Top 10 Joss Whedon Villains
Whilst brainstorming the Top 10 Joss Whedon Characters feature, we made the choice to limit the list to characters that appeared in the opening credits of their respective programs. This left some fantastic characters by the wayside, mostly in the shape of bad guys, so a second list was conceived to shine the spotlight on these awesome creations. Again we’re only including characters who were actually created by Joss Whedon.
With an even deeper well to draw from this was a much harder list to whittle down to ten, with the first draft comprising of more than thirty entries (Olaf, Glory, Dark Willow and Captain Hammer being the most difficult to cut out). As we saw with the previous Whedon character list everyone will have their favourites, so feel free to note them in the comments! We also learned that there’s a number of people with an almost fetishistic love for Wesley Wyndam-Price, but let’s try not to think about that. No doubt we’ll cop some flack for not including Dark Willow, but we saw it as part of Willow’s character arc instead of a stand alone villain.
The Cheat Entry: Vampire Willow
We all love Vampire Willow. She was shocking in her first appearance and brilliantly funny when she made her way into the real world. She quickly became an iconic character and a fan favourite. But she didn’t make the top 10 – simply because we looked at the characters who were well developed, unique or played a key role in developing the heroes. We love Vampire Willow, so she deserves a mention. Now on to the Top 10…
10. The Gentlemen
The Gentlemen manage to slide their way onto this list in spite of not being developed beyond an initial appearance. Without any dialogue, little explanation and a rather simple design the amount of horror created by these one off villains is extraordinary. With pale, hairless skin, a distended grin and a black suit they appear as distorted humanoids as they float eerily through the town having robbed the population of their voices and collecting hearts. Whedon taps into an almost primal fear by creating a world where a basic need as been stripped away from us. Small moments in the episode where we see people sitting on a curb and weeping or rushing the liquor store hammer home the impact of such a simple threat. Marrying the psychological terror with the grotesque (who didn’t freak out when one hovered past the window?) is what made The Gentlemen such a memorable monster.
9. Ethan Rayne
There is something odd about British characters in that they need some dark version of themselves to make into a nemesis, a character of equal intellect and ability who represents the path not taken. Sherlock Holmes has Moriarty, The Doctor has The Master, James Bond has Blofeld and Rupert Giles has Ethan Rayne. During Giles’ youth he was involved in black magic rituals that came back to haunt him later in life. One of his allies in this youthful rebellion was Rayne…except Rayne never repented to take up the fight for good. Ethan Rayne would find himself in Sunnydale from time to time, sometimes for personal reasons and sometimes working as a magical subcontractor. A worshiper of chaos his modus operandi is to enchant the population with cursed items such as Halloween costumes that turn the wearer into what the costume represents and candy bars that cause adults to revert back to teenagers. Eventually apprehended by the The Initiative he didn’t make a return until the Season 8 comics by helping Buffy fight in the ‘dreamscape’ before he was murdered by the government.
Whenever Ethan appears it’s the dynamic between him and Giles that made the episode fascinating. He did what every good villain should do – compliment the hero. He was always a welcome sight for viewers.
8. Lindsey McDonald
When Angel arrived in L.A. he found that the centre of evil in the city was a law firm called Wolfram and Hart. Every member of the organization was diabolical in their own right but they all eventually fell (even if some of them did momentarily rise again) but Lindsey persevered, going on to be the only character other than Angel to appear in the first and last episodes of the series. What made him worth keeping around was that Lindsey wasn’t just an opponent of Angel but a rival. They competed over Darla, control of Wolfram and Hart, what side Faith would choose and even Lindsey’s soul. Their conflict would manifest as a battle of wits rather than strength as they would try and manipulate each other to their own ends, only coming to blows when one gets driven to the edge.
When Lindsey is eventually allies with Angel and his group it’s to take down the Circle of the Black Thorn. Ironically it’s Angel who betrays Lindsey by having Lorne shoot Lindsey on his orders.
6. & 7. Drusilla & Darla
There’s a very good reason why Darla and Drusilla are listed together on this list – it’s bloody difficult to choose one to rank above the other. Darla appeared in the opening scene of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer pilot and functioned as little more than an especially entertaining henchwomen to The Master during early episodes. From this modest introduction she went on to have one of the most interesting character arcs in Angel. Julie Benz was the producers third choice to play the role of Buffy (losing out to Katie Holmes, who decided to pass in order to finish her studies leaving the role to second choice Sarah Michelle Gellar, who oddly enough had been cast as Cordelia) and was offered the part of Darla. Having such a strong performer in the part elevated the vampire femme fatale above that of nameless villain intended to be dusted in the first episode- a decision Whedon made halfway through filming said episode. The character was expanded upon over the coming episodes, revealing that she was the vampire who ‘sired’ Angel and being staked by him shortly after the revelation. The delivery of her final line of dialogue in this scene remains one of the strongest moments in the first season.
