Psychopaths on TV: Why do we love them?


(Courtesy of Creative Commons)

“Killing Eve”‘s psychotic killer, Villanelle, whom you can’t help loving.

By Anthony Robledo, Middle College High School @ Santa Ana College

With any film or television series, audiences project themselves onto a story’s lead protagonist and root for their desires. Characters undergo struggles and audiences can’t help but love them. People don’t go to the movies to watch other people live their lives, but rather to come along the journey, sympathize with the characters, and learn from their mistakes. Whether it’s solving a murder or winning the love of their life, it’s this struggle and sense of journey that makes any story entertaining. This makes it particularly interesting when the character they begin to root for is a psychotic killer.

With shows like “You” and “Killing Eve,” it is becoming more common for stories to focus on characters that would typically be recognized as the villain. This doesn’t stop them from being captivating as their personalities and actor performances make them so enjoyable. Psychopaths in television are nothing new, as shows like “Bates Motel” and “Dexter” have succeeded with this focus. To figure out why this is the case, students at MCHS have shared their own opinions and explanations for this.

In the show “You,” we follow a bookstore manager named Joe Goldberg as he falls in love with an aspiring writer named Beck. One positive encounter at the bookstore turns into an extreme obsession when Joe begins to stalk Beck online and in her home. As this goes on, Joe comes to a belief that Beck is his soulmate and that the two are meant to be together forever. Despite this love, he notices faults and flaws within Beck herself and the life she lives. Joe grows a major distaste for her friends and relationships he feels are unworthy and toxic to her. To an extent, Joe is right as her friend Peach is too controlling, manipulative, and possessive and her boyfriend, Benji, is rude and disrespectful to her. Joe takes things to the extreme as he does whatever it takes to help her. Joe turns from a stalker to a murderer, killing those he feels Beck would be better off without.

With this in mind, it’s pretty clear that he’s a terrible person, yet in the show, it becomes easy to fall for his charm. Fans of the show became split on whether or not Joe is actually bad or just a loving guy who is willing to do bad things to protect Beck. Joe himself excuses his actions as he feels that everything he’s done was in the name of love. Senior Ana Mendoza said, “I did find him really attractive, intelligent and charming, even though he was stalking Beck. That image of him didn’t go away throughout the show. I think he’s so lovable because he’s presented as a quiet, charming guy who works at a bookstore. His main focus is the girl and girls can see that as ‘I wish a guy would focus all on me.’” As the series progresses, it becomes undeniable that there is definitely something wrong with Joe. But even with this acknowledgment, he remains such an interesting and lovable character. Audiences find themselves rooting for him and wanting him to get away with his crimes.

One reason this may be is that the show makes an effort to show the complexity to Joe’s character. Viewers are brought into his mind and witness his thinking process through narration.  It’s clear that Joe isn’t a malicious person, but rather someone who can’t see the faults with his actions. In the show, there is also a sub-storyline about Joe helping his neighbor through an abusive relationship and even becoming a caretaker to her son Paco. Despite his faults, Joe is a compassionate and helpful person who is able to detect the faults of others and has an impulse to help. Joe wants a normal life with Beck, one where she can live her dreams of being a successful author. His charms and motivations blind viewers from his insanity.

Another show that strongly focuses on psychopaths, is “Killing Eve.” The show is a spy thriller series on BBC that follows a bored lower tier government intelligence agent in the UK named Eve Polastri, who is tasked to find an international female assassin named Villanelle. Rather than simply following Eve’s character, the show gives just as much screen time to Villanelle who serves as the primary antagonist. It is clear from the beginning of Villanelle’s introduction that she is a psychopath, as she feels no remorse for others. Unlike Joe though, Villanelle doesn’t excuse her murders. She has made peace with the fact that she’s a terrible person and embraces her insanity to her advantage. Rather than seeing her inability to feel remorse as a flaw, she believes it makes her special. The show also doesn’t try to hide the fact that she’s a terrible person, but rather embraces her charm. Despite her faults, audiences can’t help to love her.

The reason for this is merely the fact that her personality is so comedic. She has a disturbing pleasure with her kills and tries to have fun with her job. Senior Rosa Navarro said, “She has a sense of innocence and childlike behavior that she captivates the audience with. She does certain things that make you like her. Like in one episode she dresses up like her boss and throws him a little birthday party when it’s not his birthday. There are little moments where she is fun and spontaneous where it becomes easy to fall for her.” As an assassin, Villanelle is constantly looking for the fun in life and rarely takes things seriously. In the end, all she wants is a good life with a fun job and a friend to watch movies with. Her fascination with the protagonist Eve is another essential aspect of her character. Villanelle loves that there is someone who is interested in who she is a person and begins to grow a crush on Eve, the woman assigned to bring her to justice. Villanelle’s charm and comedic personality overshadow any hatred and anger for the terrible things she does.

Both “You” and “Killing Eve” have been renewed for second seasons, with season 2 of Killing Eve set to air April 7th, 2019. Both will explore in further depths the psychology and backstories of the psychopaths. From these shows, it has become clear that audiences can’t help but love watching psychopaths, encouraging more shows to focus on them rather than the traditional moral protagonist. People are just fascinated with these characters with low morals as the challenge of seeking the good in a character only makes them all the more entertaining.

This story was originally published on The Spellbinder on March 14, 2019.