#ActualWorst Round Two: Gustavo Fring vs. Pete Campbell

A bracket to find the most terrible person on television

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.

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.

See the bracket in its entirety here.

The Case for Gus (Breaking Bad)


Why this character is the actual worst: He’s an international drug lord responsible for mass distribution of methamphetamines across the Southwestern United States, so that certainly counts against him. Behind a placid exterior, Gus nurses a ruthless acumen for business and organized crime, and is happy to murder anyone who defies him, even if they’re making him money, like the show’s antihero Walter White.

Worst moment/s: After his loyal assistant Victor makes a mistake cleaning up a crime scene and is spotted by civilians, Gus decides to make an example out of him. He calmly dons a hazmat suit and picks up a box cutter, seemingly preparing to get rid of a stammering Walter, who caused the crime scene Victor cleaned up, but then wordlessly draws the knife across Victor’s throat. “Well, get back to work,” he says.

Worst trait/s: He bears grudges. Gus’s undoing is his unending vendetta against the Mexican cartels, which gets him to drop his cool exterior and eventually leads to him making some stupid decisions. But also, for such a good manager, he could value people’s loyalty a little more. Poor Victor.

Redeeming moments/qualities: He’s a polite man, and seemingly a good business owner: His legitimate business is the fried-chicken chain Pollos Hermanos, and darn if Gus isn’t nice to the customers, fair with his co-workers, and the kind of manager who does shifts behind the cash register just to stay in touch with everyone. Maybe he just should have stuck to chicken. —David Sims

The Case for Pete (Mad Men)


Why this character is the actual worst: Pete Campbell isn’t just an asshole. He’s a smug, slimy, entitled, phony, cruel, cheating liar. He is equal parts sadistic and pathetic. The fact that his scuzzy plots—blackmail, adultery, advertising—are so often spoiled can, some have argued, make him seem pitiable. Please. Don’t feel sorry for Pete Campbell. He repeatedly uses his position of power and privilege to keep people down. And he does so in a way that’s as loathsome as it is nauseating.

Worst moment/s: Pete’s worst moments are his most misogynistic. Like the time Peggy asked him to dance—smiling, confident, doing the twist with coworkers in a Manhattan bar—and Pete, seething with contempt, tells her, “I don’t like you like this.” Or the time Pete tried to sell Joan’s body to a Jaguar executive in exchange for an advertising account, telling her: “We’re talking about a night in your life. We’ve all had nights in our lives where we’ve made mistakes for free.” But it's hard to do worse than the time Pete raped his neighbor, a young German au pair, demanding a reward for having helped her exchange a damaged gown to a department store. The woman’s level of consent is debated among viewers, but her character’s discomfort in the scene is clear.

Worst trait/s: Abuses of power, rampant misogyny.

Redeeming moments/qualities: He can dance a mean Charleston. But don't think for a second that getting back together with Trudy makes him a better person. Pete’s good fortune is thoroughly, painfully undeserved. And maybe this is what makes Pete Campbell the actual worst: The fact that his character is so realistic, that humans who think like Pete Campbell really do exist, and that they often end up getting what they want—no matter how they act and whom they humiliate along the way. —Adrienne LaFrance