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Villainous BSoD

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"Seeing clearer what I've done
I'd refuse to let things go
I could never once admit I'm wrong
And what do I have to show?
Seeing clearer what's at stake
And the things I have to change
I just hope I can, it's not too late
To get a chance to end this pain."
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Only a scant few villains work under a conventional moral framework with standards, fewer acknowledge the egocentricity implicit in the wrong they do, a distressing number are beyond all attempts at being reasoned with. And to make things worse, these also tend to be too powerful to beat.

In these cases, the only solution is for the heroes to actively Care-Bear Stare him into growing a conscience to make him voluntarily stop his rampage... because the accumulated shame, guilt, and mental instability over his misdeeds will be too much for him to bear. The heroes may not have used Mind Rape on him but they might as well have, because now that he has the heart and conscience of a hero he cannot help but suffer a Heroic BSoD. He'll weep openly, become suicidal, and may either will himself into non existence or beg to be killed. The heroes have basically Talked the Monster to Death by helping him grow a conscience.

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The exact reaction depends on the villain and the weight of his sins. One that had not yet gotten to do much more than Poke the Poodle or Kick the Dog once may survive with emotional counseling. If he slipped further? The black hole he's become will finally crush him. Things can get really interesting if the character, through his own fault, invited in Mind Control, Demonic Possession, or The Virus, and entirely remembers all the evil things he did under its control — that would not have happened if he had fought it off, but which he had no control over.

One unlikely, but possible, outcome is that he reacts not with unbearable sadness but overwhelming anger at the heroes for daring to make him "feel like this!" This tends to make him even more dangerous. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero.

A common subversion has the villain turn out to be so evil that when they are forced to realise all the pain they have caused they either do not care or are downright happy about it.

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Despite the intense emotional anguish this causes, Heroes can pull this with impunity since it is not killing anyone (directly, anyway), saves lives, and in the long run is a fairly elegant form of justice that may even bring about a Heel–Face Turn. Then again, they may do this knowing the effects are temporary and only do it to weaken the villain psychologically long enough to kill him. Even normal, moral people can turn evil, and they may reason they do not want to give him a second chance.

Subtrope of Villainous Breakdown. Compare the Villainous RRoD, where overexertion leads to a physical breakdown for the villain. See also Brainwashing for the Greater Good and Alas, Poor Villain. May overlap with Identity Breakdown if part of the trigger to the BSOD are issues or revelations about who or what they are. The trope name comes from the original Blue Screen of Death, of course.


Examples:

