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Tragic Villain / Live-Action TV

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  • The terrorists from 24 season 5 often have grievous reasons to attack the Russian government (and the US for helping it). One of them has a wife who has been in prison for many years and a child in a "government facility" because of his anti-imperialist beliefs.
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.:
    • Ward is revealed to be a Hydra sleeper agent. However, his backstory is tragic on so many levels that (as of the Season 1 finale), much of the fandom is hoping for a redemption arc.
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    • Season 2 brought us Skye's parents, Jiaying and Cal. She was orginally a wise, kind-hearted woman and he was an adorkable volunteer for Doctor Without Borders. And then she was captured by Hydra and vivisected by a Mad Doctor to learn the secret to her immortality. After this incident, she became a cold-hearted Manipulative Bitch who considered human inferior and willing to wage war to prove their superiority. And as for him, losing her lead to his descent into villainy as Mr. Hyde, still seeking her out, but hopelessly corrupted in the process.
    • Glenn Talbot in Season 5. After starting off as a Jerk with a Heart of Gold in the early seasons and going through Character Development until he and Team Coulson had a grudging respect for each other, he goes through a Trauma Conga Line that leaves him a mentally broken Well-Intentioned Extremist, obsessed with gaining enough power so he can protect the world from the threat that's coming. He just wanted to be a hero, but ended up almost destroying the world...
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  • American Horror Story: Freak Show has Twisty the clown. Twisty became mentally retarded after his mother dropped him when he was a baby. Twisty's mother often abused him, yet he still loved her. As a clown, Twisty was loved by children. One day, some jealous carnies accused Twisty of being a pedophile, resulting in him losing his job. When he tried to return to his mother, he found out she had died. After a failed suicide attempt, Twisty began killing adults and kidnapping their parents, intending to raise the kids himself, believing he would be saving them from the cruel adults.
  • Babylon 5:
    • The Shadow War shapes up to be a powerful drama with the uber-patriotic Londo at the heart of it. He has a motive for behaving the way he does, which has nothing to do with wanting money or power for its own sake (such is the way with a lot of B5 villains). He’s one of the old school, unwilling to admit that the golden days are over and wants one last stab at power for the Centauri Republic. If he doesn’t find some way of keeping hold of Narn and proving that they are incapable of independence, he (and all ex-colonial officials) will be carted off to menial positions, his career effectively over on an Earth Alliance space station. For somebody as egocentric as Londo, this is simply not an option. It is hugely entertaining to watch his own hubris consume him in the latter half of the story and ultimately bring him down. He eventually expresses some regret for his genocidal actions, before finally sacrificing himself to liberate his world from the Drakh, a servant race of the Shadows.
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    • Barely an Averted Trope by Zack Allan. He joins Nightwatch because he thinks it's an extra 50 credits per week for the work he's already doing, but over time finds that he's joined an organization with darker goals. He's in over his head, and struggling with the ethics of his previous decision—but he can't leave Nightwatch without causing himself more trouble. It's not until Captain Sheridan and the rest of the senior crew offer him a way out that he's finally able to escape his dilemma—thankfully, before he's forced to perform any actual evil.
  • Breaking Bad:
    • The entire run is essentially a long tale of this, as Walter White starts out forced into his life of crime as his only way to care for his family, but eventually starts choosing evil and caring only about himself.
    • His "accomplice" Jesse may not have started out out innocent, but without Walt he would, at worst, have stayed a clueless bottom-of-the-ladder meth cook. "Thanks" to Walt, he's helped build an incredibly lucrative drug empire - at the cost of his sense of self-worth and almost everything he cares about. The worst part is that at least two of the big things he blames himself for are squarely Walt's fault, he just doesn't know it.
  • Buffyverse:
    • Angel: Daniel Holtz was once a good man, a warrior for the cause of righteousness. Then Angelus and Darla paid a visit to his family. After that, he was a hollow, vengeance-driven shell of a man willing to do anything to avenge his loss. In the end, vengeance and hate are all Holtz has left, with even the love he feels for his adoptive son being overshadowed by his desire to hurt Angel.
    • Buffy the Vampire Slayer :
      • Harmony spent most of high school as the Alpha Bitch but she was actually getting nicer in the days leading to graduation. But on that day she was made a vampire and the nice person she really was vanished forever.
