|Gustavo "Gus" Fring|
|Breaking Bad / Better Call Saul character|
Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring
|Created by||Vince Gilligan|
|Portrayed by||Giancarlo Esposito|
Gustavo "Gus" Fring is a fictional character in the television series Breaking Bad and its prequel Better Call Saul, played by Giancarlo Esposito. A Chilean-American, Fring is a prominent methamphetamine distributor in the Southwestern United States who uses several legitimate businesses, including a chain of successful fast food fried chicken restaurants called Los Pollos Hermanos and an industrial laundry facility called Lavanderia Brillante as fronts for a vast drug operation. Gus maintains a positive exterior; he takes an active role in managing his front businesses and is a booster for the DEA, befriending the special agent in charge and making large donations to the Albuquerque office's civic and charitable events. However, Gus is ruthless and Machiavellian in managing his vast drug empire. He employs a number of enforcers and has personally killed rivals and associates.
Gustavo is originally from Chile. He immigrated to Mexico in the 1980s during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, and then eventually into the United States. Gus and his longtime friend and crime partner, Maximino "Max" Arciniega started a chain of fast-food chicken restaurants called Los Pollos Hermanos in Albuquerque as a front for distributing drugs that they synthesized. Seeking to expand their drug trade, the two traveled to meet the Mexican cartel leader Don Eladio. However, Don Eladio kills Max and spares Gus, knowing of his connections to Chile and forcing him to cooperate under the Cartel's terms.
Gus Fring is established as a presumed name, as neither the DEA or Mike can find any record on Gus. In a flashback scene, Hector Salamanca mockingly refers to him as "Grand Generalissimo", implying that Gus may have had connections to the Pinochet regime. Gilligan has stated that he purposely left Gus's origin ambiguous, comparing it to the briefcase in Pulp Fiction.
When Walter White seeks a buyer for his high-quality meth, Saul Goodman arranges a meeting with the unknown buyer. Walter and his partner, Jesse Pinkman, arrive at a Los Pollos Hermanos restaurant in the South Valley, but the buyer seemingly never shows up, with Jesse and Walt unaware that Gus, the restaurant manager, had been silently watching them. Walter realizes this later, and arranges a second meeting with only himself and Gus. Gus tells him that he is not interested in conducting business since Jesse was late and high for the first meeting, and is thus potentially unreliable. Walter persuades Gus to reconsider his decision, promising that he will never have to deal with Jesse and that their product will earn him enormous returns.
Gus eventually buys 38 pounds of Walter's meth for $1.2 million; the timing of the transaction forces Walter to miss the birth of his daughter, Holly. Shortly afterward, Gus is given a tour of the DEA's Albuquerque field office, along with other local boosters. While there, he discovers that Walter has lung cancer and that his brother-in-law, Hank Schrader, is a DEA agent.
Gus is pleased with the quality of Walt's blue meth, and offers him $3 million for three months of his time to cook more in a high-tech "superlab" hidden under an industrial laundry that Gus owns. Walt initially refuses, but when Gus alerts him to an attempt on his life by the Juárez Cartel for betraying Tuco Salamanca, Walt accepts. Gus provides him Gale Boetticher, the talented chemist who set up the superlab, to help cook, but Walt finds he needs to placate Jesse after Hank assaults him, so he convinces Gus to bring Jesse back as his assistant. Gus informs the cartel that once Walter is done with his three months, they will be free to kill him. Leonel and Marco Salamanca are impatient and travel from Mexico to the US to carry out the murder, but Gus intervenes and points them to Hank, who actually killed Tuco. Gus anonymously warns Hank about the pending attack, enabling Hank to kill Marco and critically injure Leonel, despite becoming nearly paralyzed from the waist down. Gus uses his influence with the police to distract them at the hospital long enough for Mike to fatally inject Leonel.
The attempt on Hank's life leads to a large-scale crackdown on the cartel, and Juan Bolsa is killed. Realizing his own life was at stake, Walt agrees to continue cooking in the superlab for an extended period for $15 million with Jesse aiding him, but Gus is still concerned about Jesse's loyalties. Jesse learns that drug dealers that work for Gus were responsible for the death of Tomas, the young brother of Jesse's girlfriend Andrea. Before Jesse can kill them himself, Walt runs them over with his car and tells Jesse to flee. Walt explains to Gus that this was just a "hiccup" in their agreement. Gus agrees to overlook the matter but reinstates Gale as Walt's assistant, and privately tells Gale to learn all of Walt's methods so that he can take over from Walt when the time is right. Walt realizes that Gus is trying to groom Gale as his replacement, meaning his life is at risk if he's no longer needed, so he secretly meets with Jesse and asks him to find out where Gale lives. Once Jesse finds Gale's apartment, Walt sets out to kill him, but Victor stops him and brings him to the lab, where Mike is waiting. Walt asks Mike to let him call Jesse and convince him to come to the lab, but instead Walt tells Jesse to kill Gale. Victor rushes to Gale's apartment, but Jesse arrives first and shoots Gale.
