Samuel Brace on the four most repulsive TV protagonists ever…
TV anti-heroes are fairly common in the present age. Main characters that test our affection or that are downright despicable have replaced the redoubtable and noble heroes of yesteryear. The majority of such characters have at least some redeeming qualities for us to pin our hopes on but there are also those who have none at all, where there is seemingly no difference between them and the villains that populate their world. Thanks to the last two decades, TV is now replete with these morally bankrupt individuals but there’s no question that some stand head and shoulders above the rest, making their contemporaries look downright saintly in comparison. So let’s explore the very worst of them, putting to one side those with darker aspects to their personality but who still remain firmly in the light, instead focusing on those whose actions can’t be excused no matter how hard we try, and in some cases, those who are downright evil.
Don Draper (Mad Men)
Don Draper is a creation that is certainly worthy of a place on this list. No matter how cool he appears, Don is without question a truly awful person that you’d never want anywhere near your life. The star of Mad Man is a creep, a womaniser, a liar, and a fraud. This is a man who uses and abuses everything and everyone around him, a person that is literal poison to those who come into his vicinity. Don remains in people’s affections, however, because of his innate charm and bewitching charisma. As such, the effect he has on the audience isn’t dissimilar to that of the characters which populate his fictional world. On the surface of things, if you didn’t know him all that well, you’d probably like him very much, but as you dug a little deeper, you’d realise that there is nothing there to like at all.
Jimmy McGill (Better Call Saul/Breaking Bad)
The focal point of Better Call Saul and part player in Breaking Bad is at first glance, a sympathetic figure. You can try to defend him but it’s a little infra dignitatem. Jimmy may have been mistreated and wounded by those he loves (namely his brother) and is certainly a product of his environment, but the truth is that he’s an incredibly selfish and nefarious individual. It’s absolutely a slippery slope for Jimmy, and he does have some redeeming qualities, but at the end of the day, there is no one who this man won’t hurt. Jimmy will do anything to get ahead, to secure the future his dreams have promised, and if you’re in his way, he’ll have no trouble throwing you under the bus or even suggesting that your life be extinguished. The slow erosion of Jimmy’s soul is certainly sad to watch, but there’s no denying the repulsive cretin that he becomes.
Walter White (Breaking Bad)
Breaking Bad’s protagonist is a colossal piece of work and by the time Walter White’s transformation into Heisenberg is complete, there is absolutely nothing there to admire. There are very few main characters in TV history that are as destructive, manipulative, and outright cruel as Walter. The saddest thing of all is that this monster was always lurking inside of him, waiting for its moment to take control. This wasn’t a good man turned evil; this was a man admitting who he really is. His list of crimes are endless, as are the names of his victims, he cares for no one but himself and eventually even turns the audience against him. Perhaps the worst thing about Walter, however, is that he pretends to do what he does to help his family, only to finally admit that what he did, he did for himself.
Lester Nygaard (Fargo)
While the above are certainly a ghoulish bunch, there is only individual who can take the top spot of TV’s most repulsive protagonist, only one person on this list who can truly be branded with the label of being pure evil. That man is Lester Nygaard, the main character of Fargo season 1. At the outset, Lester is a polite, shy, sympathetic figure who has been beaten down all his life, but, as the story progresses, the real Lester emerges. This isn’t just a man who makes a mistake by killing his wife and who failed to turn himself in, this is a person who took joy in doing it and afterwards proceeds to take every opportunity to ruin the lives of those around him in the cruelest, vindictive, and most insidious manner possible. Lester goes beyond covering his tracks; he, in fact, goes out of his way to hurt others, offering up those who care about him as sacrificial lambs, doing everything he can to make sure they suffer so he doesn’t have to. Lester is pure filth, a piece of human garbage every bit as vile as the hitman who changed his life, and there is no TV protagonist more deserving of your hatred.
A version of this article was originally posted in March 2018.