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    Films — Animation 
  • The air conditioner in The Brave Little Toaster delivers a Breaking Lecture and when the other appliances tell him to Shut Up, Hannibal!, has a breakdown and spontaneously combusts. Also, when he is repaired by his owner, he actually seems to feel a tinge of remorse.
  • Gru, the Anti-Villain Protagonist of Despicable Me goes into a deep depression after his Dragon Dr. Nefario sends the girls he's adopted and just recently bonded with back to the orphanage so that he could focus on their plans to steal the moon.
  • Scar in The Lion King undergoes a very brief one when Simba returns, mistaking him for Mufasa (his tone implying guilt or at the very least fear):
    Scar: Mufasa? No, you're dead...
  • In The LEGO Movie, President/Lord Business undergoes one when Emmet tells him that he is not the bad guy.
  • In Song of the South, Br'er Fox has one at the end of the "Tar Baby" sequence: a sickly look on his face after Br'er Rabbit tricked him and hopped off. Br'er Bear silently clubs the fox on the head, knocking him out, then walks off, leaving the fox lying there.
    Uncle Remus: [narrating] So now it's Br'er Fox's turn to feel humble-come-tumble. But ol' Br'er Bear, he don't say nothin'. And Br'er Fox, he lay low. Mighty low.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 300 has an epic one after Leonidas grazes Xerxes' face with a spear. After so long of being Drunk On Power to the point of believing himself a god, seeing himself bleed and feel pain leaves Xerxes unable to do anything except stare at his own blood in shock.
  • El Indio suffers one in For a Few Dollars More every time he uses his pocket watch for a kill, which brings back memories of his encounter with Col. Mortimer's sister. Invariably, this sends him into a funk that requires some hash to break out of.
  • The Ghost Rider movie fits this trope, since the Big Bad was soulless (and thus immune to GR's Penance Stare) until the movie's climax.
    Ghost Rider: A thousand souls to BURN!!!
  • The film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has Voldemort briefly experiencing the trope whenever his horcruxes are being destroyed (in one instance, when he was bombarding Hogwart's barrier with spells, after firing a huge beam from his wand upon a horcrux being destroyed, he stares in shock, looks at his arm, and leaves without a word). Both the movie and the novel also imply that this is the reason why Harry and his friends were able to track down the remaining horcruxes.
  • In The Neverending Story II, Bastian beats The Emptiness by wishing she had a heart. The result is that she is filled, and as she realizes what she's done/is doing, she weeps a single tear that undoes her.
  • Night After Night After Night: After undergoing a Villainous Breakdown, the killer seems to realize exactly how mentally ill he actually is, and he winds up on his knees on the banks of the Thames, begging the police who trying to arrest him for help.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean:
    • Cutler Beckett suffers this in his final moments in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, when both the Black Pearl and the Flying Dutchman actually flank both sides of his ship: When he witnesses this, he couldn't even give the order to fire, as he was rendered virtually catatonic from witnessing it, and could only reply in a very soft but shocked tone "It's just... good business...", and walked, not ran, but walked as his crew abandoned ship and his ship was being destroyed, and couldn't even react when the flames from the ship exploding engulfed him.
      • This is despite the fact that his ship has more guns than the Pearl and the Dutchman put together. On the other hand, the Dutchman can't be sunk. And really, if a pair of ghost ships suddenly stopped fighting each other and decided to team up against you, soul-crushing fear is an understandable reaction.
    • Davey Jones tried to avoid this by removing his heart.
    • Barbossa's in the first movie is nicely understated. The apple may be a bit much, though.
    • Blackbeard in the fourth film when Jack reveals that he gave the the chalice with the mermaid's tear to Angelica instead of him.
  • Saw III was supposed to have this. Jigsaw was to awaken on his makeshift hospital bed, and realize to his horror that for all his life before the films, for all his warped intent to try to make people reflect on what they've done with their lives, all that anyone would remember him as is a monster and a killer. The thought, naturally, was to have occurred too late in the film for him to do anything to save the current protagonist, leaving the man weeping and too weak to move. What Could Have Been, indeed.
  • The Operative from Serenity, when shown what the Alliance did at Miranda.
    Mal: They take you down, I don't expect to grieve overmuch. Likely to kill you myself, I see you again.
    The Operative: You won't. There is nothing left to see.
  • In Skyfall, Silva is at last about to fulfill his Roaring Rampage of Revenge, as he holds the mortally wounded M in his grasp and puts his gun to her face...before he starts crying and puts the gun in M's own hand, presses his temple against hers, then guides the gun to her other temple, and he begs her to kill them both with the same bullet.
  • Darth Vader in the Star Wars saga could be said to be in one for the entire Original Trilogy. The un-energetic, almost catatonic way he goes about his duties is quite a contrast to the fiery passion he had before Padmé's death. It takes seeing his son brutally tortured by the Emperor to finally snap him back to his senses.
  • In Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the eponymous Villain Protagonist have one during "Epiphany." He goes into a heartbreaking one after he realizes that he killed his wife.
  • Watchmen: Ozymandias appears to be going through one of these the last time he's seen on camera. He lets Nite Owl beat him, without even the slightest move to fight back this time, and then wanders over to watch the others leave while staring into space, stoop-shouldered and weak-looking. It's a bit complicated, given that his mass murder actually saved the world from a greater threat, and in the sped-up footage showing New York being rebuilt it's possible to pick out Veidt Enterprises building equipment taking care of things.
  • In The Woman Hunt, Big Bad Spyros is badly wounded and Left for Dead. Despite his injuries, he drags himself after the last two survivors, Tony and McGee. He catches up with them while they are Skinny Dipping and has them in his sights when he is overwhelmed by memories of his Number Two Magda, whom he had been forced to perform a Mercy Kill on. Instead of shooting Tony and McGee, he puts a bullet through his own head.

