A hero’s only as good as their villain. A bad villain can drag a whole show down, while a good villain keeps you engaged. “Fun to watch” and “Satisfying to see brought down” can be a tricky balance, but we’ve got some brilliant bad guys this year, so it’s clearly not impossible.
Honourable Mentions: Piotr Adamczyk and iZombie alumnus Aleks Paunovic were reliably fun as Hawkeye’s most commonly seen Track Suit Mafia members, but this isn’t “Best Henchmen;” Eclipso really worked as a concept on Stargirl, better than I anticipated, but spent a little too much time as a creepy kid for my tastes. Like, imagine a Nightmare on Elm Street movie where for two thirds of his screen time Freddy Krueger is just one of the little girls skipping rope.
Yes I am aware this is the third time Vincent D’Onfrio has done Big Bad duty as Kingpin and he still hasn’t made the podium, he was in one episode of Hawkeye, I said I was sorry about the first time, what do you want from me.
Bronze: Vincent Kartheiser as Scarecrow, Titans
Not all of Titans season three was interesting, or engaging, or interesting, or pleasant, but man did Kartheiser’s take on Jonathan Crane, aka Scarecrow, hold my interest every time he showed up. And part of that comes from how often he underplays the role. It seems there’s always a temptation, when playing a Batman villain, to go big. Look at anyone who’s ever played the Riddler; even Paul Dano, who I mostly loved in the role, went for overdramatic howling a few times too many. But when we meet Jonathan Crane, a prisoner in Arkham Asylum turned GCPD consultant, he’s just this casual, soft-spoken guy trading insights on the Red Hood for weed. And man I dig subtle, easygoing, pot-head Scarecrow.
He doesn’t demand our attention, which somehow makes him more compelling. He doesn’t go for big, melodramatic speeches about fear, which makes him creepier. He’s so casual about how much he controls Red Hood, and it gives him a comfortable confidence that makes him more intimidating. And this means that in the few scenes where he does go big to show us the madness and fear underneath the stoner confidence, like his confessional to his therapist mother, it hits hard, because it is so different from what we’ve seen. I can really only think of one live-action Bat-villain who similarly went small so when he went big it would land, at that was Heath Ledger as Joker, and I’m not saying this is on the same level, but… I think we can all agree that worked.
Also in the final episodes he celebrates his triumph by stealing one of Bruce Wayne’s suits, and Crane wallowing in his victory while wearing a three piece suit that’s obviously at least two sizes too big is a hilarious visual for me.
[Full disclosure: yes, there were complaints against Mr. Kartheiser on the set, at least once leading to Warner investigating and saying “Okay knock that shit off,” I don’t know what was said/done to or around whom and whether it was worse than what you might expect from someone dealing with going from the second male lead on Mad Men to doing a one-season stint on the Riverdale of superhero shows, but he wasn’t fired, and Elongated Man on The Flash sure was, so… feels like there’s a ceiling to how bad it could have been? So, sorry Eclipso, he stays.]
Silver: Robert Patrick as Auggie Smith/White Dragon, Peacemaker
The first step in Peacemaker’s podium-worthy redemption arc (silver medalist last post, you remember) is showing us the ugliness that Christopher Smith grew up in, and hoo golly Robert Patrick is nailing it from frame one. Auggie Smith is bitter, hateful, scary from the moment we meet him, to the point where being a literal Nazi is almost hat-on-a-hat. It’s not, his white supremacy fuels his hatred and provides an early divide between the hate-filled Auggie and the apparently bisexual Chris, who in the show’s first scene promises to kill more white criminals to avoid racial bias, and it makes him much more terrifying when he reaches prison, and we see the sway he has over the local Aryans. Auggie Smith isn’t Peacemaker’s racist Q-branch, he’s the second biggest menace in the show, and he’s gonna be a problem.
As as the finale shows… it’s going to take more than just killing him to free Peacemaker from the grip of White Dragon.
And yeah, Robert Patrick is brilliant throughout the show. He nails playing an utterly despicable person despite apparently being the nicest guy in real life.
But there was one embodiment of America’s growing white nationalist problem that took it a bit further.
Gold: Antony Starr as Homelander, The Boys
How does he just get BETTER at this every year
Seriously, in season three, as Homelander learns that just like the real world, there are those who will always confuse strength and power with righteousness, and thus stops hiding the monster underneath his public heroic persona, Starr finds new depths to take the character to. He’s more unhinged, scarier, but also with new veins of uncertainty, doubt, and fear that I wouldn’t say humanize him* but certainly give the character levels, keeping him from being statically evil in his ascension. If the villain just has everything go their way for the whole season, no obstacles, no moments of doubt, it gets old and frustrating, call it the “Season Three Kingpin” effect.
But whatever Homelander’s doing, whether it’s wallowing in his own crapulence, panicking that Stan Edgar was right and he’s doomed to fail as head of Vought, or freaking out over the threat of Solider Boy so much he dissociates, Starr is crushing every frame, even– nay, especially– when he’s powerfully uncomfortable to witness.
(*there are those who think he’s just a bad boy on a redemption arc and I need them to know that I wish them nothing but unhappiness until they grow past this)
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