Nothing beats a good character arc, when heroes overcome the lies they've believed and change irreversibly. Character development is the cornerstone of any good television series, and there's particular satisfaction in the arc of a villain turned ally. Who doesn’t love watching someone become better?
Rather than villains who are introduced only to become superheroes or sporadic allies, let’s look at characters who were introduced as antagonists, only to somehow become a beloved member of their series’ inner circle. We’re talking Cordelia in Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z: characters we truly hated when we met them, but who arguably end up more likable than the flagship hero (especially Vegeta in Dragon Ball Super).
So, take a trip down this list and decide for yourself which inadvertent rehabilitation was the most successful. Walter White breaks bad; these characters break good. (Be warned: Spoilers abound, so tread lightly on shows you haven't watched yet.)
- Photo: Netflix
How He Is Introduced: Steve Harrington isn’t necessarily a villain in Season 1 of Stranger Things, but he’s a bully. He’s that stereotypical jock with great hair who is overly worried about how people perceive him. We’re rooting for Jonathan and Nancy, not Steve and Nancy. When Jonathan beats the crap out of Steve, the audience doesn’t shed a tear.
His Cruelest Moments: Slut-shaming Nancy and attempting to beat up Jonathan simply because he thinks he’s weird.
How Long Does It Take for Him to Become Part of the Group? By the end of Season 1, Steve realizes he uses cruelty to hide his insecurities. As he says, his biggest problem is that his friends are jerks. By Season 2, Steve has realized the error of his ways and commits to change: He babysits the younger members of the group and becomes arguably the series’ best character. On top of fighting off Demodogs with his signature bat, his relationship with Dustin (now a cornerstone of the show) catalyzes all this growth.17715Really reformed?
Michael - 'The Good Place'Photo: NBC
How He Is Introduced: When we first meet Michael, he introduces himself as the architect of a neighborhood in the afterlife for people who have made it to the Good Place. At the end of the first season, it is revealed that Michael is actually a demon in charge of torturing inhabitants of the Bad Place. His unconventional method of torture entails convincing humans they have made it to the Good Place, when in reality, they are there to torment one another for thousands of years.
His Cruelest Moment: Attempting his experiment 800 times over the course of 300 years even though, each time, the four main characters become better humans and realize they are in the Bad Place. Or maybe the frozen yogurt thing: "There's something so human about taking something great, and ruining it a little so you can have more of it."
How Long Does It Take for Him to Become Part of the Group? After torturing Eleanor, Chidi, Jason, and Tahani, Michael begins to sympathize with the human condition. He forges bonds with the group and decides there’s something wrong with the way the afterlife judges souls. Together, Michael and the crew make a better afterlife.11430Really reformed?
- Photo: 20th Television
How She Is Introduced: We meet Cordelia in the show’s first season, as a student at Sunnydale High. While Buffy is more of an outcast, Cordelia is a popular, stuck-up, and materialistic cheerleader - the typical victim of the horror genre. Put simply, Cordelia's a Mean Girl, a clear foil to Buffy and her most persistent non-supernatural foe.
Her Cruelest Moment: Competing with Buffy for homecoming queen in Season 3. Throughout the episode, Cordelia sabotages Buffy at every turn, isolating her from her friends and belittling her role as a Slayer.
How Long Does It Take for Her to Become Part of the Group? Cordelia’s interactions with the Scooby Gang soften her. In Season 2, she begins a relationship with Buffy's sidekick Xander. Even though she ends up dumping him twice (first due to her subsequent loss of social status, and later because she catches him kissing Willow), the arc makes Cordelia more a part of the team than ever. That said, Cordelia sporadically falls back into her brutally honest and borderline cruel tendencies. However, the more we get to know about her and her life at home, the more dynamic a character she becomes. In the long run, Cordelia becomes one of the bravest and most resourceful characters in the show, ultimately becoming a crucial member of Angel’s detective agency in the spin-off series.9117Really reformed?
- Photo: HBO
How He Is Introduced: We meet Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones’ pilot episode, "Winter Is Coming." He's serving in Robert Baratheon’s Kingsguard when Robert visits Winterfell to ask Ned Stark to be his Hand. Jaime is the eldest son of Tywin Lannister, one of the richest and most powerful men in Westeros. Jaime is cocky and confident, concerned only with the interests of his family. The former Hand Jon Arryn was slain to cover up Jaime's incestuous relationship with his sister Queen Cersei (and its consequences for the succession), and Jaime is set to be a formidable antagonist to the heroic Ned, who sets about investigating his predecessor's demise - with Jaime as a prime suspect.
His Cruelest Moment: At the end of “Winter Is Coming,” Bran Stark climbs a tower and peeks in on Cersei in bed with Jaime - who promptly gets up and pushes the 10-year-old out the window. This act not only cripples Bran and puts him in a coma, but also cements Jaime as the biggest SOB in Westeros. Worse, Jaime spends the latter half of Season 1 stabbing Jory in the eye and fighting Ned, ultimately contributing to the most shocking demise in Game of Thrones.
How Long Does It Take for Him to Become Part of the Group? Jaime’s path to redemption begins when he is taken prisoner by Catelyn Stark. Catelyn frees Jaime (against Robb’s wishes) in Season 2, tasking Brienne of Tarth with escorting him to King’s Landing to exchange him for Sansa and Arya, who are both believed to be held hostage there by the Lannisters. Jaime and Brienne’s road trip is the catalyst for Jaime’s change. Despite their initial distaste for one another, Jaime comes to admire her bravery and honor - the two become friends and eventually lovers. Brienne reinvigorates Jaime’s faith in morality. He opens up about his past and we begin to see why he has become so callous. If it weren’t for Brienne, he arguably never would have turned away from Cersei and gone to fight the White Walkers alongside the Starks. According to Jon Snow, Ned Stark once said, “We find our true friends on the battlefield.” If that’s true, Jaime is certainly a friend when he defends Winterfell in Season 8 - beloved by the audience, his brother Tyrion, and Brienne.11437Really reformed?