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Power Poll: Ranking the villains of Breaking Bad

We’re closing in on the final episode of Breaking Bad this Sunday and so now’s a good time to look back even as we still make our best guesses while looking ahead. The show is full of villains as well as characters who walk a fine line as to whether or not they’re a “hero.” Many times, they’re one and the same. That moral ambiguity is one of the great draws of the show, as viewers find themselves rooting for people who aren’t exactly on the right side of the law (Saul alone could be his own thesis paper). It’s also a show that’s turned its main character into one of television’s greatest monsters. The complex moral and ethical nature of Breaking Bad’s characters are just one thread in such a rich tapestry of creativity.

[Oh, and at this point, consider this one big SPOILER ALERT though if you’re reading a story about a five-year-old series two days before its finale and you’re still mad to have things spoiled for you, I don’t know what else to tell you.]

But rather than get tangled in those threads, I’m just going to make it simple: the show’s top 10 villains – regardless of whether their a fan-favorite or roundly hated. Who are the baddest 10 characters on the show? So there’s no Gale; he may have been a meth cooker but he was such a gentle soul. And there’s no Jesse; he’s such a wonderful, dark, complicated character, but he’s become more victim than villain. But Mike’s a bad guy doing bad things to people, no matter if he is beloved for his grousing and smarts. These are simply the top 10 evil-doers to grace one of the best – and cruelest – television shows.

But enough. Let’s break this down.

10. Krazy-8

The earliest villain for Walt & Jesse, Krazy-8 and his cousin Emilio are the first in a long line of bodies that now trail our meth-brewing duo. The brutal agonizing Walter underwent, combined with the humanity injected into Krazy-8 during his captivity, make him probably the weakest of the villains. Not that trying to kill Walt with a broken plate isn’t bad, but the initial danger he poses to either Walt or Jesse is minimal, especially compared to the villains to come. But you have to start somewhere.

9. Lydia

Lydia is the supplier of the Czech meth world and had the scuzzy, half-assed meth cooker killed, but it was Jack’s gang that did the shooting. Lydia herself doesn’t like getting her own hands dirty, relying on others to do it. This may make her seem like a danger, but she is hardly the one who knocks. Enjoy your ricin-filled tea, Lydia (my theory), it should calm your nerves.

8. The Cousins

Okay, sure, the cousins looked the part with those suits and their silence. Intimidation matters. But they were also really bad at killing their target (eventually Hank) and ended up dying in the process. Sure, Hank was banged up – physically and emotionally – for a while, but the Cousins are barely an afterthought now, a bump in the road (literally) for Hank and never even an issue for Walt. Well, except for that one shower, but it all worked out. Looks aren’t everything and you only get so far in killing old women.

7. Tuco & Hector

Tuco was dangerous simply because he was so unstable; you never knew when he was going to spout off or shoot someone. And, yet, it’s sort of amazing he kept his cartel going as long as he did which counts for something. Still, he was the next conquest for Heisenberg and it’s really hard to be a powerful leader when you’re so drugged up you can’t think straight. His uncle Hector, though reduced to a shell of a man, is still the one responsible for killing Gus. Sure, Walt sold him on the idea, but Hector literally gave his life for revenge. THAT’s pretty evil.

6. The meth

No meth, no show. Duh. Also, meth is a bad drug that makes people do bad things. Including most of the people on this show.

5. The Nazis

If there’s one thing that keeps Uncle Jack and his Neo-Nazi crew from being higher on the list, it’s that they haven’t been on the show that long. Also, they’re pretty undefined as characters except for Uncle Jack. Still, they killed Gomie and Hank, chained up Jesse, killed Andrea to punish Jesse, and are just, in general, Very Bad People (they’re Neo-Nazis, after all).

4. Todd

Todd has proven himself to be a monster all his own. The cold way in which he dispatched with young Drew Sharp was only the tip of the iceberg. What makes Todd so terrifying is his cold, calculating poise, the way he seems rooted in reality – unlike, say, Tuco – when he offs the people who are in his way. There’s thought behind his actions but very little remorse (though it’s impossible to say if Andrea took that bullet to the head personally). His obsession with Lydia, though not as ice-cool as his murderous tendencies, also manages to come off as creepy, an infatuation that goes beyond the typical schoolboy crush. The way he simply picks a thread off of Lydia’s back is chilling enough.

3. Mike

Mike is probably the smartest villain to ever have graced Breaking Bad – as good as Gus is, he trusts Mike with a lot for a reason – and yet even he has his own flaws (See: his inability to get money to his grand-daughter). A hard-ass with little tolerance for insolence or ignorance, Mike tries all he can to convince Walt the “right” way to conduct his business. And still his story comes to an end at the hands of Walt, a man who doesn’t possess the knowledge or control he does but a man who brings Mike’s own life to a halt just the same. Like everyone else, Mike is powerless to reverse the slide into failure once they’ve been caught in Walt’s web, no matter how much control they think they have.

2. Gus

Cold. Ruthless. A man who’s also not afraid to slice a man’s throat open with a box-cutter just to prove he can. A man willing to poison himself just to poison everyone else. But also a man who is able to hide it behind a quiet, menacing smile, a man who slings chicken tenders all day and gives back to the community. Gus is one of the all-time great villains and his ongoing battle with Walt brings us some of the high points of the series (at least until this final half-season because wow). Gus has a control that Walter lacks, the control to hide in plain sight, right in front of the DEA and the world while also being a kingpin. But it’s that ruthlessness that makes him such a fantastic villain.

1. Walt

The greatest television villain who ever lived. What’s so great about the anticipation around the final episode is to see if there’s any salvation left for Walt, to see if there’s still a sliver of humanity left. This week, AMC has been running the entire series and those early episodes still show a Walt very much in touch with reality, before he became addicted to power.

But that greed and power has engulfed him and when he doesn’t know what to do – when he sheds Heisenberg and returns instead to Walt mode – he becomes just as much a wildcard as Tuco. Walt’s manipulation and lying (see: attempt to kill a child) make him so much more terrifying than Todd. To Todd, it’s just business but to Walt, it’s all about a self-rationalized grab for power, to keep from losing control. And his actions have only led to death and horror: families shattered, a trail of bodies, and a life around him burned down the way his lung cancer never could.

Even if there is a small glowing ember of protagonist to Walt left, something that may help him earn at least a little redemption in the end, it still won’t be enough as the line of ghosts waiting to welcome him to the after life will show.