#ActualWorst Round One: Rowan Pope vs. Todd Alquist

A bracket to find the most terrible person on television

ABC / AMC / 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 Rowan (Scandal)


Why this character is the actual worst: It’s something to do with Pope’s dual status as both a murderer and a mansplainer. (As he chides his daughter: “You raised your skirt and opened your knees and gave it away to a man with too much power.”) Oh, and let’s not forget the megalomania, and the fact that he legitimately does seem to operate with both power and impunity. Papa Pope at one point informs Olivia, who inherited his stubbornness, “You are getting on that plane come hell or high water.” He adds, absolutely unnecessarily: “And, to be clear, I am the hell and the high water.”

Worst moment/s: That time he told Olivia, “You’re not rare. You’re not special. Your story’s no different than a thousand other stories in this town.” Or that time he asked her, “Do you have to be so mediocre?”

Worst trait/s: A big old God complex. You know the scene in A Few Good Men, when Jack Nicholson makes his “you want me on that wall—you need me on that wall” speech? Rowan Pope sees the world similarly—except, for him, “the wall” is the entire United States. Also, he’s happy to torture people, figuratively and literally, to maintain his powerful perch.

Redeeming moments/qualities: Rowan gave voice to one of the most significant cultural moments of Scandal: When he reminded Olivia of the lesson he has taught her since, we’re meant to understand, she was little—that “you have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have.” It was a line that was an overt invocation of race, the kind the show had previously largely avoided. And it wasn’t just a key moment on Scandal. It was also, in some sense, a key moment for all of Shonda Rhimes’s work. —Megan Garber

The Case for Todd (Breaking Bad)


Why this character is the actual worst: Todd, the gentle red-headed sociopath, begins his arc on the show as a soft-spoken Vamanos Pest exterminator who just wants to be useful to the meth-making mastermind Walter White, proving his worth to the operation by connecting Walt with his uncle Jack’s gang of white supremacists. But it soon becomes clear that Todd is perfectly capable of murdering and torturing those who get in his way, and his innocent, cheery demeanor and matter-of-fact attitude towards the horrendous crimes he perpetrates only makes his awfulness more acute. After murdering a young boy who witnessed the crew’s big train heist without hesitation or remorse, a crime for which he’s berated by Walt, Jesse, and Mike, Todd laughs it off nonchalantly, saying, “Shit happens.”

Worst moment/s: The aforementioned murder of an innocent child during the train heist (and subsequent serial killer-esque pocketing of the child’s mason-jar trapped tarantula as a trophy). Taking Jesse captive in order to learn how to cook purer meth and killing his ex-girlfriend Andrea in order to cow him into submission, THEN offering him AmeriCone Dream ice cream as a kicker.

Worst trait/s: Being unfailingly cheery and unpredictably violent—a pretty scary combo.

Redeeming moments/qualities: Crushing on Lydia. It might be a little-boy infatuation, but it’s kinda cute, and it must mean that he actually has emotions like normal people. Right? —Katharine Schwab