As Breaking Bad matures, the villain, Gustavo Fring, becomes almost the lead character. Seasons two and four were about the vortex of chaos Walter White creates around his goals, but seasons three and four are more about his new employer, Gus, chicken, laundry and crystal meth dealer extraordinaire.
Spoilers ahead. I recommend watching the series, if you have a week you don’t mind losing.
From the moment he enters the scene as the manager of a chicken shop, it’s clear that Gus has a prenatural poise. At that point the identity of this big drug supplier is unidentified and you, and the characters, expect that Los Pollos Hermanos is a neutral meeting ground. The character of Gus at that point just hovers, doing menial tasks, but with a deep dignity, even if it’s wiping down tables.
Later it emerges that he’s a drug dealer, yadda yadda, surrounded by the usual silent and violent types, but Gus is different. He looks short, dorky and even weak and always has a bit of a smile. It’s not a happy smile though, it’s a meditative one. Because, it seems, the actor – Giancarlos Esposito – does yoga and meditation:
I think acting is physical and I think it has a lot to do with my success in the character of Gus. I did some very deep yoga breathing to get me relaxed, so I wouldn’t do anything more than I needed, so I would be economical with all my movements and allow my eyes to speak more. (AOL TV)
It’s definitely a different type of villian. Most villians are flashy, lecherous, out there. Their violence and crime are not compartmentalized, it is their life. Gus, however, looks every inch the respectable businessman, pushing his chair back in place, doing customer service, saying that he doesn’t approve of negative reinforcement, even for drug dealers. He even drives a station wagon. And wears clip on ties.
This silence and reason, however, belies a much longer game plan. Like in yoga or meditation, Gus is not detaching from the world but focusing more intently on it. When he does act, it is swift, decisive and terrifying. Gus is a killer and he surrounds himself with killers and he knows exactly how and what they do. What makes Gus different, however, is that while other baddies bluster or rest on strength, you can visibly see and hear him breathe. That’s his source of strength, and that’s why he plays such a long, smart game. He doesn’t react, he just listens, breathes and waits.
Near the end, however, I actually found myself liking Gus more than Walter. At the core Gus seems like a polite and well mannered guy who also runs a drug empire. Walter, however – the former chemistry teacher turned crystal meth wunderkind – is actually an asshole. He supports his family, but makes them suffer immeasurably in the process, essentially for his own pride. He’s willing to kill innocents – even women and children – to further his own ends. On the broader scale, he’s less of a terror than Gus (who is much more efficient), but on a personal level, he’s much more volatile and noxious.
One reaction provoked by Gus
Walt’s brilliance is constantly undermined by his emotions, something you think Gus is immune to, but he’s not. In the last scene, he provokes this face from an opponent and also shows his first hints of personal rage. And he also loses control. This Rosebud theme has been recurring since Citizen Kane, or Achilles I suppose. That every character, however strong, has some weakness, usually emotional, that grinds them to the same level as everyone else. That is, human.
This last scene is striking because it’s essentially breathing, Gus’s deep breaths compared to Hector (the old man) ‘s labored, gasping, angry ragged inhales. And yet, this is where the artifice falls apart, and both are drawn together by anger, vengeance, and hatred, taking them both ultimately down. In the end, Gus went out like a Yogi, walking out the door and straightening his tie. He walked in, however, as a hurt and angry man.