It’s hard for me to love a villain.
“But of course,” you think. “No one loves a villain. Instead, we love to hate them.”
That’s exactly what I mean. If you enjoy hating a villain, then you enjoy their presence on the screen or page. You appreciate the dark energy they bring to the story, because it makes the heroes’ light shine brighter. Maybe you enjoy analyzing their psyche, understanding the motive behind their evil deeds. Ore sympathize with their traumatic back-story and wish the hero would hurry up and kiss them already. Whatever your reasons, you value the villain as a vital part of the narrative.
That’s difficult for me to do. There are only three or four villains whom I appreciate as a key part of their stories. Most of the time, I find villains’ scenes skippable and their arcs forgettable. I just don’t… care.
I don’t care until suddenly I do. I don’t care until I see a villain like Catra from the Netflix show She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.
What’s different about Catra? For starters, she’s a young female villain not motivated by men. Catra doesn’t have a father or a brother or a boyfriend she’s trying to impress. She’s gay, for goodness sakes! She’s hopelessly in love with her best friend Adora, and deals with her raging hormones and abandonment issues by conquering an entire planet. Which I find oddly relatable. As Wanda Maximoff would say, “Just a case of the Mondays, am I right?”
Catra fascinates me because she’s a study in loyalty gone wrong. Her villain arc shows what happens when someone who defines themselves by loyalty to another person—believing they fully reciprocated their undying loyalty—learns otherwise. Catra and Adora are cadets in the Horde Army under the command of a psychopathic sorceress named Shadow Weaver. Shadow Weaver treats the two girls differently. Adora gets praised and flattered, while she abuses and belittles Catra. Adora feels responsible for protecting Catra, yet remains blind to Shadow Weaver’s manipulative ways. Catra, meanwhile, clings to Adora with a tenacity born of survival. She endures the constant abuse by dreaming of the day when she and Adora will rule the Horde themselves.
When Adora suffers a rude awakening in the pilot episode, realizing the Horde is, in fact, evil… she defects to the side of the rebels, leaving behind everything she’s ever known.
“You’ve known these people for, what, an hour?” a dumbfounded Catra demands when she hears the news. “And you’re going to throw everything away for them?”
“Come with me,” Adora begs, wide-eyed and earnest. “You don’t have to go back there. We can fix this!”
Catra turns on her heel and slinks into the shadows. The single glance she throws over her shoulder is raw with pain, betrayal. It charges the air with electricity. Dark clouds brew on the horizon. There’s a storm coming.
It’s brilliant storytelling. In that moment, I saw Catra’s path to villainy with absolute clarity, lit by a flash of lightning. I understood the fury that drowned her loyalty once she realized she wasn’t Adora’s top priority. Adora was going to leave the Horde with or without her. It wasn’t Shadow Weaver’s abuse of Catra which jarred Adora’s conscience, either. It was Shadow Weaver’s mistreatment of some random villagers. Strangers.
No, I don’t condone Catra’s actions from that point forward. But it’s hard for me to see how Catra could have reacted any other way to what she reasonably interpreted as her best friend’s betrayal. That’s what makes Catra the perfect villain; the mirror image of the hero, the direct byproduct of the hero’s own choices.
Her pain echoes through the story, demanding to be heard. To be seen. To be valued on a personal level, not as a faceless victim.
“You’re going to throw everything away for them?”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jessica Prescott writes books under the name Katie Hanna and blogs under the name Charles Baker Harris (confusing, she readily admits). You can find out more about Jessica, her pet projects, and her obsession with Doctor Who at I’m Charles Baker Harris (And I Can Read).