Darla was later resurrected by Wolfram and Hart as part of a plan to manipulate Angel. Being brought back in her human form complete with a fatal illness made her a more sympathetic and layered character. Her new-found mortality and a love triangle with Angel and Lindsey gave Whedon and Benz the opportunity to explore different facets of the role. Over the coming episodes the character went full circle by attempting to start over before being turned back into a vampire and going on a killing spree with Drusilla and attempting to destroy Angel’s soul. When she returns in later seasons she’s carrying Angel’s child, ultimately sacrificing herself to give birth. Not only did Darla play a pivotal role in the Slayer mythology but remained one of the most intriguing villains in the series.
Drusilla, on the other hand, didn’t function as the manipulator but the wildcard. Introduced in the second season of BtVS when she arrives in Sunnydale alongside her creation and long-term lover Spike, Drusilla lived in the 1860s and was discovered by Angelus and Darla who recognized her as a psychic. Angelus was fascinated by the pure, Catholic girl who could foresee the tragedy that he would bring to her door. He murdered her family and tormented her into madness before turning her into a vampire and she joined him and Darla in their travels. Not long after Drusilla sired William the Bloody (later Spike) as a ‘playmate’ and the two began a century long love affair.
When Drusilla and Spike arrived in Sunnydale she was weakened after being lynched by a mob in Prague. The ever devoted Spike kept her protected and eventually managed to perform a ritual to return her to strength before they joined Angelus in his apocalyptic plans. After their plans were thwarted by the Slayer Drusilla and Spike parted ways, but she would frequently return to Sunnydale or L.A. to spread more chaos through the lives of the heroes. What set Drusilla aside from the other vampires was her deeply psychotic mindset. Perfectly portrayed by Juliet Landau, Drusilla was almost hypnotic to watch as she weaved her way through the story, changing Darla back into a vampire, tormenting Spike and killing by the truck full.
With only fourteen episodes in the can Firefly never had the opportunity to flesh out their recurring villains (or even give many of them the chance to become recurring). If there’s one who stood out as entertaining to watch even on the little screen time afforded it’s Saffron. Or Yolanda. Or Bridget. Initially appearing as a simple and naive peasant girl she stows away on the Serenity after Capt. Mal inadvertently marries her. Most of the crew are uncertain what to make of her old-fashioned outlook, and Mal is put in an awkward position as he continues to rebuff her advances. When he resigns himself to the ‘special hell’ he learns of Saffron’s true nature: she’s a con-woman. With the unorthodox method of marrying her marks she’s highly manipulative, seductive and deadly.
Selling her services or working for her own end she is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to achieve her goals and while she does try to avoid killing when it’s unnecessary it doesn’t mean that she would balk at the idea. After their initial conflict Saffron runs afoul of Mal when he finds that she’s married an old war buddy. Her cover blown she instead makes the Serenity crew an offer to join her on a heist (involving another former husband). What follows is pure writing brilliance and we are left guessing who is really playing who. Saffron had everything we wanted in a Firefly villain – she’s funny, she’s unpredictable and her banter with Capt. Mal is downright awesome.
One thing that made Alpha such a memorable villain was the reveal. It had been rumoured throughout the first season of Dollhouse that Firefly star Alan Tudyk would be playing the mysterious and dangerous psychopath who haunted the series up until that point. When Tudyk did appear on the show it was as the architect behind the physical building of the Dollhouse, a deranged shut-in obsessed with self-sufficient living environments. After making his way into the Dollhouse, acting like a delightful loon, it is revealed that he is in fact the psychopathic Alpha.
Alan Tudyk most often plays very comedic, very goofy characters, and seeing him play such a cold and deadly murderer is part of the success of the character. The sudden shift from bumbling goofball to steely killer is shocking when it happens. Our fascination with the character had already been developed through the way the other characters talk about him and the damage he has already done to members of the organization. Being the result of all the dormant personalities that had been imprinted on him becoming active at the same time also makes him highly unpredictable and downright scary.
Returning once again to the concept of the dark reflection of the hero, Faith represented the other path Buffy could’ve found herself walking down. Introduced in the third season of BtVS as the latest Slayer to be summoned she was brash, confident and a skilled warrior who quickly endears herself to Buffy’s friends but not the slayer herself. After a while Buffy warmed up to Faith’s outlook on life and started to emulate her (an action that landed her in the back of a police car). What set Faith apart from Buffy is the lack of a support group. Little mention is made of Faith’s family, although it is suggested that she was very close to her Watcher and greatly affected by their death at the hands of an ancient vampire. Initially she had found a new role model in new Watcher Gwendolyn Post, but her trust was misguided. Without the support group that Buffy has Faith often felt out of place leading her to fall in with the Mayor, who represented a father and mentor figure.
