VIDEO: What makes a great villain? Part 1: Star Trek’s T’Pring

In this special Retrotorial, Tom discusses his second favorite Star Trek antagonist, the Vulcan T’Pring from the original series episode “Amok Time”.

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Tag: Tom's Retrotorials: What makes a great/bad villain?

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  • Muthsarah

    LOVED this. Can’t get enough Trek analysis, and this one was an excellent topic to start (?) off with: one everyone should know at least a little something about (Amok Time), but something that (as far as I know) doesn’t get talked about much. Looking at the stuff you know in more depth, or even from a new angle. Trek’s never more fun than when insightful people do these kinds of things.

    More! More!

    • Thomas Stockel

      Thank you very much, I’m glad you liked it.

  • $36060516

    Yeah, turning characters into franchises rather than leaving them in the story they were organically created to serve is usually a recipe for soullessness.

  • Speaking of “Thor the Dark World” I like to compare Malekith the Accursed to the Mandarin in “Iron Man 3”. One is a rather faithful adaptation of the comics ideas, the other is a complete inversion of that. If they had played the Mandarin straight, he would have been Malekith, but without all the alien nature. In fact, the terrestrial alien other is what the Mandarin is trying to be, and the comic clearly is.

    Malekith is boring, mostly because he is exactly what people complained the Mandarin wasn’t.

    That and his plot has been done to death, “I am looking for a magical artifact to cloak the lands in darkness”, cause Sauron and every other dark wizard hasn’t had that goal since the beginning of lore. Hell, the Earth, the universe, or reality is being blown up ever movie and science fiction series these days (Doctor Who, especially) so, just another guy blowing up the universe is now boring. How did that happen?

    • The_Stig

      Apparently this is what Eccles would rather do than have anything to do with Doctor Who. I hate to say it, but screw him, John Hurt’s ten times the Ninth Doctor that ungrateful bastard could ever be.

    • Thomas Stockel

      Well, Sauron is the least interesting villain in LOTR, too; it’s Gollum who is far more interesting because of his tragic past. And now that I think about it, The Emperor from the first Star Wars trilogy is not nearly as interesting as Darth Vader.

      You’re right, the plot has been done to death. I think if Malekith had a better motive, such as it had been a race war between the Dark Elves and Asgardians, perhaps it would have been better. It simply came down to two races who wanted to be on top and could not see a universe where they were the subordinate race. “Bringing darkness” just seemed silly to me; they’ve got eyes, they must need light.

      I liked the new Mandarin, by the way; it was a wonderful swerve and I agree that a faithful adaptation simply would not have worked in today’s world.

  • The_Stig

    I don’t really consider T’Pring to be a villain though. A coldhearted bitch, maybe but all she wanted was a traditional annulment of her marriage. That tradition just happened to be combat to the death. I’d like to see you do a piece on Khan and Gul Dukat.

    • jjramsey

      I think that’s why Mr. Stockel prefers the word “antagonist” to “villain.”

      • Thomas Stockel

        Exactly. But “villain” sounds much more cool for a title. 🙂

        • The_Stig

          I just had a thought. What if the focus of the next part is the Romulan Commander from Balance of Terror? Ohpleaseohpleaseohpleaseohplease.

          • Muthsarah

            He wasn’t a terribly well-developed character. Interesting, though, for how little we see of him. And a wonderful episode all-around.

            I forget, is this series just looking at Trek vill–antagonists, TOS antagonists, or everything?

            If he’s eligible, I don’t see how Dukat doesn’t walk away with #1. Though he’s been talked about quite a bit more than has T’Pring, and for all I know, Tom’s looking at the under-appreciated characters.

          • Thomas Stockel

            I don’t want to focus solely on ‘Trek villains, although upon reflection it seems all of them are sci-fi villains. I really do need to get out of that rut. I do watch more than sci-fi movies and shows. Why, the other day I watched….

            …Never mind.

            As for whom I’m looking at, the point of these retrotorials doesn’t necessarily concern characters who are under-appreciated, so I may actually take a look at Khan…especially after Abrams did his level best to ruin the character with that abomination of a movie.

            So. Are you a Gul Dukat fan? I’m just curious.

          • Muthsarah

            Uhhh….yeah. Just a LOT.

