Having Mike Ehrmantraut back from day one on Better Call Saul’s been fun, and fleeting returns from Breaking Bad favorites like loco Tuco Salamanca and his hair-trigger Uncle Hector have been a blast. But creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have been wise to let their prequel find its flow before reintroducing one of its sister show’s most dominant characters this season: incognito fast-food impresario and aspiring drug kingpin Gus Fring, played indelibly by Giancarlo Esposito. As a refresher on why Fring — who’d eventually have a fatal brush with Hector’s vengeful temper — was such an iconic antagonist, here are ten of his most stunning moments throughout Breaking Bad’s run.
Meeting of the Minds: “Mandala” (Season 2, Episode 11)
“You can never trust a drug addict.” Gus Fring leaves Walter White (Bryan Cranston) with those cautionary words after their first informal sit down at the local Los Pollos Hermanos Fring presides over. He’s speaking of Walter’s partner, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), who showed up late and high to their initially scheduled encounter. Walter assures Gus that Jesse is under his sway. “I have your numbers,” Gus assures him cryptically, before resuming his nightly inventory and wrapping up at the register. It’s our first glimpse at a charismatic bad guy unlike any we’d seen on television: cautious but not uncurious, bewitching but not impenetrable. Walter thinks he has the upper hand, even gesturing for Gus to be seated at a table in his own restaurant. Soon, Mr. White would learn that he’s met his intellectual match and an unrivaled criminal mind.
Preying on the Weak: “Más” (Season 3, Episode 5)
Walt still seems to think he has the upper hand. He actually chastises Gus, who had tried appealing to Walter’s pride by training hapless Jesse to replace him on the cook. Gus is still humored by their match of wits, enough to sit through his bluster and even “apologize for being so transparent.” But then he takes Walter for a ride and strokes his ego some more, showing off a brand-new subterranean superlab designed for his particular set of skills. It’s our first true vision of Gus’s large-scale intentions to upend the cartel, and more or less enslave Walter. “What does a man do, Walter?” Gus asks, before hardening to a sneer and wearing him down with an insistence that “a man provides for his family … He simply bears up and he does it.” The sight of his new workspace pulls at Walter’s desperation to be exalted, but Gus’s actual words make him feel just small enough to seal the deal.
Guess Who’s Cunning at Dinner?: “Abiquiú” (Season 3, Episode 11)
“Would you slice the garlic?” Another one of Fring’s signature, short but purposeful overtures sets the tone for his and Walter’s attempt at “breaking bread” over paila marina, a dish that stirs Gus’s sense memory. The tables have literally turned since their first meeting the previous season, and Walt understands implicitly that there’s much he has yet to comprehend. Without raising his voice, Gus terrifies his counterpart every time he so much as raises a utensil. Walt knows it’s a matter of when, not if, his boss becomes something far more fearsome. When he smiles and advises him to “never make the same mistake twice,” Walt realizes that parting wisdom is to be taken as a warning.
A Helping Hand: “I See You” (Season 3, Episode 8)
“I hide in plain sight, same as you,” Gus tells Walt, who’s sitting vigil for his DEA brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) along with an army of federal agents. We get to see Gus as concerned community leader, offering support and condolences to Hank’s family and colleagues. And then we get to witness Walter in awe of Gus, who stands unshaken in the hospital lobby, promising his antsy charge that “the assassin who survived” Hank’s attempted execution “is gravely injured. It’s doubtful he’ll live.” Gus extends his hand, requests Walter shake it, and goes back to his car, precisely as buzz circulates that Hank’s attacker has expired. It’s enough to make one wonder when and how Gus learned to be so cool and cunning …
Blast from Gus’s Past: “Hermanos” (Season 4, Episode 8)
Flashbacks aren’t wielded lightly in Breaking Bad and rarely turn back time more than days or weeks, let alone years. But the final, prolonged scene of “Hermanos” rewinds a couple of decades, to when a youthful Gus and his Pollos Hermanos partner Max first pitched cartel boss Don Eladio (Steven Bauer, in a fine bit of sense-memory casting) on crystal meth. Max, who pays the price for their hubris with a bullet to the head, is revealed as having been Gus’s Walter and Jesse — apprentice and muse. And his death directly motivates Gus toward both extreme caution and simmering vengeance that spans eras. Suffice to say, he ignored Hector’s suggestion to “stick to chicken.”
Vengeance Is His: “Salud” (Season 4, Episode 10)
Not only is Gus cautious, but he’s efficient. In one trip to Mexico, he manages to further drive a wedge between Jesse and Walter and exact overdue comeuppance against Don Eladio. As Eladio gradually gets seduced into his plan — which is, briefly, to poison him and his men — Gus’s face betrays a spectrum of emotion while barely blinking. He remains stoic even as he readies to puke up an emetic. He exits the bathroom, steps over a body, and breezes past panicked guests. Weakened, he declares victory by shouting to those left standing, “You have nothing left to fight for!” It’s the rage he felt at Max’s murder come full circle, foreshadowing his eventual boiling over at Walter’s insurgence.
Gus Cuts to the Chase: “Box Cutter” (Season 4, Episode 1)
Fring summons Walter and Jesse to the lab, furious that they killed his eager new chemist, Gale (David Costabile), in an effort to preserve their jobs and lives. Not that you’d know it right away. Walter talks and talks, passing the buck for Gale’s death on to Gus. But Jesse senses something sinister amiss. His eyes follow Gus, who quietly undresses, puts on a Hazmat suit, and stalks back before them. But neither man anticipated what would come next: He slashes his loyal assistant, Victor, across the jugular, washing off and calmly ordering them back to work. Don Eladio would have approved. Then again, look what happened to him.
Severing Family Ties: “Crawl Space” (Season 4, Episode 11)
Here we’ve reached the, “In case it wasn’t clear yet, Walter, Gus really isn’t fucking around” crescendo of their relationship. Gus has Tyrus (Ray Campbell), a.k.a. the new Victor, drag Walter out to the desert, blinded by a hood. There’s no more facade. This isn’t the genial manager of a fast-food franchise containing his inner maniac. This is Gustavo Fring, Chilean drug lord, coming as close as Gus does to quivering with hostility as he fires Walt, issues an ultimatum about his prying brother-in-law, and promises, “I will kill your wife, I will your son, I will kill your infant daughter.” It’s the most emotive outburst yet from present-day Gus, until ….
Blood for Blood for Blood: “Face Off” (Season 4, Episode 13)
It’s an iconic screen death, but less so because of the Terminator 2–worthy theatrics of Gus’s partially mutilated face (though the rolling eyeball socket was pretty sweet) than his incredulous bark seconds prior. The cycle of murder that commenced between Hector and Gus generations earlier had led to this improbable circumstance — one man, infirmed but equipped with Walter’s homemade wheelchair bomb, and the other healthy if rattled by having been outed to the DEA, leaning in with a lethal injection. And then … boom. Though even at the end, Gus perished in vintage, relatively dignified Fring fashion — adjusting the knot in his tie and staring nowhere but straight ahead.