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Villainous Breakdown

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"You have waylaid all his other plans. Now, as a petulant child, he will destroy the game board rather than admit defeat. Be ready for anything. He still believes himself a god, and gods do not fall gracefully."
Solas, on the Elder One, Dragon Age: Inquisition

Hell hath no fury like a villain scorned.

This is the tendency of relatively calm and composed villains to lose their cool over the course of the story. Usually happens to arrogant Chessmaster-type villains (especially if said villain is a Smug Snake), as control of the situation slips from his or her grasp and things come up that they Didn't See Coming. Most notable when it happens towards the end of the story to show how pathetic the Big Bad is when things are not going exactly as planned ("This Cannot Be!"). Especially apparent if they previously had Creepy Monotone or Dissonant Serenity, and suddenly start Chewing the Scenery (when they do this because their plan is succeeding, it's more of a case of Drunk on the Dark Side). Dirty Cowards also suffer from this, especially when they are cornered.

Similar to Oh, Crap!, though the difference lies in that Oh, Crap! moments involve a single moment where the character finds that they are screwed, while Villainous Breakdowns have them see it coming from miles away. The heroic counterpart is the Heroic Safe Mode.

Note that this isn't necessarily an example of Villain Decay. On the contrary, some villains become much more terrifying and dangerous when their façade of cunning and civility crumbles. They might even end up dishing out a vicious No-Holds-Barred Beatdown to the Hero(es), engage in some Cold-Blooded Torture or, goodness forbid, drop the Villain Ball and Just FINISH HIM Already instead of playing around. It could even lead them to stop holding back their true nature and assuming their true form as the Complete Monster they actually were. Thus, a Villainous Breakdown is frequently a trigger for a One-Winged Angel transformation. Affably Evil and Faux Affably Evil villains are prone to becoming far more terrifying and disturbing when they undergo one of these because their fairly normal personality serve to emphasize their breakdown.

A somewhat less common, but not exactly infrequent, form of breakdown results in the exact opposite reaction: the villain lapses into a catatonic state as the shock of their defeat robs them of their wits. Another form of breakdown occurs due to Heel Realization causing a Villainous BSoD. Yet another is the impotent flailing of a defeated villain, left with nothing without power.

The scale of the breakdown generally depends on the nature — and overall impressiveness — of the villain. A Smug Snake, being generally inclined to rate their own abilities higher than everyone around them anyway and less equipped to deal with setbacks, will usually break down more frequently and over relatively minor spanners in the works, with the resulting tantrum usually being less-than-impressive. A Magnificent Bastard, on the other hand, is already the type of villain who's not inclined to sweat the small stuff, and will usually respond to most setbacks fairly calmly; however, this merely means that if their plans suffer a particularly impressive implosion, then this will usually make their resulting breakdown all the more epic. Similarly, a relatively minor or small-scale villain may have a breakdown on the level of a temper tantrum or explosive Cluster F-Bomb rant; a major or larger scale villain, however, will frequently have a breakdown with potentially (and quite literally) world-ending consequences. As the old saying goes, "The bigger you are, the harder you fall".

In another type, the breakdown won't be one, sudden explosion, but a gradual progression of smaller, gradually increasing breakdowns happening over the course of the story. As their Evil Plan comes closer to failing or their plans fail again and again, they simply get worse and worse as the breakdown continues, until finally, they lose it completely. This normally happens in the buildup to the final confrontation. This can overlap with Sanity Slippage, where a character gradually becomes more and more insane as time goes on. And as a special treat, when the villain finally goes so crazy and bat-shit insane that he completely loses it, other characters tend to hit him with a You're Insane!.

Another type of breakdown is when the villain becomes extremely furious when either something happens that isn't part of his plan or his plans end up being ruined, or both. Once pissed off, they may lose their temper and say such phrases as "Why Won't You Die?", "I've had it with you!", "You Monster!", "I should've killed you when I had the chance!", or even "This Is Unforgivable!". Either way, the villain will scream more and more at the other characters in fury (often in such a high pitch as to sound like a girl (especially if they're male)) before being bested by them. A string of Kick the Dog or Bad Boss moments is another subtle way of indicating this, if the villain had previously displayed parent-like feelings toward their henchmen.

