to the other villains from Scheherazade's stories, and learning that things weren't as black and white as he was led to believe, Ja'far realizes that he is destined to play the villain in his own story as well, and willingly will do so, if it means saving the Princess, the Magic Kingdom, and everything he loves from a war with Prince Achmed and Pikzar, even if they all will hate him and remember him as evil.
  • Elphaba of Wicked, after having every good deed that she's ever done blow up in her face, declares this near the end of her BSoD Song "No Good Deed."
    Elphaba Alright enough so be it
    So be it then
    Let all Oz be Agreed
    I'm Wicked through and through
    Since I cannot succeed Fiyero saving you
    I promise No Good Deed will I attempt to do again
    Ever Again
    No Good Deed
    Will I Do

    Visual Novels 
  • Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney: A downplayed example happens with Phoenix Wright; after 7 years of being disbarred because he was tricked into presenting forged evidence, he eventually decided to actually use forged evidence get the person responsible convicted of a murder that they'd committed.
  • Dies Irae has Anna Maria Schwägelin, who ended up on the wrong end of a literal Witch Hunt in the late 18th century, making her The Scapegoat for all the ills to befall her village. She was imprisoned until Mercurius appeared and offered her a way out, and she leapt at the chance to accept his dark gifts and take revenge on her village, leaving not a single survivor. She then changed her name to Rusalka and spent the next 150 years honing her powers into being a bonafide witch.
  • Fate/stay night:
    • In life, the gods subject Caster aka Medea to a continuous cycle of betrayal, forcing her to love a man she doesn't know, and that same man eventually casts her aside to marry someone else. They make her a scapegoat for the evils of others, and it is a grand irony that, once she strikes back at the world, the title she receives is "The Witch of Betrayal".
    • For Rider, the Goddess Athena became jealous of her and her sisters for being perfect goddesses, so she cursed her alone by turning everyone's love for her into hate. Rider spends her days protecting her sisters and killing the men who come for them, gradually losing her heart and eventually turning into the monster Gorgon.
  • This is how Kageaki Mintao from Full Metal Daemon Muramasa finally resolves his Guilt Complex and inner self-hatred is by accepting his status as villain and becoming a Dark Messiah who promotes peace through destruction. Notably, this isn't society viewing Kageaki as evil, it's him viewing himself as evil and deciding to not be ashamed of it.

    Web Animation 
  • The very conception of the weird, boundary-pushing, memetically terrifying Haachama persona of hololive's Akai Haato was born from this conclusion vis-a-vis YouTube. As told in her appearance on Kiara Takanashi's HoloTalk, her original mainstay of ASMR streams were quite tame but YouTube's A.I. algorithm flagged them anyway and demonitized them, resulting in her getting no income from any of her streams for many months. In a case of Create Your Own Villain, she decided that if even that was going to be demonitized then there was no point in holding fast to the traditional cutsey and pure ideal of an idol; thus, she went full-throttle at going in the other direction and the spider-eating, NSFW-fanart-reviewing, no-way-in-hell-seiso Haachama was born.
  • RWBY:
    • This was the explanation given for the White Fang wearing Grimm masks; "Humanity chose to make monsters of us, so we chose to don the faces of monsters."
    • General James Ironwood has made it clear that he will use whatever means necessary to defeat Salem. When he decides that means leaving an entire city to die, something the other characters aren't willing to allow, he declares he's done letting other people's opinions hold him back from "saving" Remnant, and will embrace being the evil dictator if that's what it takes.
  • There's a Man in the Woods (link here) is about some sort of school administrator being fired after a child makes up a lie about there being a serial killer in the woods to get all the honeysuckle to himself, and the parents undergoing a moral panic and getting him fired for not properly dealing with the nonexistent serial killer in the woods. In the end, the man who has been telling the story is revealed to have gone into the woods in order to murder the child who originally made up the rumor while he is all alone, eating the honeysuckle where none of the other kids dare to go.

