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When the bad guy is not really bad

We are currently watching The Sleuth of Ming Dynasty. We’re up to episode twenty-eight, and all I have running through my mind is, please let Wang Zhi be a good guy. Please, please. He’s got to be.

Wang Zhi isn’t one of the two ‘true’ good guys in the story. When you first meet him he’s torturing someone. Not much later you see him threatening a fellow government official telling him that he knows the official accepted bribes and one wouldn’t want the emperor to hear about it.

Bad guy alert.

But Wang Zhi grows on you.

So much so that by episode twenty-eight, which is a bit over half-way through, I’ll be devastated if he turns out to be bad.

I’m not saying he’s a true good guy. He’s not. He’s scheming, manipulative and a whole lot more. He’s just … loyal, and I want him to stay loyal. I don’t want him to turn out to be working to overturn his boss. And I also want his boss—the emperor—to stay loyal to him and continue to trust him.

So far, Wang Zhi seem to be on the side of the other two protagonists. He’s giving them work, trusts one of them to do the job. But … I’m still worried the whole story will have this awful twist. Someone at Wang Zhi’s level or higher has to be involved the overall plot. Well, we already know for sure that some of them are, but I think we’re still missing one of the key players.

Putting on my reader’s hat now. As a reader, I love characters who seem bad but aren’t really. Not that Wang Zhi is bad so much as he is manipulative. But I also expect that the characters I like to be ultimately be ‘good’. And I like Wang Zhi. There’s a point of no return in a story where if a character turns bad after you have truly become invested in him, it doesn’t work.

A perfect example of this is Anakin Skywalker. (Or maybe not so perfect, but an example, anyway.) Enough said.

I love stories where you don’t see the end coming. Stories that are so logical that after the twist, you say, “Of course, this is so obvious.” Having said that, however, if it’s a character I love who turns out to be evil then that twist has to be spectacularly good to overcome that betrayal I feel.

A reader wants to finish a story feeling satisfied, not betrayed.

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