I recently was pleasantly surprised to find Sherlock Holmes’s arch enemy Moriarity, on the TV series “Elementary” was a female, excellently portrayed by Natalie Dormer. Ninety-percent of the villains on television are male and while some are excellent many are run-of-the-mill. I can name worthy female villains on just over one hand.
Now, my list is obviously subjective. I do have standards to determine who can make the list (which obviously limits the list). The actress has to appear in an “arc” (multiple episodes). There have been some wonderful female (and male) villains on the various Law & Order shows, but all were caught in one episode. I’m also listing those on series that are currently on television (though the villain may have been on the series a few years ago).
So, here are my eight (in no particular order):
(1) As previously mentioned Natalie Dormer’s portrayal of Moriarity on “Elementary.” This show is exceptionally well-written with more than a few surprises that make you sit up and go “Damn, I didn’t see that coming.” Well, I don’t think many had any idea that Holmes’s lost love (he assumed she had been murdered) was the evil Moriarity. Dormer gives the character any number of layers. I just hope she returns to battle Holmes and Watson in the future.
(2a) Margo Martindale as crime matriarch Mags on “Justified” has to be near the top of any list of memorable villains. She is both motherly and merciless. It will be difficult to top her performance as Mags, though. One for the ages that earned her a well-deserved Emmy.
(2b) Having just finished watching “The Americans” Martindale is the only actress to make my list twice. She plays “Grannie,” a merciless KGB operative, the handler of two sleeper soviet spies who infiltrate the highest levels of the government and FBI. You don’t see the range or humor in “Grannie” Martindale provided to her Mags character on “Justified” but she’s one scary lady. Her portrayal is more nuanced than her Mags character but just as villainous.
(3) Another well-written show is “Persons of Interest” which has a slew of evil-doers, among them the wonderful Amy Acker playing Root, just as ruthless of “Justified’s” Mags. Acker has had an interesting career. She is probably best-known for her work on “Angel” and in subsequent guest appearances on shows played someone without much character (due in most part to poor writing). She first turned evil on Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse” and pulled it off without a hitch. On “Persons of Interest” she begins her stint as a helpless woman the show’s daring duo must aid. By the end of the episode we find out she’s far more (much like Enrico Colantoni’s portrayal of a mobster). You mess with Root at your own peril. This year’s finale promises Root will play a major role next season. Props to the show’s writers for keeping her around.
(4) No list would be complete without the extraordinary performance of Vera Farmiga as Norma Louise Bates on “Bates Motel.” Farmiga’s nuanced portrayal makes one feel both sympathy and disgust for Norma, often both at the same time. Norma Bates is a complex woman. Her love for Norman is unnatural but clearly genuine. She’s a mama bear who will do anything to protect her cub. Can’t wait to see the road she goes down in season two.
(5) Deidre Lovejoy as “The Gravedigger” on “Bones” (2010-2011). To be honest I’m was no great fan of Lovejoy, possibly because writers had not provided her with quality material. As The Gravedigger, however, Lovejoy is manipulative and creepy evil. At her trial, where she defends herself, there’s her smirk letting the viewer know she gets off making the show’s squints look ridiculous. There is no overblown outrage when she’s found guilty. She again flashes that smirk and remarks the shows heroes haven’t seen the last of her. She’s a much better actress than I gave her credit for who needs to find quality parts to show off her skills.
(6) “The Americans” is the only show to give us two extraordinary female villains. Marge Martindale is mentioned above. Add to her the surprisingly powerful portrayal of KGB sleeper agent Claudia Jennings played by Keri Russell. I felt Russell was a lightweight on the few episodes of “Felicity” I watched. She has most definitely blossomed with her role on “The Americans” where she has to walk a tightrope of mother, wife and master spy. Claudia is first and foremost devoted to her native Soviet Union. At times it appears she merely tolerates her children and would sacrifice them without a second thought. As the series progresses, however, she appears conflicted; family becoming more important (though still a distant second to her country and mission). She falls in love with her “husband” only to feel betrayed. She shows a vulnerability not many actresses possess that both draws you to the character and repulses you at the same time. When necessary she can (and does) murder without remorse. She uses and abuses for her country yet one comes to empathize if not sympathize with her quandary.
(7) Sadly, the only other female villain I could find was Melinda Clarke’s Amanda on “Nikita.” Clarke’s character is less nuanced than the others above, but there is no denying the evil within her. The body count she leaves in her wake is greater than all of the other five villains mentioned in this blog combined.
Now, I don’t watch every series on the tube (couldn’t get past two episodes of “Mad Men”, for example, and also pass on “The Vampire Diaries,” “Dallas,” and “Pretty Little Liars” to name just a few). And I’m sure there may be a villain or two who appeared on HBO or Showtime that I’ve neglected.
So, do me a favor and let me know who should be added to this list and why. I’m getting a bit tired of the Hannibal Lechter-clones that routinely appear on TV and think the women above are the equal to any male villain now on television.