The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Top Twenty-Five Live-Action TV Villains

This one is long overdue, but I'm glad I waited.

25. Saffron

Did we ever learn her real name? I guess it doesn't matter, since her name didn't matter so much as her actions. Screwing everyone in her path to get what she wanted. I enjoyed her in both appearances, and would have loved to see more. That and it made me a fan of Christina Hendricks.

24. Khan Noonien Singh

While better known for his appearance in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (and another movie we will not speak of), Ricardo Montalban made his debut as Khan in one of the best episodes of the original series... and Nicholas Meyer was impressed enough to bring him back in what is considered the best movies of all time. But "Space Seed" is great, and you can easily see why Khan made an impression.

23. Brian Moser

This guy was creepy. Dexter's first Big Bad, and second best. His older brother who represents what he could have become. The first person Dexter didn't want to kill, but felt he had to.

22. Lilah Morgan

Angel Investigations' most enduring foe had to be Lilah Morgan of Wolfram & Hart. She menaced them for four seasons while working her way up in the firm. She was pragmatic enough to use them for her own ends, and even entered into an affair made in Hell with Wesley. I remember being pissed when she got killed, but her contract with Wolfram & Hart extends beyond her death. I like to think she would have continued to be a thorn in Angel's side, even had the show not been cancelled.

21. Arthur Mitchell

"The dad from Third Rock From The Sun as a serial killer? How am I supposed to take that seriously?" was what I asked myself when I first heard that John Lithgow was playing the Trinity Killer on "Dexter", and what do you know, he turned in a very scary performance as Dexter's Big Bad. His modus operandi was frightening, his abuse of his family made my skin crawl. Everything about this guy was nightmarish. Not killing him when he had his first chance was Dexter's greatest mistake, which would resonate throughout the rest of the show's run. You would think I would have learned after this experience not to underestimate someone who played a wacky sitcom dad, but we'll come back to that....

20. Irene Adler

After being utterly disappointed with Rachel McAdams in the bland and terrible Robert Downy Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies, Steven Moffat rides to the rescue with the brilliant BBC series, "Sherlock" and an Irene Adler that would make Sir Arthur Conan Doyle proud. Lara Pulver plays an Irene Adler who is a dominatrix, serving high-end clients. Possessing incriminating photos of a member of the Royal Family, Sherlock is hired to recover the photos and finds himself captivated by her. Probably the best episode of the series, and a wonderful performance.

19. Lord Antono Refa

Don't let his stupid hairstyle fool you, Lord Refa is one evil motherfucker. A scheming patriarch of a powerful noble house in the royal court of the Centauri, Lord Refa takes advantage of Londo Mollari's "associates" to put a psychopath on the throne all while he pushes for galactic war to restore the Centauri to what he feels is their rightful place in the galaxy. He destroys the Narn homeworld, enslaves its people, creates extermination camps and commits all sorts of atrocities. His death scene is one of the most satisfying in the history of television.

18. Nancy Botwin

I've talked about her before. A suburban housewife who starts selling marijuana after her husband dies to support her family in their upper-middle-class suburban lifestyle. She lies, she schemes, she uses people. She never kills anyone, but people die because of her. Even her children get involved in the business. She starts out as the sane one, but slowly descends into depravity, but she loves her family and occasionally has her heroic moments. But only occasionally.

17. Lilith

God created the angels, then he created the humans and ordered the angels to love the humans. Lucifer couldn't do it and corrupted a human, transforming Lilith into the first demon. For a millennia, Lilith held all of the contracts humans made with demons, and was freed from Hell at the end of the second season to free Lucifer from his prison. She took the form of a little girl most of the time, and proved to be a thorn in the Winchesters' side, as she would do anything and kill anyone to break the sixty-six seals she needed to free Lucifer.

16. Gustavo "Gus" Fring

The owner of a chain of fast food restaurants in the southwest, Gus Fring is an upstanding member of the community, and a frequent donor to law enforcement. He is also one of the biggest distributors of methamphetamine in the country. He is very intelligent, and always cool and collected. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of the Big Man from "The Spectacular Spider-Man". His coldness was what made him so intimidating, and he you never knew what he was going to do next. Very cool. Very scary.