      • At the end of the day, Drusilla despite her evil is just one more of Angelus' victims. He took everything from her in the most horrific manner possible; her family, her faith, her sanity.
  • Charmed (1998):
    • Cole is a half-demon sent to kill the Charmed Ones but he falls in love with Phoebe. He wants to stay good for her but fate keeps causing him to turn to evil until they finally kill him. It's only as a disembodied spirit does he get a little bit of redemption.
    • Christie in the final season was kidnapped and trained from childhood by The Triad for the sole purpose of killing the Charmed Ones. They vanquish the Triad but she tries to kill them anyway because she doesn't want her life to have been a waste. Her own sister Billie has no choice but to put her down.
  • Since childhood, Dexter has always had an instinctive urge to kill, and has been raised from childhood to believe that there is nothing he can do to stop it and that he can only satiate it by only killing other serial killers. He is a rare villainous example of I Just Want to Be Normal as he often wishes he weren't a serial killer, but it's never strong enough to get him to actually stop killing people.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Omega was a founder of Gallifreyan society who was revered by Timelords as a great hero. After being sent into a black hole, he ended up in an antimatter universe where stuck there for millions of years it drove him insane eventually making him fall into villainy. This is shown in that when he temporarily hijacked the Doctor's body, all he did was smile at people and enjoy having a body again. In moments where, he's more lucid it's shown he does regret his actions, but his insanity than kicks back in and sets him back on the path of being a villain.
    • "Daleks in Manhattan"/"Evolution of the Daleks": After becoming a Half-Human Hybrid, Dalek Sec comes to see the horror of what the Daleks have done, and tries to revive his species and lead them away from their self-destructive wars. For this, he is betrayed and killed.
    • The Minotaur in "The God Complex". He doesn't want to kill, but does so in order to survive and feels at peace when it finally dies.
    • The Doctor himself in the three part Series 9 finale. First he watches as Clara Oswald dies while powerless to stop it only to immediately get trapped in a torture chamber for several billion years and Driven to Madness by his grief. It really is not a surprise that by "Hell Bent", he is trying to achieve the impossible and needs a memory wipe to recover.
  • The Flash (2014) : Savitar is a vicious speedster who fancies himself a God, but he's also a time remnant of Future Barry who (according to himself) was shunned by Team Flash for not being the "real" Barry. Suffice it to say that he went crazy, decided becoming a god was the only way to deal with his miserable existence, and went back in time to terrorize his past self.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • The deaths of Rickard Karstark's sons and the subsequent lack of retribution (including Catelyn freeing Torrhen's killer) drive him mad. Thanks to John Dahl's intense performance and his entirely understandable motives, it's hard not to feel pity for Rickard. The man lost both his sons and the killer went free.
    • Jaime knows that he's detested by society, all for a single act that he considered heroic and which saved countless lives.
    • Despite his rather unpleasant personality, Theon becomes one of these due to the degree to which his jerkassery and later villainy is fueled by never being accepted by anyone, as well as his upbringing. His nightmarish fate in Season 3 makes this all the more pronounced.
    • As he tells Arya, Sandor has no one who loves him, with his only living family being his Ax-Crazy psychopath of a brother who burned half of Sandor's face off when they were children, and whom Sandor despises. The Hound is by no standard a nice person, but he's led a horrible life.
  • The Good Guys:
    • Walker is a terrible getaway driver who just got out of jail but he can't keep his promise to his daughter to stay on the straight because he craves the excitement of crime. He goes back to prison knowing staying out of his daughter's life is for the best.
    • Senator Buddy Haverton is a greedy politician but it's implied his appetite for money and women led him astray from doing public service. Thanks to his Villainous Breakdown, the investigation into a company dumping toxic waste (which he was being paid to bury and he was secretly responsible for) will get trashed and the company will get away with it.
  • In The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses, Richard of Gloucester/Richard III: he started of as an earnest young man who wanted to fight for his family's honor and claim to the throne, but the murders of his father and younger brother,the brutality of war, the foolish bickering of his older brothers and the setbacks he suffers lead him to lose faith in anything worth while and becomes a cold-hearted, power-hungry swordsman who kills his way to the throne and cares for no one. This results in Richard dying alone in the battle of Bosworth (he got his crown but couldn't keep it). His hunched back and withered arm, and the subsequent taunting he gets because of it, only ensured his dark and sad end.
