Sweet Malice: How Netflix Mastered the Art of Being Evil

Sweet Malice: How Netflix Mastered the Art of Being Evil

Paul Hunter
September 21 2022 - 01:03pm

There's something about a good bad guy, someone who gets your spine tingling and makes you grab the arm of your chair. We obsess over them. Sure, we talk about how the good guys drive the story, but the truth is, the bad guy looms over the entire thing. They define the path our characters follow, the weapons they use to fight, and where the climax will ultimately take us. And we want them to be seemingly invincible. It's so interesting when things are hopeless. It keeps us guessing, wondering what will happen next. We don't even need them to be the actual antagonist of the story. They could be the main character, the sidekick, or a random part of the puzzle, and we'll still eat it up. So long as they're evil, powerful, and intriguing.

Netflix has mastered the art of evil. Many of their original shows and films explore what it means to be ruthless and wicked. They redefine how low a person can go, and they know how to keep our eyes glued to the screen.

They break down barriers, creating villains that we root for, or endings that we will know will never turn out the way they're supposed to. They erase all hope, all kindness, and human decency, then they delve right in. They don't just stick with bad people, either. They examine the evils of broken systems, beasts that embody universal principles, and acts so heinous they're too good not to put on film. 

We see this so often on the platform that it's almost as though Netflix has become a place to explore the darker side of the human psyche. It's fascinating. Let's go over it and see what they've done. There's a lot to unpack.

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'I Care, A Lot' Explores the Way We Relate to Evil Heroes

'I Care, A Lot,' is groundbreaking, but it's somewhat underrated. That's why it's at the top of this list. Everyone should watch it. It stars Rosamund Pike as Marla Grayson, a crooked legal guardian, who hunts down rich senior citizens so she can force them into abusive care homes and sell all of their things for profit. 

There's nothing more horrific than the fate she inflicts on these poor souls, and she controls every aspect of their lives. They're stuck in controlled environments, robbed of their freedom, while they're spoonfed heavy doses of unnecessary medications, meant to chemically lobotomize them, making it more difficult for them to fight back. 

The judges love her. She plays the courts like a fiddle. The nursing homes are in her pocket. They'll give the patients any medication she orders. They'll lock them up in their rooms, gaslight them, treat them like children, and more than likely abuse them--because it's not a nursing home without that one monstrous nurse who likes to play. 

Marla is glorious, sexy, and capable of outwitting the best. What makes her so fun to watch is the act she puts up, so sickeningly sweet it could drive anyone mad. She simply cares, a lot. That's what she says in court. Yes, she auctions off her victim's estates, and yes, she drains their social security and their life savings, but caring is her job. She's just taking a paltry sum as the necessary recompense for helping others.

Courtesy of Netflix

When we see what Marla is capable of, we're ready to jump through the screen and strangle her, especially after the way she treats one of her victim's children. He's been barred from seeing his mother, who was perfectly capable of taking care of herself. When he takes her to court, she manages to paint him as a dangerous psycho, forcing him to accept what she's done.

Things change when Marla comes to take Jennifer Peterson, a poor old woman with no family and a house filled with expensive antiques. Peterson makes it very clear that Marla is going to regret what she's done. She's visited by an obviously crooked lawyer, who declares that Peterson has friends who can make life very difficult for her. Marla's too confident in herself to care--until she's kidnapped, drugged with a tranquilizer dart, and a bag is placed over her head. 

What Peterson's 'friends' put Marla through is nothing short of horrific. She is forced to consider going on the run. Her life, her home, and her gorgeous girlfriend are threatened. We almost feel bad for her, and we see her fighting tooth and nail. She's a powerful woman, who undergoes these compelling emotional moments of vulnerability. 

It's so bad that we almost forget that her office wall is covered in pictures of her victims. There's something extraordinary about that. It's not pity that we feel; we root for her in a way we'd never expect. Netflix found a way for us to love the unlovable, and that's not an easy thing to do. It's an interesting juxtaposition that makes us second-guess our own instincts. If we can love her--and we do--then who else do we love? What other predators are sneaking under the radar? What causes us to become loyal to people like her?

The film is top-notch. I promise I haven't spoiled it for you. I just got you started. Have a look, and prepare to have your mind toyed with.

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'DON'T LOOK UP' Puts a Spotlight on Society's Most Disgusting Traits

It's been described as one of the greatest movies of all time--or the worst, depending upon who you're talking to. Either way, you will never see anything quite like 'DON'T LOOK UP.' It's a riveting, dark comedy about a pair of astronomers, played by Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo Dicaprio, who discover an asteroid headed directly to Earth. 