While waiting for Gus to arrive at the lab following Jesse's murder of Gale, Victor fears for his life because he was recognized at Gale's apartment. He tries to demonstrate his continued usefulness to Gus' organization by starting a meth cook on his own, having learned the process while standing guard over Walt and Jesse. Gus appears and Walt pleads for his life and Jesse's, arguing that even if Victor can make meth, he doesn't have the chemistry background Walt does, which will be necessary for solving unexpected problems. Gus suddenly cuts open Victor's throat with a box cutter and lets him bleed to death in front of Walt and Jesse, after which he tells Walt and Jessie to get back to work. With Mike overseeing, they destroy Victor's body in barrels of hydrofluoric acid. Walt and Jess continue to cook in the following weeks, with Mike watching them. Mike suggests that Gus and he may be able to drive a wedge between Walt and Jesse, so Gus has Mike has Jesse work with him on cash pickups and other tasks. They stage a robbery for Jesse to foil, which has the effect of boosting his confidence and increasing his loyalty to them. Mike finds Jesse to be competent, and Gus is impressed with his mettle, so they deem Jesse ready to take on a greater role in the operation.
The cartel continues to interfere with Gus' operation, so he arranges a meeting with Don Eladio Vuente and the other bosses. Jesse and Mike travel with him to Mexico, and Jesse cooks a superior batch of blue meth in a cartel lab. As a peace offering, Gus offers to have Jesse remain with Don Eladio to continue production, and Eladio accepts. Jesse is apprehensive, but the rapprochement turns out to be a ploy, and Gus uses the subsequent celebration to kill Eladio and the other cartel leaders with a poisoned bottle of tequila. After the gunfight that follows, Jesse drives a wounded Mike and poisoned Gus to safety. Jesse pledges loyalty to Gus and indicates that he will no longer serve as Walt's protector. Walt knows his life is in danger and makes the first move by planting a bomb under Gus' car. Gus senses that something is amiss, and walks away from the car before Walt can trigger the device. Walt tries unsuccessfully to meet with Jesse and arrange Gus' death, so he secretly poisons Brock and causes him to be hospitalized. Jesse blames Walt, but Walt convinces Jesse that Gus poisoned Brock in order to force Jesse to continue working for him. Jesse believes Walt and tells him about Gus' nursing home visits to Hector Salamanca. Walt convinces Hector to help kill Gus by promising final revenge, so Hector lures Gus to the nursing home. When Gus arrives, Hector detonates the bomb, which Walt has secured to his wheelchair, and the blast kills Hector, Tyrus and Gus.
Better Call Saul
Better Call Saul, a prequel and spinoff to Breaking Bad, features Gus as a series regular and follows the beginnings of his working relationship with Mike.
When Mike attempts to assassinate Hector Salamanca, he hears a faint car horn. Upon realizing that it's his own, he walks back to his car and finds a branch wedged against the horn and a note on the windshield with a single word: "Don't."
Mike finds a tracking device on the inside of the gas cap of the car he drove when he tried to kill Hector. He then finds a similar tracker on his personal car. Acquiring a tracker of his own, Mike tricks the person who changes trackers on his car when the battery is dead into taking a live tracker, which is passed off to a courier. Mike tracks the cpurier to Los Pollos Hermanos and notices that the device does not leave the restaurant. Rather than stick out himself by going inside, Mike hires Jimmy McGill to infiltrate the restaurant and monitor the courier. Realizing that Jimmy was working for Mike, Gus arranges an off-site meeting with Mike on a remote desert road. He states he won't allow Mike to kill Hector, but does want Hector weakened as they're in competition with each other. At Gus's suggestion, Mike attacks another Salamanca truck, this time arranging for two of Hector's men to be arrested while crossing the border.
Because Hector believes his drug smuggling routes have been compromised, he demands that Gus's trucks carry his drugs, not realizing that that is what Gus wants to happen. Gus sends Victor to pay Mike for attacking Hector's truck, but Mike rejects the money. This leads Gus to personally visit Mike and offer him a job. He also explains that he stopped Mike from killing Hector because "a bullet to the head would have been far too humane."
Under the new arrangement with Hector, drugs are offloaded from Gus's trucks at the Los Pollos Hermanos distribution center and handed over to Nacho and Arturo. When Nacho attempts to take six kilos of cocaine instead of the agreed-upon five, Tyrus calls Gus for guidance, and Gus orders Tyrus to give the extra kilo to Nacho. At the end of the call, it's revealed that Gus was with Lydia Rodarte-Quayle and they were scouting an industrial laundry they were considering as the location for a meth "superlab". When Mike realizes he can't spend or deposit the money he stole from Hector, he asks Gus for help, and Gus agrees to help launder it.
During a meeting between Gus, Juan Bolsa, and Hector becomes enraged after being informed that Eladio has decreed that the transport of Salamanca drugs by Gus's trucks will be a permanent arrangement. He suffers a stroke, and Gus performs CPR on Hector, which saves his life. As Hector is taken away in an ambulance, Gus grows suspicious of Nacho, who had switched Hector's angina medication for a placebo in hopes of inducing a fatal heart attack that would keep Hector from using Nacho's father's upholstery business as a front.