  • Kamen Rider OOO:
    • Gamel, one of the Greeed, is by far the most sympathetic of the Greeed, being a childish simpleton who doesn't care about doing evil things, and only wants to make Mezool happy. He's still The Brute, and has absolutely zero regard for anyone's life but Mezool's, but his puppy-like devotion makes his eventual death (both of them) feel very sad.
    • Mezool counts as well: her driving desire is to experience parental love. She is quite satisfied with treating Gamel as her child until she receives a Hannibal Lecture that pushes her over the edge, all the while lamenting the impossibility of her dream (Greeed cannot reproduce) and the unquenchable nature of her desire.
  • "Lab Rats":
    • Douglas Davenport. Though now a good guy, he was strongly sympathetic as a villain. His backstory consist of constantly being overshadowed by his big brother, who had mocked him for his whole life about it. Their parents also constantly gave attention to him, and did not at give Douglas any at all. Because of this, Douglas became obsessed with getting the upper hand, until Leo convinced him that some things are more important than Revenge.
    • Terry Perry. She's a real "bitch", and a Sadist Teacher who bullies her students, and acts mean to her employees and basicly everyone who's not apart of her family, and even if she does help people, it's only for money. However, her mother was always mean to her, and called her a guy's name, which had other people mocking her as well. She also, cares about the Davenport family, yet only shows that when she's alone with them in a room, despite how she treats them like dirt when they're all together.
    • Sebastian. He starts out as a bionic student, who is a generally good guy, and a friend of the Davenports. However, when he finds out that they had destroyed his father, Victor Krane, he now seeks vengeance on all of them for it. Thing is, Sebastian had no idea just how evil Krane was, and was too hard headed to listen to reason.
  • League Of Gentlemen: Practically everyone (well, maybe except Mr. Chinnery who is a Tragic Hero and Hiliary Briss and Papa Lazarou who are just downright evil...) is one of these.
  • Lost: Michael Dawson, who murdered Ana Lucia and Libby and delivered Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and Hurley into the hands of the Others because it was the only way to free his 10-year-old son and get him off the Island.
  • Once Upon a Time:
    • Regina blamed Snow White for the death of the man she loved, instead of her mother who actually killed him because of a mix of fear and need for acceptance. Her need to destroy Snow causes Regina to kill her own father and cast a curse that exiled her and countless others into the real word, but she still feels empty because no one loves her. She adopts a son but her need to control him alienates him. Her backstory shows she was tailor-made to be the villain and even when she tries to get better she's afraid she won't get her happy ending because "villains don't get happy endings".
    • Rumpelstiltskin keeps losing everyone he loves because of his need for power.
    • Owen spent his whole life trying to get back to Storybrooke and rescue his father, only to find he's already dead. Owen also turned out to be Peter Pan's Unwitting Pawn.
    • Ingrid aka the Snow Queen started off as a good and kind person who was adored by her two sisters, Helga and Gerda, despite her ice powers, until she accidentally killed Helga, which made Gerda fear her sister and trap her in the urn given by Rumplestiltskin. This made her go insane and feel that the only people who could love her are those with magic.
  • Person of Interest
    • Season 1 had Ulrich Kohl, a former East German government assassin. He found out his team sold him out to the Americans when Communism fell so he took his wife Anja and tried to escape but she was killed and he was imprisoned for 30 years before escaping to track down and kill his traitorous former allies. It turned out the Americans helped Anja fake her death after she found out what Kohl did for a living. Kohl also found out too late that he has a daughter. Kohl also planned to kill himself after he was done.
      Kohl: I never had a tomorrow.
    • Season 3 had Peter Collier whose brother was wrongfully arrested on suspicion of being a terrorist until he killed himself. The government refused to take responsibility for his death and Collier joins Vigilance to get revenge but turns it from a bunch of glorified vandals into a domestic terror group. Decima created Vigilance as its Unwitting Pawn and they were all killed once they've served their purpose.
  • Prison Break: FBI Agent Alexander Mahone, the main villain in the second season, is only trying to murder the protagonists because the Nebulous Evil Organisation is blackmailing him (they know he murdered a Serial Killer), on top of threatening to kill his wife and child.