15. Melisandre

A religious fanatic from across the Narrow Sea who becomes a major player in the War of the Five Kings, as she believes Stannis Baratheon to be the messiah of her faith, the disciple of the fire god known as the Lord of Light. Stannis may be married, but Melisandre is his queen as she coaxes him to do terrible things including murder his younger brother and eventually take the Iron Throne so she may purge Westeros of the other gods. She burns people alive, all for the future she reads in the flames. She is right about one thing, the night is dark and full of terrors.

14. Mayor Richard Wilkins III

The nicest evil guy ever. A conservative, family-values politician who is as into cleanliness as he is evil. He built Sunnydale for demons to feed on, in exchange for one day being able to ascend by transforming into a powerful and immortal demon, himself. The brighter the image, the darker the negative. He takes a photo with boyscouts while sacrificing babies to a demon. He becomes a surrogate father to the rogue Slayer, Faith, all while corrupting her into a vicious killer.

13. Morden

What do you want? Think very carefully when asked that question, it could be your undoing otherwise. Mr. Morden is an unassuming man you might not glance twice at. But that's the devil's favorite shape to come in, and Morden is an emissary of chaos. When first we meet him, he visits every ambassador on Babylon 5 and asks them what they want, and when he gets the answer he's looking for the galaxy is soon plunged into a terrible war as his masters, the Shadows work to create chaos... all while Morden gladly helps them, as well as serves as the hook that allows Londo Mollari to damn himself.

12. Cersei Lannister

The scheming queen of Westeros... sold into a loveless marriage to King Robert Baratheon, Cersei finds her own happiness in the arms of her twin brother, Jaime... and mothers his bastard children who are all raised as King Robert's own. Once the truth comes out, she arranges to have Robert killed and maneuvers her son, Joffrey onto the throne. Utterly ruthless and without morals, Cersei is feared and hated across the realm which she sees as nothing more than enemies. Her only redeeming quality is that she loves her children, no matter how monstrous they are.

11. Lucifer

Once an archangel of God who, in his eyes, loved God too much. He refused to love the humans, and after twisting Lilith into the first demon, he was imprisoned in a cage so deep in Hell, no demon has ever seen him. Upon being freed, Lucifer takes a widower named Nick as his vessel and prepares for the Apocalypse... his ultimate goal to wipe out the humans and then his own creations, the demons and create a paradise for the angels to live in. Basically, Lucifer is an angry child throwing a rebellious fit on a cosmic scale.

10. Dexter Morgan

A merciless killer, trained by his father to hunt down other killers. But make no mistake, he doesn't do this out of a sense of justice but a need to act on his sociopathic urges by killing those who won't be missed and will only hurt others. At least until Showtime tried to turn him into some weird superhero in the latter seasons, forgetting what he was entirely. The latter seasons have a lot o problems, but the first four seasons are classic TV at this point, not that I didn't enjoy some things about those seasons, but Dexter is an example of a show which stayed on the air for way too long. But the character of Dexter Morgan is still an amazing creation, and he is still one of TV's greatest villain-protagonists.

9. Angelus

Just about every vampire and demon on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is a metaphor for coming of age. Angelus was what happens when a young girl falls for the wrong guy, sleeps with him, and he changes. His first scene with Buffy as Angelus, when he breaks her heart in the bedroom is always a scene that makes me want to apologize for my gender. Men can be dicks. And Angelus was a cruel and ruthless killer, engaging in torture and mass murder for the fun of it, always with glee. Easily the best Big Bad in the Buffyverse.

