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.
This bracket, while intended to determine the relative awfulness of characters on television, is subject to the fact that “worst” is a complex superlative that can incorporate a number of different qualities. In no way are we suggesting that being a narcissistic 20-something is equivalent to, say, killing people and eating them. Rather, our goal is simply to map out which of these fictional characters we love to hate and which we hate to love.
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 Moriarty (Sherlock)
Why this character is the actual worst: Possibly one of the more psychopathic people in this bracket, Moriarty is a consulting criminal to the world’s scariest men and women, and a Joker-style lunatic who’s obsessed with Sherlock. Throughout the first three seasons, he throws complications and odd cases in Sherlock’s path, from Irene Adler to innocent bystanders he attaches suicide vests to and forces to read his texts out loud. On the one hand, he’s one of the few human beings alive who can occasionally outsmart Sherlock; on the other, he murders people out of sheer whimsy.
Worst moment/s: Paying a terminally ill (and very creepy taxi driver) to make riders play a horrible game of Guess Which Pill Is Actually Poison. Framing Sherlock as a self-aggrandizing maniac, and threatening to assassinate John, Lestrade, and Mrs. Hudson unless Sherlock kills himself. Shooting himself in the head (maybe?) to up the ante. Appearing at the very end of the third-season episode “His Last Vow,” giving viewers a heart attack and hinting that he’s not dead after all.
Worst trait/s: Murdering people for kicks, making everyone scared of taxis, never blinking.
Redeeming moments/qualities: He has good taste in music, playing Rossini’s “The Thieving Magpie” when he steals the Crown Jewels, and making Sherlock believe a Bach rhythm is actually a secret code that can open every lock in the world (cmon, Sherlock). He looks like he walked out of a GQ spread (whenever he isn’t pretending to be an out-of-work actor or Molly’s boyfriend). —Sophie Gilbert