What should be a simple meeting with the president becomes a political mess, leaving the fate of the planet in the hands of President Orlean (Meryl Streep), who is worried about how the operation to destroy the asteroid will affect her political prospects. Her idea, which she comes up with with the help of her man-child of a son, is to sit and assess. 

Unsure as to how to proceed, Lawrence and Dicaprio decide to go to the media, a sickening parody of the talking heads that come to define our real-life politics. They mirror a complacent public, more concerned with satisfying their base instincts than the fact that the planet is about to end. 

Lawrence becomes the sane hysteric in an insane reality, which is incapable of processing what will happen if they let the meteor hit Earth. They confront several bad guys, all drunk on the same disgusting force. There's society, our leaders, the media, and the monkeys we call humans. 

What's so genius about 'Don't Look Up' is that it's meant to parody the mindset behind climate denial, and how people are so stuck in their all too real human pathology that they can't even complete the basic tasks necessary to survive. Nobody looks up. They're too blind. They don't care. They can't confront death. They won't. It's beyond them, even when they can see the meteor with their own eyes. It shows us that we have a compulsive refusal to accept our own mortality. 

This refusal is the ultimate evil.

'Don't Look Up' should be required viewing. Screw the politics. It's about more than that. It's psychology. It examines our inherent flaws. We can learn from it. In fact, we have to.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance is an Exercise in Hopelessness

Let's ignore that Netflix's rendition of the Jim Henson classic was canceled. They did a terrible thing. But for our purposes, it doesn't matter, and it's still an amazing standalone. I would recommend it to anyone who has already seen the film. It's simply too good to avoid, even if we know we'll never get to finish that chapter of the story. 

For those who are unaware, 'The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance' is the remake of the 1982 film, 'The Dark Crystal,' which follows a young gelfling, believed to be the last of his race, on a journey through a dying world, made sick by the presence of the skeksis--an invading force from another planet. 

In the series, the planet is still nubile and fresh. It's filled with life, and gelfling are still as strong as ever. The skeksis are immortal beings that rule over them like monarchs rule over their subjects. The gelflings are led to believe that the skeksis are infallible higher beings, the embodiment of goodness in the world. 

The truth is that the skeksis have discovered a way to drain the life force out of beings, and gelflings are considered the tastiest of them all. 

We know from the film that there will be a holocaust. The skeksis will gather up all of the gelflings and drain them, slowly killing their world as they do. It's overwhelmingly hopeless, but the story is centered around the fight, the characters involved in it, and the desperate need to save a doomed species. We fall in love with a dying race, even though we know that they'll eventually die off. 

The series also focuses on power figures and loyalty. There are plenty of characters in the series that remain loyal to the skeksis, unaware of how evil these beings truly are. They won't give up on tradition. They won't abandon their deeply held beliefs. They're like stubborn conservatives or British loyalists during the American Revolution. Their need to cling to old, familiar ideas is their downfall. Even when they find out what the skeksis are up to, they ignore it. 

That's a very human instinct. In truth, many people would react the say way in that situation. Not everyone realizes that, so it's good to see it onscreen. It showcases the evil inside many of us.

'Ratched' Explains How Evil Is Made, Not Born

Ryan Murphy is a genius, known for adding camp and glamour to the horror genre. His masterpiece 'Ratched' is by far one of his greatest accomplishments, even if it is a little underrated. The series was meant to be the prequel to the classic, 'One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest', starring a young Jack Nicholson. In it, a troublemaking ne'er do well is committed to an insane asylum, where the sociopathic Nurse Ratched tortures the patients, forcing them to undergo barbaric forms of treatment.

Murphy seemed to have been fascinated by Nurse Ratched, and he's not the only one. For many, she was the embodiment of evil. How could anyone force a human being to receive shock therapy, knowing that it would take away the things that make them who they are? How could she use that as a form of punishment? How could she confine them there, robbing them of their joy and freedom? It was obvious that those men didn't deserve to be locked up. Some of them weren't even sick, at least they wouldn't have been if it weren't for her. 

She didn't care. She was a sadist--the worst kind. There was nothing good about that woman. As viewers, we needed to know how a person could possibly be that way. It was inhuman. Murphy came up with 'Ratched' to answer that question, using one of the oldest conundrums in the field of mental health: nurture or nature.

Are people born evil or does it develop?

He then went about telling Ratched's backstory, showing us how a person could be tormented and abused causing them to lash out at the world. It was fascinating. It was a colorful spin on an old classic. I highly recommend it. They'll be filming a new season soon, so definitely take an opportunity to get caught up.

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