A drama series is driven by that of its characters, specifically the show’s protagonist. Harmony for both a character and show can be provided through the presence of a deuteragonist, as seen with Michael “Mike” Ehrmantraut on Better Call Saul. The role of a deuteragonist may seem secondary to the show’s lead, but it couldn’t be further from the truth.
A deuteragonist is a character with a story holding just as much or even more depth than the protagonist. Not all deuteragonists can evolve into either the main protagonist or the final villain, but their start as the second most important character is not to be forgotten.
10 Omar Little — The Wire
HBO’s police procedural drama The Wire has been hailed as one of the greatest shows of all time. Dividing the law’s right and wrong sides, this balance was achieved with fascinating characters. One character that stands out is Omar Little, the criminal kingpin wonderfully played by the late Michael K. Williams.
Similar to Good Behavior’s Javier, Omar is proof of how those involved in criminal organizations can be humanized. He is a hustler by trade, but his flaws provide a realness to his persona that makes him likable to audiences. Omar may be gone, but his character’s legacy lives on.
9 Ellen Parsons — Damages
Strong female leads are a production’s driving force, and one of the strongest was Damages’ Patty Hewes (Glenn Close). However, there cannot be a leader without a second lead, which came in the form of Ellen Parsons, superbly played by Rose Byrne.
Working alongside Patty provided Ellen a first-hand look at the law game’s crookedness and the dark secrets behind those deemed well respected. Ellen comes into her own, from bright-eyed ingenue to powerhouse attorney. While she may have left her old life behind in the series finale, Ellen will never forget how it led to her new beginning.
8 Javier Pereira — Good Behavior
TNT’s Good Behavior was a show that shone a light on the beauty in its darkness. This wasn’t just seen with leading lady Letty Raines (Michelle Dockery), but also with Letty’s deuteragonist boyfriend Javier Pereira, seeing a chilling performance by Juan Diego Botto.
Javier is a genuinely nice guy… who just so happens to be a hitman. Plagued by family tragedy, he buries his troubles in his toughness. His patience and Letty’s chaos make their relationship an imperfectly perfect yin and yang. Good Behavior had a satisfying series finale, which showed Letty and Javier together again.
7 Love Quinn — YOU
Viewers of Netflix’s erotic psychological thriller series You thought that antihero protagonist Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) found his match with quirky pastry chef Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti). Alas, Love would match Joe to the deepest of depths, giving his psychosis a run for his money.
Love would expand her deuteragonist title into a final antagonist, but she’s not entirely villainous. She exudes beauty through her flaws stemming from her haunting demons, seeing Pedretti deliver one of 2021’s best performances. With the current season’s potential cliffhanger, for Joe Goldberg, there might not be life after Love.
6 Quinn King — UnREAL
Hulu’s UnREAL provides a scripted look behind the scenes of reality television. At the forefront of a Bachelor-esque show is tenacious producer Quinn King, flawlessly portrayed by Constance Zimmer. Unrelenting in her pursuit, Quinn sinks her claws into the television soil to climb the ranks of a male-dominated world. However, underneath her boss-babe exterior is a jaded woman.
Quinn’s friendship with fellow producer Rachel Goldberg (Shiri Appleby) was the show’s backbone, riding a fine line between toxic and maternal. She continued to protect Rachel by the show’s ending, proving that Quinn had become a better person.
5 Boyd Crowder — Justified
A deuteragonist is not confined to being either heroic or villainous. While providing some of Justified’s most intense moments, Boyd Crowder is an antihero at heart. The character’s complexities were brilliantly brought to life by Walton Goggins.
Boyd’s family lineage is bad to the bone, deep-rooted in corruption and racism. He attempts to rise above his past to lead an altruistic life, but the criminal underworld’s temptation lured him away each time. In the end, Boyd is exactly where he belongs, but he managed to help frenemy and main protagonist Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) secure his happy ending.
4 Blair Waldorf —Gossip Girl
In the world of Gossip Girl, riches and superficiality reign supreme, but there is one queen bee at the center of the luxurious hive. Blair Waldorf is a character wrapped in Teflon and Louis Vuitton, with Leighton Meester’s nuanced performance providing a refreshing depth. One of Gossip Girl’s best characters, Blair eclipsed protagonist Serena van der Woodsen (Blake Lively) countless times.
Blair’s strengths match her fierce drive, ranking alongside the greats of Cersei Lannister as one of television’s best female antiheroes. Viewers witnessed incredible growth with the show’s progression, demonstrating how Blair is more than her snobby facade.
3 Cho Sang-woo — Squid Game
The 2021 Korean smash hit Squid Game saw many intriguing characters, but perhaps one of the most compelling was Cho Sang-woo. Easily one of Squid Game‘s best players, Sang-woo’s cold demeanor was a necessary divergence to childhood best friend and charming protagonist Seong Gi-hun (Lee Jung-Jae), perfected by Park Hae-zoo’s spellbinding performance.
Although in deep denial, Sang-woo was single-handedly at the helm of his demise. Similar to Love Quinn, Sang-woo evolved into the final antagonist of his story. His drive would bring about his darkness, but before his character arc ended, a minutia of light emerged.
2 Virginia Loc — Claws
TNT’s crime drama Claws is a vibrant combination of Dixie Mafia chic and Floridian fun. Amongst a wacky class of characters lies Virginia Loc, the sassy manicurist endearingly portrayed by Karruche Tran. She is a fitting deuteragonist to the show’s protagonist Desna Simms (Niecy Nash-Betts), with their relationship progressing from rivalry to friendship throughout four seasons.
Under Desna’s guidance, Virginia becomes more transparent and selfless. Her troubled past propelled her into a better present. Along the way, Virginia can prove herself as a viable member of Desna’s crew, granting her the family she always craved.
1 Jesse Pinkman — Breaking Bad
Originally meant to last for the first season, Aaron Paul’s stellar performance breathed life into Jesse Pinkman, the deuteragonist to Bryan Cranston’s Walter White on Breaking Bad. Jesse started as a source of levity, his sarcasm a thin shield to mask his many frustrations. In the course of five seasons, Jesse grew into a man of compassion and courage.
Jesse’s metamorphosis was the perfect contrast to Walt’s decline, both rising and falling in concurrence with one another. Amid many tragedies and failures, he was able to achieve clarity for his future.