This is why we're all obsessed with chaotic evil characters

From Maddy in 'Euphoria' to Misty in 'Yellowjackets', we live for the mess these characters create, no matter how depraved their actions are.

by Tom George
28 January 2022, 9:00am

The return of HBO’s Euphoria to our screens means the return of Alexa Demie as Maddy Perez — the calculating, ever-fashionable icon who rules the school corridors, leaving drama in her wake. In the first three episodes of the second season, Maddy and fellow messy queen Cassie, played by star of the moment Sydney Sweeney, have provided us with some of the show's most iconic (and memeable) moments. Door-banging, bathtub hiding and, well, that entire scene in the school toilets. But if we adore sadgirl Cassie for her slightly pathetic actions, we worship the ground upon which a Mugler-clad Maddy walks. This is a character, after all, who entered our lives with foreboding chaos when she called her dad a pervert in the pilot episode. 

If you were to describe Maddy’s actions to someone who has never watched Euphoria, they probably wouldn't understand why she's so stan-able. In season one, for example, she falsely claimed she was blacked out during a sexual encounter with a guy in order to avoid accusations of cheating on her boyfriend. In real life, her actions would be considered reprehensible, but there's something about Maddy that means we not only let her off the hook, we want to see her thrive, even if that means she destroys lives along the way. 

While she may not have the fashion and it-girl power of Maddy, another much-loved but villainous character right now is Misty Quigley, from Showtime's Yellowjackets, played at various life stages by Sammi Hanratty and Christina Ricci. Described as "Lost for swifties", many of the problems the high school girls football team lost in the wilderness in the 90s face are a result of Misty's selfish and depraved actions. When we meet the present-day survivor Misty, she's now a Croc-wearing carer refusing to give pain meds to her most indignant patient. But as we watch the socially-awkward character blossom into someone content with amputating legs and disposing of dead bodies, all we can think is, well, good for her. 

This is due to the subsections of chaos. You’ll likely recognise the much-memed Character Alignment chart that originated from the 1974 fantasy roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons. Created as a way to categorise the overall ethical and moral perspectives of characters, in the game's first iteration the system allowed players to decide whether their character was lawful (followed a set of rules that supported the group's needs) or chaotic (unpredictable in their usually self-serving actions). A couple of years later, these were slightly amended as a second axis was added: good (those who are altruistic) versus evil (harmful, oppressive and uncompassionate). Chaotic evil characters are usually heartless beings within the game world, like the undead, serial killers, demons and orcs. They act as the antithesis of lawful good knights and the sinister version of chaotic good entities like elves and unicorns. While their lawful evil counterparts, such as tyrants and corrupt officials, are more likely to exploit the system, the chaotically evil — also known as destroyers — are more likely to burn down the system altogether, resenting being restrained by its order. 

In more recent years, the character alignment chart has become a constant reference, as fans of TV shows including Selling Sunset use it to categorise and better understand characters and their actions. Usually, our faves tend to span the chaotic side of the spectrum. They're the ones who bring us the drama each episode, while often providing some form of comic relief in their messiness. Think Riverdale’s Cheryl Blossom, Blair Waldorf in Gossip Girl, Santana Lopez in Glee or literally any character Emma Roberts has played in a Ryan Murphy series.

Since these alignment categories were created as general character briefs for D&D players to roleplay, it made sense for them to be archetypes and fit specific boxes, though critics of the game have accused it of being rather reductive. But as the chart's usage has spread online into other forms of pop culture, the boundaries between the categories can become blurred, affected by an individuals' own definitions of what is good, evil, lawful, chaotic and neutral; and where characters' actions fit into those labels.

When season one of the lauded Jennifer Coolidge-starring anthology series The White Lotus aired last summer, Gossip Girl reboot writer Eric Eidelstein posted an alignment of the hotel staff and guests to Twitter. Naturally, there was disagreement on many of the positions, especially with fan favourite characters Olivia and Paula's positions as chaotic neutral. Many felt the caustic besties played by Sydney Sweeney and Brittany O'Grady — who spend the majority of their resort stay tearing down the egos of everyone around them for their own personal enjoyment — should have been dubbed chaotic evil. It was a sentiment echoed by The New York Times, who referred to the duo as "the scariest girls on TV", while a scene from the series of the pair looking up from their books to scathingly stare at a hotel guest instantly became a reaction meme. After much online deliberation, others posted updated charts that moved Sydney's Olivia — arguably the more malicious of the two — over to the chaotic evil space.  

Much has been written about why villains can be our favourite characters, with studies showing that they allow us to explore our darker selves and unconscious desires against the sometimes crippling society we live in, without actually enacting them IRL. In recent years, Disney movies and superhero films — the sub-genres that for years pushed ideas of good versus evil — have recognised this space of grey in their audiences, bringing about the villain origin story in films such as Cruella (2021), Maleficent (2014), Joker (2019) and Harley Quinn's Birds of Prey (2020). For these characters, often labelled outsiders and freaks, it's within their chaos that we find the vulnerability that allows audiences to sympathise with them, even if their actions are deplorable. 

We support chaotic evil characters' desire to cause mayhem within society because we watch them be downtrodden by that same society. In Euphoria, much of Maddy's actions stem from being in a toxic, abusive relationship and being held to outdated patriarchal ideas of sexuality and virginity. In Yellowjackets, the friendless Misty's destructive choices are often the result of a need to feel wanted and desirable. There's a reason why the evil characters we stan are often women, POC or queer — their treatment never occurs in a vacuum.

It's summed up best by Lady Gaga, during her chaotic press tour for House of Gucci. When asked if a queer icon like herself playing a murderer might glamorise Patrizia's debauched actions, the singer-turned-actress simply said: "I don't believe in the glorification of murder. I do believe in the empowerment of women."

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The White Lotus