10 TV Villains Who Haunt Our Nightmares

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NBC’s Revolution premieres tonight, and judging by the pilot, the nicest thing we can say about J.J. Abrams’ latest effort to recapture his Lost success is — hey, look, Giancarlo Esposito’s in it! And so far, the role he’s playing isn’t much different from that of Gus Fring, Breaking Bad’s cruelest yet most soft-spoken antagonist. Whatever you think of Revolution, Esposito is unparalleled in his portrayal of dark characters, the slow-simmering evil he captures lingering with us long after we turn off the television and go to sleep. So, in his honor, we’ve compiled a list of the scariest and creepiest villains on TV. Find out whose mind games, occult origins, and outright insanity haunts our nightmares below.

Gustavo Fring, Breaking Bad

Walter White may be “the one who knocks,” and he’s also the one who hatched the scheme that finally toppled the Gus Fring empire, but he still can’t beat his former employer for sheer scariness. We’ve slowly discovered Walt’s motivations. By now, demented hubris drips from his every pore. Gus was creepier because we never got into his head, never found out exactly which event in his past had made him the cold, calculating, deadly meth kingpin and serene preparer of gourmet dinners who was introduced as “a cautious man” back in Season 2.

BOB, Twin Peaks

The only thing scarier than a villain whose motivations we can’t begin to discern is a villain we can’t even see. No one would have pegged Leland Palmer as the kind of monster who would rape and murder his own daughter, but BOB — the demonic psychokiller from an alternate realm who possesses him — certainly has no qualms about using his body for those purposes. Even more disturbing, BOB doesn’t die when Leland commits suicide, taking up residence in one of those troublesome local owls and causing a whole heap of increasingly surreal mayhem in Twin Peaks’ second season.

Wilhelmina Slater, Ugly Betty

She isn’t a supernatural being or the head of a massive drug operation, but Wilhelmina Slater may just be the most demented mean girl on TV. In an attempt to claw her way over Daniel Meade to the top of MODE magazine’s masthead, she destroys relationships, frames rivals for crimes, plots to have her sister committed to mental institutions, and even inseminates herself with a dead man’s sperm in an attempt to give birth to a rightful heir to the company where she works. Wilhelmina is the kind of villain who gets into your head, going to such great lengths to sabotage you that it often seems impossible to stop her — or even anticipate her next move.

Benjamin Linus, Lost

Michael Emerson’s sneaky, amoral Ben Linus is trouble from the moment we meet him, caught in a trap set by Rousseau and kept as a captive by the Oceanic Flight 815 survivors who don’t know what to make of him. A master of deception, Ben manipulates Michael into setting him free and Jack into removing his spinal tumor. He convinces Locke to reveal what he knows about the island, then kills him and makes it look like a suicide. He isn’t entirely evil, we eventually learn, but he functions as a villain for much of the series — and even the show’s purer manifestations of evil can’t compete with our terror of his perfect poker face and deadly intelligence.

Constance Langdon, American Horror Story

There were far more villains than heroes on the first season of FX’s mind-bending horror series, so why does Constance win out over the ghostly perpetrator of a mass school shooting and a murderous psychopath with a face annihilated by burn scars? All credit is due to Jessica Lange, who transforms a Tennessee Williams-style fading Southern belle into a chilly, narcissistic failed actress who keeps killing off lovers and family members. Taking the “mother from hell” archetype to new depths of depravity, Constance is known to have kept her own developmentally disabled child chained up in the attic (before having him bumped off) and finishes off the series raising her baby grandson, the spawn of Satan.

The Mayor, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Imagine Rick Santorum, if he were plotting to transform himself into a demon through a series of occult rituals (hey, we wouldn’t rule it out), and you’ll have a good idea of what Richard Wilkins III is like. Buffy the Vampire Slayer famously faced one “big bad” every season. There was a hell-dimension goddess, an ancient super-powerful vampire known only as The Master, and even The First, a being that contains all the evil in the universe. But, precisely because of his family values lip service and Ned Flanders-like aversion to profanity — and his use of that squeaky-clean, father figure image to lure Buffy’s fellow slayer, Faith, to his side — The Mayor creeped us out the most. Also? We’re not so into giant snakes.

Mona Vanderwaal, Pretty Little Liars

The genius of Pretty Little Liars (yes, we are using the term “genius” to describe a teen TV drama) is that its murder mystery just keeps expanding. Instead of a single killer, over the course of three seasons we’ve discovered a conspiracy whose web grows more tangled with each new revelation. But the first guilty party to reveal herself as “A” — the network that’s torturing the four main characters and presumably killed their best friend, Alison — was Mona Vanderwaal, new BFF of the group’s own Hanna Marin. It turns out that Mona’s childhood of social exclusion took quite a toll on her, and even a quick rise to popularity didn’t end her vendetta against Alison and her clique. Once she’s caught in the act of attempted murder and the extent of her obsession is revealed, this villain ends up in a mental hospital with a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. Is she crazy for real or crazy like a fox? It’s not clear yet, but either way, if we saw this false friend coming at us in a black hoodie, we’d know to run the other way.

Alby Grant, Big Love

There are few scarier clans on TV than the fundamentalist Mormon Grants, who run the United Effort Brotherhood and rule over its Juniper Creek compound. Even more fearsome than his pitch-black Prophet Roman and his steely sixth wife, Adaleen, is their son, Albert. Cold and socially awkward, he’s maniacally bent on succeeding his father as UEB leader — but he’s also his own worst enemy, occasionally acting out on his closeted homosexuality in the most dangerous and self-destructive ways.

Cersei Lannister, Game of Thrones

Think you have the mother-in-law from hell? Try having the mother-in-law from hell who also schemes to get your betrothed crowned king after his dad is murdered, resulting in your dad’s execution, and also happens to be sleeping with her twin brother. Ugh.

Ben Chang, Community

Once just an odd and occasionally cruel Spanish teacher (who turns out to be woefully unqualified to teach anything), Chang devolved over the course of three seasons into the Greendale study group’s main adversary. Hurt by their rejection and homeless after Jeff Winger evicts him, he moves into the community college’s network of heating ducts — and that’s when this already erratic character really starts to go off the rails. Eventually, Chang seizes control of Greendale with the help of the “Changlourious Basterds,” a private army of children and (quite literally) transforms himself into the school’s own Napoleon.