Breaking Bad’s Gus Fring Succeeds Ben Linus as TV’s Greatest Villain

“Lost” inspired tons of questions in six seasons, but one thing that was never in question was Ben Linus’s place as TV’s greatest villain. Once Michael Emerson turned Ben from a guest character into the show’s central figure– at least until the final season– he set a standard for TV villainy that would be hard pressed to match for some time. But it has only taken a season or two for “Breaking Bad”‘s Gustavo Fring to take that mantle in Ben’s absence, and in almost the exact same fashion.

Warning: Spoilers follow

Both “Lost” and “Breaking Bad” already had most of the pieces in place to become big by the middle of their second seasons. Yet “Lost” was going through its first growing pains by the midpoint of its Season 2, and “Breaking Bad” was still trying to emerge from the shadows of “Mad Men” by its second midseason. They both needed a more central antagonist to heat things up– although when those figures were actually introduced, it took quite a while to realize what they would become.

Ben Linus came out of nowhere to dominate “Lost” after his debut, while the rise of Gus Fring on “Breaking Bad” was likely planned out more in advance. Yet both figures rose from guest star parts in Season 2 to become perhaps the central focus of their shows, even moreso than the main characters.

For Gus, this is even more impressive considering that he goes up against three-time Emmy winning main character Walter White. Yet after his central revelatory role in the “Hermanos” episode, it became even more apparent that he at least shares the epicenter of “Breaking Bad” with Walt and Jesse.

Like Ben Linus, Gus has the appearance of a cold, dead eyed, emotionless puppet master. Both characters are always three steps ahead of everyone and can juggle multiple schemes all at once. Both tend to let others do their dirty work and not get their hands dirty themselves– which makes it all the more shocking when they do, like when Ben killed his father and the entire DHARMA Initiative and Gus started “Breaking Bad” Season 4 off with a box cutter murder.

Not only were the two villains introduced at the same time during their shows, they also started revealing more of themselves at the same time. Ben’s most heartbreaking moment came in the middle of “Lost” Season 4 when his daughter was murdered and his war with fellow mastermind Charles Widmore reached the breaking point. And now in the middle of “Breaking Bad” Season 4, Gus’s battles with the Mexican drug cartel and his past losses have just been revealed as well.

Nothing works more to make a seemingly irredeemable villain more sympathetic than killing the only people that have gotten close to them– or by having enemies even more loathsome than they are. For Ben, Widmore and the smoke monster helped turn him from a psychopath into a tragic figure that ultimately renounced power. But although Gus now clearly has more sympathy and more evil enemies–including Walter– that isn’t as likely to save him in the world of “Breaking Bad.”

When Ben became so powerful on “Lost” no one wanted to see him die in spite of all the horrors and destruction he wrought onto the island. Although he was a bug eyed mad man, fans still loved him and Emerson enough that they wanted to see more, and even learned to accept it when he wasn’t the main villain anymore. Likewise, although Gus may meet his end by the finale of “Breaking Bad” Season 4, almost no one wants to see him or Giancarlo Esposito leave the show any sooner than he has to.

“Breaking Bad” is the farthest thing possible from “Lost” even though it has also set an end date well in advance. But for all the power “Lost” had, it got taken to another level when Ben Linus became TV’s greatest bad guy almost out of nowhere. And now that “Breaking Bad” has Ben’s successor in Gus Fring, it is also reaping even more benefits than it already had, thanks to another icy but complex mastermind that no one saw coming.

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