Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Chilling with some tricky TV villains

While the weather outside is frightful(altho not as bad as expected there), I thought it would be fun to enjoy some indoor chills by taking a look at a trio of major TV villains and their influence on the genre.

Granted, each one is set in a very different time and place but there are a few interlocking parts to their natures that connect them together. All three of them have literary based beginnings and their great weapon against the world is being vastly underestimated in their ability to undermine the current status quo. Also, each one gives a special nuance to both the story and heroes that they're set against.

First up in this sinister line-up is Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin on the before-there-was-Batman series Gotham. While the show itself has been seen for the most part as a tale of hits and misses, this bad boy has won the hearts and minds of many viewers with his quietly calculating ways.

Much of the credit for that goes to actor Robin Lord Taylor for his fits like a glove performance, as well as the chemistry between him and Jada Pinkett as Fish Mooney, Cobblepot's former boss and now criminal rival.

However, the writers were smart enough to reinvent this well known member of Batman's Rogues Gallery by not only making him younger but portraying him as a slippery schemer who is working as many angles as he can. That is consistent with most of the comic book versions of the Penguin but here, he's not seen as merely a waddling menace to be laughed off, as some adaptations have showcased him as.

This version of Oswald Cobblepot has an air of former nobility, a once prominent family that has gone to seed  during the progressing generations. His mannerisms remind me of Uriah Heep, one of the great foils of Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, a supposedly meek and mild clerk who used ruthless means to try and dominate the weaknesses of his kindly employer.

 Cobblepot's "humble" demeanor is right in line with that character, even down to  having a wickedly doting mother who encourages her boy in his evil ambitions. This Dickensian flair is the perfect topper to the elegantly evil slice of sickly sweet cake that this future Dark Knight nemesis serves up every week:

Next up is Jonathan "Black Jack" Randall, the British officer with a taste for sadism against his Scottish foes in the miniseries Outlander. The fact that he closely resembles his future descendant Frank provides much trouble to the heroine Claire's initial resistance to believe in his outright sociopathic nature.

Tobias Menzies deserves full credit for deftly balancing Captain Randall's twisted need to torment Jamie and Claire along side the emotional torment that Frank feels as his wife's mysterious disappearance goes on with little help from the authorities or his friends.  In regards to being faithful to Diana Gabaldon's novels that are the basis for the series, this take on Black Jack is remarkably true to the page.

 This adaptation,however, has given a bit more freedom for both Frank and Jack to move around in, with Black Jack making the most of his time on stage.

His wicked word play with Claire as they verbally fence always makes for  a good scene but it's the lull before the storm moments that make Jack Randall appear all the more dangerous. Even in a simple thing like showing a young soldier how to give a proper shave can you see the real nature of the threat that Black Jack possesses.

How much time Black Jack Randall has left on Outlander I can not say(still working my way through the second book) but one thing is for certain; you can and should not take your eye off him:

Last yet far and away from least is current incarnation of Sherlock Holmes' archenemy Moriarty on Elementary. By changing genders and combining this classic villain with the hero's greatest love Irene Adler, the show has pulled off quite the hat trick here.

Adding to the delightful evil goodness is having Natalie Dormer play Moriarty, as her lively sense of fun and cold blooded charm prove to be perfect opposition for both Holmes and Watson(particularly interesting is the undertone of feminine rivalry between Joan Watson and Jamie Moriarty).

Having Sherlock deal with his greatest enemy not only as an intellectual equal but a former lover as well does up the ante on the stakes. It certainly makes all of their future interactions take on more personal meaning, for one, and for a Sherlock Holmes series, finding something new to work with is crucial to it's success.

 No doubt, some of the Arthur Conan Doyle faithful may frown on this retake for both characters(plenty of them weren't happy with Watson being a woman either) but it just proves how powerful the basic templates of these iconic characters are that such a transition serves to enhance rather than hinder them.

While we haven't seen Moriarty for some time(most likely due to Dormer's busy schedule on Game of Thrones), she is still out there and could return when least expected. When she does, her presence will be very wickedly welcome indeed:

 Small screen villainy isn't as easy as it seems. The opportunity to develop and grow is there,of course, but one wrong step or two can make a formidable foe become either a figure of flimsy threat or a ludicrous comic relief.

When it's done well, such effort should be just as appreciated as any silver screen monster is and this particular trio of TV sized trouble makers is suitably evil enough to match any of their cinematic counterparts nicely(unlike a certain pack of silly boys gone bad from Sunnydale's past):


Thaddeus said...

I'm glad you survived the snowstorm, too! Brooklyn is a bit of a mess, but that's status quo here.

I have stayed away from Gotham on purpose (lack of interest), and Outlander by accident (lack of access), but I've seen a good 20+ eps of Elementary. Aside from how good Miller and Liu are in their roles, I like the writing, and the show features some very smart cinematography as well.

That said, I thought Moriarty was played by the female lead from the vampire diaries (not ashamaed to say I watched the first 2+ seasons of that show). I don't know whether they recast the part or pulled some nice plotty switcheroo, but Moriarty was very well-handled in the one ep of hers that I saw.

And really, the idea of confronting a recovering addict crime-fighter with a woman he genuinely loved being a sociopathic murderer? That's a genius way to twist the knife. Kudos to them for that, as it makes the tension much greater, and raises the odds that Holmes won't 've able to take down this criminal...

lady t said...

I still watch The Vampire Diaries and the gal you're thinking of is Nina Dobev,who has not been on Elementary at all. They do have a similar look(big diff being hair color) but it's been Natalie Dormer as Irene/Moriarty right from the get-go.

She hasn't been on for a season and a half now(GOT, where Dormer has a major role) but love the dynamic between her and Holmes, plus the dark rivalry between her and Watson. With How To Get Away With Murder returning, it'll be hard to watch regularly(unless I use my Free on Demand more often).

Glad to hear that you and Brooklyn survived the big storm:) My father was born in Brooklyn, so I have a slight connection to that brough, by proxy there.