  • Revolution: General Sebastian Monroe. It's not obvious at first, but as the first season goes on, it turns out that he is this. He was once a good man and a soldier for the USA, but a number of events occurred. First, he lost his entire family in a car accident and he would have killed himself had Miles Matheson not intervened. So he attaches himself to Miles to the point of borderline erotic fixation ("Nobody's Fault But Mine"). The blackout also happens, leaving a lot of people, including Miles and him without a job ("Pilot"). Miles and Monroe form the Monroe Republic, with Monroe as the general in charge ("No Quarter"). Their relationship fell apart when in response to a Rebel bombing the restaurant they were in and injuring Miles, Monroe had the Rebel and his entire family executed to make an example out of them. Miles tried to assassinate Monroe in response but he couldn't do it. A number of times, Monroe points out that he never really cared about controlling anything, and that he thought he was just doing what Miles would have wanted ("The Dark Tower"). A number of times, it is also shown that Monroe doesn't enjoy being a villain, but he apparently feels that there's no going back for him ("Home").
  • Sons of Anarchy:
    • The protagonist, Jax Teller. He was raised into SAMCRO, and to believe that they're doing the right thing. However, he slowly starts to see that it's wrong, and tries to get SAMCRO into a more peaceful motorcycle club, after getting a kid. Unfortunately, he slowly becomes colder after every season, and after becoming President, he seems to have forgotten himself, and everything he stands for. He becomes a full-blown villain after the death of his wife Tara, and in the final episode organizes his own road accident suicide.
    • Opie Winston. He just wanted to move out of SAMCRO, to get a better life, with his wife and children, and to take Jax with him. Unfortunately, nothing went well for him, and after his wife's death, he changes his goal into committing suicide.
  • The Sopranos:
    • Tony Soprano. He's a New Jersey mobster who suffers from panic attacks, loves animals, wants his kids to have a good future and a good life outside the mafia, and cares deeply for his family.
    • Christopher Moltisanti is Tony Soprano's chosen successor, but had drug and addiction problems that harm him and the people around him.
    • Tony Blundetto in Season 5 is a newly-released convict who wants to go legit, but ends up going back to a life of crime when it doesn't work out, but his actions ultimately lead to him getting killed.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has a entire race of Tragic Villains - the Jem'Hadar. They are a reptilian species literally bred for the sole purpose of fighting for the Dominion. A need to fight is instilled in them from birth, and they can never truly go against their programming - quite literally, they fight until they die. They're dependent on a drug called "the white" that kills them painfully if the supply runs out (and that's after it drives them crazy first). They're built to be as xenophobic as possible, and can't bring themselves to have any long-term cooperation with another species. And to top it off, they're built to love and serve the Dominion's Founders unconditionally, despite their very existence being under such brutal conditions. In fact, one episode has a group of Jem'Hadar learn that the Vorta who had lead their troops had sold them out, and they knowingly go to their deaths in the ensuing battle regardless, for it is "the order of things."
  • Supernatural:
    • The Archangel Michael in season 5 frees Lucifer to bring about the Apocalypse, which will destroy at least half of the planet. Yet he is ultimately trying to make the best of a bad situation with holding everything together after God's abandonment and looking after humanity. Bringing about the Apocalypse is supposed to please God, destroy the source of evil in Lucifer and Hell, and bring about paradise both for humanity and angel. Ultimately, he is trying to fulfill his duty and please his Father even if that means killing the brother he loves.
    • The angel Castiel of all people becomes this in season six. His world is crumbling around him, he's constantly fighting just to keep the Earth spinning, and it's clear he feels that the people he cares most about can't really help him, so he decides to simply leave them out of his problems to keep them safe. Plus, God is still MIA. This drives him to make increasingly desperate and dark decisions, including opening Purgatory to harness the soul power within, even though it's risky and the actions required to do it harm innocents. He recognizes that his choices have terrible consequences, but simply doesn't seem to see any other viable option to save humanity. What's especially tragic is that even when his friends find out what he's doing and move to stop him (which crushes him), no one is able to actually suggest another course of action, so he ends up sticking to his current path while the people he loves seriously consider killing him.

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