Zuko, Snape, Eleanor Shellstrop -- What makes a good redemtion arc?

Characters that present as villainous at first and nobly heroic nearing the end, have always fascinated audiences. Zuko from Avatar The Last Airbender, presents as a particularly striking example of this. Here we have a young teenager who just fills an antagonist role so well. He constantly is hunting Aang and company in the hopes to restore his honour. As the story progresses however, through various trials, tribulations, self-reflection, and personal development, he ultimately finds his own honour in helping the Avatar. Eleanor from the show The Good Place has a similar arc where self-development, understanding, and personal growth prove key to her redemption.

One can argue that Snape in Harry Potter doesn’t quite follow this redemption arc, and while many fans think his redemption proves just as valid, a case can be made against it. Snape arguably doesn’t make any effort in his own redemption, and his love for Lily and grand reveal that ‘he was actually one of the good guys all along’ just doesn’t seem to offer that same ‘satisfaction’ for lack of a better word as the other redemption arcs previously mentioned so much as it seems to play more into the role of a plot twist than a redemption arc. We don’t see the same focus on growth and becoming a better person here.

This begs the question- what makes a good or bad redemption arc and what differentiates a redemption arc from a plot twist?

  • Interesting idea! Redemptions are very interesting! I would just remove your thoughts from the topic before it will be approved. – Sean Gadus 2 years ago
  • I'd actually be happy to write this once my pending piece has been approved (though I don't know Eleanor so mmight replace her with someone else.) I approved this topic but I feel it's better to remove your personal feelings. – Adnan Bey 2 years ago
  • I feel like a "redemption arc" is always kind of in the eye of the beholder, especially if we're talking about characters who aren't made to be seen as purely wicked. If a character is a full-blown villain, then it's easy to pinpoint if or when they stop doing purely villainous things. On the other hand, if a character makes some questionable decisions that don't cross the line into outright evil, then different people will have different opinions about how much growth is necessary before the characters "prove" they're no longer as bad as they were to start with. I also feel as though it's harder with longer-running series that span several years (like the Harry Potter franchise) because it's so hard to keep characters consistent for all that time. A character might advance a little, then backslide, several times over the years, which makes it harder to track their growth. – Debs 1 year ago
  • I recommend comparing the fates of the characters after their redemption. So, so often, the bad guys who do a Heel-Face Turn end up dying, even sacrificing themselves: Darth Vader, Kylo Ren, Rumplestiltskin, Snape - heck, even Eleanor Shellstrop is dead at the end of her story, so none of her future good deeds will positively impact the living world, they'll only impact her friends who are also dead! One is left wondering, what's the point of a redemption arc if the villain-turned-good person dies? – noahspud 1 year ago
  • I'd be interesting in reading this, I've gotten burned out on redemption arcs in media. – SunnyAgo 1 year ago

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