The Danger of Making A Villain TOO Smart…Lessons from Bones

Okay first, I have to share the link to the FUNNIEST post I have EVER read about writing love scenes, courtesy of Delilah S. Dawson, who’s guest blogging over for Chuck Wendig.  I’ll share the link again at the end because it’s a nice cheer up and belly laugh.

So last night was the Bones season finale.  I was POSITIVE that somebody’s life was going to be hanging in the balance because all the little teasers they showed about the episode showed that that bastard Christopher Pelant was back.  And I was right in that I WAS left pissed off, but not for the reasons I was expecting.

I’m not going to get too much into spoiler territory (though if you don’t want to know ANYTHING and haven’t caught up on your DVRed episodes yet, you might want to leave now).

Still here?

Okay, so I have to start out by saying that I love me a good serial killer as a villain.  I’m a forensic psych geek, and I’m fascinated by the deviant minds and behavior of this kind of criminal.  I love seeing complicated, complex, twisted people who push the hero to their limits, and very little will get me to throw a book (or show) metaphorically against the wall than a simplistic villain where the author’s justification for his behavior is “oh he’s just pure evil.”

No.  It’s never that simple.  Or shouldn’t be.  He’s pure evil is a copout and lazy writing, no matter the medium.

Serial killers–the ones who last long enough to rack up a pretty big body count–are smart.    The ones you hear about who killed for YEARS before getting caught–Ted Bundy, the Unibomber.  John Wayne Gacy.  Jeffrey Dahmer.  They all had above average intelligence. So I expect a serial killer villain in a book or show to be smart.

But there is danger in making your villain too smart.

Now Bones has done the serial killer thing before and done it well.  I loved the storyline they had with The Gravedigger.  That was interesting (and props to them for having a woman as a serial killer) and while it stretched over more than a season, they pretty well wrapped her up at the very start of the next season.  And it was a win for the Jeffersonian team.  Not an easy one.  Bones and Hodgins got buried in a car.  Seeley got trapped on an air craft carrier about to be blown up.  There was danger, threat of death.  But still, ultimately a win.  I was good with The Gravedigger as a long running adversary.

Then in season 7, they introduced Christopher Pelant.  Now this little pissant, irritating, arrogant jackass rubbed me the wrong way from the get go.  Um, obviously.  He’s a genius and a hacker, who, in season 7 gets away with murder because he finds a way around his ankle bracelet, giving himself a solid alibi.  Everybody knows he did it, but they can’t get around that ankle bracelet.  And then in the season 7 finale, he commits another murder and frames Bones for it, which ends up sending her on the run.  Loss for the team but, admittedly, a good season finale.  They resolve this in the opener for season 8, and I’m thinking, yeah, okay, this jackass is going down.  Except, no, he doesn’t, because he’s hacked more stuff and basically seeded it so that according to DNA, fingerprints, and background records, he’s actually some Egyptian diplomat, not actually Christopher Pelant, so he evades capture.  Well that’s a loss for the team and that’s a real pisser to me.  I hate him as a character, but of course he’s coming back, damn him.

So he comes back later in season 8 to go after Hodgins and Angela with a super creepy stunt where he leaves a decomposing corpse on the canopy above their bed, while they were sleeping.  Okay, yeah, now you’ve got my dander up.  Through a lot of complicated machinations I won’t get into here, Pelant gives Hodgins and Angela and impossible choice which, because they are good people, leaves them broke.  But then it seems like they’re going to WIN.  They’re going to catch this son of a bitch.  But then he shoots Flynn, Seeley shoots Pelant in the face, and then the bastard gets away AGAIN.  Another loss for the team.  

Now I knew he was coming back in this episode last night, and honestly, I was pretty sure Seeley was going to get shot or captured and we were going to have to wait months to find out what happens.  But no, this time Sweets was the target and then Pelant pulls out all this bullshit manipulation to try to essentially break Seeley and Bones up.  Which Seeley gives into because they don’t have a good way to nail the bastard yet and he’s not willing to risk innocent lives for his own happiness (and of course Bones has no idea what’s going on). ANOTHER LOSS FOR THE TEAM.

If they don’t resolve this first thing in season 9 I am DONE with this show.  Because Pelant is no Moriarty.  He’s not elegant and interesting.  He’s a jackwad and a douche and honestly, it stretches well beyond the bounds of my willingness to suspend disbelief that he’s THAT smart.  Nobody is that good.  I could see him going head to head and beating some of the team.  But they are all the top in their fields.  I do not, for one minute, believe he could flawlessly beat them ALL.  And so far we’ve had, count em, FOUR losses for the team as a whole.