    Literature 
  • Elizabeth Bathory in Count and Countess upon realizing that her closest handmaid has betrayed her and Vlad has stopped writing back to her. Her letters become notably shorter and more frantic before altogether stopping.
  • In Crime and Punishment, Svidrigailov has a Heel Realization, gives his money to charity and becomes unhinged and commits suicide in public.
  • Discworld:
    • Subverted in Wyrd Sisters: Granny Weatherwax attempts to defeat the Duchess by pulling down the mental dividers that keep her from thinking about the horrors she's committed — and the Duchess recovers almost immediately, announcing that she's perfectly fine with who she is, enjoys her work, and would happily do it all again given the chance; in fact, the only regret she has is not having done even worse things.note  Luckily Nanny Ogg, who's even more of a Combat Pragmatist than Esme, was ready with a Mundane Solution in the form of the nearest blunt instrument.
    • Since Death tends to show up after people have been disconnected from all their glands and after death has stripped away any rose-tinted glasses villains may have had about their actions, he's been known to induce a few. Mr. Tulip gets a big one in The Truth (although he's probably better off than his associate Mr. Pin who didn't repent).
    • In Small Gods, after death one must walk across a black desert, alone with their beliefs, to face judgement on the other side. But when Vorbis, a cold-blooded torturer who exploited religion for his own gain, dies he realizes that he has no beliefs. The revelation that he is utterly alone drives him into a catatonic state. Decades later, when Brutha dies, he finds Vorbis still lying there. Being truly selfless and kind person, he helps him up and walks with him.
  • Finders Keepers: Big Bad Morris briefly suffers from one when, after years in prison and then several weeks of staying in line to get his Parole officer off his back, is finally able to retrieve the buried trunk with the notebooks he stole years ago…only to find it empty. He recovers when he learns who took the notebooks though (or at least thinks he knows).
  • The Sorrow Eater of The Girl Who Drank the Moon experiences one when its emotional core is finally cracked, allowing it to feel human emotions for the first time in five hundred years.
  • Caine from the Gone series, during the period between Gone and Hunger.
  • Galbatorix in the final novel of Inheritance Cycle ...and how! Eragon channels his Applied Phlebotinum to force Galby to understand the suffering his actions has caused - a whole century's worth of it. Galbatorix promptly turns himself into a literal nuclear bomb, complete with earth-shattering explosion and massive radiation fallout.
  • Harry Potter:
    • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it is mentioned that a Horcrux can be destroyed and a Soul made whole if its creator feels enough regret, which may be fatal to him. In a twist, it is done the old-fashioned way after all.
    • On the other hand, in The Tales of Beedle the Bard, one story ("The Warlock's Hairy Heart") does end this way. It has commentary from Albus Dumbledore explaining it.
  • When Inspector Javert from Les Misérables finds that Jean Valjean, while still a criminal, is a good person, he simply cannot reconcile his previous black and white system of morality with this demonstration that all along, he had been wrong in his belief that what is lawful and what is right were one and the same. He jumps off a bridge and drowns. His final song in the musical is essentially a summation of his Villainous BSOD.
  • Memory, Sorrow and Thorn have the Storm King suffer this as the climax of the last book.
  • Star Wars Legends: Much of Death Star's cast go through a Heel Realization by the time Alderaan is destroyed, and most of them go on to defect. Tenn Graneet, the head gunner on the Death Star, didn't, but he found that pulling the trigger brought him misery beyond his ugliest dreams. At the Battle of Yavin, the superlaser actually was ready to fire, but he stalled desperately until Luke's proton torpedoes hit home.
    He wouldn't be able to walk on a street on any civilized planet on the galaxy; people wouldn't be able to abide his presence. Nor would he blame them. He couldn't stop thinking about it. He didn't believe he would ever be able to stop thinking about it. The dead would haunt him, forever. How could a man live with that?
  • The Stormlight Archive: In Edgedancer, upon his Heel Realization, Nale drops his blade and falls to his knees, crying uncontrollably and stuck in a repeating loop of My God, What Have I Done?. He would've probably stayed like this far longer if it wasn't for Lift giving him a Cooldown Hug.
  • In The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara, Grianne Ohmsford, aka the Ilse Witch touches the Sword of Shannara, which forces her to accept the truth about herself—namely that she's a manipulative, backstabbing bitch who has built her entire life on a lie. She ends up going comatose from the shock, and doesn't recover until near the end of the final book.
  • Very common in Warhammer 40,000 among people tainted by Chaos, when Chaos ceases to blind them:
    • In Sandy Mitchell's Ciaphas Cain novel Cain's Last Stand, the Sisters of Battle completely lose control after Jurgen's blank status frees them from mind-control; they jump to their deaths.
    • In James Swallow's Blood Angels novel Deus Sanguinius, Arkio's first words when he is Dying as Yourself, "Brother, What Have I Done?" He is deeply moved by Rafen's Manly Tears, and while quite certain of his own damnation, begs Rafen's forgiveness.
    • In Graham McNeill's Horus Heresy novel False Gods, when Horus mortally wounds Temba, Temba recovers from the Chaos taint, realizes the scale of his betrayal, and sobs.
    • A hideously dark version in Age of Darkness. A failed Care-Bear Stare attempts to turn Kharn of the World Eaters back to the loyalist side. It fails when Kharn realizes this, but the important thing is that the loyalist Thousand Son who tried knows that Kharn will now always live with the knowledge that siding with Horus (and Chaos) was wrong and that he could have willingly turned back. The loyal Thousand Son briefly wonders what effect this will have on Kharn in the future before dying. 10,000 years later and Kharn is well known for being psychopathically angry (even for a World Eater) and, most interestingly, perfectly willing to slaughter his own comrades....

