This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
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No Hero or Damsel in Distress is Complete without Villainous Depravity
Having become numb to the latest COVID-19 update, which has allowed you to complete the series you never thought you would finish. Binge-watching the ones you never really wanted to even. Now with nothing to watch or do, how about a focus on the top ten television villains! Evil-doers are essential to any story, and heroes are nothing without a foil. Villains have a massive cult following.
Maybe this is because any work of fiction is less enjoyable without a bad guy. Anti-heroes are not antagonists, an enormous difference is seen between bad boys with a heart of gold and purely evil bastards. These characters also make one sympathize with the good guys, also because viewers want to see the bad ones receive their come-uppance. The natural human thirst for justice is satiated.
Contrarily, this can also go a different direction as well. Villains are often more relatable characters than protagonists. Their backstories a lot of times are sadder than the tragic but cushy backstory of say, Bruce Wayne. Opinions on these characters may differ, and fans of television have strong thoughts. Some are ardent super fans and a niche crew even fetishize over villainesses. Let’s begin to examine some of this writer’s personal favorites:
10: Inspector/Major Campbell (Peaky Blinders)
Inspector or Major Chester Campbell is the primary antagonist for the series Peaky Blinders. He would keep this designation for the first two seasons. Campbell was narcissistic, heartless, and malevolent. He was sent by Winston Churchill to Ireland to retrieve stolen firearms.
“The end of the rope has been this man’s destiny since the night he was born.”
Campbell about Thomas Shelby (Peaky Blinders)
Perhaps, the best take away was the way the character Thomas Shelby was able to get into Campbell’s head. It was fun to watch a corrupt police officer with such pose, slowly break down throughout two seasons. Finally, at a thoroughbred derby, Campbell would meet his fate at the hands of Polly Gray. Overall, Sam Neill‘s acting is what sold this character. Besides, what good is a villain without a capable portrayer?
9: Dan Scott (One Tree Hill)
Yes, Dan Scott is from a teen drama, but Paul Johansson portrays a nasty bad guy for fans to sink their teeth into. His back and forth exchanges with his ex-wives Karen and Debra, were phenomenal. Dan is particularly cruel when he favors his son, Nathan, when at one point, he tried to choke his other son Lucas to death. He was dead set at times, to take down Tree Hill High basketball coach Whitey Durham.
“My name is Dan Scott, I killed my brother.”
Dan turning himself in to police
His depth of depravity climaxed when he shot his brother, Keith, with the gun of school shooter Jimmy Edwards. Dan, over time, would shape into a more anti-hero character in efforts to redeem himself. This was clear as he took a bullet in the final season for his son Nathan. His number nine position is due to this fact; if he remained as evil as he’d been at the start, his rank may be higher.
8: Vince McMahon (WWE)
Vince McMahon is the founder of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), formerly known as the WWF. McMahon started his time as a play-by-play announcer, but an evil boss character would be his future on screen persona. After a controversial real-life incident known as the Montreal Screwjob, McMahon would be reborn as Mr. McMahon. It would also start, arguably, the most successful era in WWE history, the “Attitude Era.”
“Life sucks and then you die”
Mr. McMahon would have many notable feuds, including: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock, Mankind, D-Generation X, and John Cena. Today, Vince McMahon is only seen as a business figure for the company as acting CEO and Chairman, only making rare appearances. His wife, Linda, was the Administrator of the Small Business Administration until 2019, under President Trump. Vince himself, a good friend of Trump’s, has joined the new Economic Task-Force. Don’t cross the boss, or “you’re fireeeeeeed!”
7: Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man (The X-Files)
“…Tonight, the course of human history will be set by two unknown men…standing in the shadows.”
Cigarette Smoking Man
Carl Busch Spender a.k.a the Cigarette Smoking Man is a mysterious homeless figure in the series, The X-Files. In fact, what do we call this man? Cancer Man, Smokey, Mr. Hunt, or Black Lunged Son of a Bitch? There’s more aliases than seasons! He is a conspiracist, an assassin, and Leader of Men in Black. He has extensive military training and used this to commit crimes of genocide, terrorism, assassination, and murder, yikes!
His main objective is to cover up and deny the existence of alien life forms. Aside from being X-Files’ full-time bastard, he also appeared in the series’ first feature film. Essentially starting as a recurring extra, the Cigarette Smoking Man quickly became Fox Mulder‘s main foil. William B. Davis did a great job playing out the slow-building story to the depravity of his character.
6: Benjamin Linus (Lost)
” I always have a plan.”
Benjamin Linus was charismatic, highly intelligent, and leader of the Others. He served as Lost’s key evil-doer until after season three, where he shifts to a more protagonist role. His ambiguous spirit is why he is not deserving of a higher spot on this list. However, this tragic mastermind played by Michael Emerson did have some questionable things in the second and third seasons.
He is a liar and a manipulator, and has killed multiple characters. He murdered Locke, ordered Mikhail to kill Charlie, accidentally killed Charlotte, and stabbed Keamy. Stabbing Keamy subsequently caused Kahana to explode; in the process, it killed Michael. So, one could argue whether, directly or indirectly, he killed quite a few central protagonists.
5: Gyp Rosetti (Boardwalk Empire)
“I got a gun, he’s got a gun, they got guns, everybody got guns!”
