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Designated Evil is when a writer paints the solution to a problem, committed by a protagonist, as indisputably wrong or evil, but either doesn't make an alternative action clear, or shows the audience that the alternative would have been ineffective. Any protests that the action was necessary will be met with stunned silence or stares, and the question of what should have been done instead is either never asked, never answered, or answered with a solution that clearly would not have worked. Most often, the solution involves violence.

This usually makes a point of sparing the more sympathetic characters the responsibility of dealing with it themselves, while still leaving them to stand as a morally-superior gallery to condemn the solution. Expect the rest of the heroes to be at the very least reluctant to forgive the character who commits the act, regardless of any reasoning or extenuating circumstances. They may not be able to argue the point, and they may recognize that they get to enjoy the benefits of that solution after the fact, but they will still denounce it as wrong, and the character wrong for doing it. The best a Designated Evil character can hope for is to have a few reluctant supporters who refrain from outright condemning them, but won't openly defend their position from the judgement of others: the author is clearly not on their side.

Often, this comes off especially hypocritical if the series has shown it to be perfectly acceptable to kill human villains if they shed their human side, or turn out to be Not Even Human in the first place.

This trope is what happens when you mix Moral Dissonance, a bit of Fridge Logic, and maybe some Values Dissonance for good measure. After all, just what is a right and wrong response to morally complex scenarios can vary just person to person.

As noted above, this is largely a subjective trope. For some, the writers are right, killing a helpless human is always wrong, no matter what. For others, the idea that you should just take away the bad guy's toys and send him on his way despite his multiple murders and likelihood to do it again is infuriating. However, the emotional impact of taking a human life is strong enough that perhaps not being completely sure that the hero is justified in doing so may be reason enough to consider the act immoral. It varies.

Compare Informed Wrongness, the more extreme version where the character's actions aren't wrong in any context. Also compare What Do You Mean It's Not Heinous? for when characters in the work take this attitude, but the work itself does not actually side with their opinions. See also Straw Man Has a Point, which is when the designated evil character actually makes a completely legitimate argument for their actions.

Examples of Designated Evil include:

Anime and Manga

  • Largely averted in Trigun; it's made entirely clear that the only person thoroughly convinced killing is always wrong is Vash.
  • In Naruto, Danzo is evil because he ordered the Uchiha massacre. But there were no alternatives: negotiation was tried, appeasement is asking for trouble and makes the Hokage look weak, executing only the leaders would leave very irate survivors or sympathizers, announcing the deed would make everyone paranoid.
    • The argument does not necessarily follow: if making it plain that the coup plans have been detected and the leaders are being executed for treason leaves the surviving sympathizers intimidated from their plans then the goal has been achieved with minimum loss of life. If not, then the sympathizers can be killed for their own crimes if and when they actually commit them in the future. Killing them all up front is not the only possible solution, just the most expedient possible solution ,and that is what Danzo is being condemned for.

Comic Books

  • Wonder Woman killing Maxwell Lord. Lord was busily trying to bring about small-scale Armageddon, had control of one of the most powerful beings on Earth, was using that control to have Superman beat Batman to death, and himself said, while under the Lasso of Truth,[1] that killing him was the only way to stop him. Despite this, everyone in-universe acts like Wonder Woman killed him in cold blood for jaywalking, and since DC has a fairly strong tradition of Killing Is Always Wrong, it's heavily implied we're supposed to think this of her too. Unlike other examples of this trope, Wonder Woman is absolutely candid about what she did, including the fact that she considered herself completely justified due to the extraordinary circumstances. And she is also willing - even eager - to stand trial for it. (She is acquitted).
    • This is arguably an example where the argument is so poorly constructed that you cannot figure out which side is supposed to be the Designated Evil—Diana, for killing a man she could have rendered unconscious (unconscious telepaths are no more able to mind-control Superman than dead ones are, and buying time to conduct a detailed examination of the truth of his claims before deciding that he needed to die might have been more prudent and would definitely have been more heroic), or the heroes, for straw-manning her sincere desire to protect Superman as some demented lust for killing instead of making their objections of the framework 'Look, we appreciate what you wanted to do, we just think you could have done it in a manner that didn't require actually killing the guy.'
    • To summarize: the writer's intent might have been to create a fascinating moral dilemma, but the execution was so clumsy that it just comes off as eye-rolling.
  • The Punisher seems to run into this occasionally, depending on how he's being handled and whether he's in his own book or not. Usually in his own book, he's taking out major drug and arms traffickers, mobsters, and other people that could quite possibly rate the death sentence anyway. Outside of his own book, just to make sure that his war on crime is Designated Evil, some writers actually have him killing white-collar embezzlers.