            I don’t think he was perfectly-written or anything; a little too flippant, like a lot of Trek characters, but nowhere near Jadzia-level inappropriateness. He was cultured, had a sense of humor, had his weaknesses, and could be almost charming. He had a code of honor, he offered respect to his “enemies” and was frustrated when they wouldn’t return the courtesy, though he was patient. He could do the right thing if pressured enough (I love when good characters skew bad and bad characters skew good), and like the best villains, he never betrayed for a second that he thought he was doing anything wrong and rarely even acted the stock villain. He believed everything he was trying to sell, and there absolutely was a clear (if self-absorbed to the point of sociopathic) logic to it. There was nothing about him that didn’t seem perfectly plausible, any time, any place.

            All his sins stemmed from his pride and ambition. He wasn’t cruel and malevolent first, he always seemed like the kind of guy that only gradually became that way as he moved up in society and did what was expected of him. He wasn’t evil to the core, “evil” just became his means for getting what he felt he (and others) deserved. Sometimes he wasn’t a villain at all, but an antihero. I love how the show set him up early on as a big bad (hinting very strongly of him as an SS officer parallel) and then actually made it seem like he was going to be reformed as events shifted all around him and the regular cast. It seemed like it really coulda happened.

            He never got the respect he felt he was owed – in fact, things kept getting worse and worse for him from the beginning:

            – He felt like a scapegoat for the occupation, both by the Bajorans/Federation who blamed him for what happened, and by his own people, who blamed him for the withdrawl
            – He was kidnapped by mere rebels, and had to be rescued by the Federation
            – He sacrificed everything most dear to him for Ziyal, and STILL people treated him like he was a monster.
            – He saw the Empire he based his identity on crumble, and the new government treat him worse than the previous one
            – Finally, after another ignominious defeat (for which he could readily blame the Dominion, or the Prophets, or somebody else), he saw his daughter murdered right before his eyes, leaving him with absolutely nothing to show for his whole life’s work.

            He swung back to full-on villain for good as an opportunist and survivor would, one who felt he had been abandoned by everyone else. What did he have to lose by joining with the Dominion? What did he have to lose by siding with the Pah-Wraiths, for that matter? He had nothing else left.

            And since he never thought he had done anything wrong, he felt that HE had been the victim all this time, and was only turning on those who had either turned on him (the Cardassian Provisional Government) or on those who didn’t understand him (the Federation, as embodied in Sisko), or those who were determined from the start never to accept him (Bajor). Again, perfectly plausible for a self-absorbed and ambitious man who felt, at worst, no worse than anyone else around him.

            Then it fell apart when they brought him back after Waltz. It was nice having him around, but it wasn’t the same.

            But still, along with Q, he’s probably the best recurring antagonist in the franchise. The other recurrings of DS9 (Weyoun, Winn, the Female Shapeshifter) were nicely-done but all one-note. Though there were a ton of great one-shots in both series.

          • Thomas Stockel

            Balance of Terror is one of my fave five TOS episodes, even after I found out later on the episode is pretty much a remake of The Enemy Below.

            There is no denying Mark Leonard puts in an outstanding performance, and it’s he and the woman who plays the Romulan Commander in The Enterprise Incident that give the Romulans a, for lack of a better term, human face to the Romulans. But could I do an entire retrotorial on Leonard’s character. I honestly don’t think so. It might be I could write something about the two characters and others in TOS, the importance of giving faceless organizations a face? I’ll have to think about it.

  • Your explanations about T’Pring’s characteristics illustrated why I’ve always been disappointed in the villain Lore. If Lore was supposedly superintelligent and human-like and ambitious, then Lore should have turned out both more interesting and more formidable.

    • Thomas Stockel

      Very true. I think Brothers was a good episode because it was awesome to see Brent Spiner play three roles so effectively, but ultimately when you look at the three Lore episodes I can’t help but wonder what Lore’s motivation was. What did Lore want? I just never got what made him tick.

      • Muthsarah

        Lore always had the same problems built into him as did Data: he’s rarely portrayed as being as competent as we hear he is, because to be so would break the plot. Sometimes we see Data performing a thousand calculations a second and running the whole bridge single-handed (as in “Brothers”). Other times, he doesn’t understand a simple idiom, and rather than spend one-ten-thousandth of a second learning all about it, he pauses, tilts his head, and derails the conversation by asking everyone what it means. We get the impression that he’s super-strong (even Worf acknowledges in “Clues” that Data could overpower him), but we only see him do it when wrestling with Lore or that one Borg. We can presume he’d also be extremely quick-moving, but we nevertheless see him stand there whenever some nervous person pulls a phaser on him; why doesn’t he Wally West up and take the phaser (or punch someone) before they realize he’s doing it? Data should be a Superman. But then he wouldn’t be cute, cuddly, child-like Data. And we wouldn’t need anyone else to save the ship. Except for Wesley, of course.

