Big Bad is a term originally used by the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series to describe a major recurring adversary, usually the chief villain or antagonist in a particular broadcast season. 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 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 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 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".
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". In the series' storyline, according to prophecy, the Master will kill the Slayer and bring Hell on Earth. While he succeeds in this task in the Season 1 finale "Prophecy Girl", he does not count on Buffy being resuscitated (after he bites her, she faints in a small pool of water and nearly drowns; she is revived a minute or so later by her friend Xander via CPR).
Buffy's surprise revival allows her to defeat The Master. Unlike other vampires who burst into dust completely upon being slain, the Master leaves behind a full skeleton. His bones are dug up in the Season 2 season premiere "When She Was Bad" in an attempt by the Anointed One and the Order of Aurelius to resurrect him, but Buffy smashes his bones with a sledgehammer, ensuring that he will stay dead.
With The Master dead, new "big bads" were introduced in season two of the program. Spike (played by James Marsters), Drusilla (played by Juliet Landau), and Angelus (played by David Boreanaz) become the new villains.
Spike comes to Sunnydale in the episode "School Hard", accompanied by his longtime love Drusilla. Drusilla, in a weakened and frail condition, is cared for by Spike who hopes that the Hellmouth's energy will help to restore Drusilla's strength and health. They are soon reunited with Angel but constantly refer to him as Angelus (Angel's evil "alter ego"). Angelus was cursed with his soul a century before the events leading up to Season 2, but with one major stipulation: should Angelus (known as "Angel" when ensouled) experience even one moment of absolute happiness, the curse would be lifted, the soul removed, and Angelus would return.
In the Season 2 episodes "Surprise" and "Innocence", Buffy and Angel have sex. Angel experiences perfect happiness, and his soul escapes his body, resulting in his transformation back to Angelus. He finds Spike and Drusilla in their warehouse headquarters and joins forces with them in their effort to destroy the Slayer.
The storyline, according to author Jan Jagodzinski, raises "issues of love and abuse" while continuing the tradition of the "big bad". In the two-part Season 2 finale "Becoming", Angelus's ultimate plan comes into view: by removing the sword from the Acathla statue, a portal to Hell will open up, sucking the world into it; once opened, only with Angel's blood can it be closed.
After being double-crossed by Spike, Angelus removes the sword that keeps Acathla "asleep" and the portal begins to open. Willow uses the Gypsy spell rediscovered by the late Jenny Calendar to return Angel's soul to him again. Even though Angel has returned, the gateway to Hell continues to open. Buffy drives her sword into Angel's gut, thrusting him into the portal and closing it. Heartbroken, with her great love lost forever and having been rejected by a mother who can't accept the fact she is the Slayer, Buffy flees Sunnydale for an unidentified big city.
During the battle, Spike and Drusilla leave Sunnydale; Spike later returns, and becomes a main character in later seasons. Angel returns as well, but losing his soul caused him to become aware of the limitations of his relationship with Buffy, and he ultimately leaves Sunnydale for Los Angeles in search of redemption there.
As evil as he is tidy and pleasant, Mayor Richard Wilkins (otherwise known as simply "The Mayor"), played by Harry Groener, was granted demonic properties in the 19th century. Since his founding of Sunnydale, he has changed his name to Richard Wilkins, Jr., and then to Richard Wilkins III, to hide his inability to age. As part of the pact he made with the dark powers, he was promised Ascension one day, a "promotion" of sorts, from part-demon to full demon. He makes many deals and promises in pursuit of this goal. Some of the artifacts connected to these deals and promises are kept in a cabinet in his office at City Hall, the contents of which are seen from time to time.
The Mayor is the first non-vampiric big bad to appear on the series. During the course of Season 3, he enlists the services of a vampiric associate, Mr. Trick. After Trick is killed by the Slayer Faith (played by Eliza Dushku), she joins forces with him, essentially turning double-agent against Buffy.
In "Graduation Day, Part Two," during the speech he is giving at the graduation of the Sunnydale High School Class of 1999 his Ascension occurs as planned, transforming him into a gigantic serpent. He must feed immediately after the transformation to maintain it, and the students are a convenient food source. Knowing the Ascension would occur at graduation, Buffy and the Scooby Gang have prepared for it by arming the class with weaponry ranging from flame guns, to bows and arrows, to swords, axes, stakes and crosses. The Class of 1999 fights Wilkins and his vampire lackeys. Buffy lures the demon-snake into the school library, which has been turned into a gigantic IED by Xander, who retained all sorts of military knowledge from the time he was transformed into a soldier in Season Two. She escapes through the stacks and cues Giles, who detonates the library with the Mayor inside, killing the full-demon serpent Wilkins and damaging the school beyond repair.