    Music 
  • Styx's "Double Life" from the Killroy Was Here Concept Album is sung from the point of view of the villain, who has realized what a terrible hypocrite he is, but feels he's too far in to leave.
  • "Last Man Standing" by HammerFall:
    Seeing clearer what I've done
    I'd refuse to let things go
    I could never once admit I'm wrong
    And what do I have to show?
    Seeing clearer what's at stake
    And the things I have to change
    I just hope I can, it's not too late
    To get a chance to end this pain
  • Queensryche's Operation Mindcrime is an entire Concept Album detailing the BSOD of its Villain Protagonist Hitman with a Heart realizing how he'd been duped, used, and discarded by the shadowy organization he worked for.
  • One interpretation of Golden Earring's "Twilight Zone" is that it's about a spy-turned-killer having a self-inflicted Villainous BSOD moment.
  • Pink Floyd's The Wall has one in the form of Stop where he realizes the depths of his insanity he fell into for which he would put himself on trial soon after.

    Pro Wrestling 

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Dark Angels in Warhammer 40,000 have a Psyker power available (in the main tabletop game it was solely used by their most badass Librarian, Ezekiel) that causes this. And can cause a Greater Daemon of Khorne to break down in Inelegant Blubbering over every single misdeed he's ever done.

    Theatre 
  • In A Very Potter Musical, Harry sort of half-heartedly tries this on Voldemort, who almost falls for it. He catches himself in time, though, and Harry kills him the old-fashioned way. He gets better.
  • The entirety of "Javert's Soliloquy/Suicide" from Les Misérables. After Valjean spares his life on the barricades, Javert finds that for the first time, he purposefully allows Valjean to escape in order to save Marius's life. Finally confronted the idea that Valjean, an ex-convict, can still be a good man, he chooses to kill himself rather than face a world where the moral standards he once held are no longer applicable. See the lyrics:
    Javert: I am reaching, but I fall/And the stars are black and cold/As I stare into the void/To a world that cannot hold/I'll escape now from that world/From the world of Jean Valjean/There is nowhere I can turn/There is no way to go on!
  • Burr has one in "The World Was Wide Enough" in Hamilton, directly after shooting Hamilton. He is so overcome with grief that he just goes and has a drink, unable to do anything else.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Animation 
  • In Turnabout Storm, Sonata ignores Trixie at first, and when she complains, says Trixie is nothing but a loser who pretends to be great to make herself feel better. Trixie spends almost a half-hour staring at the ground in shame after that, though she eventually pulls herself together.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 

 
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Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Grow A Conscience

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Metal Sonics Realization

Metal Sonic realizes he's the faker and does not take it well.

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