Friday, March 13, 2015

When Villains Love The Hero #Sherlock #amwriting

This evening I finally got the chance to finish off Sherlock season 2. I LOVE IT. But it also got me thinking about why I love it so much. I could write about how wonderful the relationship between John Watson and Holmes is--but we often hear the praises sung of the hero/heroine and his/her trusted best mate.

I want to briefly praise another relationship: the intense emotional connection between the villain and the hero.

Moriarty: You know when he was on his deathbed—Bach—he heard his son at the piano playing one of his pieces. The boy stopped before he got to the end.
Sherlock: And the dying man jumped out of bed, ran straight to the piano and finished it.
: Couldn't cope with an unfinished melody.
Sherlock: Neither can you, it's why you've come.
Moriarty: But be honest. You're just a tiny bit pleased.
Sherlock: What, with the verdict?
Moriarty: With me. Back on the streets. Every fairy tale needs a good old fashioned villain.

...and Moriarty is absolutely right. How could a hero be so heroic if not for the force opposing her. Moriarty goes on to explain how much this ongoing conflict means to him and his work as a criminal mastermind:

MoriartyWell. Here we are at last. You and me, Sherlock. And our problem. The Final Problem. "Staying Alive". So boring, isn't it? It's just... staying. All my life I've been searching for distractions. And you were the best distraction and now I don't even have you. Because I've beaten you. And you know what? In the end it easy. It was easy. Now I've got to go back to playing with the ordinary people.

Except that idea of going back to the ordinary, back to a life of being unchallenged, drives Moriarty to kill himself (or so I think). And one can definitely argue that Sherlock too is defined by his relationship with Moriarty.

So what makes the best villain-hero relationship? IMHO, I think there are a few things:

1) An equality in ability and power between the hero-villain (Sherlock and Moriarty are matched in wit)
2) A need or sense of identity associated for their counterpart  (They each define themselves by the other)
3) A love-hate relationship that stems from their appreciation of the other's talent, ability, and an aggravation at the challenge to overcome it. I would wager they feel most alive when fighting the other.
4) A sense of conflict stemming from the fact that they want to defeat their counterpart, proving their own superiority, but also knowing that once they do so, they will no longer have a challenge--and the fear that they will have nothing left.

So what are your favorite hero/villain pairings? And what makes that relationship unparalleled?


  1. In the American Sherlock spin-off, Elementary, I love that they made Moriarty a woman. I think a romantic connection between a villain and hero really changes the game. It adds an extra erotic thread of tension. How much harder is it to defeat someone you're attracted too?

    1. If you like that dynamic, you'll love the Archie Sheridan-Gretchen Lowell pairing in the Chelsea Cain's series! Start with Heartsick :)

  2. I think all of my favorite pairing have been where the hero was no match for the villain, (Kora, Harry Dresden, Richard Mayhew and Door from Neverwhere) Something that I realized from this list was none of the villains had identities, but were just ideas and shadows throughout much of the book or series. I like when the MC is hopelessly outmatched and must find a way to rise to the challenge. It may just be me, but I also love that no other character recognizes the enemy for who they are and they often question the MC's sanity or judgement.

    1. I think there is definitely additional tension if it seems impossible that the protagonist should win! :)

  3. I think my favorites are when I actually LIKE the villain. The backstory and character development is so crafty that readers and watchers come to identify with the villain as well as the protagonist. I find myself thinking "what a shame they can't be together. They'd make such a good team." In the series "Spartacus," Crixus, another gladiator is a perfect antagonist, because he loves as selflessly as Spartacus when put to the test, and the two gladiators are well-matched in the ring.