  • This scenario from Brawl in the Family follows up from the previous one, in an attempt to answer why King K. Rool has such a problem with DK.
  • In Girl Genius, Gil tells Othar that "If being like you is the alternative, I'll gladly take evil" before knocking him off of a dirigible. Gil prefers the lighter and softer approach, but lives in a world and time where that is seen as weakness, and has to be hard-hitting and ruthless just to keep up. Othar thinks he's being a Well-Intentioned Extremist by going around killing Sparks to "save the world" from their bouts of madness and plans to end his campaign with his own suicide — but Sparks are born, including to non-Spark parents, and Othar is either oblivious to or a hypocrite about that fact.
  • In The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, Molly the Monster briefly considers this, early on:
    Molly: "F-Freak?" He shot at me just for what I look like? Yeah? W-Well, if they want a monster, maybe I'll just give them one! Like Shelley's Frankenstein Monster, if I cannot give love to the world, then I will give it wrath! I'll... I'll... Aw, who am I kidding? I haven't got any wrath! Oh Dr. Poule, what am I going to do? Sob!
  • Redcloak of The Order of the Stick has this trait in his more sympathetic moments, most of which are in the prequel book Start of Darkness. As a member of the Always Chaotic Evil goblin race, if a "good" character murders him, any other goblins, or even any baby goblins for any reason, this is not treated as an "evil" act, even though the whole reason goblins are evil in the first place is supposedly because they murder without provocation. His example is particularly notable, as at one point he has a Heel Realization — about the way he mistreats other goblins. He never seriously considers the idea that he's giving humans any less than they deserve.
  • Joe vs. Elan School: A downplayed Real Life example. Right after returning from the titular Juvenile Hell, Joe finds no sympathy or comfort from his parents or law enforcement, so he starts smoking weed and drinking, because why not. Barely a year out of Elan and Joe has taken up chain smoking, alcohol, drugs, and tattoos as coping mechanisms to deal with the social stigmas and PTSD he's enduring. Effectively, the abuse, indifference, and lack of sympathy has caused Joe to fully embrace self-destructive vices; Joe's narration even points out that a year earlier, he never would have imagined himself going down this path. Furthermore, Joe notices his story is hardly unique, as he kept in touch with other people who went through Elan, and observed that the vast majority of them fell into drug and alcohol abuse as way to cope with the massive traumas the place had inflicted upon them. And, it's important to note, Elan sold itself and its abusive methods to both parents and state governments, as a surefire way to discourage the unfortunate teenagers who were sent there from bad habits like drinking and smoking weed.
  • Pie Comic features an orca whale complaining that being unfairly labeled "killer whale" is what sets them off in the first place.
  • In Spinnerette, Dr. Universe says this to justify his status as a Card-Carrying Villain. He does not consider himself evil, but rather an Übermensch with his own moral code (that he adopted after reading Ayn Rand). He acts with integrity, but his definitions of right and wrong do not always align with the rest of the world's. If this makes him evil in eyes of the ignorant masses, he will wear that label with pride.
    Tiger: A good deed by a supervillain, that's rich.
    Dr. Universe: Ask the average joe today who the villains are, and he'll name the banker! The scientist! The entrepreneur! Ask him who his heroes are, and he'll name an actor or a pop star! If that is the standard of the day, then I absolutely am a supervillain!
  • Occurs to Sandra years after she's transformed into a demon at the start of Zebra Girl. Frustrated at the downsides of her new bodyExamples  and waiting for an incredibly unlikely cure, she decides to throw it all to the wind and embrace it. She gets banished to another realm by her friends for her troubles, and thus far it appears that she's learnt her lesson.

