Okay, let’s talk about villains. Villains are important. We need villains, if we’re being honest about it, because we love having heroes. You can’t have a hero without an equal and opposing force for him to battle. Something that forces the hero to behave heroically. It can take a million forms. Sometimes the villain is a cartoon chaos agent who just wants to upend things in the name of anarchy, like the Joker. Sometimes the villain is, like, the various systems and forces and structures we’ve enacted as a society that hold some of us down. And sometimes, if we’re lucky, as we have been recently, the villain is some extremely charismatic and menacing dude played by Tony Dalton.
You know Tony Dalton, probably. Hopefully. He popped up in the most recent seasons of Better Call Saul, the wonderful Breaking Bad prequel, as Lalo Salamanca. Lalo is a member of the cartel that later brings us Tuco and Hector, and he’s currently at war with Gus Fring and Nacho, and, again, I kind of hope you know all of that because Better Call Saul is so good and you deserve to enjoy good things. Either way, the facts aren’t super important. What’s important can be identified in a short three-item list:
- Lalo is always well-dressed and usually smiling, presenting himself as mostly harmless while a twinkle in his eye tells you he might slit your throat with a box cutter for an offense as trivial as “the delivery guy forget to include utensils, which wasn’t even your fault, but that guy left already and you’re the closest person, so here we are”
- Lalo rules
- I love him very much
Evidence will help. Here is Lalo Salamanca descending from the ceiling with a gun in his hand, displaying surprising athleticism and just generally being cool and/or awesome.
And here is Lalo Salamanca showing up to a meeting and rolling down the window of his car. It is one of my favorite things ever. Look at his face. Keep looking at his face. Watch this GIF loop through a dozen times and watch his expression change zero percent and then remember this man is the biggest threat to any of the characters on the show. He’s a blast.
The only downside here is that Better Call Saul takes place before Breaking Bad and, in Season 4 of that show, Gus Fring says that all the Salamancas are dead, which means Lalo is not long for this world, probably, when the show returns next year. I will be honestly, truly sad when this happens. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Let’s not.
In fact, let’s just shift to good news instead: Tony Dalton just started popping up in the new Disney+ Marvel series Hawkeye. He plays a rich dude named Jack who is obsessed with swords. He’s the creepy stepdad of Kate Bishop, who is played by Hailee Steinfeld. He has a really terrific mustache. At one point in the first episode, he swaggers into some secretive black market auction with a tuxedo on and says, “I’m going to buy that sword,” which is now way, way high up on the things I want to do just once before I die.
And it’s all so great. He oozes charming evil out of every pore on his skin. He hasn’t even done anything “bad” yet, really. He’s mostly just stood/sat there with a deeply unsettling smile on his face and displayed an as-yet-unexplained mastery of swordplay. A little Googling tells me his character is or will become a notable Marvel villain named Swordsman who, in the comics, starts doing crimes to cover gambling debts, which is pretty funny and relatable as far as supervillain origin stories go. But you don’t need to know that to know this guy is a villain. All you have to do is look at him.
Again, examples will help. This is more or less how the show introduced him to the audience.
To be clear, what we have here:
- Smile that screams ulterior motives
- Mustache waxed to needle-sharp little points
He could not possibly look more evil unless he was tying a woman to railroad tracks with his free hand. I gasped when I saw him. Part of this was because I recognized him as Lalo and I get excited about things, but a bigger part was because I suddenly realized Hawkeye had become a show I was very interested in. I’m a sucker like that. There should be a character like this in every show. Preferably played by Tony Dalton. For me. Thank you.
But yes, fine, the rose is a bit of a cheat. Anyone can look like a villain in that pose. What about other situations? What about, say.., sitting down and smiling at his also possibly evil father-in-law at the black market auction, shortly before the aforementioned father-in-law dies of — SPOILERS, BUT YOU GUESSED IT ANYWAY — a mysterious sword wound?
Yes, this will do. This is primo villain material here.
What if we lose the tux and put him in… oh, I don’t know… a stylish turtleneck?
Mother of God. Look at him. He gives off more Bond villain energy in this single still image than any Bond villain has given off in an actual movie in decades. Now I’m mad he hasn’t been a Bond villain already. Let’s hurry up and cast a new Bond and then let’s get Tony Dalton in there with a plan to blow up the Sphinx. I’ll settle for a Paddington villain. Who also wants to blow up the Sphinx. I’m willing to be flexible here but only so much.
And that’s all before we get to the best image of all…
I need to be clear about what’s happening here: The man is sitting on a couch, looking deliciously villainous, while eating a Werther’s original. Do you understand the degree of difficulty here? All due respect to the Werther’s corporation and their fine array of candies, but they might be the least cool/intimidating foodstuffs on the planet. And yet. And yet! There’s Tony Dalton unwrapping one and popping it into his mouth, just below his pointy mustache, looking like he’s about to press a button that causes the floor to open up and reveal a bubbling lava pit that he will dangle a terrified subordinate over for failing him in some trivial task. Maybe it’s the delivery guy from earlier. I know I was technically talking about Lalo in that example and this is a different character, but come on. Work with me. Look at him. It’s… it’s perfect.
All of which brings us to the point here, one I’ve been toying with for a few days but now feel confident enough about to share in public: Tony Dalton, between his roles in Better Call Saul and now Hawkeye, is the best villain working in television today. It’s not particularly close, either. Part of me wants him to slide into every show as a new antagonist, just to test out this theory a bit. Put him on Succession as a fellow media titan and let him do battle with the Roys. Put him on The Righteous Gemstones as a Spanish-language televangelist and let him encroach on the family’s Southern turf. Put him on The Mandalorian as a scoundrel space pirate and let him dismissively tussle where the hair would be on Baby Yoda’s head if Baby Yoda had hair. I need it. Especially now that I’ve typed it out and read it out loud a few times. There’s no going back now. I went and committed us both.
In short: Villains are good. Tony Dalton is good at playing villains. This isn’t hard. The ball is already rolling here. There is momentum. Let’s just make sure it never stops. For me. For us. For society. But mostly for me.