Adam (played by George Hertzberg) is a "biomechanical demonoid", a cyborg composed of multiple human and demon parts, reminiscent of Frankenstein's monster. Created by Professor Maggie Walsh, Adam is designed to be the ultimate life form - strong, immortal, and nearly omniscient through personal awareness and his ability to uplink with technology.
Emotionless in tendency and personality, Adam is originally a loyal operative of The Initiative. After being completed, Adam promptly kills Professor Walsh and immediately sets forth a plan of action - by summoning demons and putting them out in the open, The Initiative will imprison them. Once the prisons are full enough, he will override the security systems, freeing them all and forcing a battle between the demons and Initiative soldiers. From the bodies produced by the impending slaughter of both sides, he plans to create more cyborgs such as himself and build the ultimate army.
Even though the battle takes place, Adam is killed by Buffy in "Primeval" by ripping his uranium power source away from his body. Adam is the first Big Bad to be defeated before the season finale; "Restless", the season four finale, focuses on the Scooby Gang's battle against the first Slayer, whose spirit they summoned to help them defeat Adam.
Glorificus, otherwise known as "Glory" (portrayed by Clare Kramer), unlike other monsters in the series is not a demon, but a god from a hell dimension. Banished to Earth (and forced to share a body with a medical intern named Ben), Glory's goal is to find a mysterious "Key," the only way to escape her banishment and return to her home dimension.
However, The Key is not merely designed to open a magical portal: when activated, it will simultaneously break down the barriers between every dimension that exists and loose both magic and evil upon the Earth. Unbeknownst to Glory, The Key is in the form of Dawn Summers, Buffy's younger sister who was created (not born) specifically for the purpose of hiding The Key. As Buffy is the Slayer and thus would be a strong protector, an order of monks tasked with protecting The Key created Dawn and used magic to implant false memories in everybody she would have ever met to hide the fact of her sudden appearance in their lives, including altering photographs and records.
Once Glory finds out that The Key is in human form, she deduces that it is disguised as someone close to the Slayer, and someone new to the fold. She deduces that it must be Dawn. Eventually, she kidnaps Dawn and takes her to a tower where the portal to her dimension will open, but the opportunity to use The Key is a small window that will not open for another few days. Ben later emerges and tries to help Dawn escape, but reconsiders when Glory promises to make Ben immortal on her return to her rightful divine state. Ben, who has lived his whole life knowing he would cease to exist should Glory regain her power, accepts this offer and betrays Dawn.
A few days later, as the opening of the portal is being prepared, Buffy appears and Glory fights her. After a well-placed kick, however, she knocks off "her" head and reveals wiring - it's actually the Buffybot that Spike had ordered built as a sex toy but which was reprogrammed by Willow. The real Buffy and the Scooby Gang appear behind her and bloodies Glory as the ritual begins. Downed but not dead, Glory reverts to Ben, whom Giles coldly smothers, killing Glory in the process.
However, the bloodletting required by the ritual to open the portal has already been accomplished by a demon allied with Glory. Dawns's blood drips from the top of the jury-rigged tower to the midair point where the interdimensional portal will open; it will remain open as long as The Key lives, and the demon wounded Dawn in such a way that it will take hours for her to bleed to death. Reasoning that Summers blood opened the portal and Summers blood can close it, Buffy frees Dawn and sacrifices herself by diving into it. Her death does in fact close the portal.
The Scoobies find Buffy's body on the ground below the point where the portal had opened, and grieve. The scene fades to show Buffy's grave, with the inscription on her headstone, "Buffy Anne Summers. 1981-2001. Beloved Sister. Devoted Friend. She Saved the World. A Lot."
The main villains in Season 6 were the Trio - Warren Mears (portrayed by Adam Busch), Jonathan Levinson (portrayed by Danny Strong) and Andrew Wells (portrayed by Tom Lenk) - followed by Willow (known in this phase as Dark Willow), portrayed by Alyson Hannigan. Series creator Joss Whedon stated on the Season 6 DVD that the true Big Bad is life itself; and how, as time goes on, it becomes more and more people's worst enemy.
The Trio is a band of nerds who, over a game of Dungeons & Dragons, decide to take over Sunnydale. In contrast to many other villains, they are used mainly as comedy relief. However, as the series progresses they become a threat. Recognizing Buffy as their biggest threat to their schemes, they attempt to keep her out of their hair and in the process seriously annoy her.