8. Alfred Bester

Humans aren't the most tolerant bunch, are we? When telepaths came out, fearing for our privacy and power, we stripped them of every right they had and forced them to police themselves in a government run organization called Psi Corps. What did we get? Black uniforms, an organization that has grown in power and helped assassinate one president to allow a new one sympathetic to them to take office. What makes the Psi Corps so scary is that if telepaths did come out, I can't see us doing anything different with them in reality. And nobody embodies the Psi Corps more than Alfred Bester, a Psi Cop whose job it is to hunt down rogue telepaths... by any means necessary, all while expanding the influence and reach of the Psi Corps... when he's not running prison camps for rogue telepaths which are little better than Nazi concentration camps. Bester oozed evil, and he was proud of it.

7. King Joffrey Baratheon

Where do I begin with him? Joffrey is a sadistic spoiled little shit when we first meet him, and his ascension to the throne doesn't make him any better, quite the opposite. He has people tortured and killed for fun, he believes, as king, that everybody in Westeros is his to torment. The product of incest, Joffrey rules in the same vein as Caligula or Nero. He is so terrible that the rest of the cast often has to assure the audience in interviews that the actor who plays him, Jack Gleeson, is a very nice kid in real life. Never before have I seen such a contemptible character, which in turn makes for a terrific villain. I think the internet is going to have an orgasm when he finally dies.

6. The Shadows

There are beings in the universe billions of years older than the human race. Once long ago, they walked among the stars like giants, vast and timeless. They explored beyond the rim, built great empires, and came to be known as the First Ones. Eventually the First Ones went away, but two stayed behind as shepherds and guardians. One was the Vorlons, who were lords of order. The others eventually came to be known as the Shadows. Eventually the Vorlons and the Shadows fell out as both wanted to shepherd the younger races from opposite positions, as well as both coming to believe their way was the right way, the only way. The Shadows came to be Social Darwinists, lords of chaos... who would come out every few thousand years and kick over all the ant hills, start wars, and destroy entire races. With their black and terrible ships, that could shriek a terrifying scream, they were the stuff of nightmares. While eventually defeated, their legacy lived on.

5. Jim Moriarty

The most radical adaptation Steven Moffat made when he re-worked the Sherlock Holmes mythos into modern-day London was a risky one... gone was the cape-wearing university professor who was a gentleman upstanding member of society and in was a gay little Irishman who reveled in his evil. He wasn't the slightest bit subtle, and sometimes acted cartoonish.  An evil genius who made an attempt to steal the crown jewels in a very public manner and still managed to convince the world he didn't exist, all so he could destroy Sherlock Holmes... so far he was willing to go, that he killed himself and pinned all of his crimes on his enemy just so he could get his jollies. It shouldn't have worked, but it did.... a terrifying version of Holmes' archenemy.

4. Tywin Lannister

The patriarch of the Lannister family, Lord Tywin is the most powerful and ruthless man in all of Westeros. If you've ever wondered if there are worse fathers in fiction than Norman Osborn or Fire Lord Ozai, well here he is. He is not particularly fond of any of his children, and unlike the other two, there are no Freudian reasons. He loved his father, said he was a kind and loving man... and he has many fond memories of him.... but his father also nearly bankrupted and ruined the Lannisters, something Tywin vowed would never happen again, and that he would build a thousand year dynasty on top of that. As grandfather to and Hand of the King, he rules Westeros in all but name and title. The Lannisters' song, the Rains of Castamere was written about his crushing victory over a rebellious house that challenged him, and is sung as a reminder of the fates of all who dare cross him.

3. Crowley

A "Supernatural" villain cracks the top three, and it isn't Lucifer. Crowley was once a human tailor who sold his soul for a bigger dick, before becoming the demonic King of the Crossroads, making deals with humans for their very souls, and being so good at it that he was Lilith's right-hand. A pragmatist at heart, caring only for his own self-interest, he helped the Winchesters defeat and re-imprison Lucifer before becoming the King of Hell, himself. Smart and cunning, he runs Hell like a business, always seeking to expand his power and reach. He is also the only one who doesn't underestimate the Winchesters, and when their usefulness to him ended, he made every move to eliminate them. Charming, evil, funny, and ruthless... and recently he had a portion of his humanity restored. What this means in the long run is anyone's guess, but I always enjoy watching him and will raise a glass to Mark Sheppard's performance.

