#ActualWorst Round One: Carrie Mathison vs. Piper Chapman

A bracket to find the most terrible person on television

Showtime / Netflix / Paul Spella / The Atlantic

Throughout the month of November, we’re soliciting readers’ help to definitively answer an age-old question: Who is the actual worst character on television? We reviewed your submissions, did our own research, and came up with a list of 32 characters across four different categories, who’ll go head to head over the next four weeks until one of them is crowned as the most despicable, unlikeable, flat-out awful (fictional) person on the small screen.

See the bracket in its entirety here.

The Case for Carrie (Homeland)


Why this character is the actual worst: Carrie is in many ways a hero—a ballsy, intuitive, no-nonsense CIA agent responsible for thwarting several terrorist attacks against America and its citizens. But she’s also plainly terrible. Not because she’s bipolar, a fact the show’s writers shamelessly exploit any time an uptick in drama is needed, but because she’s arrogant, rude, unprofessional, unethical, and more than likely drunk. All this aside, what makes Carrie the actual worst is how predictably unpredictable she is: She’s either clean and sober, taking care of herself, and thus completely boring to watch, or she’s careening around like a pinball between jazz clubs and war zones and scrapbook sessions, infuriating red-headed paramours and grizzled bearded mentors (and viewers) in the process.

Worst moment/s: Seducing a young medical-school student in Pakistan whose uncle happened to be a wanted Taliban terrorist, taking his virginity, then ultimately getting him killed when his uncle found out he was working with the CIA. Considering drowning her baby in the bathtub.

Worst trait/s: Crying, and screwing up her face so vigorously it’s as if someone’s bet Claire Danes a million dollars she can’t prove she’s never had Botox. Going “PFFTTTTTT” every five seconds when she can’t otherwise articulate how pissed off she is. Being blasé about killing civilians with drones.

Redeeming moments/qualities: Saving everyone in season one by prompting Dana to call Brody and therefore persuade him not to set off his suicide vest in the bunker with the vice president. Yes, it was thanks to a tenuously connected chain of events, and Brody ended up killing the vice president in a much stupider way, but we’ll take it. —Sophie Gilbert

The Case for Piper (Orange Is the New Black)


Why this character is the actual worst: There’s a book’s worth of web rants making the case that Piper Chapman is the worst, which is a pretty extraordinary fact given that Taylor Schilling’s character is the protagonist of Netflix’s popular jailhouse dramedy. The backlash could be chalked up to politics rather than art—Piper’s a conventionally attractive white woman who, according to the showrunner Jenji Kohan, offers viewers a “Trojan horse” into a world of marginalized people—were it not for the fact that the character herself has so exquisitely and so repeatedly found ways to embody selfishness. When most other inmates in Litchfield exploit each other, it’s for survival or sanity; with Piper, though, her antics often seem motivated by cruelty or boredom.

Worst moment/s: Scheming to land her ex-girlfriend Alex back in jail, just because she’s lonely.

Worst trait/s: Despite what she tells herself and those around her, she’s fundamentally cold-hearted. Check out her disproportional revenge scheme against Stella at the end of the most recent season for an example.

Redeeming moment/qualities: Piper does try to acknowledge her out-of-touchness and sanctimony from time to time, and was smart enough to let her loser fiancé Larry leave her life. —Spencer Kornhaber