        With Lore, it’s the same thing. If he was actually depicted as being as capable as he shoulda been, he’da been killing regular cast members left and right and just wrecking everything. Only Data (or possibly a bunch of Borgs) could stop him. And then the show is just about two androids pounding on each other while everyone else cowers in the shadows.

        Instead, the two of them were always portrayed, ironically of course, as being far too human. It would probably have broken the show to do otherwise.

        EDIT: As far as Lore’s motivations go (and this is likely retro-history-ing-whatever the word is), I think the show comes close to explaining it, again, in “Brothers” – he wants to A) prove himself superior to his brother, B) prove himself worthy of his father, as much as he resents him, and C) prove that he too has a place in the universe, and a good one, full of power and respect and tight armored onesies. Both he and his brother have desires, so we can presume they were built into them from the start.

        • Thomas Stockel

          You raise some excellent points. Although watching two androids go to town on each other for forty two minutes would be epic. 🙂

          I guess some of Lore’s motivations are understandable…to a degree. Although I fail to see how teaming up with the Borg helps in any way. Then again, I guess when he put that chip in Lore may have gone insane. :/

          • Muthsarah

            He felt inferior to Data, being the “flawed” first model that Soong abandoned; his first words in the series was to lie about this very fundamental matter. When Data defeated him and threw him into space in “Datalore”, he probably felt even worse, vanquished again by his better, more popular brother. Then, when he showed up in “Brothers”, probably as compulsively as had Data, realizing he was only invited accidentally, he flipped out, killed his father, and probably grieved about that plenty afterward. Unless he was just being an excellent liar, it seemed clear he really did care about Soong, and felt deeply jealous and hurt at being the black sheep of the family, a disappointment to his father.

            Lore viewed the Borg as inferior to him, a lost people, fellow “victims” of the Enterprise, similar to him as artificial beings, but even more flawed in that they had lost the ability to function and belonged in neither world. They accepted him as their savior, giving him the power and respect he craved, making him the “father” of his own new family. But Lore wasn’t satisfied until he could also win Data’s respect and obedience, hence roping him into the events of “Descent”.

  • Gallen_Dugall

    Outstanding as always, very strong presentation, I look forward to the next in this series as well as finding out who your number one villain pick is.
    Worst villain in TOS for me would have to be either the mumu wearing energy creature controlling those creepy kids in “The Children Shall Lead” or the anti-T’Pring woman who switched bodies with Kirk to steal his command in the show’s final episode which I can’t be bothered to remember the name of.
    As for the rest of the franchise that’s a tough call, certainly the crap villains in the crap JJ films were crap. While TNG had some very high “high points” they also had some incredibly low “low points” – that scientist who thought Riker was trying to steal his wife, the totally botched Ferengi who were reduced from central antagonists to comic relief, and of the many MANY bad guys of the week who beat up Worf to show how strong they were.
    Also after you said it I begrudgingly would have to agree about what people automatically think of Kirk. Kirk the character has been erased and replaced by Kirk the meme. It depresses me that so many people know the meme and have no clue about the character.

    • Muthsarah

      It’s hard to remember the really bad TNG antagonists, as most of them don’t even register as people, just as one-shot stock villains or bland morons with terrible dialogue and possibly a little bit of scowling or whining. For every Armus there were probably three or four “scientist who thought Riker was trying to steal his wife” or “Ferengi [in general]”.

      But when they tried to develop them, no Trek did antagonists better than TNG. DS9 deserves plenty of love (especially for Dukat), but TNG won with quantity: Q, Kivas Fajo, Robert Picard, Benjamin Maxwell, Nick Locarno, Admiral Satie, Commander Toreth, Gul Madred, Erik Pressman. And those are just from my Top 25 episodes. Plausible characters, all, portrayed by really good actors.

  • Cristiona

    Great episode, Tom. I only know bits and pieces of Trek lore, and you did a good job of covering the bases while also doing your analysis. And from that analysis, I’m really impressed by T’Pring. She’s a scary antagonist, and I love that she’d managed to put herself in a win-win-win-win situation.

    • Thomas Stockel

      Thanks! I’m glad you liked it. Hopefully everyone will like the next one as well.