Things go out of control when, after a failed attempt at turning Warren's ex-girlfriend Katrina into their love slave, Warren accidentally kills her as she tries to escape and inform the police. This takes the three into separate character paths: Warren becomes misogynistic and assumes the role of leader of the Trio; Jonathan lets his conscience take over and grows in disdain for Warren; and Andrew becomes increasingly loyal to Warren, a faithful lackey.
The Trio plan a series of bank heists using powerful artifacts that grant immense strength and invulnerability. Unknown to Jonathan, Warren and Andrew plan to escape, leaving him to take the rap for the Trio's crime spree. In the end however, after a confrontation with Buffy both Jonathan and Andrew are sent to jail when Warren abandons them and escapes.
After another caper is foiled by Buffy, Warren decides to remove her for good. He acquires a pistol and shoots Buffy, injuring her; but a stray bullet hits Tara, killing her almost instantly. Willow, Tara's lover who has been recovering from an addiction to dark magic, tries to resurrect Tara as she did Buffy. She cannot, because the death was not by mystical means and thus Tara was "taken by natural order."
Obsessed with vengeance, Willow resumes her use of magic and begins to lose herself in the dark power. After discovering that he didn't kill the Slayer, Warren attempts to escape but is soon caught and flayed alive by Dark Willow. After Warren's death, Willow goes after the two remaining members of the Trio, but Buffy, Xander and Anya break them out of jail, taking them under the protection of the Slayer and the Scooby Gang.
Willow becomes lost to dark magic and despair. She is confronted by Buffy and they fight. In the midst of battle, Giles appears, returning from England with imbued magical powers granted him by an English coven. Giles joins the fight, is gravely injured, and Willow drains the magic out of him. She glories in a magical height never before attained by a human.
However, this was in fact Giles's plan: the magic he was channeling was not the dark power Willow had been drawing on, but a kind of magic that comes from humanity. The infusion of white magic allows Willow to feel again, expanding her empathy so she can feel the emotions of practically everyone. However the plan backfires as in her grief and depression she decides to destroy the world to end everyone's suffering.
Buffy saves Andrew and Jonathan from being killed by a magical attack launched by Willow. The pair flees to Mexico, hoping that neither Willow nor the law will think to search for them there.
On a bluff overlooking the ocean outside Sunnydale, Willow uses her magic to raise an ancient Satanic temple from the earth in ordet to use one of its symbols to end the world. This temple had been buried in the same earthquake that had trapped the Master. Xander arrives and tries to trigger her emotions. Even though Willow repeatedly knocks him down and slashes him with her magic, Xander repeatedly tells her that he loves her. Eventually, the emotion in Willow is too much, and the dark magical power in her fades away as she and Xander break down in tears, embracing. Giles, who can feel her emotions through the residue of the magic she took from him, tells Anya that Xander saved them all.
The First Evil is unique in that it is portrayed by many actors and many characters. The First is incorporeal, but it has the ability to take the form of anyone who has died, even if the person is still active in some way, such as Buffy, or a vampire; through skillful playacting, it can impersonate a living person. The First appears to possess all the knowledge of whatever form it has taken. Through the aid of rituals performed by its Harbingers, it also has the ability to appear in dreams. The First Evil also has the ability to imbue certain rare beings with its powers.
Its first appearance is in the Season 3 episode "Amends". Through impersonating Angel's victims and manipulating his dreams, it attempts to convince him to kill Buffy. This failing, it manipulates him into trying to commit suicide. Had it succeeded, this would have been a powerful blow to the forces of good. However Buffy defeats The First's Harbingers and The First vanishes, promising to return.
As The First is non-corporeal, it can't be killed. Since it can't touch anything, it can't kill directly, though it can manipulate corporeal beings into killing for it.
When Buffy was brought back from the dead at the beginning of Season 6, this caused an instability in the source of the Slayer's power. This created the opportunity for The First to attempt to destroy the Slayer Line in its entirety. The ending of the Slayers would make The First's goal of controlling the world for demonkind much easier.
It enlists the services of Caleb (played by Nathan Fillion), a misogynistic preacher, who commanded the Bringer army—Harbingers ordered to kill those who are in line to become the next Slayers, should the current ones die. It was part of a master plan that, if successful, would solidify The First as a physical entity. By working backwards, killing all the potential Slayers and then the current Slayers, nothing would exist to stop The First from flooding the world with an army of Turok-Han, a breed of supervampires (known in the series as übervamps), shifting the scale of the world irrevocably in favor of evil and making The First corporeally manifest.
