Big Bad (abbreviated to BB or BBEG for big bad evil guy) is a term to describe a major recurring adversary, usually the chief villain or antagonist in a particular broadcast season, originally used by the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series. It has since been used to describe annual villains in other television series, and has also been used in scholarly work discussing Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
On Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The term "Big Bad" was originally used on American television program Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which aired 1997–2003). According to author Kevin Durand (2009), "While Buffy confronts various forms of evil during each episode, each season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer had its own 'big bad' villain who dominates throughout the season. The power of the 'big bad' always threatens to end the world, but Buffy ultimately overcomes him or her in the season finale." The series balanced its episodic stories with advancing that season's big bad story arc.
The term was originally used in the episode "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered", in which Buffy Summers describes the newly soulless Angel as "the big, bad thing in the dark". The prior episode, "Phases", has Xander Harris "being" the werewolf and saying, "I'm the big, bad wolf." The phrase may originate in various fairy tales (particularly "Three Little Pigs" and the related song) about the "Big Bad Wolf". The phrase "big bad" by itself as a noun was first used on screen in Season 3, in the episode "Gingerbread" where Buffy says that an occult symbol is harmless, "not a big bad". Slang generation was encouraged in the writers' room. Marti Noxon, writer and eventually showrunner, said that "Big Bad" was used "long before the characters themselves started using the phrase". Using "big bad" as a noun instead of using as an adjective is a functional shift, which was done often on the show.
The first "Big Bad" villain on the program was The Master, played by Mark Metcalf. According to author Jan Jagodzinski, the battle between Buffy and the evil Master is "the central issue of season one"; The Master, like all the "big bads", is a "symptom of postmodernity".
"Years before streaming TV existed, Whedon helped create the bingeable serial drama—one that endeavored to make every episode a special event, without taking the audience's eyes off the larger story being woven. In basic terms, he did this by making sure every season had a “big bad”: a villain or antihero with larger machinations developing in the background of every episode, twinned to our hero Buffy and her resolute band of friends in some magical way. Every season would build to an action-packed climax with sacrifices made and lessons learned, but along the way, Buffy would face off against minions of the “big bad,” problems of her own making, and various other monsters of the week amid whirlwinds of teen angst. It was a heady formula, but a surprisingly unusual one for 1997."
On other television series
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In the Arrowverse, after 8 years and 20 collective seasons, the series Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow had 22 Big Bads, which TVLine ranked based on "Compelling Backstory, Fearsome Appearance, Powers/Skills, Utter Ruthlessness, Eeeevilness of Agenda, Despicable Damage Done". But Den of Geek's Dave Golder questioned the continued use of the "season-long baddie" plot device.
The Doctor Who revival has occasionally used Big Bads. Jef Rouner of the Houston Press wrote how Doctor Who series 6 succeed with the "proper format," beginning with a new villain to the series, the Silence. He also wrote that for series 11, "The main villain is regular old human cruelty and apathy to suffering", adding this had some similarity to Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 6's Big Bad, “life.” But Lacy Baugher wrote on Syfy Wire that the show can have the smaller personal, emotional stories, and doesn't need the "big, sweeping arcs and grand monsters". "Each Big Bad the Doctor faced had to be the most dangerous in the universe."
- McMahon-Coleman, Kimberley; Weaver, Roslyn (2014), Werewolves and Other Shapeshifters in Popular Culture: A Thematic Analysis of Recent Depictions, McFarland, p. 46, ISBN 978-0-7864-9250-3
- MacNeil, W. P. (2003). "You Slay Me: Buffy as Jurisprude of Desire". Cardozo Law Review, Vol. 24(6), pp. 2421–2440.
- Brannon, J. S. (2007). "It's About Power: Buffy, Foucault, and the Quest for Self Archived 2011-09-30 at the Wayback Machine". Slayage, v. 24.[failed verification]
- Durand, Kevin K. (2009). Buffy Meets the Academy: Essays on the Episodes and Scripts as Texts. McFarland. p. 59. ISBN 978-0-7864-4355-0.
- Mittell, Jason (April 10, 2015). Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling. NYU Press. pp. 19–20. ISBN 978-0-8147-7135-8.
- Zalben, Alex (December 31, 2014). "Discover The Secret Origin Of TV's 'Big Bad'". MTV News. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
- Adams, Michael (November 18, 2004). Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-029192-1.
- Jagodzinski, Jan (2008). Television and youth culture: televised paranoia. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 145. ISBN 978-1-4039-7808-0.
- Sims, David (March 10, 2017). "How 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' Redefined TV Storytelling". The Atlantic. Retrieved December 21, 2019.
- Golder, Dave (March 22, 2019). "Why the Arrowverse Needs to Defeat the Big Bad Once and For All". Den of Geek. Retrieved December 6, 2019.
- Fowler, Charity (February 15, 2017). "Seasonal Villainy: Radical Evil, Relativity, and Redemtive Relationships". In Effron, Malcah; Johnson, Brian (eds.). The Function of Evil across Disciplinary Contexts. Lexington Books. pp. 53–68. ISBN 978-1-4985-3342-3.
- Mitovich, Matt Webb (July 16, 2018). "Arrowverse Big Bads, Ranked!". TVLine. Retrieved December 6, 2019.
- Rouner, Jef (October 13, 2014). "Doctor Who, Buffy and the Art of the Big Bad". Houston Press. Retrieved December 10, 2019.
- Rouner, Jef (November 23, 2018). "The Big Bad of Doctor Who Series 11 is Us". Houston Press. Retrieved December 10, 2019.
- Baugher, Lacy (November 26, 2018). "How Doctor Who's return to smaller stories has reinvigorated the series". Syfy Wire. Retrieved December 10, 2019.
- Ceriello, Linda C. (2018). "The Big Bad and the Big 'Aha!': Metamodern Monsters as Transformational Figures of Instability". In Heyes, Michael E. (ed.). Holy Monsters, Sacred Grotesques: Monstrosity and Religion in Europe and the United States. Lexington. pp. 207–234. ISBN 978-1-4985-5077-2.
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- The Buffy Formula: Patterns in the Buffyverse on SpoilerSlayer.com
- Opposing Buffy: Power, Responsibility and the Narrative Function of the Big Bad in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Master of Arts Thesis by Joseph Lipsett