We’ve explored characters and symbols. Now I’m as giddy as a schoolgirl as we get to the nitty gritty of our Breaking Bad Shakespeare exploration, and explore who I think are three of the most important characters on television: Gus Fring, Walter White, and Jesse Pinkman. (Arguably you could explore Mike and a few others, but these are my favorite.) This week we look at Chicken Restaurateur/Meth KINGpin/Business Man… Gus Fring. (Oh, no… he capitalized “king.” That means it’s probably important.) We will be covering some spoilers regarding Gus, so if you haven’t caught up, do so now. I’ll give you a minute to do so before continuing to the next paragraph.
When we first meet Gus, we don’t know we’ve just met Walter’s future employer and leader of a Meth Empire/Revenge story. He’s just the humble owner of a Chicken franchise that looks somewhat delicious. (And will make you wonder what’s really in your chicken.) Gus keeps a low profile, even helping the police and running fundraisers for them… Gus is the ultimate example of hiding in plain sight. In fact, it’s the failure of others that end up getting him caught. (Also it’s a strong message that if you own a fried chicken joint, don’t hire a vegan to run your meth operations. Huge tipoff to police.)
Gus does represent our king… one of many kings that are on this show. The other is Gray Matter, the company that Walt was originally part of, until he left. (For unclear reasons, as of season 4...) See, Gray Matter when big, and Walt ran out on it. That’s a huge missing puzzle piece for us, because it is that loss of at Gray Matter that drives Walt to take on Gus the way he has. In his mind, Gus is the top of the Meth Game. That’s what drives Gus to hire Walt… Walt’s Meth is best, Gus runs the best, so therefor, he needs Walt/Heisenberg to work in his operation. Walt sees all that Gus has, and realizes he doesn’t want money. He wants to be Gus. He sees how high he can go in the business, and not just have money, but respect too. Gus is respected. He has a loyal army who will die for him. When Walt betrays Gus, and won’t cook until he knows he’s safe, one of his foot soldiers starts to cook without his ok. Rather than kill Walt (who’s needed) Gus calmly kills the soldier who is doing the unauthorized cook. This is a powerful message.
So, Gus is our King. He’s our Cladius. He’s the nice guy who’s not a nice guy, who represents everything that Walt wants to be. In fact, he’s our clear vision into Walt’s future, something Shakespeare loved to do with so many characters. Hamlet’s madness could be interpreted as struggle to not end up as ambitious as his Uncle, murdering his brother. Certainly one can also see the parallel in Macbeth, where the title character murders the king then is murdered as king. But I’ve been going to the Macbeth well too much in these reviews, I’m constantly looking for another good angle.
Gus’s business partner (and possible lover, depending on a few interviews and how you interpret things) is murdered early in his career by an enforcer named Hector. Hector is in a wheelchair and can’t speak, communicating only through a bell. Gus spends much of his time, and part of the series, ensuring that every member of Hector’s family is murdered. (Warning Hank of the creepy twins attack, then murdering the one twin when Hank fails to…) Now, I mentioned early on that Gus was very meticulous in his planning and appearance. Never drove a flash car, didn’t wear fancy clothes, took extra precautions… etc. The one place he didn’t take those precautions were when he went to Hector to gloat that his family was dying, and he was stuck in a chair. And it was during one of those gloat sessions that Walt was able to attach a bomb, and kill Gus, thus ensuring that he would be able to take over his Meth Empire.
This is a classic example of Shakespearean writing. The ONE THING that Gus couldn’t avoid in all his meticulousness was bragging to this ONE man. And that is his undoing. Really you don’t get much more Shakespearean than that. The best part is the fact that it is at the hands of Walt that he dies. The young(ish) upstart that is poised to take over his empire. Now the question is, Walt, who shares some of Gus’s flaws (only exaggerated; whereas Gus wished that Hector knew he was in charge, Walt wants everyone to know and fear Heisenberg.): What slipup will he make that will end his life, or end his reign?
I could write a book just on Gus Fring alone. But I urge you to watch this series, and pay close attention to him. He’s a deadly, complicated man, and the best glimpse we have into what’s going to happen to Walt at the close of this series.