Gustavo “Gus” Fring is undoubtedly one of the greatest TV villains of all time. Played by Giancarlo Esposito, the villain appeared in AMC’s Breaking Bad from season two to season four. Lately, he has also appeared in the show’s prequel Better Call Saul.
In both shows, Gus is a drug lord who uses his fried chicken restaurant chain to distribute methamphetamine and a lab hidden in a laundry facility to manufacture the drug. Gus constantly presents himself as a normal citizen, and he is even in the good graces of the DEA. Here is why he is a better villain in Breaking Bad, and why he is better in Better Call Saul.
Breaking Bad: Walt Brought Out The Best (Or Worst) In Him
A good antagonist is only as good as the protagonist. In alternative words, the deviousness of the villain is directly proportional to the will of the hero. Gus really isn’t up against any tough protagonist in Better Call Saul, but, in Breaking Bad, Walt constantly gives him headaches.
Walt seems to figure out all his moves, something no one else has ever done. It can be argued that Gustavo’s ruthless acuity directly stems from Walt’s actions. Killing the cartel members, killing Victor… it’s all somehow related to Walt.
Better Call Saul: How He Chooses To Deal With Hector
Gus might have had a great rivalry with Walt, but he really didn’t hate him. The man he hated the most was Hector Salamanca. This is because Hector shot his partner and rumored lover right in front of him. He could have tried to kill Hector early on, but he never did that.
When Hector had a heart attack, Gus, who had initially pretended to care about him by paying for his treatment, made the perfect move. In order to make sure Hector never walked or spoke again, Gus stopped funding his therapy. This meant Hector would never be a threat again.
Breaking Bad: Fooling The DEA
Gus fools the DEA so much in Breaking Bad that it’s almost laughable. He hides in plain sight and portrays himself as a clean restaurateur who is all about the good of the community. He even offers members of the DEA free lunch when they are at the hospital checking out one of The Cousins.
At one point, he even visits the DEA offices as part of his charitable endeavors and offers to contribute to Walt’s treatment when he sees his picture on Hank’s desk. All DEA members except Hank believe that Gus is genuine. Were it not for Walt suggesting to Hank that Gale wasn’t Heisenberg, no one could have ever suspected that Gus was a drug lord.
Better Call Saul: Doing Business With The Juarez Cartel
“Once every 20 years you forget your place… there’s no place for emotion in this. You of all people should understand. Business is business.” Don Eladio said this to Gus as he was trying to grab 50% of his business—and he was right.
In Better Call Saul, Gus has rarely been emotional. Despite Don Eladio having a hand in the death of Gus’ partner, Gus has made sure he is in good terms with the cartel in order to protect his own growing empire. In Breaking Bad, he killed Don Eladio, thus handing the DEA another case that would have eventually led back to him.
Breaking Bad: The Quotes
“If you try to interfere, this becomes a much simpler matter. I will kill your wife. I will kill your son. I will kill your infant daughter.” Great villains speak with the eloquence and poise of a motivational speaker but whatever they say really is terrifying.
In the episode titled “Crawl Space,” Walt was taken to the desert, and, when he was on his knees thinking he was going to be killed, Gus fired him and warned him not to interfere with the business. Gus had plenty of other interesting quotes. When he came to kill Hector, he mocked him, saying: “Little Rata… What A Reputation To Leave Behind.”
Better Call Saul: He Values His Team More
Again, a villain is no good without the “muscle.” The ultimate bad guy has a network of people that work for him—or with him—and believe in him. That is the Gus we see in Better Call Saul. He takes his time in picking close associates, and he does pick them carefully, too.
However, the Gus in Breaking Bad is a perfect candidate for a Horrible Bosses sequel. He is more concerned with intimidating his employees and associates than making them happy. Eventually, even Mike, his closest henchman, doesn’t mind working with the person that is responsible for his death.
Breaking Bad: The Killings
Ramón Maria Narváez, the first Duke Of Valencia, once said: “I do not have to forgive my enemies, I have had them all shot.” This is basically the same principle that the best villains operate. In Better Call Saul, Gus prefers doing business than getting his hands dirty.
However, in Breaking Bad, he sends a couple of people to the afterlife in style. He slices Victor’s throat with a box cutter for thinking he can cook meth like Walt and Jesse. He also tricks the entire Juarez Cartel into drinking poisoned tequila.
Better Call Saul: He Makes No Mistakes
Gus made plenty of mistakes in Breaking Bad, and most of them had to do with the manner in which he handled Walter. He should have never done business with Walt in the first place. He should have stuck to his instincts but he didn’t and Walt later caused his death.
Gus should also have eliminated Walt quickly and quietly when he was getting out of control. He didn’t. Most importantly, he should not have insisted on going to kill Hector himself even after Tyrus advised against it. The kind of mistakes Gus made in Breaking Bad are non-existent in Better Call Saul. He is careful who he does business with, and he is of aware how to properly eliminate threats.
Breaking Bad: That Iconic Death Scene
One of the things that make villains so memorable is the manner of their demise. The best villains have been killed in the most creative ways because simply shooting them was impossible. In Breaking Bad, Walt had to devise a genius way to kill Gus.
Walt made a deal with Hector in which Hector would volunteer to be a suicide bomber. Hector paid the DEA a visit, thus making Gus think he had ratted on him. As expected, he went to kill Hector, but, before he could do it… Boom! Impressively, Gus still managed to walk out of the room with half his face blown off before falling down and dying. Tough guy!
Better Call Saul: He Is Still Evolving
In Breaking Bad, Gus is served to audiences as a ready-made character. From the start, it’s clear who he is and what he stands for. In Better Call Saul, Gus is a younger trafficker who is still discovering himself. This makes him a bit flawed and more human.
Before Walt planted the seeds for the death of Gus in Breaking Bad, the villain was almost too perfect. He had all the answers, so he was basically untouchable. The same cannot be said of his role in Better Call Saul, where he is not yet the boss and his position in the drug trade isn’t guaranteed.