I failed my overlord. In most stories, this would mean my head wouldn’t remain connected to the rest of my body for long. It’s a trope that we see over and over again, so often as to be a bit cliche. And I get why it exists. The overlord is soooooo evil that they don’t care about the lives of their minions, and even the slightest failure must be punished swiftly brutally to scare the troops into perfection.
Really, this is a symptom of a larger villain trope. More often than not, villains are social outcasts. They’re angry loners who scare away anyone and everyone that might want to get close. They don’t understand the power of friendship, etc, etc, mind-numbing etc. They are often completely unequipped to interact with others outside of intimidation and threats. And all too often the only exceptions to this are calculated exceptions.
These sorts of villains can play the social game. They can play it to perfection, molding people like clay between their fingers. They can schmooze with the rich people and inspire the masses. They can turn aside their bitterest enemies with just the right words and smiles. But make no mistake: it is just a game to them. Get them alone and they feel the same way as any other villain does. People are beneath them. People are tools to be used when useful and discarded as soon as they are no longer necessary. Lex Luthor has as much disdain for, well pretty much everybody, as Voldemort has for Muggles. He’s just better at hiding it.
A rare treat indeed is the villain who actually cares about people. This villain goes to parties not to (or at least not exclusively to) advance some scheme of theirs, but because they genuinely like to hang out with others in a social setting. This villain gives their minions a raise because they want them to have better lives. People flock to this villain because they genuinely care and work to improve their lives. This is the villain that people cheer, that makes people question if the heroes stopping their scheme can even really be called heroes. Isn’t that villain much more terrifying than the one who flips out and kills his minions at the drop of the hat?
If it seems hard for you to wrap your head around someone who can simultaneously be so genuinely nice and caring and also the most evil person on the block, remember that people come in almost every flavor under the sun. Villains are people too. Many villains hide behind the “making the world better” mantra, but they really are only using it to justify the desire they already had to rule. But what if your villain does genuinely undertake what they are doing because they want to make the world a better place and don’t see any other way.
Tropes are tropes for a reason. But maybe you can try to make a villain who really is a good person outside of their villainy and see what kind of story they have to tell. I bet you’d be pleasantly surprised.