This post is about what I call Puppet Antagonists; characters whose strings are pulled by the Puppeteer Antagonist, which will be discussed in the next post.
You can of course have protagonists who pull at the strings of their fellow characters, but the motivations behind their manipulation need to be purer and understandable to the audience. Antagonist Puppeteers though can leave a trail of Antagonist Puppets in their wake; their strings cut and their lives destroyed as well as the protagonists.
In a way the characters of the puppets can be more interesting than the puppeteer. Depending on how you decide to write the puppets, they can also fall into the category of redeemable antagonists as well as puppet antagonists.
In a way redeemable puppets have a lot in common with redeemable antagonists more generally, and for that I advise you to read my post on redeemable antagonists as well. But redeemable puppets are subjected to being manipulated by the puppeteer as well as acting on their own feelings and desires. There are two ways in which they might have their strings pulled; either because they are ignorant that they are being manipulated or because they are threatened in order to make them do as they are told.
The first is potentially less forgiveable to the audience than the second, as fear can be a very strong motivation to do things that a character wouldn’t normally do, but either way redeemable puppets can end up being as much a victim in the eyes of the audience as the protagonist.
And then of course you have the characters who are actually willing to play along with the plans of the puppeteer. It makes then as bad as the villain in many ways, but there are two ways that a willing puppet can be written, and it very much depends on the attitude of both the puppet and the puppeteer.
There are some great willing puppet antagonists, and in recent film history, the late and great Christopher Lee seemed to be the go-to actor to play the part. Saruman and Count Dooku are both committed to the causes of their puppeteers. Saruman though is more aware that he’s not on an equal footing to his master than Count Dooku.
Saruman is seduced by the power that the one ring and Sauron can offer. In the end though it isn’t his Master who betrays him, but Wormtongue, who is one of his own puppets. Count Dooku though is openly betrayed by his master, who callously uses a more desirable puppet, in the form of an ever darkening Anakin Skywalker, to kill him. The reactions of the willing puppets to their betrayal can make for interesting plot twists and helpful aids to the protagonists; if they last longer than Count Dooku of course.