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 Walt (Breaking Bad)
Why this character is the actual worst: Walter starts out noble enough—he’s a chemistry teacher stricken by cancer, and looking to set up his family after he’s gone, he starts cooking meth to provide some extra bucks. But as his special formula spreads like wildfire through New Mexico, Walter becomes more and more drunk with power, and starts to behave as ruthlessly as the crime bosses who employ him, resorting to coercion and murder to stay alive.
Worst moment/s: When Walter needs to win back his protégé Jesse’s trust at the end of Breaking Bad’s fourth season, he hatches an evil scheme to snatch him from the jaws of drug lord Gustavo Fring. Using a rare flower that grows in his backyard, Walter poisons a young boy who Jesse has befriended, and pins the crime on Gus. Yes, Walter is not above poisoning children to achieve his goals.
Worst trait/s: Arrogance. Walter’s undoing is always his firm belief that he’s better than everyone else: It’s what made him a high-school teacher when he should have been a multi-millionaire industrialist, because he couldn’t play with others. And it’s what makes him try to take down his drug-lord bosses even though they’re paying him millions to cook meth for them.
Redeeming moments/qualities: When the show begins, Walter is a family man, and he gets into the drug biz to provide for them. Though that selflessness shrivels and dies as the series goes on, there’s enough left by the end of the series for him to arrange for his wife and kids to live in some semblance of safety after his misdeeds go public. —David Sims
The Case for Lucious (Empire)
Why this character is the actual worst: “If you kill me, everyone in this room would applaud,” the hip-hop patriarch Lucious Lyon told a gunman toward the end of Empire’s first season. “Everyone” included all of the members of the family he manipulates, abuses, deceives, belittles, frames, swindles, and undermines on a weekly basis. To be fair, he rose from drug dealer to superstar rapper to business mogul by being ruthless, and going soft would be his downfall. But does he have to taunt one son for mental illness, another for being gay, and another for being a playboy? Does he have to antagonize his ex-wife Cookie after all she’s sacrificed? The real drama of Empire isn’t about who’ll get the empire, but whether the emperor has a soul.
Worst moment/s: He murdered his best friend, let the mother of his children languish in prison for 17 years, and cheated on his girlfriend while promising to marry her. But the grossest crime may have been when he let his son Jamal believe Lola was his own daughter—when really she was a product of Lucious sleeping with the woman he’d forced Jamal to enter into a sham marriage with.
Worst trait/s: His tendency to mumble from the back of his throat. Speak up!
Redeeming moments/qualities: Business acumen, musical genius. —Spencer Kornhaber