Later, after recovering from a coma and learning of the Mayor’s defeat, Faith sought to avenge herself by switching bodies with Buffy. This lead to her having to confront her own actions and experience the viewpoint of Buffy. Confused, lost and angry Faith travels to L.A. where she is hired by Wolfram and Hart to assassinate Angel. Instead she concocts a plan to drive Angel to kill her by torturing Wesley. Angel convinces her to take responsibility for her crimes and she willingly goes to prison. Having made efforts to redeem herself she breaks out of prison when she’s needed to fight Angelus and then joins Buffy in fighting the First Evil.
What made Faith such a popular character was that she was more than just the ‘dark’ version of the Slayer, but a well developed and layered character. Not introduced as a villain but an ally, Buffy is presented as being petty for not taking a liking to Faith, and sympathy is developed through her stories concerning Kikistos and Gwendolyn. When she does turn to the Mayor it isn’t out of a desire to do wrong but because she yearns for someone who will accept her. Her more extreme actions later in the series are a reflection of her inability to reach a stable mindset. This human character proved more interesting and more frightening than another vampire hell bent on the apocalypse. Speaking of which…
Angelus was something of a timebomb. Introduced as Angel at the beginning of BtVS he was all set up to be the dark and broody love interest for the cheerleader turned superhero. Before long it is revealed that he is a vampire cursed with having a soul and being forced to repent for his sins. Everyone knew that eventually Angelus would emerge – it was too good a concept not to use it – so it became a matter of when, and what will he do when it happens.
Writers of Buffy did not disappoint. When Angel reverted to Angelus during the second season the shift from the intense and quietly spoken Angel to a cold blooded killer who delighted in tormenting his victims the effect was downright startling. The show began to challenge itself and the viewer with much darker concepts and a much more threatening villain. By murdering Jenny Calender he provoked the usually reserved Giles into attacking Angelus in his lair, leading to his capture and torture. Angelus challenged the characters in a way that they hadn’t encountered yet, or since. Never before had an enemy been so close to home for them, and it defined the character of Buffy for years to come.
When Angel left Sunnydale to set up shop in L.A. the menace of Angelus never left him. The character remained threatening because he would also be present in some potential form. As long as Angel continued to fight for the side of good the threat of darkness would always be present.
1. Mayor Richard Wilkins III
Yes, the Mayor. May not be many people’s choice for the best villain from the collected works of Joss Whedon but damn if he wasn’t awesome. Most villains who appear in genre television are pretty cut and dry maniacal laughing, world conquering lunatics and while Mayor Wilkins had aspirations towards world dominance he didn’t seem to have the same outward attitude. Taking up the mantle of Big Bad for the third season of BtVS the Mayor was referenced in earlier seasons as a figure that inspired fear in those who knew him. When he appeared on screen he defied expectations by seeming like the quintessential small town politician that embodied family values and the working class spirit. The reality was much darker. Showing supernatural abilities he had lived for over a century as Richard Wilkins I and II, and held office in Sunnydale for just as long. Due to a ritual performed in the third season he became indestructible, able to recover from fatal wounds in seconds. His ultimate plan revolved around his ‘Ascension’ that would see him transforming into a giant demon.
One may initially assume that the persona of the Mayor could simply be a cover to hide his true nature, but his attitude was completely genuine. He abhorred swearing and refused to allow it in his presence, he endorsed family values and was unhappy when Faith called him her ‘sugar daddy’, and he followed correct etiquette. He was further humanized by his quirks, such as his germaphobia and fondness for shredding paper. When this cheerful, almost old fashioned attitude was juxtaposed against the diabolical monster we had one of the most unique and entertaining characters in a show full of brilliant characters. When he turns to Giles and plainly states “that’s a plucky girl you’ve raised there…I’m going to eat her”, the sudden threat is downright chilling.
The relationship between The Mayor and Faith became another strong turning point for the character. The two could not have been more different from each other, with Faith’s aggressive and skewed world view sometimes conflicting with the Mayor’s old school values. The two of them were both people outside of the world with Faith being a rogue Slayer and the Mayor having lost his loved ones in exchange for his long life. When two villains come together it’s always for the purpose of reaching a like goal and would usually end when one betrays the other. Not so in Whedonworld – the bond between the two could not have been more heartfelt and they began to feel like they’d found a family. It’s only when Faith is drastically wounded by Buffy that the Mayor’s veneer begins to crack.
Between his wholesome personality behind which lurks an almost pure evil and his believably human characteristics, Mayor Richard Wilkins III is the most entertaining villain that Joss Whedon has given us.