One specific variation appears in some Video Games where the main villain is able to broadcast messages to the player over the course of the story, and they eventually lose it and start broadcasting more and more desperate pleas/insults/bribes to the player as they get closer to them.

For Anti Villains, or ones with a Freudian Excuse, a breakdown can either play Cry for the Devil (if their breakdown is pathetic) or cement them on the far side of the Moral Event Horizon (if they went Jumping Off the Slippery Slope during their breakdown). A subversion of this trope is Graceful Loser.

Heroes have been known to suffer similar breakdowns, though (unless they are making a Last Stand) they are much less likely to die during one.

Note that this is usually done in a climax and just the fact that one occurs is a pretty big spoiler, so read with caution.

Super-Trope to Villainous BSoD. Sister Trope to Rage-Breaking Point (and can often overlap). Compare the Villainous RRoD, which is where physical overexertion causes the bad guy's body to start falling apart. Can overlap with Identity Breakdown, if the trigger of the villain's breakdown are issues or revelations regarding who or what they are.

Not to Be Confused with Broken Heel, which is a literal application of the term.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

    open/close all folders 

  • The Fallen Angel: Alexandre Cabanel devoted a 1.2 x 1.9-meter oil painting solely to the subject of Lucifer suffering the emotional backlash of losing a war against his beloved God. Guy is not only in emotional pain, already mourning having alienated God, but is also deeply resentful about said god disregarding his opinion and sacrifices, as well as feeling shame and rage about his ordeal.

  • Gorillaz: Driven by greed and desperation, psychotic bassist Murdoc slowly became more unhinged with the Plastic Beach arc. He rants and raves aimlessly in his radio broadcasts and seems to be loosing his grasp on reality, and he no longer bothers to hide his criminal activity and blatant abuse of his "friend" 2D. The 'villain' term might be a little iffy, as Murdoc's still more of a Nominal Hero than anything, but he's definitely got some decay going.
  • The sadistic autocrat in Judas Priest's "Tyrant", who starts out as a ranting megalomaniac and becomes more barbaric as the song rolls along, until in the final verse he senselessly has all his own soldiers executed. Made all the more effective, of course, by Rob Halford's lunatic screams.
  • Happens twice near the end of the original studio recording of Starlight Express:
    • Electra has a very musical one in "No Comeback" before he exits.
    • Control screams, "ENGINES MUST OBEY CONTROL! ENGINES MUST OBEY CONTROL! DO WHAT YOU'RE TOLD!", only to be rebuffed by all the trains and carriages with a "SHUT IT!" in unison.
  • The entire basis of "We Build Then We Break" by The Fray is this.
  • "Almost Human" by Voltaire is one for Satan. He turns out to be so pathetic you have to feel sorry for him.
    I'm nearly human,
    pity me, I'm almost a human being.
    Don't touch me, oh,
    I couldn't bear the thought of it..

  • In Attack from Mars, the commander of the Martians remains a Smug Snake for nearly the entire way through, even as the Earthlings are destroying key ships, stealing the remaining fleet, and attacking Mars directly with the Martian Mothership. However, once it becomes clear Mars is in real danger of planetary annihilation at the hands of the Earthlings, the commander, who had been doing nothing but mock the player character and Earth's military forces prior, gets increasingly desperate, even begging to be friends with the Earthlings (though he doesn't sound the least bit genuine), until Mars is actually destroyed. Zigzagged in that the commander escapes his planet's destruction and regains his cool in the process.

  • During the Trial To End All Days, AJ of AJCO was confident enough in her victory that she went so far as to insult both the prosecutor and the judge. However, when it became clear that she was going to be pronounced guilty, she revealed that she had planted nukes beneath the courtroom, fled the courts and activated the world-breaking device that then launched them all into a new world. Breaking down with style.
  • Survival of the Fittest: Maxwell Lombardi has an epic one (complete with laughter!) in his final fight with Naoko Raidon which he does not survive.
    Maxwell Lombardi: You... I have to admit, you're not the first guy on this island to seriously piss me off, but if there was a competition going on you'd of just won first fucking prize.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Ratigan's famous breakdown is a gameplay element in Villainous. His initial Objective is to play the Robot Queen card in Buckingham Palace to take over London. If the Robot Queen is taken out of play, Ratigan is changed from "Ratigan the Greatest Mind" to "Ratigan the Rat". As "the Rat", Ratigan's Objective changes to "Defeat Basil".

  • Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar. Same as in The Bible, he is Driven to Suicide but the rage in his My God, What Have I Done? number lands it solidly here.
    Judas: You have murdered me! You have murdered me! Murdered! Murdered! Murdered! Murdered!
  • In the Broadway version of The Lion King, Scar has this in "The Madness of King Scar", where he imagines that he sees the ghost of Mufasa, his victim everywhere.
  • Though he's not really a villain per se, Inspector Javert gets a pretty spectacular breakdown in Les Misérables because he doesn't understand why Valjean didn't kill him when he had every right to. The song is called "Javert's Suicide", if you're wondering how that turned out.
  • Salieri from Mozart L'Opera Rock, notably in the showstopping "Le bien qui fait mal" number, which combines him going insane with jealousy with some intriguingly sadomasochistic lyrics ("it feels so good to sufffer", "real delights require torture", "I love having [this insanity] inside my skin", etc.) He's a special sort of guy.
  • In the stage adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, McMurphy spends most of the play trying to make this happen to Nurse Ratched.
  • In Pippin, the Leading Player turns into a screaming maniac when Pippin refuses to perform the grand finale (in which Pippin is supposed to set himself on fire). The Leading Player orders the set struck, the lights out, the music stopped, and even Pippin's costume is taken away from him. None of this changes Pippin's mind.
  • William Shakespeare:
    • Claudius in Hamlet goes from a politically savvy, brilliant villain, to ending up in a religious crisis, to coming up with the worst poisoning scheme in literary history.
    • Macbeth in Act 5. His wife gets it even worse:
      Out damned spot! Out, I say!
    • Archetypal Machiavellian Magnificent Bastard Richard III goes through a breakdown just before the play's final battle, hallucinating that the ghosts of everyone whose deaths he's caused are visiting him and telling him to despair, and ultimately realizing that after everything he's done, the entire world (including himself) hates him utterly.
      • When King Richard lashes out at a messenger bringing news of his enemy Buckingham... only the message turns out to be that Buckingham's army has been defeated.
      • The breakdown for Richard starts somewhat earlier, when he is told that Richmond is coming to Britain to claim the throne. He goes off on a tirade about how he's the king, the throne isn't empty, and screw Richmond. He then threatens the messenger, who is one of his somewhat-loyal cronies, prompting said crony to immediately switch sides and work with Richmond as soon as he makes landfall.
    • Iago in Othello, after spending the whole play being cold and composed, goes berserk with rage when his wife blows the lid off his entire conspiracy.
  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has a pretty epic one right in the middle of the play after the title character's first attempt at revenge on Judge Turpin goes awry. The result is the awesome "Epiphany" number that marks his transition from Anti-Hero to Villain Protagonist.
    • And it happens again at the end of the show when he finds out that the beggar woman he just murdered was his wife Lucy, that Mrs. Lovett knew she was alive the whole time, and that she lied to him. He promptly mourns dramatically, goes fake happy and kills Lovett in a psychotic rage, and then slips in a Heroic BSoD (or Villainous BSoD) as he cradles his wife's lifeless body, not even bothering to do anything as little Tobias comes and slits his throat.
  • In Thrill Me, Richard has "Afraid". Richard paces his prison cell as he realizes that he's going to either hang or get life in prison.
  • Wicked:
    • The Wizard has a very quiet dignified one of these at the end when he learns that the Wicked Witch whom he believes was successfully assassinated on his orders was actually his daughter. He sinks to the ground completely ignoring both his ally and the returned and angry Glinda for a long while.
    • Elphaba (said Wicked Witch) has a mind-blowing breakdown in the song "No Good Deed", as she thinks her boyfriend Fiyero has been tortured to death while she couldn't do anything to help.