This is bad storytelling.  The entire point of having a plot arc is that the hero(es) start out not able to take on the villain (which they do here), but ultimately they learn and grow and become BETTER.  They get WINS.  Maybe partial wins to start, but WINS.  And yeah, in a standard plot arc you’ve got mega smackdowns at pinch points 1 and 2 (and I could tolerate the season 8 opener and the Hodgins/Angela episodes as those), but that means that THEY SHOULD’VE GOTTEN THE BASTARD LAST NIGHT.  He’s had his pinch points, he’s had his opportunity to prove he’s a smart bad ass and better than everyone.  THIS many losses for the heroes stretches too far for watchers/readers.  We want a WIN.  The good guys are supposed to WIN, damn it.

So take a lesson from this, dear writers.  There’s nothing wrong with making a challenging and interesting villain.  Nothing wrong with making one we love to hate.  But don’t make him too strong.  Don’t forget that in the end, your good guys are supposed to prevail.  Or you just might lose large chunks of your audience.  That THUNK and echo is your book (or the TV remote) bouncing off the back of the trash can for a rim shot.

And now, because I promised to cheer you up, here is the link (again) to the FUNNIEST post I have EVER read about writing love scenes, courtesy of Delilah S. Dawson, who’s guest blogging over for Chuck Wendig.

9 thoughts on “The Danger of Making A Villain TOO Smart…Lessons from Bones

  1. My husband, the Basement Troll, and I were all gobsmacked that he got away. I agree with you. They seriously need to resolve him and put him in his place fast. My husband and I have been waning on love for the show for a while and this could be the final nail in the coffin.

    1. The first time they nearly lost us was with that bullshit they pulled about Zach in…what was, it, season 3? We loved him and hated the way that they did what they did. They improved again and I’ve been happy seeing Bones and Booth together. I think they’ve done a good job with keeping that part interesting. But this is just too much.

  2. I hate it when the good guys lose over and over. It gets tedious, frustrating, and depressing. You’re right, the good guys are supposed to win. And it shouldn’t take THAT long.

    Now I’m off to check out this funny post.

  3. I honestly just finished watching the show and then saw your post. I agree with your conclusion that it has gone on too long. I especially had issues with his being able to gridlock traffic like that. Maybe I’m naive in some way, but it just seemed like they should have been able to–oh, I don’t know–get actual traffic cops on site to clear that up.

    Also, I notice that shows struggle to figure out what to do with a couple once they finally get them together. It seems like Bones and Castle–who have handled it well thus far–are reaching that point.

  4. There is a writing theory out there that states, “Continue to beat down your hero until the climax.” That way the win is bigger. I can see both sides of this. Perhaps a few minor wins before the big finale would be a nice trade off.

  5. I like the way Pelant’s story has been going. He’s like a small child who tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. Except he’s really smart, so his tantrums are very elaborate.

    His first scheme was foiled by Brennan, so he focused on her for the season finale. Then he went after Hodgins because he tried to strangle him. But then Booth had the nerve to maim him, so now he’s on his ass for the season finale. The interesting thing is that last night’s episode was the first one one where he tried killing a member of the core team. (He had the opportunity to get Angela and Hodgins) And he spent the whole episode in hiding. He’s escalating, but it seems like he’s too scared to show himself. I have a feeling his days are numbered and he’ll probably be defeated next season. Booth will be spending the summer looking for clues, so he can find Pelant and get back to marrying Brennan.

  6. Admittedly I’m a few years late on this one, I never did watch bones. I’m.only now going through the episodes on Netflix and just rescued the episode that was the topic of your post. The single biggest problem with Pelant as a recurring villain is that he shatters the immersion in the show, from the very beginning he’s pulled off the impossible, simple, flat out. This super hacker, who was caught & placed on house arrest, has now evolved to some sort of hacker god/super spy. He regularly hacks into government, private security, banking institutions with impunity, kills trained operatives and assumes their identities. He hijacked a f***ing drone! And no one can even come close (other than the bones team) to catching him. In the real world this (now half a face bad guy) wouldn’t have been able to fart without 12 different government agencies converging on his position. Instead, only the FBI (which weirdly only consists of 12 people in D.C.) fumbles the ball time & time again. You were absolutely correct in stating it’s frustrating. It’s downright silly, which violates any realistic credibility the show had at this point. Pelant might as well be in a bugs bunny cartoon. It’s lazy writing & insulting to the viewers. Which coincidently, is why “The Following” stunk out loud. Either way, I don’t know if I can finish the series, but I’m going to try. Also, when did Angela make the transition from artist, to 2nd best computer hacker in the world? The Jeffersonian must hold night classes…

  7. I am rewatching Bones, skipping any episodes that mentions Pelant’s name, I am here to relax, not to get depressed.

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