I usually don’t disagree with my fellow writers publicly, but I have to admit I had a weird reaction to Vivian’s piece on the true villain of UnREAL. Spoiler: it’s Rachel which I initially objected to. Maybe she’s screwed up, but that doesn’t make her a villain. And yes, she’s personally hurt the people closest to her, but everyone makes mistakes. Fine, I know she literally makes her living off of orchestrating and publicizing other people’s pain, but that doesn’t mean she’s the villain of the show, right? After taking a minute to think about it, of course it does. Vivian’s completely right, and I had a gut reaction that disagreed with that because I kind of like Rachel. But my fondness for her doesn’t mean that she’s somehow any less of the person who’s bringing pain and destruction into the lives of everyone she knows, including herself. She’s the villain of her show, and the person we most identify with, because good TV is supposed to stretch our understanding of stories.
But that doesn’t explain why we can identify complicated female protagonists as the villains of their stories, while calling complicated male protagonists who are ruining everything for everyone “anti-hereos.” Walter White, even from the beginning, should have be recognized as a villain. A drug-dealing, murdering villain. Don Draper’s and Jimmy McNulty’s inability to get their private lives in order and deal with their shit compromised their ability to do their jobs and hurt the people around them. Jaime Lannister pushed a little kid out of a window, because he wanted to keep fucking his sister. These guys are the bad guys.
Why then do we still root for them? John Thackeray from The Knick is a megalomaniacal, racist, drug addict who had an ongoing affair with his significantly younger subordinate. But he knows how to cut into people good, so we want him to succeed? Why is Rachel a bad guy for ruthlessly trying to succeed at integrating TV dating shows, while we ignore all of Thackeray’s bad qualities because he’s trying to become famous by chopping people up? We have to know he’s the bad guy too, don’t we?
And if we can’t call him the bad guy of the show, we should at least be able to identify Thackeray for what his is: a whiny, petulant, little bitch child.