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’ve gone head to head over the last three weeks. Only four are left. Which one of them will be crowned as the most despicable, unlikable, flat-out awful (fictional) person on the small screen?
David Sims: First things first: Hannibal Lecter and Fitzgerald Grant couldn’t be more different. One’s a psychiatrist who eats people and the other is the President of the United States. Fitz has his foibles, yes, but could you really definitively say he’s worse than someone who once cooked a man’s leg and then fed it to him? But I appreciate the strange symmetry of acting that comes with these two characters. Hannibal is a man of letters, a patron of the arts, and a brilliant dinner guest, but he has to keep his dark side under wraps. Fitz is a politician, and thus his whole public life is a bizarre performance of good and proper behavior.
Still, I’m here to argue for Hannibal, and my argument begins and ends with him eating people. Weirdly, Dr. Lecter might be a more lovable character than his opponent—he certainly kills quite a few villains over Hannibal’s three seasons, while attacking the innocent only when he needs to defend himself or maintain his secrecy. He’s also a gourmet chef and well-read raconteur who helps the FBI catch numerous other serial killers, both before and after they imprison him. But he just can’t shake that compulsion for eating people. How do you top that?
He’s also a pretty bad psychiatrist—when treating Will Graham, who shows obvious signs of brain inflammation and post-traumatic stress disorder, Hannibal gives him a clean bill of health and practically shoves a gun into his hand, pointing him towards the bad guys. He’s capable of love, but in a rather twisted way, molding a severely damaged trauma survivor in his own image after the death of her serial-killer father, and brainwashing a kidnapped FBI agent so she can serve as an alibi by pinning his crimes on somebody else. Everyone who has a relationship with Hannibal, like his psychiatrist and eventual lover Bedelia (Gillian Anderson), has to be totally in his thrall, or else he abandons them to die.
Also, just one more time for emphasis: He kills people then eats them for dinner. What do you have for me, Matt, that could possibly top Hannibal Lecter’s laundry list of cruelty?
Matt Thompson: What you’ve described is exactly what I like about this matchup, David: There’s a fairly diametrical choice for our voters to make here. Hannibal, from what you’ve described, is all charisma, charm, and jollity, marred by the unfortunate vice of serving his guests to themselves for dinner. Fitz, on the other hand, is an anguished, petulant narcissist with only one comparatively non-repulsive murder to his name.
The sins of President Fitzgerald Grant, though, go far beyond a catalogue of grotesque killings. He brought his nation to war against another—a war he did not believe in and could not justify—to save the life of a woman he wanted to have. Every part of that, from his feckless act of war to his murderous need to get everything he wants, is villainy.
The naked horror on the faces of Fitz’s chief of staff and his cabinet officers when they realized the extent of his psychopathy might not quite match the visceral repulsion you feel at Hannibal’s killings, but Fitz’s deed might be even more gruesome for its bloodlessness. At least Hannibal kills his guests himself. Fitz bloodies the hands of his citizens instead.
But much of what we’re measuring here is traits, not deeds. What do these evils reveal about Fitz’s character?
Imagine you’ve gone through your entire life never being told no. Born to wealth, you can have anything you want: a brilliant and beautiful wife who’s made a sort of peace with your brilliant and beautiful mistress; the highest office in the land (whether or not you earned it); power, prestige, good looks, and a house in the country to retire to. Perhaps it’s not your fault that your soul’s corroded into mush. Maybe it’s understandable that you consider the mildest denials to be the depths of human torture. But in the name of Papa Pope and all that is unholy, do you have to be so whiny and possessive even while you’re mansplaining to Olivia what she actually wants?
So let’s tally up the sins of both men: Evil? Check. Murderous? Check. Excruciating? Checkmate, Fitz.
Sims: Perhaps the question before us is one of circumstance rather than psychopathy. What if Hannibal were president of the United States? Would he start cooking foreign dignitaries and serving them at state dinners? He’s certainly happy to abuse the powers of his medical license and psychiatry practice just to delight in the chaos that ensues. I’m not fully up-to-date with Scandal but I’ve watched enough seasons to know Fitz got into office thanks to some tomfoolery with voting machines in Iowa. Hannibal probably wouldn’t have made it that far—as a foreign-born citizen, I doubt he’d be eligible for office—but it’s fun to entertain the concept of him being the most powerful man in the country.
To stick up for Dr. Lecter, I submit evidence you’ve already referenced—that Fitz commits most of his horrid misdeeds in the name of love, specifically to impress Olivia Pope, or to rescue her, or to entrap her into being with him. Sometimes he strays off the romantic path, like when he held a pillow over a Supreme Court Justice’s face in a hospital bed, but hey, she’d ordered a hit squad on him, right? Hannibal is less of a romantic soul, and the reasons for his murderous tendencies are kept unclear, although it has something to do with trauma he suffered as a child, and the death of his young sister.
So I’m arguing that Hannibal is a purer kind of evil, free of socio-political implications, who literally takes the nightmarish form of a demon stag anytime Will sees him in his dreams. It’s easier to hate Fitz—honestly, I hate Fitz a lot more than Hannibal, but if you’re talking about “actual worst,” there’s nothing actually scarier than a pure psychopath. Also, just one more time: He cooks people and serves their remains to his friends on fancy china! Yes, he never capriciously went to war and cost two countries thousands of lives, but he never had the opportunity. Who knows what Hannibal would do given the circumstances? He’s an enigma wrapped in a mystery—while Fitz, who usually only has one thing on the brain, is deeply, deeply predictable.
Thompson: Ooh, I like the hypothetical! For Fitz’s version of this, I might ask: Is this a case of power corrupting? Would he qualify as evil if he were just an average Joe? We don’t know much about Fitz’s life before he became President, other than that as a Navy pilot, he obeyed an order to shoot down a civilian plane, taking hundreds of lives. That may be a mark of military discipline rather than a lack of moral compass. He rebelled against his father, but his father was a toad, so that tells us little.
The only context in which we know Fitz is one in which he’s corrupt and awful despite having nearly everything he wants. Would he be more upright and decent if he had less? What if he wasn’t pretty and moneyed and credentialed enough to snag the likes of Olivia and Mellie? There’s little evidence that these deprivations would have made Fitz more humane, rather than more covetous and entitled. To your observation that he #ActualWorsts out of pure love, is it that Fitz truly loves Olivia, or does she merely represent an object he can’t have? I think he wants her, ardently, but I have exactly zero confidence he’d be a loving and fulfilling partner to her if they ever stopped playing geopolitical footsie. When Fitz grabs Olivia possessively by the elbow, you don’t cringe quite as much as you might because she usually, eventually, grabs him back. But what would he do if she didn’t?
Hannibal the Cannibal is a starker, more gruesome villain than Fitz, I’ll admit. That you still hate Fitz a lot more I think is telling, however. The reason Hannibal’s pure psychopathy induces fear is exactly because it’s so rare and unfamiliar. The reason Fitz’s narcissism and entitlement inspires loathing, I’d argue, is because they’re so recognizable. Hannibal is the stuff of nightmares, yes. But the worst thing about Fitz is that he could be an average Joe, just walking around on the street, meting out recriminations of woefully imaginable scope on everyday, ordinary others. I think that’s a scary enough proposition that Fitz is, in fact, the Actual Worst.