    Web Original 
  • In Belkinus Necrohunt, Luc Badeaux argues this as the reason why so many Necromancers, including recurring antagonist Bloodstride, join the Spine of Death, which is basically a terrorist organization - their whole life, everyone around them treated something that makes them special as a sign of evil, and they had to hide their abilities or be labeled villains. A lot of them decided to stop trying to prove otherwise.
  • Happens to Sombra from Ask King Sombra. He's managed to get some character development, and is almost ready to apologize to the Crystal Empire — and then some guards sent out to meet him mistreat and spit on him, convincing him that being evil was the only thing he could do that would actually work out.
  • Carmilla the Series
    Mattie: You know, since I've arrived, I've been gracious. I've been reasonable. I've been civilized. But all you idiots do are accuse me of murder after petty murder. As if I would bother with one or two... or twenty. I'm going to carve a red swath through your army. I'm going to drink this nation dry. I am death on dark wings. You want to blame me for carnage? I'll show you carnage.
  • In Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, the titular Villain Protagonist was supposedly driven to supervillainy by the smug Jerk Jock attitude that his heroic archnemesis, Captain Hammer, takes toward anyone "nerdy" or "unpopular". Being both of those things, he was persecuted until he gave up on using his intelligence for good and adopted the Dr. Horrible Mad Scientist persona. Even then he's an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain until one too many humiliations from Captain Hammer triggers a Not-So-Harmless Villain breakout. It doesn't help that he's not exactly getting good publicity because even when he was trying to be explicitly heroic, he was a Hero with an F in Good. He still wants to do long-term good, even as a villain, but he's not that great at it. His plan seems to be, "1. Take over the world. 2. Everything wrong with the world magically fixes itself because I'm in charge." Even then, he was something of a Well-Intentioned Extremist who thought that he can fix the world by ruling. However, when his Morality Chain Penny dies in the end, he had nothing keeping him from becoming a true supervillain.
  • In Dragon Age: Redemption, this is the Saarebas' justification for his actions. The Qun teaches that all mages are inherently evil and must be kept in chains. So, after breaking free, the Saarebas did exactly what he felt was expected of him — do as much damage as possible.
  • The Elfslayer Chronicles involves a Dungeons & Dragons player who gets fed up with his Jerkass DM and her constant tirades about how elves are super-duper awesome and wonderful, while humans are evil, bigoted monsters. Sick of listening to it, he decides that if humans are supposed to be Always Chaotic Evil, why would his character be an exception? So, rather than play along with the DM's glorified morality play, he murders the prince he was supposed to save and frames the guy's elvish lover for it. The DM can't complain; she's the one who insisted that humans are all intolerant monsters.
  • In Half-Life but the AI is Self-Aware, during his Motive Rant at the climax, Benrey claims this was his motivation for turning evil. As with everything else he says, it's probably not true.
    Benrey: I didn't have a big plan. I was 'sposed to be nice, but you forced me to be BAAAAAAAD, so I gonna be baaaaaaaaad.
  • The SCP Foundation has a weird example best described as "Then Let Me Be Euclid" in SCP-1337. Here's what happened:
    • 1337 was a Safe-classnote  SCP that manifested as a little girl. She would appear on a specific road [1337-Alpha] on every month's 19th, hail down a car, request a ride home, direct them to a cemetery [1337-Beta], leave behind her sweatshirt [1337-Gamma], and make the kind driver want to take that sweatshirt to her home [1337-Delta], where her parents would receive it. The Foundation had developed a system to stay aware of her properties; an agent drives down Alpha, picks her up, takes her to Beta, retrieves Gamma, and takes it to Delta, where her parents have been made E-class agents.
    • Dr. L______ defied orders, killed the E-class agents, and burned 1337-Delta to the ground, expecting a promotion.
    • 1337 now manifests as a little girl covered in ritual torture scars; 1337-Alpha is now a range of back roads; and 1337 will now warp into a vehicle with a lone driver and kill them the same way she was killed.note 
  • Appears in the Back Story of several characters in the Whateley Universe:
    • Some mutants became villains for revenge, while others complain that they were given no choice and still others are obviously just using this as an excuse. It's played out front and center with the "Bad Seeds", a long-established school clique composed of the children of supervillains who are banded together mostly out of self-preservation because everyone else seems to assume evil is in their blood. At least one "heroic" character (the "future heroes" clique essentially being a stand-in for the "Jocks" cliques found in normal high schools) recognizes this trope is in action and is trying to convince her fellow "Capes" to stop persecuting the Bad Seeds, with limited success so far.
    • One could argue that the most heroic character in the whole series is Jadis Diabolik, because she tries so hard to avoid being sucked into evil even though most people presume she's going to become a supervillain like her father. This is thrown into even sharper contrast when comparing her to 'heroes' such as Bravo, Gryphon, and Iron Mike, or even some of the other protagonists such as Team Kimba (some of whom have a lot of blood on their hands, unlike her).
  • In Worm, Taylor constantly worries about her perception in the eyes of the superheroes and her acquaintances, but ultimately embraces her villain identity. She realizes that her villain team contains the only real friends she has, and has been thoroughly unimpressed with every superhero she's met. That said even while acting fully as a villain, most of her fights are still against other villains, sometimes just vying for territory, but often times with genuinely heroic goals on Taylor's part. By the end of the series her motivations are still largely good (mostly centered around literally saving the world), but her methods and actions get progressively more violent and ruthless in the process.


Video Example(s):


Megamind's Backstory

Megamind recalls his childhood, and how Metro Man was praised while everything he tried to do was treated as "bad" and he was ostracized. Internalizing the idea, he decides to be the ultimate bad guy, and begins a career as a Super Villain.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (11 votes)

Example of:

Main / ThenLetMeBeEvil

Media sources: