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Villainous Parental Instinct

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This villain is depraved. Indifferent to others' suffering, and often sadistically revelling in it, there's nevertheless someone who they'll protect from themselves: their own kids.

Eventually, that will require a kind of sacrifice or risk. And they'll do it, because it's their kid.

The purest form of this is, however bad a bad guy might be, some people can't conceive of even the worst villains hurting their children. However, the child doesn't function as a pure Morality Pet because they are an exception. They aren't safe because the villain Wouldn't Hurt a Child. They are safe because they are the villain's child, and that's as far as the standards go. It also doesn't always elicit sympathy for the bad guys, but rather demonstrates how hypocritical they can be, and a way of demonstrating that It's All About Me. Expect some Genre Savvy protagonists to call them out on their hypocrisy.

The inverse of Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas, as another side of a situation where the parent-child bond is presented as absolute, often hand-in-hand with the idea that parents can't help but protect their kids. A subtrope with Even Evil Has Loved Ones, but this doesn't have as much overlap with "love" as you might imagine because frequently one's bond with one's children will be treated as a matter of duty or instinct. Often this is presented as a case of instinct or impulse, rather than active love. Closely related to Deliver Us from Evil, when a villain turns away from their villainy because they gave birth.

This can be a Clueless Aesop or a Broken Aesop, especially if the emotional pain suffered by the kids is ignored, often to the point of Honor Thy Abuser. It can also lead to Accidental Aesop or Moral Myopia, because it sometimes has the unfortunate side effect of implying that even the worst people would never harm their children, and/or can result in the characters sparing their children for no apparent reason.

It can overlap with Evil Parents Want Good Kids, but it doesn't need to. And it's mandatory in the cases of Monster Is a Mommy, Papa Wolf, and Mama Bear, although not all the cases that fall under this are those.

Subversions or aversions generally fall under Archnemesis Dad or Abusive Parents.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Played with in The Seven Deadly Sins. Fraudrin, an ancient Demon and member of the Demon King's elite group, possesses Holy Knight Grandmaster Dreyfus. To keep up his act, Fraudrin raises Dreyfus' son Griamore. However, Fraudrin eventually develops a legitimate care for the boy, seeing him as truly his own son. When he finally leaves Dreyfus' body to try and destroy Brittania, he sees Griamore and, knowing that Griamore would be a victim if he goes through with his plans, decides instead to allow himself to be killed rather than hurt his "son". It's implied than, even after learning the truth, Griamore came to love Fraudrin as a surrogate father, if only subconsciously.

    Comic Books 
  • In Runaways, The Pride were initially prepared to sacrifice all life on Earth to the Gibborim for twenty-plus years of obscene riches and power. When they started having kids, however, their modus operandi changed; instead of serving the Gibborim for their own ends, they continued to serve them in order to insure that their kids would be spared when the Gibborim carried out their plan to remake the world.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Antlers: Frank is able to resist the Wendigo's urge to feast on his son, undergoing Horror Hunger until he can go outside and hunt out there.
  • Friday the 13th (1980): Pamela Voorhees was motivated to commit a string of serial murders due to the apparent death of her son Jason. Her son was born deformed and she had to work at Camp Crystal Lake to support them both. Unfortunately, the kids picked on Jason for his deformities, and none of the camp counselors intervened because they were too busy making love. Eventually, Jason nearly drowned at the lake, and when his body wasn't found, Pamela rightfully blamed the counselors for their negligence and killed them to avenge her son and close the camp. Years later, Camp Crystal Lake tries to reopen, so Pamela resumed the killing spree until the Alice Hardy beheaded her in self-defense. Jason would continue where his mother left off to do her proud.
  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): Despite Emma's emotionally-manipulative parenting, her surviving child Madison is the only person she truly gives any shits about while pursing her plan – anyone else, including her own friends and even her child's father, can quickly be left for dead as necessary collateral. When Emma finds out that it's her child and not just the children of every other mother in the world who's in mortal danger of being killed by a Titan, she quickly abandons her (admittedly gone horribly awry) plan entirely so that she can save her kid. At the movie's end, Emma sacrifices herself partly to buy the Osprey that's carrying Madison time to get to a safe distance, with the novelization explicitly noting that Emma calculated Ghidorah would have certainly killed Madison if Emma hadn't diverted his attention.
  • The Killing Gene: Subverted. Jean, the Serial Killer who is still mourning her mother, believes that her equation (that love can be stronger than pain), although it's failed so far, will be proven when she kidnaps Elly and her young son. It fails nonetheless, Elly kills her son, and Jean has a Villainous Breakdown about it.
  • Mr. Brooks: Violent Serial Killer Earl Brooks has murdered many, many people. However, when he finds out that his beloved daughter, Jane, has also almost certainly killed a classmate, he risks being caught to move and destroy evidence that would've implicated her.
  • Pan's Labyrinth: Vidal may be a cold-blooded torturer and mass murderer, but he is totally committed to having his baby son being an heir for himself. It's implied that he only married Carmen because she got pregnant, and he instructs the doctor to let her die if it saves the baby. When he's finally cornered by Mercedes and the rebels at the end, despite being the Determinator up until that point, he gives up relatively easily and calmly hands over the baby to Mercedes, asking her to give him his watch and tell him his Last Words when he grows up that his son becomes a succession of himself. Mercedes refuses.
  • Parents: Also crossing over with High-Heel–Face Turn, Lilly was involved in cannibalism, but she tries to stop Michael from killing Nick when he won't participate and ultimately gets killed for it.
  • Run: After Chloe figured out the truth, Diane had her locked in the basement without her wheelchair and with no hope of getting out. Chloe thinks that Diane is going to kill her (and it's suggested that Diane is looking to further maim or disable Chloe with the injection). However, when Chloe swallows bleach, knowing that Diane will either let her die or save her, Diane is instinctively and immediately moved to save Chloe's life, taking her to the hospital, which eventually leads to her capture.
  • A Simple Favor: Emily is a sociopath who fakes her own death as part of an insurance scam, and frames her husband for her murder. However, her son is the only person she really cares about, and kills her twin sister for threatening him.
  • In Spider-Man, Norman Osborn's last words to the titular hero, after a last attempt to kill him with his glider backfires, are "Don't tell Harry", referring to his son Harry Osborn.
  • Tár: Though she's a completely self-interested sexual predator with a severe Lack of Empathy, Lydia genuinely adores her daughter Petra who is the one person she cares about more than herself and is devastated when Sharon takes her away from her at the end. Sharon explicitly says that Lydia's relationship with Petra is the only one she has that isn't transactional.
  • Wonder Woman 1984: The villain, Maxwell Lord, has gained the power to grant wishes but at a great cost. He uses this power with very little discretion, granting people wishes in exchange for their wealth and power. However, he tries to prevent his own son from making a wish while touching him, knowing it could cost him greatly. At the end of the film, he recants his powers, but only after he sees his own son in danger because of everything he has done, and immediately goes to rescue him.

