copyright 2008 by Gary L. Pullman
Some stories have a main antagonist and one or more lesser, secondary antagonists. The television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer was well known for having a Big Bad and a little bad each season except for the first, which was really more like a partial season, since it was comprised of only a dozen episodes. The Big Bad was the villain for the whole season, whereas the little bad was a villain for only a few episodes. The little bad was introduced before the Big Bad, often with several other villains following his or her debut, so as to keep viewers off-balance in discerning which of the several villains might turn out to be the Big Bad. Here’s the way the bads shake out for seasons two through six:
Other works of horror fiction also sometimes employ secondary antagonists.
Stephen King’s novel Carrie’s primary antagonist is Carrie White’s mother; the secondary anatomists are her high school’s bullies. It It, another King novel, the antagonist, a protean shape shifter able to take the form of anyone’s worst fear, is, in effect, its own secondary antagonists while, at the same time, is the novel’s primary antagonist as well.
Dan Simmons’ novel, Summer of Night, has a primary antagonist, and several secondary antagonists: the dead man walking (an eerily silent World War I doughboy’s ghost, huge worms with serrated teeth, a rendering company’s truck spooky driver, and others.
On occasion, a secondary antagonist will work independently of the primary antagonist, whereas, in other instances, he, she, or they will support the primary antagonist, often as a henchman or sidekick, as Spike and Drusilla serve and support Angel in Buffy; as Fritz (often erroneously called “Igor”) assists Dr. Henry Frankenstein in Frankenstein, the 1931 film version of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus; and as Dr. Montgomery aids and abets the criminal “research” that vivisectionist Dr. Moreau performs upon a deserted jungle island in H. G. Wells’ classic 1896 novel The Island of Dr. Moreau.
The use of a secondary antagonist can heighten a story’s suspense, complicate its plot (even becoming the basis or bases for an additional subplot or additional subplots), and can multiply and enrich the story’s theme.