2. Tony Soprano

Even if you've never watched him, you've heard of him. The boss of the DiMeo crime family based in New Jersey who not only changed the world around him, he changed television forever. He was always fascinating to watch and often fun, raising a family and running his business. He loved animals as much as he loved strippers, but at heart he was always a sociopath... even seeing a shrink so he could become a better criminal. He was surrounded by a colorful cast in both of his families while never feeling like a straight man. James Gandolfini's performance will forever be remembered, and Tony Soprano will never be forgotten as he is still influencing television to this day. Up until recently, he would have been number one on this list, without question, but someone else flew into my radar.

1. Walter White

A High School chemistry teacher, who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has a pregnant wife and a son with cerebral palsy, is diagnoses with terminal lung cancer... not wanting to leave his family with medical bills, and to make sure they're taken care of, he teams up with a former student of his to cook methamphetamine... and that's how it starts, as a "victimless crime". But there's no room in this business for nice people, and slowly Walt becomes more ruthless, and more monstrous. Known to the DEA and the criminal community by the alias "Heisenberg", he transforms from unassuming High School teacher into the most ruthless and evil person in the series. Or maybe it wasn't a transformation, maybe that was all already there, and it came out. Walt has many chances to get out, other options come along that could solve his problems, but he rejects them all out of pride, and continues to build his business, leaving many bodies in his wake. Whatever his intentions, it doesn't matter and the show never sugarcoats him; Walter White is a terrible person; a bastard who destroys the very thing he sets out to save, all because he is a prideful narcissist who blames everyone else for his own failings.

Now, I wrestled with making him my number one, I only recently watched and finished the series, and I didn't want to think it was hype getting to me. I thought about it for a long time, but there was no other clear choice. He was it. It helped that the series made no bones about what he was, and never rationalized it, as much as he, himself, did. You weren't meant to root for him. I felt sympathy for him at first, I grew to hate him as well as pity him. But I never wanted to be him, he was a complete subversion of the badass outlaw alpha male fantasy in ways others on this list aren't, and all while never feeling preached to, and keeping him a fascinating, three-dimensional character. Yes, he loves his family... but just because he's not a one-dimensional cartoon character doesn't mean he's not one of the most evil people ever to exist in the realm of fiction. I raise a glass to Walter White, I would say that I hope you are some day topped, but the thought is frightening. Oh yeah, and he was played by Bryan Cranston... the dad from "Malcolm In the Middle" who turned in just as surprising a performance as John Lithgow.


  1. Solid list. Most of these I predicted seeing, but there were a few that surprised me, and though I saw Walter getting a spot, him being number one surprised me.

    Again, good work. It was fun to read.

    1. It surprised me, too. For weeks, as I was forming this in my head, Tony was Number One.

  2. "You would think I would have learned after this experience not to underestimate someone who played a wacky sitcom dad, but we'll come back to that...."

    So...who was the other one?

    "After being utterly disappointed with Rachel McAdams in the bland and terrible Robert Downy Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies"

    Hey now, the first one, the one that featured Irene, was a fine popcorn movie in spite of her. Only the second one was TERRIBLE.

    And I can't say I agree with "Sherlock's" Irene being one who'd make Arthur Conan Doyle proud. The whole point of Irene in the original story was that she was not a femme fatale or super mastermind or anything, but still "the woman" who beat Sherlock Holmes. On this show, Sherlock beats her, which sort of ruins the whole thing. It's a brilliant show and episode, but that always bugged me. That episode should have had a better ending.

    And on Jim Moriarty - you once stated that Professor Ratigan was the best depiction of Moriarty. Is it just me, or does Jim's depiction borrow heavily, and I mean HEAVILY, from Ratigan? The gayness, the gleeful evilness, the cartoonish hamminess, even dressing like a king at one point. No wonder he was such an awesome Moriarty: that's playing it right! XD

    1. "So...who was the other one?"

