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.
The Case for Gemma (Sons of Anarchy)
Why this character is the actual worst: The biker bros of Sons of Anarchy have a lot to answer for, but in terms of sheer self-righteous destruction, none of them can top their club’s unofficial den mother: Gemma Teller Morrow, widow of SAMCRO’s founder and mother to Jax, the club’s heir apparent. Gemma may not have as high a body count as her son, but her chaotic management style and refusal to let any incident pass without her (inevitably disastrous) interference makes her far more difficult to root for. If it wasn’t for Katey Sagal’s performance, which somehow manages to find some small measure of consistency in the character’s chaotic impulses, Gemma would be a forgettable mess. As is, there’s tragedy in her being just self-aware enough to hate herself without being able to change her behavior, but that doesn’t prevent her from being frustrating, infuriating, and exhausting.
Worst moment/s: Arranging the death of John Teller, Jax’s father and her first husband; a relationship with her son that makes Jocasta and Oedipus look like the Waltons. Gemma’s maternal-bordering-on-pathological feelings for Jax lead to campaigns of psychological warfare against all of her son’s love interests, especially Tara, Jax’s girlfriend and eventual wife—abuse which culminated in Gemma brutally murdering Tara at the end of the show’s penultimate season.
Worst trait/s: Paranoia; an ability to make every crisis about her; a refusal to accept that others might know what’s best for themselves; using the knowledge that she’s gone too far as an excuse to go further; being a terrible mother who’s convinced she’s a great one.
Redeeming moments/qualities: As mentioned, Katey Sagal is absolutely terrific in the role, smoothing over Gemma’s worst contradictions. In Sons’s second (and best) season, Gemma was gang-raped by a group of skinheads; her recovery from the assault showed both the character and the show at their strongest, finding humanity buried inside a lurid open wound. —Zack Handlen
The Case for Tyrell (Mr. Robot)
Why this character is the actual worst: Sorry, Bernie Sanders; here’s an example of a Scandinavian embracing the American Dream’s dark implications rather than upgrading it with free health care. After the first season of USA’s bold hacker drama, E Corp’s senior VP for technology remains enigmatic but his ambition-crazed immorality does not: He beats up homeless people, and he slept with his boss’s assistant to tap his cellphone and then bragged about it to his own wife. But what makes Wellick worse than simply a Northern European Patrick Bateman is his sniveling side—so far, he’s not even cold-blooded enough to be competent. When his plan to rise in the megacorporation ranks ended in his firing, he pathetically begged his boss for mercy. “I have to say, I’m disappointed,” was the reply.
Worst moment/s: Botching a seduction campaign against a rival’s wife by strangling her to death in a fit of rage.
Worst trait/s: He’s the embodiment of both an Organization Kid and a tyrannical Training Day detective, the kind of guy who rehearses speeches in the mirror ad nauseum while screaming at and and slapping himself for improvement. Get a grip.
Redeeming moments/qualities: He mysteriously vanished in the season finale, and if he’s gone for good, his calmly malevolent wife will probably do a better job of conquering the world than he ever would have. —Spencer Kornhaber