Who’s your perfect nemesis? Or conversely, whose perfect nemesis are you?
It’s a question we might do well to ponder on both personal and an artistic levels – to understand ourselves as well as to understand what makes for great, relatable narrative.
Our perfect nemeses aren’t necessarily the Big Bads in our lives – the latter might mess things up but they don’t under our skin like a true nemesis. They stand out because they are so like us in ways core to our identity – but with a twist, like branches off a tree going in different directions.
Take Star Trek’s Captain Picard. In theory, his nemesis is Shinzon, his clone raised on Romulus, a story writers felt so compelling that they called his movie “Star Trek Nemesis.” However, would you rather watch Picard and Shinzon hash it out – or Picard and Q? Q, the impish immortal, was a character rife with good stories because he embodied core traits of Picard’s – namely, witty intellectualism, but twisted it into irresponsibility. That clash was much more fun to watch.
Or consider why people love “Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan.” Kirk and Khan were perfect nemeses because they both embodied raw, unbridled masculinity (some might say toxic, but I digress) – but Khan took Kirk’s bravado and twisted it a bit further into malevolence.
These nemeses are far better than an all-powerful Thanos-style villain because they do something far more insidious – they show us how fragile our self-constructs are, how easily we could fall into being different people. Khan goads Kirk into screaming his name into that microphone because he temporarily beats him at his own game. Who are we, we might ask, if we could so easily become twisted?
That’s the ultimate crisis for Javert in Les Miserables, who like his nemesis Valjean is devout and determined. When he realizes that Valjean is the same as him but also capable of petty criminal acts, he kills himself rather than face up to such a reality.
This is useful to remember when writing fiction (looking at you, Doctor Who: the 13thdoctor deserves a better nemesis, please create one!). But we can also bear this in mind when we are parsing out our own feelings and impulses. When someone irritates us, it’s good to consider why. Was that person intentionally trying to hurt us? Or do they embody our core traits – but a bit twisted in a way? We can feel invalidated and wounded by this person, perhaps unnecessarily.
Moms can often feel this way. The nursing/formula fight isn’t so much a real conflict, but rather a manifestation of someone taking a core trait (how we care for our kids) and twisting it a bit.
As such, maybe take a moment and consider who is your nemesis – and what you can learn from them about yourself and what your core traits are. Perhaps before you start screaming their names into microphones.