#ActualWorst Round One: Frank Underwood vs. Hannibal Lecter

A bracket to find the most terrible person on television

Netflix / NBC / 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 Frank (House of Cards)


Why this character is the actual worst: When Congressman Frank Underwood killed a dog in the earliest moments of Netflix’s slick political drama, it was only the first example of his willingness to sacrifice lives for power. This makes him evil, of course, but it also makes him sickeningly fun to watch. Lately, though, the limits of his style have become clear, and in ways that only frustrate himself and the viewer: He can bend the political system to his will, but he can’t actually make people want to follow him. And so as president, he’s had to turn his intimidation tactics on co-conspirators like congresswoman Jackie Sharp and his wife, Claire, not recognizing that to lose their support could be fatal. The truth about Frank may turn out to be disappointingly banal: He’s no genius-villain leader—just a thug.

Worst moment/s: Using and then killing poor, charming Peter Russo was pretty awful. But the moment Frank became truly wretched was at the end of season three, when he attempted to strip his wife of her power and dignity: “Without me, you are nothing,” he growled, before grabbing her face and giving her an order she couldn’t help but refuse.

Worst trait/s: His tendency to smugly mug at the camera and offer a bit of pseudo-profundity whenever he gets to prove, again, that he simply has fewer morals than anyone else in the room.

Redeeming moments/qualities: Here’s a politician who actually tries to get things done—constitutionally or not, he’s breaking through Washington gridlock. —Spencer Kornhaber

The Case for Hannibal (Hannibal)


Why this character is the actual worst: Hannibal is a serial killer, which is a bad foot to start on. But he’s a special kind of serial killer who likes to cook and eat his victims after they’re dead, prepare them as gourmet meals, and serve them to guests. He’s also a psychiatrist with a predilection for chaos, who allows the clearly mentally ill FBI agent Will Graham to continue fighting crime even as he slips into madness under Lecter’s watch.

Worst moment/s: The list of Hannibal’s misdeeds is absurdly long. Maybe his grossest trait is serving cooked people up to other people; topping even that, though, is what he does to poor Abel Gideon (Eddie Izzard), a fellow murderer who gets on Hannibal’s bad side by taking credit for his crimes. Hannibal chops his legs off but keeps Gideon alive, and then they share a meal of, well, human leg together.

Worst trait/s: Probably the whole “he kill you and eats you” thing. Still, there are people in Hannibal’s life that he clearly values, and through the course of the series he has to turn on all of them to save his own skin—for all his politeness, he’s as inherently selfish as the rest of us.

Redeeming moments/qualities: There’s a lot to like about Dr. Lecter. He’s a well-read man, a witty conversationalist, a fantastic cook, and he’s sartorially blessed. It’s how he gets away with all that murdering—people just don’t want to think Hannibal could be up to no good. —David Sims