    Web Original 
  • Those Murderous, Insane and Not Remotely Funny Nazis in The Anglo/American – Nazi War have a pretty spectacular one when D-Day comes around and the Western Allies begin pushing them out of occupied Europe. That is, they begin systematically destroying landmarks and other cultural artifacts, along with salting the earth and poisoning the wells, just generally doing everything in their power to ensure that there's no such thing as a Europe after their defeat. Including a televised destruction of Paris which is so thorough that the post-war capital of France has to be moved to Lyon.
  • The Evil Overlord List refers to this a few times, most famously #24: "I will maintain a realistic assessment of my strengths and weaknesses. Even though this takes some of the fun out of the job, at least I will never utter the line "No, This Cannot Be!! I AM INVINCIBLE!!!" (After that, death is usually instantaneous.)"
  • In Lost Boys of the Cascades, Barry suffers a villainous breakdown after his attempt to frame the Klamath Indians for murdering Jennie, Troy, and Dylan falls apart due to Troy surviving and telling the truth.

    Web Videos 
  • In Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, the main character is shown as a Technical Pacifist and Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain who states that killing isn't his style. However once his Jerk Jock archnemesis Captain Hammer states that he's going to steal the girl of his dreams just to torture him, he then goes into a Villain Song where he swears to kill him. This is followed in rapid succession by Captain Hammer's own breakdown when he is made to feel pain for the first time in his life (it's hard to call it a Heroic BSOD when he's shown to be just as evil as the protagonist), and a second, deeper one from Dr. Horrible when his victory coincides with the death of his Love Interest.
  • Epic Rap Battles of History:
    • Adolf Hitler loses what little sanity he had in his final battle with Vader, killing Boba Fett and delivering a final verse composed of nonsensical insults that don't even sort of rhyme.
  • KateModern:
    • Terrence in goes from smug, quietly intimidating badass in series 1 to raving, giggling psychopath by the end of "Precious Blood".
    • The Shadow and Rupert van Helden have also suffered this by The Last Work.
  • In Max0r's "An Incorrect Summary of ULTRAKILL Part 2," Max demonstrates that you can enrage V2 by punching him with his own arm, the Knuckleblaster. It turns him into a screaming, raging mess.
    Max0r: He loves it when you do that.
  • The fourth Season of Noob shows the toll that the Mistaken for Badass situation between Dark Avenger and Sparadrap has taken on Dark Avenger, causing him to outright quit the game over the situation by the Season's third episode.
  • The Nostalgia Critic:
  • In Phoenix Wright: AI Attorney -- The First Turnabout, after Annie Johnson is identified as Cindy Stone's murderer, she goes silent except for grumbling, which the judge tells her to stop doing lest she be removed from the courtroom. She then makes the following confession.
    Annie: ... (Annie's eyes twitch, then begin to tear up) O-okay, I confess! I did it! I killed Cindy Stone! Just arrest me and throw me in jail already! I...I...I can't go on like this... I just wanna go to jail and sleep... I'm so sorry.
  • Real-Time Fandub has multiple instances of these with Dr. Eggman in their Sonic Adventure 2 series, the most notable being the infamous Moon speech, all because his nudes were leaked on the Internet and his wife had sexual intercourse with a bunch of talking animals.
  • In The Spoony Experiment review of Street Fighter 2010, Doctor Insano suffers a breakdown after failing to create the ultimate being (instead producing a cute pink blob thing). He begins crying about how his science never works and nobody loves him before his new "son" cheers him up.
  • In To Boldly Flee, Mechakara trembles and screams in incoherent rage when he finds out Terl tricked him into working for him.
  • In Tribe Twelve The Observer has a glorious one (complete with an incoherent roar that has the words 'SHUT THE FUCK UP!) when Firebrand prevents him from abducting Noah.
  • When Jotaro is about beat Steely Dan down in Vaguely Recalling JoJo, he becomes very desperate and reenacts Light Yagami's breakdown. It gets worse after Captain Tenille refuses to help Steely Dan.
  • The killer in Season Two of Where the Bears Are has one when Reggie takes the call from the police and discovers that his alibi has been faked.


The Tattletale Strangler

By the end of the episode, the Strangler has been driven so crazy by SpongeBob's antics that he's actually relieved to be in jail and away from him. Unfortunately, he finds that Patrick is his cellmate

How well does it match the trope?

5 (18 votes)

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Main / PreferJailToTheProtagonist

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