      Walter White played by Bryan Cranston, the dad from "Malcolm In the Middle". I should have mentioned that, but at 4:30 am, I was tired and forgot. I think I'll edit it in.

      "Hey now, the first one, the one that featured Irene, was a fine popcorn movie in spite of her."

      I enjoyed it... the first time. Then I bought the Blu-ray, watched it, wondered what the hell I saw in it, and traded it in for a better movie.

      "And on Jim Moriarty - you once stated that Professor Ratigan was the best depiction of Moriarty. Is it just me, or does Jim's depiction borrow heavily, and I mean HEAVILY, from Ratigan? The gayness, the gleeful evilness, the cartoonish hamminess, even dressing like a king at one point. No wonder he was such an awesome Moriarty: that's playing it right!"

      I would not be surprised, and this is a good thing.

    2. "I enjoyed it... the first time. Then I bought the Blu-ray, watched it, wondered what the hell I saw in it, and traded it in for a better movie."

      It's not a great movie by any means, but I thought it was fun, though that could be my love for RDJ, Jude Law, and Mark Strong. The second one was no fun at all, not even the two stars could make it so, and Moriarty was just awful.

      "I would not be surprised, and this is a good thing."

      Yes indeed!

  3. Good list, Greg. After reading your post on Breaking Bad I expected Heisenberg to show up, but I didn't expect him to be at the very top of it. He'd definitely be in my own top three.
    I'm also glad to see Tywin ranked so high, he's a great character and Charles Dance has done an excellent job portraying him.

    Eric: Agreed, I definitely got some strong Prof. Ratigan vibes from Jim Moriarty.

    1. "After reading your post on Breaking Bad I expected Heisenberg to show up, but I didn't expect him to be at the very top of it."

      I didn't expect it either. I wrestled with it. "I just watched it, I'm too hyped up!" but I thought about it, discussed it with other people and realized that he was the clear choice.

      "I'm also glad to see Tywin ranked so high, he's a great character and Charles Dance has done an excellent job portraying him."


  4. I'm sure this list will change once again when you hopefully start watching Person of Interest. There is pretty much a rouges gallery that have all sorts of motives and morals that you'll enjoy. You'll like characters like Elias (he's similar to the Big Man from Spectacular Spiderman down to respecting the heroes), Root ( A wild Card who hacks machines and people), the leaders of organiztions like HR ( a group of corrupt cops that wish to corrupt the city that they supposedly protect), Northern Lights (tasked with covering up the Machine's existence by any means necessary), and Decima Technologies (a shadowy private intelligence organization based in China which is also trying to control The Machine). The latest villains called Vigilance opposed to the lack of personal privacy caused by government and corporate data mining actions, who recently became radical enough to start killing the people they consider the most egregious offenders.

    Seriously, you should check out the first season. Once you do, it's one smart, fun, awesome, funny show.

  5. with respect, there's nothing wrong with having an open mind. You ignored WITCH at first, but then found that once you watched it you actually enjoyed it. There's nothing wrong with taking a little risk

    1. "with respect,"

      I asked you to let it go, and yet you persist. Don't place "with respect" in your post, because you clearly don't have any.

      The more you do this, the less likely I am to check it out. Stop it.

    2. @Anonymous

      And just where do you get off with telling him to have an open mind?!

      If he's not interested, he's NOT interested. I love P.O.I, but if I never saw the show I'd be a bit leary about someone recommending it to me by stating, it's produced by J.J. Abrams because I CANNOT stand Lost. If he doesn't want to check it out for any reason then those reasons are HIS business, not yours.

      So on behalf of all other P.O.I.; please leave it be.

    3. I'm the guy who posted the "with respect, and I wasn't the same anonymous that first brought up POI)

    4. Thank you for letting me know. That being said, at this point, I am turned-off of "Person of Interest" permanently.

  6. Out of curiosity, which villains did you plan on having on the list before watching "Breaking Bad"?

    1. The list wasn't sitting around before I watched Breaking Bad, it had a few names on it, ideas, but was otherwise incomplete.