  • Daybreakers gives us the Mass Execution of the Subsiders via sunlight. Subsiders lose their higher brain functions and devolve into Exclusively Evil humanoid bats with Super Strength and flight, and a voracious appetite for fresh blood. Killing them all may not be pretty but it's hardly evil.
  • Anakin's killing of Count Dooku in Revenge of the Sith comes across this way-Palpatine is quite right that the Republic can't hold him, or fairly try him.
    • Backed up in universe however, as even completely justified actions committed due to strong emotion is the path to the Dark Side. Basically, the Force can use Designated Evil actions to turn the perpetrator into actually evil.
    • Also, Palpatine is factually wrong. Unlike Palpatine himself, Count Dooku is a lapsed member of the Jedi Order (a former member of the Jedi Council itself, even) — while there might be problematic legal arguments re: the Jedi Council's alleged jurisdiction over Palpatine's actions, they unquestionably have authority to discipline Dooku as they see fit. (While Dooku had officially resigned honorably from the Jedi, the revelation that he had secretly gone Sith before doing so would presumably void the legitimacy of his resignation.)
      • For that matter, Palpatine is incorrect about their inability to hold Dooku prisoner. By the time Anakin kills him in cold blood, Dooku has already had both his hands sliced off. Unless fitted with combat cybernetics, even a Sith Lord stops being much of a physical threat after multiple amputations.
  • A Few Good Men has Jessep's infamous Motive Rant, wherein he casts himself in the position of Designated Evil, overlapping with I Did What I Had to Do.
    • Subverted in that Jessep's rant is based on the logic that extra-legal means of intimidation and harassment are somehow necessary for him to maintain discipline among his troops. By actual military practice of the modern era, any commander who publicly admits that he cannot maintain control of his men's actions without having them threaten each other and beat each other up is openly confessing his own incompetence at leadership for all the world to hear and should be relieved on that basis alone, even if it wasn't illegal. This point is Lampshaded in the movie by Tom Cruise's character who quite effectively points out that if Jessep's men were actually as well-disciplined as he claims, this whole thing would never have happened.


  • Alternate Character Interpretation seems to deliberately leave the invocation of this vague in the case of Dexter. The people he kills are most definitely murderers that have cheated justice, and Dexter often steps up his timetable to take them out if he thinks they're likely to kill again. Opinions in-universe on whether the Bay Harbor Butcher is a hero or a villain differ across a spectrum, and the series itself is murky on the point.
  • When Sam Vimes kills the werewolf in The Fifth Elephant, he notes that if he were to joke about it, that would make it murder.
  • In Changes, Harry Dresden kills Lloyd in order to assume his mantle as the Winter Knight, and this is presented as his first questionable act in order to save his daughter. However, the old Winter Knight was in a state of perpetual torture, and, at the time of his murder, had gone completely insane from it. Killing him would have been a mercy.
    • Though Harry himself later points out that he wouldn't necessarily have had a problem with mercy-killing Slate or killing him in a fight. The problem is that he knows that he really only killed Slate for the sake of gaining his power, which is why he's worried. It's still arguably an example of this, since there's no other way to pass the mantle on and Harry is clearly a much better person to wield it than Slate, but then that's Harry... he's designating himself as potentially evil, a recurrent fear of his.
  • The Star Wars Expanded Universe's New Jedi Order series features the Yuuzhan Vong, aliens from another galaxy who overrun the Star Wars galaxy in a series of Curb Stomp Battles, seize Coruscant (the galactic capital), and slaughter trillions of people...and take pleasure in doing so, and intend to continue conquering until everyone in the galaxy is either sacrificed to their gods or enslaved (and likely sacrificed after they've gotten too old to be effective slaves anymore). In other words, they're the ultimate villain. Then the book Destiny's Way introduces a new biological weapon called Alpha Red, created by the heroes. The bioweapon could be used to very quickly wipe out the Yuuzan Vong and the dangerous and invasive alien wildlife they've brought with them. Everyone is amped to use it...except Luke Skywalker. Despite the fact that his nephew was one of the trillions slaughtered by the Vong, Luke lambastes anyone who even thinks about using the weapon. Eventually they manage to beat the Vong with an-overly easy Applied Phlebotinum Living Planet at the end of the series (they somehow get all the Vong to move to this living planet. How an entire half-galaxy full of Vong can suddenly fit on one planet is anyone's guess).

