Duke Leto Explained: What Happened to Paul’s Dad in ‘Dune’?

Let's talk about that tooth.

Oscar Isaac as Duke Leto
Credit: Warner Bros

Long live Duke Leto! If you don’t know what happens to Paul’s dad in Dune: Part One, then please stop reading this. Go watch the movie, or read the novel, and then come back. If you’ve only seen the movie, you may have some questions as to what’s going on with Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac.) Let’s break it down.

Spoilers ahead for Dune: Part One. You’ve been warned! The spoilers must flow!

Oscar Isaac’s noble Duke Leto Atreides dies in Dune. But how and why? And what was up with that tooth?

Baron Harkonnen planted a spy — Dr. Wellington Yueh (Chang Chen) – amongst the Duke’s entourage. Yueh is the last person the Duke would suspect, a loyal physician and healer who’s part of the Atreides family inner circle. Harkonnen bent Dr. Yueh to his will by kidnapping the doctor’s wife. The film deals with this reveal quickly, in pretty much a single line. Frank Herbert’s book went more in-depth about the doctor’s plight and also teased the possibility that witches were behind the treachery that befalls the Duke. For better or for worse, and to keep the movie at a reasonable length, director Denis Villeneuve does quite a bit of this, driving straight to the specifics of an event or moment rather than providing full context/exposition or deepening the characters emotional arcs, particularly those of the supporting characters. Fans of the book will understand what’s going on and feel for Dr. Yueh (who has an inner monologue on the written page), but newcomers, while accepting his motivation, may not feel his pain as intensely.

Anyway, the Baron’s plan works to perfection. Dr. Yueh does as ordered and makes the Atreides bunker vulnerable to a Harkonnen assault by lowering a pivotal shield. Dr. Yueh then goes a step further, poisoning Leto, but not quite to death. Instead, Baron Harkonnenon torments the incapacitated/paralyzed Duke. Meanwhile, aghast at what he’s done, Yueh helps Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) and Paul (Timothee Chalamet) escape, and he supplies the Duke with a fake tooth that emits a lethal gas into the air, the goal being to kill Harkonnen. The Baron finishes off Yueh and Leto deploys the gas before the Baron can kill him. Everyone in the room dies… except the Baron, who springs out of harm’s way pretty impressively for such a slug of a figure. The assassination attempt only infuriates Harkonnen, who plots the destruction of anyone named Atreides. Of course, that story thread will need to be explored in Dune Part Two… assuming that Dune Part 1 performs well enough at the worldwide box office to warrant a sequel.Dune is playing now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.