Even though he snuck into the show late in its second season and he wouldn’t make it out of the season four finale alive, when you think “Breaking Bad villain,” you think Gustavo ‘Gus’ Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). Like any iconic big bad from the small screen, his charm and charisma may have made him a great character, but Gus was much more than your run-of-the-mill TV bad guy.
Gus Fring stood apart from the drug-saturated world filled with frantic, impulsive decisions by playing the long game. As a reasoned and pragmatic businessman, Gus rarely took risks. Instead, he calmly hid in plain sight and went out of his way to develop a reputation as a respected member of the Albuquerque business community. But behind that polished veneer was a cold, calculating mastermind, a man who spent years building a vast criminal empire just below the surface.
Earlier this month, Gus popped up in a trailer for the third season of Better Call Saul, and while we were shown that warm, welcoming smile of his, it was impossible to not think back to all the horrifying, violent, seemingly erratic acts that he was responsible for. Looking at his time on Breaking Bad, however, you start to see how everything he said, and everything he did was a small cog in a much larger machine. To help tide us over until Better Call Saul returns in April, here’s a look at Gus Fring’s most unexpected moments, and how that all fit into his master plan.
His Cordial Introduction
The first time Gus is introduced, no one even knows his name. All that Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse (Aaron Paul) know is they are to meet him one afternoon at local fast food shop Los Pollos Hermanos. The first time we actually see Gus, he’s faded into the background, clad in a short-sleeve collared shirt and tie and coaching an employee on the importance of wrapping silverware. He even ends up meeting both Walt and Jesse, though it goes unnoticed by both of them, as he was playing his role as an unassuming fast food manager and breezed by their table to ask if everything’s alright.
After hearing they’d blown their chance, Walt — who is just starting to get comfortable pushing his limits in the underworld — returns to Pollos Hermanos determined to find out exactly who was vetting him from afar. Walt spends hours lurking in a corner booth, only to look up and catch a glimpse of Gus’s reflection staring back at him, noticing a brief, but conspicuous change in his expression. At this point, Walt still doesn’t know his name, but he’s willing to go out on a limb by asking for a refill of Diet Coke and five minutes of his time. Then, even sitting face to face with Walt, clad in his bright yellow shirt-and-tie, Gus pleasantly denies who he is. That is, until Walt compares himself to him.
Suddenly, Gus’s tone shifts abruptly from the welcoming demeanor of a service-industry professional to the unfeeling frankness of a businessman rejecting a proposal. His wide-eyed smile is now a blank expression as he explains to Walt why the two are not alike at all. It isn’t until Walt continues to persist about his meth’s unprecedented quality that Gus softens his tone a bit and tentatively agrees to at least consider his proposal.
With these two brief interactions, we see Gus’s chameleon-like ability to blend into his surroundings, and how quickly he can shake off his friendly exterior to reveal a glimpse of the terrifying criminal that he really is. We also see his extreme use of caution, from denying who he was to his skepticism about working with Walt over the fact that his partner, Jesse, uses drugs. Still, Gus is only human, and he gives a slight inclination of his willingness to go back against his instincts only after Walt mentions the 38 pounds of product they have on-hand. While Gus eventually agrees, it’s a mistake that will end up costing him dearly.
His Utter Ruthlessness
What’s remembered as one of his most unpredictable acts turns out to have some pretty solid reasoning behind it. After the death of Gus’s personally groomed lab assistant, Gale (David Costabile) — ordered by Walt but committed by Jesse — Mike keeps watch over the two of them while Victor (Jeremiah Bitsui) starts to cook a batch of crystal meth on his own. By the time Gus enters, his silence is deafening. He changes out of his suit into a lab coat while Walt and Jesse brace for the worst.