[Most of this post is spoilers about Season Three of Buffy the Vampire Slayer]
When I refer to myself as an overlord, I frequently modify it with the word ‘benevolent’. This serves to confuse many people. How can an evil overlord be be benevolent? Benevolent and evil have opposite meanings; a benevolent evil is an oxymoron.
But I insist, all the same, that I am a benevolent evil overlord. People are flexible enough that they are, quite frequently, oxymoronic. I am benevolent to my subjects, my minions, my allies. Yet my rule will be ruthless and severe, as will be the judgement of my enemies. My plans involve benevolence in trying to forge a good life for all of the citizens in my empire – but I will also rip from them their agency (which I’ve already mentioned I understand that to be one of the greatest evils).
It is quite possible to be kind and to be cruel. Not in the same breath or the same stroke, perhaps, but in the same day or the same hour, certainly.
And it is this very benevolence that takes people by surprise. I tell people I’m an evil overlord and they rarely believe me, for one, because of my short stature and adorable face, but also because I am a kind person. There is no way, in their minds, that someone as cute and nice as I could be ‘evil’. And then, as they learn my dark sense of humor, my fluency in darkness, and the odd, “surprisingly” evil action, there quickly becomes a way that I could be evil.
Why do I bring this up, when my being an evil overlord is semi-joke? (Or is it?) I bring it up because I think more overlords or other Big Bads with minions should be like me. I’ve already spoken against the “bad to the bone” villains, so this assertion should come as no surprise to you. You may still disagree with me, that an overlord can have no benevolent qualities, that I’m just wrong. Let me give an example of a benevolent overlord (or at least Big Bad):
[Warning, spoilers. I’ll give you a bold bracket tag to let you know when they’re over.] The Mayor is probably one of my favorite villains because he’s just so unassuming and chipper. And with the Mayor, you have to use the word ‘chipper’; no other word will do. Unless it’s just as archaic, I suppose. Anyway, the Mayor goes through different minions during his rise to power, but I would like to talk about his deputy mayor, Allan Finch, a vampire under his employ, Mr. Trick, and the other Slayer, Faith.
With Finch, the Mayor is pretty dismissive, expecting him to do his duties and be quiet. but when Faith accidentally stakes Finch and dumps his body in the lake (Why do the characters in Buffy keep dumping bodies in lakes? Dumping a body in a lake is one of the worst ways to dispose a body! It’s always going to be discovered) the Mayor notices when Finch is late to – and then entirely absent from – a meeting. Which puzzles him, because Finch is never tardy, let alone one to play hookey. What’s important about this realization that something must have happened to Finch is that it shows that even if the Mayor was dismissive of his deputy, he still knew the man. And when the body is found and Mr. Trick reports that he died from a puncture wound to the heart, with wooden splinters in the wound, the Mayor wants revenge on the Slayers for killing Finch. Perhaps this is an evil person’s “didn’t know what you had ’til it was gone”. Maybe Finch was more tool than person to the Mayor, but he was a faithful tool, and the Mayor clearly put value in him, or else he would have reacted more on the end of how he did when Buffy killed a demon to whom they Mayor was trying to make a sacrifice. Irritated, but taking events in stride. Not vengeful.
I personally enjoy Mr. Trick as a character, and I do adore the Mayor – and little is better than the casual business relationship those two have. They joke, they are at a clear understanding, and yet when Faith stakes Mr. Trick, there’s not nearly the same amount of mourning from the Mayor. Mr. Trick, was, in the end, just a business partner. Practically a mercenary, even. And he was just another vampire. There are more than plenty of those in Sunnydale. This is an important juxtaposition to Finch and Faith – an hero may cry at the loss of any ally. A villain will only do so at the losses that truly matter, when the person had some sort of real, meaningful relationship.
Shortly after staking Mr. Trick, Faith came to the Mayor, asking to fill in his now-empty position of minion. Important note here, Faith killed both Finch and Mr. Trick, and yet the Mayor welcomed her in with no qualms whatsoever. A hero might have had a really hard time working with someone like that – and when Faith does come back as a “good” guy around season seven, the heroes do have a hard time working with her – but not a villain, not someone who can weigh the benefits quickly and assess the assets to be worthwhile. So the Mayor takes on Faith, and rapidly assumes a father role to her. The two do grow to be quite close, with the Mayor doting on her by doing things from granting her a much better apartment with fine furnishings to bringing cookies to their evil meetings. He expects Faith to be polite, what with his old-fashioned family values and all, and guides her behavior with a stern yet gentle fatherly reprimand. But do remember, they are both evil. Their adorable relationship plays out the same way any admirable father-daughter relationship would, while the unexpected mostly-not-a-reward present that the Mayor gives Faith isn’t jewelry or clothing or other typical gifts, but a cruel-looking dagger. The mostly-not-a-reward part of the gift isn’t the bribe to court a specific fellow or not, or behaving in such-and-such a way for such-and-such an event, but for killing a fellow that has knowledge that could put a wrench in the Mayor’s plans for becoming a demon.
What marks this relationship with benevolence, however, is what happens when Buffy puts Faith into a coma. The Mayor truly grieves, and his love for Faith is an important tool for Buffy’s defeat of the Mayor when he does transform into a demon. Only by reminding him that she was the one who stabbed Faith and put her in the hospital was Buffy able to goad the Mayor into targeting her.
The love that the Mayor had for Faith – and he did love her – was deep. He had true benevolence and adoration for her. But the Mayor was evil. He literally transformed into a demon. He planned on eating everyone at the high school and then continuing to feast on Sunnydale while beginning a reign of terror. But even as a demon, he loved Faith. He was a benevolent father figure, to her. [End of spoilers] And the Mayor was so good-natured and full of family values that he would have made a very interesting demon overlord, indeed. Was the Mayor willing to sacrifice babies to a demon? Yes. But he would not have tolerated an inappropriate sexual relationship. Each villain is his own brand of evil.
So when you make your overlord, make him a benevolent overlord, if you can. It adds an interesting dynamic and will help round out all of your evil characters, Big Bad and minions alike.