Bobby Cannavale takes on the role of psychopathic gangster Gyp Rosetti in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. He is season three’s primary bad guy, a bootlegger, and sadomasochist. His crimes knew no bounds in his attempt to take over Atlantic City’s bootleg racket. Murder, pimping, and aggravated assault were the lengths he was willing to go. Smooth, cold, calculating, and ruthless best describe him.
Cannavale is generally typecast as a villain, and has an impressive resume. His methodical style of acting, and his versatility make him a go-to casting choice for any casting agent. For example, Rosetti is a more evil bad guy than his role in Annie. However, he does goofball villanry as soundly as he does a sociopath.
4: Phillip Blake a.k.a The Governor (The Walking Dead)
“In this life now, you kill or you die. Or you die and you kill!”
Phillip Blake/The Governor
Phillip Blake, a.k.a. The Governor is a survivor of the outbreak on AMC’s The Walking Dead. A former middle-management employee before the apocalypse, he takes a sinister turn post-apocalypse. He was the central antagonist from season three until the series’ fourth season, where he was stabbed in the back by Michonne, and later shot in the head by Lilly.
David Morrissey, an excellent actor, plays this character exceptionally well. Highly intelligent, manipulative and charismatic, his role was the leader of two factions during his time on the show. His most repugnant goal is to kill Rick Grimes and Michonne. In the comic and novel, he is more evil and less sympathetic, compared to his television counterpart. Fans of the show were happy to see him return posthumously in season five, and he deserves our number four spot.
3: J.R. Ewing (Dallas)
Any similar list would have, the late Larry Hagman‘s J.R. Ewing in its number one spot. However, Dallas and therefore Ewing are somewhat passé. Television has evolved in so many ways; it is hard to keep him justified at the head of the table. Still, J.R. Ewing will always be one of television’s greatest villains.
“Revenge is the single most satisfying feeling in the world!”
J.R was a character everyone loved to hate, but what did he do which was so rotten? He drove Cliff Barnes to attempt suicide, threw Sue Ellen in a sanitarium, and tried to deceive Miss Ellie over the sale of Southfork. He was a dirty older man who forced Holly and Laurel to have sex with him. Maybe, hands down, his most extreme act was attempting to blow up the Middle East. Ewing was Dallas’ main antagonist for the first series and recurring for its revival. Even as time passes, this character will always be a talking point on the subject of television’s worst human beings.
2: King Joffrey Baratheon (Game of Thrones)
So many people hate Joffrey, to a point, he has been voted most hated fictional character of all time. Indeed, a testament of great acting, to spark this kind of pure hatred from a role on a series. Joffrey is an egomaniac, pure evil, and cowardly. He is like your buddy who goes with you to a bar, starts a fight, and lets you fight it for him. What are some of Joffrey’s most evil deeds?
“Everyone is mine to torment!”
His barbaric execution of Lord Stark, making Sansa look at her dad’s head on a pike is a good place to start. Self-centered as ever in his attempt to remain head of the kingdom, he ordered the slaughter of King Robert‘s “bastard babies.” Joffrey takes sinister to a whole new level, when he orders Ros to beat Daisy, then kills Ros with a crossbow. Lastly, many female viewers furthered their ire towards Joffrey when he threatens and plans to rape Sansa.
“I suppose it doesn’t matter which Lannister puts the baby in you. Maybe I’ll pay you a visit tonight after my uncle passes out.”
Joffrey to Sansa
Some may argue Ramsay Bolton is eviler than Joffrey. However, Joffrey is a staple of Game of Throne’s early work, and is why he gets this distinction. He is portrayed by actor Jack Gleeson, who retired from acting after his role as the wicked king. Who could be viler than this pissant?
1: Joan Ferguson (Prisoner Cell Block H/Wentworth)
“You’re a fucking lunatic.”
Will Jackson to Joan Ferguson
Joan Ferguson is a pure psychopath, and it makes Wentworth such fun to watch. She is originally from Prisoner Cell Block H, however, Pamela Rabe best portrays this cold governess on the Netflix/SoHo series, Wentworth. She is at odds with all prisoners, often trying to play them against each other. Her tactics best described as a lesser Josef Mengele, using the prisoners in experiments and torturing them like Wentworth was Auschwitz. Ferguson has a love for coercion, blackmail, and even murder.
Ultimately, she would find herself on the other side after her plot to kill Will Jackson and other shady dealings caught up to her. Her greatest rival, though she had many, was with show heroine Bea Smith (Danielle Cormack). Eventually, she ended up killing Smith, an outcome Bea wanted to keep Ferguson in prison. Ferguson appeared set to be acquitted, so Bea threw herself into a flat head screwdriver Ferguson was holding.
She would eventually be killed, but in typical villain trope fashion, she is still alive. Two seasons after being buried alive, Joan appears in the final minutes of season seven’s finale. Wentworth will see her return as their lead villain for the show’s eighth and final season. Wentworth is much better than Orange Is the New Black, yet a viewer may have trouble with its casts heavy Australian accents. Still, check it out, if for any reason for Joan “the Freak” Ferguson. Until next time, shalom, my friends.
Brendon Stitt is a writer for NRN. He has a master's degree in business and a vast knowledge of economics. Stitt's a neighbor to the north from Canada, though follows US politics religiously. Stitt covers a variety of topics from sports, to business and the markets, pop culture, and so much more.