Some characters just have a way of manipulating the situation. Sometimes it's in a big way, and other times, it's an intimate chess game between the characters as they pull together the pieces and threads that serve their interest.
While you might not think manipulation is a good thing, it is often essential to a plot of good television. It complicates situations, and when structured correctly can keep audiences interested over a season or seasons.
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Characters who do the manipulating can work on both sides of the good vs. evil divide and can often straddle it completely. Whatever their motivations are, the one thing they have in common is that they can play the long game, and often have fun doing it.
Here are 27 characters we'd consider masters of manipulation.
Madam Satan (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina)
The very best things happen in the shadows. Madam's Satan's goal is to deliver Sabrina to The Dark Lord and she accomplishes her task most expertly by manipulating Sabrina into performing perversions of miracles including an exorcism and restoring her blind friend's sight. While the audience is clued into Madam Satan's mission it's fun to watch the other characters attempt to figure out her deal.
Jane Chatwin (The Magicians)
Who's the woman who rebooted a timeline forty times to attempt to take down her brother? Jane Chatwin, of course. Yes, you read that right, this woman lived forty different lives, changing something about the universe each time to defeat "The Beast." That's dedication right there.
If you're a browncoat then this woman needs no introduction. She managed to fool Malcolm Reynold's not once, but twice! While the crew of Serenity turned the tables on her the second time, we can only imagine what else she's done in the past.
Carolyn Martens (Killing Eve)
Carolyn Martens is an enigma to Eve Polastri, but at the end of Killing Eve Season 2 Episode 8, "You're Mine," we got a glimpse at just how manipulative she can be when she set Villanelle up to kill Aaron Peel. While we don't always see all of Carolyn's cards, she has a long history in intelligence, so we can't imagine that was her first rodeo.
A (Pretty Little Liars)
"A" tormented The Liars for six seasons on Pretty Little Liars and was pretty good at getting to them wherever they went. The cyber-bully also put together a team of close friends and acquaintances that slowly bent and manipulated the liars into revealing secrets.
Number Six (Battlestar Galactica)
Gaius Baltar had either an angel or a devil on his shoulder depending on your perspective. The version of Number Six that appeared only to him had a way of using just the right words to manipulate him into serving the Cylon agenda.
V (Orange is the New Black)
Orange is the New Black Season 2 introduced us to a new character who had a beef with Red. Through some flashbacks and a current scheme to start selling cigarettes and drugs in the prison, we got to see exactly how far V would go in the name of self-preservation. Which included taking advantage of Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren's loyalty.
Oh, Jacob. What a manipulative enigma. Jacob is probably about as close to god as you can get on Lost. Jacob is revealed as the one who caused Oceanic Flight 815 to crash onto the island, and he has considerable influence over many of the main characters of the series.
Patty Hewes (Damages)
You'd think Patty Hewes would have a strong moral center as a lawyer, right? Wrong. This woman is skilled at playing the long game and making sure she wins, at any cost. She's so personable too, which probably makes it that much worse.
Scorpious is pretty good at getting what he wants. What wants is John Crichton's knowledge of wormholes, and every time he encounters the wayward traveler from Earth, he manipulates the situation so that he can almost get what he's searching for. Fortunately for Crichton, he never seems to get the information.
Rumplestiltskin (Once Upon a Time)
Rumplestiltskin may as well have a Ph.D. in dealmaking. He constantly responds to people in distress and asks for what seems to be innocuous favors in return. But, things are rarely as they appear and Rumple's prices are typically part of a much bigger plot.
Michael (The Good Place)
This demon invented a version of hell that looked like heaven to torture humans. Humans that he selected to be together because he knew that they would get on each other's nerves. That probably says it all, but then let's add on the fact that he sent them back to Earth to try to prove that people are good and can change, but then kept interfering to get his desired outcome. That's a master manipulator if I've ever seen one.
Emily Thorne (Revenge)
Emily Thorne an expert at laying out long elaborate plans to take down the Grayson empire. It doesn't always go according to plan, but Emily was persistent in the name of revenge.