  • Daniel Hawthorne Novels: Doubly subverted in The Word is Murder. The villain seems like a doting Family Man, but, during his Motive Rant, claims to feel no true affection for his wife and children. However, barely a sentence later, he says that he'll do anything he can to protect his eldest son from experiencing the same kind of disillusionment and heartbreak that he experienced when he tried to be an actor.
  • In the Harry Potter series, Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy are not nice people and devoted servants of Voldemort but will go to any lengths to protect their son. Over the course of the books, this drives a wedge between them and the Dark Lord, and in the climax of the seventh book Narcissa betrays Voldemort and helps protect Harry by falsely claiming he's dead after Harry brings her the news that her son is still alive.
  • In His Dark Materials, Marisa Coulter, who had children brutally experimented on and mutilated in the name of the Magisterium, kidnapped her daughter Lyra to save her from her employers and later throws herself with an (evil) angel into the void to save her again. The angel never sees it coming because it had looked into her very soul and determined she wasn't capable of self-sacrifice, she managed to deliberately hide the single thread of virtue inside herself (this trope) in order to get to Him and protect her daughter.
  • I Hunt Killers: Despite being the most prolific serial killer in the world with over 100 victims, Billy Dent wouldn't let his wife Janice kill their son.
  • In NOS4A2, Charlie Manx is (more or less) an almost 120-year-old vampire who has spent most of that time abducting children and taking them to his Small, Secluded World where they, like him, become vampires completely lacking in anything like empathy and morality. He still instinctively jumps in the way of danger to protect his daughter from harm when Vic is executing her Roaring Rampage of Revenge to get her son back from Manx. Vic notices it happening but it earns no sympathy from her, she just thinks to herself that all sorts of monsters can have people they care about or can believe that their horribleness is somehow good.
  • Scavenge the Stars: Boon is a ruthless criminal, but loves his daughter dearly. He even gives his own life to to save hers.
  • When The Angels Left The Old Country: For all his faults, Boaz cares deeply for his daughter, and repents and makes amends at the end for her sake.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Arrow. Zigzagged with Malcolm Merlyn. Although he's officially dead he takes the risk of coming out of hiding after finding that Thea Queen is his illegitimate daughter, to protect her from Slade's Mirakuru-soldiers who are running amok. However, he can't resist using her in the service of his schemes, causing them to become estranged again. In the fifth season climax, however, he steps on a land mine's pressure plate to take the place of Thea, then blows himself up to take out the soldiers pursuing her.
  • Breaking Bad: By the end of its run, Walt has let Jane die and poisoned Brock. He's devastated when his son Flynn turns on him, though. While he briefly kidnaps his baby daughter Holly, he returns her to Skyler when she asks for her mother. His last act is ensuring that Gretchen and Elliot set up a fund for Flynn, even though it means going back on his pride, which was his Fatal Flaw all along and resulted in him getting into the drug trade.
  • Dexter and Dexter: New Blood:
    • Dexter himself is a Serial Killer who, despite his code, admits to having very little feelings for others in general. However, he loves his young son Harrison enough to leave him with Hannah rather than risk his life by taking him to Alaska with him. More significantly, by the time of Dexter: New Blood (over a decade later), when Harrison tracks him down and learns that he's not actually dead, and that he's the Bay Harbour Butcher, Dexter allows Harrison to kill him rather than defend himself, try to escape, or kill Harrison (which he could've done with some ease) so that Harrison will be free from him.
    • Dexter's Evil Counterpart, Kurt, is a brutal murderer of young, vulnerable runaway girls. Nevertheless, he genuinely loves his (horrible) son, Matt, continues to investigate his disappearance even when it risks his own life and crimes, and pisses Dexter off by trying to be a father figure to Harrison just for revenge.
  • The Handmaid's Tale: Serena Joy is involved in serial rape and was a big believer in Gilead, up to and including the armed insurrection. However, when June actually does get pregnant (though the child is not biologically Fred or Serena's, but Serena, under Gilead's regime, is encouraged to believe it's her baby), Serena actually goes so far as to subvert the regime, reading (even though it costs her a finger), breaking the rules on pain of death, and ultimately giving June a chance to escape.
  • Justified:
    • Ruthless boss Theo Tonin knows that his son Sammy isn't well equipped to be a leader and ultimately his incompetence leads to the ruin of the entire Detroit Mob in Season 5, but Quarles pointing a gun at his head (despite Quarles himself being Theo's adopted son) is enough for Theo to abandon Quarles and put a bounty out on his head.
    • Quarles genuinely adores his young son, who he constantly speaks to on the phone. Doesn't stop him from kidnapping, physically and sexually torturing male prostitutes, and killing them For the Evulz, but he seems to accept that he can't go back to them.
  • Law & Order: Criminal Intent: Played with by Serial Killer Nicole Wallace. She murdered her own three-year-old daughter before the start of the show, but she then develops genuine feelings for her ex-fiance's young daughter Gwen, who has cancer, to the point where Nicole is moved to act unselfishly and leaves Gwen with her sister for the first time in her life. She also is motivated to kill again by Gwen's advancing illness.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
    • In "Chameleon", Maggie was a Serial Killer who thought nothing of killing anybody for money or because she wanted to. However, she seems to have loved her son—even though he wasn't her son and she actually stole him from a random woman. The episode ends with Maggie having killed herself so that she can save the money she would spend on her defence to give to him. However, discussed by Olivia, who is suspicious of Maggie's motives and speculates that Maggie was actually such a Control Freak that she couldn't bear to lose.
    • In "Lessons Learned", the principal didn't care that multiple teachers in the fancy private school molested their students, defending the school at every opportunity and covering up the crimes. Until he found out that one of them was his own son.
  • Only Murders in the Building: Teddy Dimas is not a particularly good parent and a grave robber. However, he does immediately snap into protecting his son Theo (and threatening Tim about it) when he learns that Theo killed Zoe.
  • Santa Clarita Diet: Sheila frequently hallucinates about killing and eating just about everyone on the show (even those who she loves, have done nothing wrong to her and/or actively tried to help her, such as her husband) due to the strength of her Horror Hunger, but she never considers it in the case of her daughter Abby.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, while Gul Dukat was initially going to kill his illegitimate teenage daughter Ziyal due to her mixed race, Kira helped convinced him not to and he quickly became very protective of her. Despite this, he's pretty scummy and horribly monstrous in other ways, for instance perving on Kira (and her mom) and having previously killed millions of her species, some by execution and others by working them to death as slaves. His love and affection for Ziyal are his most redeeming qualities and marked the Noble Demon phase of his character arc. Her death, and the circumstances around it, drive him mad. After he recovers his wits and realizes there is nobody left who cares about his attempts to be Noble, he vows to embrace being a Card-Carrying Villain instead

    Video Games 
  • Reinhardt Heydrich of The New Order Last Days Of Europe mod wants to send his children outside the Reich, even in an OFN country, to protect them from the civil war.
  • Played with in Borderlands 2 in that the villain in question, Handsome Jack, abuses his daughter Angel by keeping her hooked up to a machine that controls the entire Hyperion computer network, utilizing her Siren power to control machines to watch over multiple star systems; keeping in line with his consistent view of himself as a Well-Intentioned Extremist, he says he does this because back when she was first put in charge of the system as a young child, she couldn't control her powers, which led to the unintentional death of her mother. During the game, Angel asks you to kill her because she Cannot Self Terminate and wants to be free of the system that uses her as a battery to charge Jack's vault key, since she's physically dependent on the Eridium it contains; if Jack's plan comes to fruition, it'll awaken the Vault monster and allow him to become even more of a megalomaniacal despot. But when you start to actually fire on her, Jack begins genuinely panicking over his daughter's safety. He's horrified that you'd try to get to him by hurting her, and begs you not to hurt his "baby girl". He even throws his original goal of unlocking the vault completely out the window, angrily screaming, "Don't you know what you're DOING?! Who cares about the goddamn key — you're gonna end the life of an innocent girl!" After she dies, he spirals into a complete Villainous Breakdown and tells you that he will stop at nothing to kill you because you've taken away his only loved one, and he now has nothing left to lose.
  • Despite being a serial kinslayer, Jaethal from Pathfinder: Kingmaker claims that her (still-living) daughter is the only being from her former life she still holds some regard for, if nothing else because she put so much time and effort into raising her. Playing her personal quest to the end can lead to this being rather horribly subverted by making Jaethal steal her daughter's body, but if you play your cards right, Jaethal will take this trope to its logical conclusion and publically renounce her own patron deity rather than harm her own daughter over a test of faith — at the immediate cost of her own life.

    Western Animation 
  • Arcane: Silco is absolutely willing to accept children as necessary sacrifices and would personally kill a child. Hell, he was going to stab Powder before her bitter denunciations against what she saw as her older sister's betrayal sparks empathy in Silco by reminding him of himself. But once he takes Powder turned Jinx under his wing and becomes her father, he's utterly vulnerable about her. He tolerates Jinx's mistakes in a way he doesn't for any other minion and takes time to soothe her unstable mental state. Silco spends so much time running around trying to find her when she goes missing that his own lieutenants smell weakness. Finally, Silco can't sacrifice Jinx for his dream of a free Zaun even when he's sacrificed everything else to it. He even spends his dying breath giving words of comfort to his daughter even after she's the one who shot him.
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers:
    • Believe it or not Hoggish Greedly invoked this, actually calling off his plan and begging the Planeteers for help when his teenage son got poisoned due to said plan. Note that this does not inspire a Heel–Face Turn on Greedly's part.
    • Gi wonders if this is what inspired Mal to sabotage Dr. Blight's plans for her daughter Betsi Blight at the end of the episode "Dirty Politics." Despite being a computer entity, he does dote on the young woman like a father would and even declared that before her he never really had anything worth wanting to save the planet for.
  • The darker version shows up in Young Justice (2010). After Artemis is killed while fighting Black Manta, her villainous father, Sportsmaster, and sister, Cheshire, set out to get revenge. Cheshire is genuinely heartbroken and wants to avenge her sister. Sportsmaster just considers associates' children off-limits as part of a villainous code of conduct. He mainly views his daughter’s murder as a blow to his reputation and mentions that he wouldn’t be doing anything if Black Manta had just run it by him first. Even when he learns Artemis is alive and undercover, Sportsmaster is only glad because it means his child is pulling one over on the man who was willing to kill her; he shows no genuine relief or concern when she reveals herself.