What would the characters we adore be without the villains who make things difficult for them? The best TV villains are the perfect foils to our favorite protagonists, wreaking havoc, and generally being Evil with a capital “E.”
This TV season, in particular, we’ve seen some wonderfully villainous antagonists grace the small screen. Some are more subtle in their approach, while others are downright horrifying. Here are 12 of the best villains you’ll find on the small screen.
Note: some spoilers ahead, so read at your own risk!
Rachel Duncan, Orphan Black (BBC America)
One of several clones brilliantly played by Tatiana Maslany in the sci-fi drama, Rachel stands alone. Caught up in the pursuit for power, and deeply damaged by her upbringing and abandonment by her adoptive parents, she’ll stop at nothing to lead the disturbing organization called Neolution that raised her. If the clone “sisters” get in her way, she has no reservations about putting them in their places. Cunning, deceitful, and downright nasty, she’s the clone we love to hate.
Mr. World, American Gods (Starz)
Leader of the New Gods as the personification of globalization, Mr. World seems to have little time for war with the Old Gods who are trying to restore the traditional ways of the world — only domination at any cost. A capitalist of terrifying proportions, he personifies greed and has a damaging desire for power. Menacing and terrifying at times, Crispin Glover may not have a ton of screen time in this first season, but he brings this villain to life in style.
The Commander, The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
At first glance, The Commander (Joseph Fiennes) appears to be a kind, gentle soul who might actually feel bad about the terribly barbaric treatment of the handmaids by himself and his comrades. That is, until his darker side is revealed, including just how integral a role he played in the development of the new authoritarian and theocratic regime called Gilead. Don’t be fooled: The Commander is as loathsome a villain as there is.
Frank Underwood, House of Cards (Netflix)
As the leader of the free world, President Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is about as devious as they come. He’ll stop at nothing for power, including murdering those in his way with no remorse. Consistently deceiving the American people, and doing what’s best to serve his own interests, he’s the president you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.
Negan, The Walking Dead (AMC)
No list of villains would be complete without Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who leads his group of Saviors with terrifying charm and wit. And of course, his beloved barbed-wire bat Lucille, which he’ll use at the drop of a hat. From beating lead characters to a shockingly bloody pulp, to shoving them into a blazing furnace, he simply dusts off his leather jacket and keeps on walking. Psychopath, anyone?
Officer Piscatella, Orange is the New Black (Netflix)
The team of prison guards at Litchfield has always had its taste of truly awful officers, including George “Pornstache” Mendez (Pablo Schreiber), who frequently provided drugs to the inmates in exchange for sexual favors. But none come close to Desi Piscatella (Brad William Henke), the strapping monster of a man who brought forth a wrath that completely broke the inmates’ spirit and turned the prison on its head. Cold-hearted, he’s not against abusing, degrading, and even torturing inmates.
Vince Lonigan, Sneaky Pete (Amazon)
Walter White is Bryan Cranston’s most famous villainous role. But the actor plays a different kind of villain in this series – an ex-cop who runs an underground illegal gambling den in New York. There’s no question he’s the boss. And despite his calm demeanor, he will not be crossed. With the help of his loyal associates, Vince is the main antagonist, working to take down Pete (Giovani Ribisi) in the first season of this series.
Dr. Hap, The OA (Netflix)
Convincing himself that his actions, which include kidnapping and drugging innocent people, are all for the good of science, he’s a truly cruel human being, and the scariest type of villain: One who doesn’t really think he is one. Hopefully we’ll get to dig deeper into the motivations of Dr. Hunter Aloysius Percy (Jason Isaacs) once this mysterious series returns for a second season.
Hector Salamanca, Better Call Saul (AMC)
In Breaking Bad, Hector (Mark Margolis) is a disabled former drug lord, confined to a wheelchair and unable to move or speak. Better Call Saul provides a glimpse into the drug kingpin he once was – threatening, subtly intimidating, fiercely protective of the organization, and willing to stop at nothing to maintain control.
Eli Pope/Rowan, Scandal (ABC)
As protagonist Olivia’s (Kerry Washington) father and commanding officer for a clandestine CIA division called B-613, Eli (Joe Morton), also called Rowan, is about as heartless and ruthless as they come. Murder, torture, and carefully crafted manipulation are par for the course, and necessary evils to “get things done.” Is there any other way to live? Every move he makes is calculated and without remorse. And while Eli shows slight glimmers of hope and love for his daughter, his life of tremendous power and secrecy has broken him beyond repair, and made him the worst kind of villain.
Aunt Lydia, The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
For those who’ve been following the show, it’s no surprise The Handmaid’s Tale has not one, but two top-tier villains. You’d think in a society that treats women as property, those of the female persuasion would stand united. But not in the case of the fierce and wincingly pious Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), who’s sole job is to indoctrinate the handmaids, keeping them in check by any means necessary. She’s not shy with a taser, and she’s willing to literally take an eye out or worse, all under the apocalyptic guise of doing god’s will.
Lenny Busker, Legion (FX)
An ostensible friend of Legion lead character David Haller (Dan Stevens), Aubrey Plaza takes a dark turn as Lenny, who takes on several forms of a powerful mutant named Amahl Farouk/Shadow King that feeds on a hatred for humanity. Parks and Rec fans who have championed Plaza in her budding post-sitcom career will be blown away by her performance here, which is sure to open doors far beyond her somewhat standard indie-tough-girl roles.
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