The Master/The Mistress (Doctor Who)
Whether or not The Master's plan works, you can't say they don't play the long game. The Doctor's lifelong friend has a pension for evil plans. As Harold Saxon on Doctor Who Season 3, he slowly laid the groundwork to become Prime Minister of Great Britain and unleash a paradox. Then later, as Missy, The Master devised a plan to turn every dead body on earth into an army for The Doctor through an association called 3W. Shortly after that reveal, Missy also came forward as the person who gave Clara the helpline that led her to the Doctor.
Gregory House (House)
Gregory House is one of those people who knows how to work the system. He isn't afraid to bend and manipulate the rules to get the best outcome for his patients, and sometimes that means lying. So I guess you can say that Dr. House's number one rule, "Everybody lies," applies to him as well.
The Trickster (Sarah Jane Chronicles)
The Trickster is an inter-dimensional alien that frequently manifests on Earth making bargains and altering history while attempting to draw power from the chaos that's created. His ability to manipulate people is further enhanced by his power to sway people with a few choice words and very seductive offers.
Walter White (Breaking Bad)
As Breaking Bad went on, the Chemistry teacher who likes to cook blue meth got pretty manipulative. Walter White developed a way with words including bogus, insincere, confessions designed to manipulate everyone around him. Also, let's not forget the time he lied about poisoned a child with ricin.
Anne Montgomery (What/If)
Both manipulative and secretive, Anne Montgomery is a force to be reckoned with. Not only will she have you guessing about what's planning, but she's also willing to manipulate you into breaching contracts if the ends suit her purpose.
Madeline Burke (Blindspot)
Blindspot Season 4 gave viewers a new villain, Madeline Burke. Making her entrance by poisoning the entire board of HCI Global, she proceeded to pull at strings until it was revealed that she'd been slowly setting up Team Weller to take the fall for a terrorist attack. Considering her arc didn't come to a close in Season 4, we are definitely wondering what she'll be planning in Season 5.
Stahma Tarr (Defiance)
Stahma might look like a weak Castithan woman, but she's always plotting and planning. She's not afraid to use social graces to get in good with a target, but she'll also betray them at the drop of a hat. (R.I.P. Kenya Rosewater.)
Cigarette Smoking Man (The X-Files)
The X-Files would have had a much shorter run if not for C.G.B. Spender. Also known as Cigarette Smoking Man, he is as dark as they come on The X-Files. The "chain-smoking son-of-a-bitch" has been a part of numerous conspiracy theories throughout his life. All the while, he continuously conceals The Truth from Mulder and Scully.
The Director (Travelers)
The Director's job is to figure out how to change the future. He pulls information from social media and records, figures out who's going to die, and then deploys travelers based on the knowledge he has. And when it doesn't go well, it recalculates and continues to send travelers over and over again. Now, that sounds like manipulation.
Of course, any god-like character is likely to be a master manipulator in our books. He manipulates Sam, Dean, and Castiel's lives, and even serves them a suave explanation when they confront him about it. This shouldn't be surprising, he is god after all.
Black Jack (Outlander)
Sometimes the worst manipulators are the ones that make you think they've changed but haven't. Such is the case with Black Jack Randall on Outlander, who is good at getting people to do things by pretending he's a decent human being.
Cassie Nightingale (Good Witch)
Sometimes a character can manipulate things for good. Cassie Nightingale on The Good Witch is always trying to help people find their happy endings. We can get behind that use of magical powers any day.
Littlefinger (Game of Thrones)
Littlefinger spent years manipulating everyone on Game of Thrones and eventually got sliced and diced as a result. How did Littlefinger do it? Through trust. He manipulated the pawns that he needed while expending the ones he didn't when they no longer served him. That's cold.
It's always fun when future selves are involved in the manipulation, because when you think about they are essentially manipulating themselves out of existence. Dark Season 2 introduced a character named Adam who is the future self of Jonas and therefore also the future self of The Stranger. Adam is the top dog in his manipulation pyramid because he is behind the acts being committed by Noah who is influencing the actions of the people of Winden.