Warning: contains spoilers for The Flash, Buffy, Angel, Smallville, Agents Of SHIELD, Arrow, Supergirl, Charmed, Legends Of Tomorrow
We rely on heroes to represent the best we can be, the heights we can reach and the morals we should hold most dear. But, like all humans (or aliens, or vampires), heroes also do pretty terrible things from time to time, ranging from being mean to their friends to almost causing World War III. Some acts have bigger consequences than others, but all give away the failures and foibles of some of geek TV’s best and bravest.
This list of some of the least heroic moments from our otherwise beloved heroes is not for the antiheroes and reluctant vigilantes, but for those who are otherwise pinnacles of truth and justice – until they’re not. Let us know which ones we missed in the comments.
1. Barry creating the Flashpoint universe
More often than not on The Flash, Barry uses his powers to save the world but, as with many an orphaned superhero who misses his mum, sometimes the temptation to use time travel for personal gain is too much to withstand. And so, in the closing moments of the show’s second season, Barry goes back to stop Eobard Thawne from killing his mother, and in so doing creates an entirely new reality in which Cisco’s brother is dead, Diggle’s daughter has become his son (who becomes evil in the future – also Barry’s fault?), and all manner of others things have shifted. Not his best decision ever.
2. Clark leaving town on red kryptonite for a whole summer
Red kryptonite episodes of Smallville are widely considered to be among the show’s best, but the second season ended on a rather sombre note when, after Clark disobeys his birth father, the Kent farm is almost destroyed, and Martha loses her unborn miracle child, he skips town. Rather than stick around and grieve with his parents, or nurture his still-new relationship with Lana, Clark decides instead to intentionally don his red kryptonite ring (which causes him to lose his inhibitions) and ride off to Metropolis on the back of a motorcycle. He gets up to all sorts of shenanigans over the course of that lost summer, but just the act of fleeing is enough to warrant young Superman’s place on this list.
3. Buffy’s sexy dance with Xander
Buffy Summers was always a flawed character so, as with many heroes on this list, there are a few examples that could have earned her a place. Perhaps none were so cruel as her When She Was Bad phase, however, which came about after her death and resuscitation at the end of the first season. Understandably thrown by her experience, she decides to take it out on those around her and, in an attempt to alienate both Angel and her two closest friends, she performs a seductive dance with Xander – who previously confessed his love – in front of Willow – who has a known crush on Xander. It’s beyond mean, and might be one of the worst things Buffy did when not under the influence of anything mystical.
4. Ward revealing himself as a Hydra agent
We’ve had a lot of ups and downs with Agents Of SHIELD’s Ward since the first season, but that initial reveal that he was, in fact, a Hydra agent all along still packs a punch. It’s unlikely he was anyone’s favourite character at the time but, in his betrayal, he represented a shift in the show’s storytelling that had far-reaching consequences hard to find in the MCU. More than anything, it meant that the heroes in this universe weren’t necessarily to be trusted and that, outside of the Captain Americas of the world, there was a ton more ambiguity. No matter how many times Ward flip-flopped in subsequent years, that level of betrayal leaves a mark.
5. Felicity nuking an entire town
Season four of Arrow was the show’s equivalent of its ‘gas leak season’ – aka the one everyone ignores in retrospect – and looking back it’s easy to see why. One of its more outlandish elements was the nuking of a small town by Felicity. Sure, she didn’t actually fire the weapon but, faced with the choice of whether to have the nuke hit a city or a smaller town, she chooses the town. It’s the lesser of two evils, but it’s also one that is painted as a heroic act rather than the second-hand terrorism that it actually is. Worst of all is that, aside from one character with a vendetta turning up in season five, it was all but forgotten.
6. Supergirl’s spotty record with other alien races
To the outside observer, Supergirl is a show that is unwavering in its commitment to inclusivity, acceptance and social justice. And that’s mostly true, except for all those times when Kara herself is, well, a bit racist. This first occurred with the arrival of Mon-El in season two. Arriving in a pod not dissimilar to Kara’s own, Mon-El turned out to be a member of rival aliens the Daxamites and she was not best pleased. It’s true that the pair later fell in love, but initially, Kara profiled the heck out of Earth’s newest visitor, going against her self-proclaimed values in the process.
7. Prue ruining Piper’s wedding because she wanted to go to a biker bar
For most of Charmed’s run, the Halliwell sisters (superheroes in our book) were an unbreakable unit, but there were certainly a few moments where that bond was pushed to its limit. One such occurrence was on the day of Piper and Leo’s long-awaited wedding, on which Prue’s subconscious decided it wanted to break free and astral project to a biker bar. Initially assumed to simply be a recurring dream, Prue was actually visiting the bar each night and, in the middle of the ceremony, her boyfriend crashes in to collect her and go on the run Bonnie and Clyde-style. Things eventually work themselves out, but only Prue could make her sister’s wedding day all about her.
8. Angel closing the cellar doors
The second season of Angel was a turning point for the show in that a) it got really good and, b) it got really dark. Perhaps the bleakest moment of either Buffyverse series was the scene when Angel, fully ensouled and in control of his faculties, locked the members of evil law firm Wolfram and Hart in the wine cellar with the murderous Darla and Drusilla. Not only did this mean ensuring the deaths of dozens of human beings, but it also saw Angel abandon his mission to ‘help the helpless’ for a good half-season before his sex-induced epiphany. We’d seen the character literally murder beloved characters before, but this may have been the worst thing he did as Angel, rather than Angelus.
9. Constantine risking the timeline to save his boyfriend
As detailed above, one of the gravest sins you can commit in the Arrowverse is messing with time for your own selfish ends. On Legends Of Tomorrow, it’s an even bigger deal, given that the entire premise of the show revolves around the Waverider crew fixing anomalies in the timeline. This makes Constantine’s attempts in season four to save his ex-boyfriend from going to hell even worse. By going back and erasing the relationship an entirely new reality is created in which Sara is dead, Zari is a cat, and the Legends have become the more violent ‘Custodians of Chronology’. One attempt to fix things lead to the more pleasant ‘Puppets of Tomorrow’, but even puppets don’t justify messing with the timeline.