To do this, however, the Hellmouth had to be opened. Buffy and an army of potential Slayers used their blood to activate the Seal of Danzalthar, thus opening the Hellmouth. During this time, Willow cast a powerful spell using an ancient, mystical weapon that contained the essence of the Slayer's power. Through this spell, Willow successfully granted every potential Slayer across the globe the full power of her eventual birthright, permanently altering the rule that "in every generation there is a Chosen One. She alone will stand against the vampires, the demons and the forces of darkness." While doing so, she tapped into the ultimate light magic, thus redeeming herself from her abuse of dark magic as Dark Willow.
After an epic battle between the Turok-Han and the Potentials-turned-Slayers and the Scooby Gang, the Turok-Han were defeated (though not without casualties, including Anya, who was killed in action; and Robin Wood, son of a Slayer, principal of Sunnydale High and Faith's lover, who is badly wounded) by a special amulet given to Spike by Buffy, by way of Angel. The amulet channeled the power of sunlight and killed the entire Turok-Han army. Thus, two Big Bads (Willow and Spike) of prior seasons contributed significantly to the defeat of the Big Bad of the final season.
The amulet also acted as a purifying force, powerful enough that it closed the Hellmouth. This caused all of Sunnydale to collapse into a massive sinkhole. Though The First Evil was not destroyed, its plans were thwarted. Without the Hellmouth it was unable to raise a demon army; and with the world's new legion of Slayers, the ultimate balance had shifted to the side of good.
Although the television series ended with season seven, series creator Joss Whedon devised a comic book series that continued the story beyond the seventh season.
Twilight is revealed in part four of "No Future For You". He can fly, has superhuman strength, and believes that the newly created Slayer army is no better than a pack of demons. His main aim is the total eradication of all magic, both good and evil. His minions include former Sunnydale residents Amy Madison, Warren Mears and Riley Finn alongside the late Irish warlock Roden, British Slayer Lady Genevieve Savidge and American General Voll. Eventually it was spoiled by comics cover and later confirmed that Twilight is Angel. His Twilight persona was in fact a ruse designed to distract the members of the anti-Slayer movement most likely to attack, thus limiting the potential destruction that would have been caused if those factions struck independently while trying to keep the deaths of the Slayers to a minimum, all while he pushes Buffy towards some unknown goal.
- Simone Doffler
In other series
- The short-lived series Birds of Prey actually used the term "Big Bad" on screen to refer to Harley Quinn.
- The final scene of Stargate: The Ark of Truth featured Lt Col Cameron Mitchell stating that it was strange not to have a "big bad" to face any more following the removal of both the Ori and Goa'uld threats.
- In the May 11, 2007 Lost podcast, the show's producers refer to Ben Linus as the series' "Big Bad", although they have subsequently revealed, and demonstrated, that Charles Widmore is even worse. In the final season however, even Widmore appears heroic when set up against the Man in Black.
- Even comics have adopted the term into their lexicon, with Nightwing describing Bruno Mannheim to Batwoman as "the Big Bad" in DC Comics' 52: Week 30.
- Greg Weisman, a fan of Joss Whedon's, described Demona as a "Big Bad" in issue three of the Gargoyles comic book.
- Sara Colleton, executive producer for Dexter, referred to that show's use of a main villain for each season as the "Big Bad formula". In an interview with Television Without Pity, Chuck showrunner Chris Fedak mentioned that Alexei Volkov was Season 4's Big Bad.
- In Ben 10: Alien Force during the episode "Ghost Town", when Vilgax (the main antagonist of the previous series) saves a child, Gwen says "The Big Bad has a conscience."
- In Ben 10 Omniverse, during the episode "The More Things Change - Part 2", Ben says "Whoever sent the monster to kill me, he's the Big Bad."
- In Season 3, Episode 1 ("The Jailhouse Job") of Leverage, Hardison refers to Damien Moreau as the "Big Bad".
- In Season 1, Episode 12 ("AKA Take a Bloody Number") of Marvel's Jessica Jones, Jessica says to Trish "I can only handle one Big Bad at a time". 
- In the sixth season of HBO's True Blood, Governor Burrell says that he is not the new "Big Bad". Ironically, the real Big Bad is his partner and girlfriend, Sarah Newlin.
- 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". Slayage, v. 24.[not in citation given]
- 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.
- Jagodzinski, Jan (2008). Television and youth culture: televised paranoia. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 145. ISBN 1-4039-7808-5.
- http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118276/quotes?ref_=tt_ql_3. Rupert Giles. Retrieved January 26, 2016.
- Phegley, Kiel (January 8, 2009). "Behind Buffy's Twilight Reveal". Comic Book Resources. Retrieved January 9, 2009.