Live Action TV

  • Gunn killing the professor that sent Fred to Pylia in Angel. Not only was this portrayed as an evil act, but as him taking the evil onto his soul so that Fred wouldn't do it.
    • Angel and crew's acquisition of Wolfram and Hart in the last season of Angel. Despite characters good and evil telling them that they would be corrupted and that it was proof that they had failed as heroes, most of what was shown was just the opposite. Angel fired or killed the firm's evil employees and maintained a very strict policy on not killing humans, he cut loose the firm's more sinister clients and benefactors, and one episode even showed Gunn using the company's resources and legal power to fight corruption and help people. This was made worse by Angel himself flip-flopping on the issue. One episode would end with him thinking that they had made the right choice, the next would show him thinking that doing good was nearly useless, and that he had given up all his principles.
    • To some extent, Angel letting Drusilla and Darla snack on the Wolfram & Hart lawyers in season 2. It was a good indication that Angel was going down a darker path as it's generally something he wouldn't even think of doing, and he can be blamed for not sticking around to stop the two afterwards, but we're apparently supposed to fault him on principle for not saving a bunch of people who willingly and knowingly work for the personifications of evil who are responsible for much of mankind's suffering. Furthermore, Lorne directly states that it was going to happen no matter what Angel did, and the Powers just didn't want him around for it.
      • Which makes sense; it's not that letting Wolfram & Hart lawyers die is bad in and of itself, it's that the act of killing human beings is not psychologically healthy for Angel. For about the same reason that doing body shots is not psychologically healthy for a recovering alcoholic.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer has a similar problem in deciding when and if killing a human is Crossing The Line.
    • It seems like Buffy had some problem with slaying vamps en masse, as Faith and Buffy slaying a nest during daylight hours was posed as part of Faith's slippery slope. Partially because Buffy was *gasp!* skipping school, but maybe the writers think that kind of slaying is bad sportsmanship or something.
    • Giles kills a helpless Glory-in-Ben-form. He says he has to, because he knows Buffy won't (and it's strongly implied that he doesn't tell anyone and lets them believe they just died of prior injuries). On the other hand, there's the whole hell dimension thing...
      • Another reason this trope is in effect here is that there's no indication that the helpless party wouldn't have died had the ultimate enemy been killed anyway. Killing the evil version would almost certainly have killed the helpless innocent version, too... doing it the other way around just made it possible.
      • Complicating the matter even further is the fact that by the final episode Ben was no longer an innocent bystander, but an accessory before the fact to Glory's crimes. However, Giles likely did not know this at the time he made his decision to kill him.
  • In the finale of season 4 of Doctor Who, the Doctor's half-human clone kills the Daleks in order to save everything else that ever lived, will lived, or had lived in the multiverse. The Doctor not only exiles him to another dimension which he'll never be able to leave for this action, but makes sure to take a potshot blaming this supposedly inexcusable act of violence on the clone being part human. One supposes that literally uncountable numbers should have died just so the Doctor wouldn't have a squidgy feeling about how they were saved.
    • Not to mention that the Doctor has (tried to) commit genocide of the Daleks at least three times previously.
  • Wizards of Waverly Place had the episode "The Good The Bad And The Alex" in which one character tries to end the whole one wizard per family rule this is treated as wholly and unequivocally evil without any explanation as to why; the show goes so far as to KILL this character for their evil deeds...and then make a joke about it

Tabletop Games

  • Third edition (and earlier) Dungeons & Dragons considered using poison an evil act. Fair enough as a generalization. However, one third-edition source book explained that using poison caused undue suffering, and specifically exempted knockout poison (but not stat-reducing poisons, or natural poisons from class-feature mounts or animal companions) as evil. Apparently, fire, lightning, acid, summoned thorns, and good old-fashioned spiky bits of metal are drastically less painful than nearly any poison.
    • Another ridiculous 3E restriction was that Rangers could choose their own race as a "favored enemy" only if they were evil. Since intelligent humanoids can be of any alignment, there's nothing inherently evil about training to be a better hunter of your own species (this is, after all, what policemen and soldiers spend their time doing in the real world). This was removed in 3.5 as the designers realized how stupid it was.