Gus suspects that Nacho had a part in causing Hector's stroke and has Victor follow him. He also arranges for specialists from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore to be flown in to handle Hector's care. Upon learning from the hospital reports that Hector had no traces of his medicine in his body, Gus kills Arturo and blackmails Nacho into working for him. Afterwards, Gus has Victor and Tyrus fake an attack on Nacho and Arturo. They shoot up Arturo's car and body, and also shoot Nacho twice, to make Arturo's death look like the work of a rival gang (and also to frame this rival gang for Mike's truck robbery). As part of the plan, when Nacho is found by the Cousins, he "identifies" his "attackers" as a gang known as the Espinosas. Gus has Victor and another henchman sell a packet of drugs to the Espinosas. Subsequently, the Cousins and Nacho attack the Espinosa compound, killing everyone present, and take back the drugs.
Gus confronts Mike about not informing him of Nacho's intent to kill Hector, but Mike points out that he promised only not to kill Hector himself. Mike recognizes an ulterior motive for the meeting, which is that Gus wants to task Mike with a new assignment. This turns out to be escorting several foreign structural engineers through the industrial laundry Gus has purchased in order to determine whether the site below it is suitable for the meth "superlab" Gus envisions. The first engineer is swiftly rejected as he demonstrates that he would likely cut corners and could not be trusted to keep quiet about this project. The second one, Werner Ziegler, impresses Gus with his forthright and meticulous descriptions of the time, risk and cost involved, causing Gus to offer him the job of planning and overseeing construction of the facility.
Gus arranges for Werner to bring in a crew of German construction workers and puts them up in a warehouse with living facilities. When the project falls behind schedule and tempers flare, Gus allows Mike to arrange a night out for the crew. Werner gets drunk and talks to some bar patrons about underground concrete construction and Mike warns that even though he didn't talk about the meth lab people might still remember him later and look into what he worked on. Mike warns Werner that another slip up is likely to result in Gus ordering his death and Werner acknowledges the message. Later, with the project still behind schedule, Werner misses his wife and escapes the warehouse to rendezvous with her. Mike tracks him down and for her own safety, Werner convinces his wife not to leave the airport, but to go home immediately. Gus then tells Mike Werner must be killed and says he'll send men to do it, but Mike does it himself.
Hector emerges from his coma, and Dr. Bruckner engages him in physical and mental therapy designed to restore his faculties. When Gus realizes Hector's mind is sound, but he cannot speak, and is immobile except for the index finger of his right hand, Gus has Dr. Bruckner end her treatment. Gus effectively tortures Hector by trapping his sound mind inside his unhealed body and Hector is moved to a nursing home. When Lalo arrives to help run the Salamanca family business, he thanks Gus for aiding Hector after his stroke and assisting with Hector's medical care. Lalo then visits Hector and attaches a call bell to his wheelchair, enabling Hector to communicate more effectively.
Initially, Giancarlo Esposito was offered a character that was described to him as "very admirable, very polite", and he decided to play that character as if he had "some kind of a secret". Without knowing what that secret was, Esposito understood the potential Gus had as a growing character, therefore rejecting offers for guest appearances and insisting on becoming a series regular. To achieve Gus's trademark calmness, Esposito used yoga techniques, which allowed him to convey the character as "being a good listener".
The humanity of Gus's personality played an integral role in his development,  The loss of Max contributed to Gus's evolution into a ruthless criminal; he stops at nothing to avenge Max's death, including the gradual killing of Hector's entire family. The loss of Max also cultivated Gus's desire to create a new "family" by empowering his meth empire, as well as the chicken restaurants.  Moments before dying, Gus manages to calmly adjust his tie even after having half his face blown off. Esposito saw it as an important gesture of "when a person goes to what they've always done ... to be complete in his leaving this world".
Gus' popularity, as well as his importance to the series' development, made room for possible "flashback" type appearances in future episodes, but that idea never came to fruition until 2017 when Gus was brought back for season 3 of Better Call Saul.
For his portrayal of Gus, Esposito won the Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series at the 3rd Critics' Choice Television Awards and was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards. Paste ranked Fring number 3 in its list of the 20 Best Characters of 2011. TV Guide named him No. 3 in their 2013 list of The 60 Nastiest Villains of All Time, and in 2016, Rolling Stone ranked him No. 7 of their "40 Greatest TV Villains of All Time".
Criticism by native Spanish speakers
Although the character of Gus Fring and Esposito's performance have generally been well-received by critics, many native Spanish speakers have criticized the character's stilted and unnatural accent. A 2014 NPR article focused on criticism of Spanglish in American television singled out the character of Fring, with one fan saying he was "so painful to listen to" and that it made them angry that "such a pivotal and fantastic character would have such a giant, noticeable, nails-on-a-chalkboard flaw."
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