Video Games

  • The Culling of Stratholme. Upon finding a city 100% infected by The Virus and likely to turn into a slavering horde of zombies within a day, Arthas chooses to exterminate the population. This is portrayed as his Start of Darkness, and prompts his superiors to attempt to relieve him of command.
    • It is entirely possible to complete that level without killing a single human, simply by holding back and waiting until after they all become zombies. The game still casts you as history's greatest monster for doing so.
  • Faldio in Valkyria Chronicles. He effectively saves all of Gallia from being crushed by the tank-destroying, laser-firing, invincible enemy commander by inducing those same powers in Alicia. He achieves this by shooting her, since he knows her powers can only be awakened via near death experience. He gets severely punished for it, but no one ever mentions the fact that, well, nobody else had any better ideas, and since Faldio knew Alicia, as a Valkyria, would have supernaturally powerful regeneration, which she already had even before her powers were activated, no one would be harmed long-term. He did know that it would drastically change her life, but he also had to make a judgment call: changing one girl's life, or watching hundreds of thousands be snuffed out? No one cares about his viewpoint (the closest anyone comes is Varrot being reluctant to punish him as severely as would ordinarily be warranted) and no one considers what would have happened if he hadn't done it. Faldio even points this out, and no one has an answer.

Welkin: "Tell me why.. why did you have to shoot her?!"
Faldio: "The people... Gallia needed her. Now let me ask you a question: how else do you think we could have won that battle? If not for Alicia's power, Gallia would have most certainly lost."
Welkin: "I still can't..."

  • In the first Ar tonelico game, some bigoted thugs are threatening the pacifistic reyvateil who runs the bar and also happens to be the best friend of one of the protagonist's possible love interests. Violence is quickly becoming imminent. The protagonist steps in and tells the thugs to back off. One of the thugs attacks the protagonist. The protagonist beats the snot out of him. Cue chewing out from the bar lady and the party, because "violence is never the answer". Apparently, he should have just taken the beating and hoped that the thugs would leave afterwards. To rub it in, the protagonist takes this lesson to heart and stupidly takes a pointless beating in its name shortly thereafter. Mercifully, these incidents are never referred to again.

Western Animation

  • On Total Drama Action, Courtney is immediately set up as the villain because she keeps complaining about her team, and then later she manages to get Owen eliminated. This is apparently supposed to make us dislike her, given how everyone else jumps to his defense... but what the writers don't seem to realize is that to many fans, Owen is a Creator's Pet, so while Courtney seemed a bit overly vindictive, it wasn't exactly all that bad. Alejandro's dislike of Owen in the next season may have been a similar case, though given how much Owen really was annoying Al, maybe it was more of a Fandom Nod.
    • Just an addition to the TDA part: Owen does get eliminated because Courtney voted for it, but what about the other teammates? Oh, right, they voted for Courtney, even though they were told by Chris that voting her off was off-limits this time around. Their votes were negated, while Courtney's remained valid. So, the characters are all upset that Owen got voted off and blame Courtney, even though it was their fault per the stated rules.
  • Less dire example in "Arthur's Big Hit". Arthur spends time and effort building a model plane, which his younger sister immediately wants to play with as if it were a toy. Despite being repeatedly told not to touch it, because it isn't a toy and doesn't belong to her, D.W. steals it, breaks it, and then blames Arthur for its destruction and is amused at his anger. So he hits her, and is instantly and completely condemned for it by everyone around him. Typical of Designated Evil acts, this is treated as the worst possible response, but D.W. is never disciplined for her behavior, even after their parents insist she'll be 'dealt with', which renders the alternatives to violence explicitly pointless. If he hadn't hit her, she'd probably be helping herself to everything he owns.
  1. However, the Lasso can only confirm that the villain sincerely believes that what he is saying is true — it cannot provide a guarantee that the villain isn't mistaken.