I’ve been saying for a while now that I really like the way Better Call Saul creates great nuance for characters that were originally part of Breaking Bad, but there’s something about the Gus Fring character that doesn’t seem to be the sort of character that would work with. Gus wasn’t so much mysterious on Breaking Bad as just a very confident man with a very stoic demeanor. What was there to see that I didn’t see before?
I think I know now.
Coming back after the midseason break, Kim and Jimmy are being held by Lalo, Howard dead on the floor, and both the McGills terrified. Lalo wants Jimmy to go to Gus’s house and kill him, but Jimmy talks Lalo into letting Kim go instead. Now, Kim isn’t a killer. Neither is Jimmy. And Lalo is no fool, so he knows that. The plan isn’t to have Kim or Jimmy kill Gus. He’s going to do it himself after he gets dirt on the meth lab Gus has been building under the laundromat that will be a thing in Breaking Bad. Mike can easily stop Kim, but Lalo is long gone by the time he gets over to Jimmy’s with reinforcements.
This episode ends with Lalo dead, and Lalo made for an interesting addition to the Salamanca family. He was just as much a psychopath as pretty much every other member of that family, but he was so cheerful about it. Like, Lalo was such a jolly, friendly murderer. He’ll be missed even as he was terrifying.
But what about Gus? True, Gus is mostly his usual implacable self, the guy who always appears to be one step ahead of his opponents, but here, he actually has a moment or two when he looks frightened. He even gets shot, and even if he has that body armor to keep him alive, he’s still injured in ways he wasn’t before. He’s still obviously Gus, the man who can pose as a good boss but is secretly a master druglord building an empire of his own. He’s the guy who notices the small details that give away where Lalo is, even if he and his bodyguards are not fast enough to do anything about it. And his foresight to leave a weapon hidden in his basement lab, to say nothing of a method to distract Lalo long enough to get to it and kill his enemy.
Mike does have a role to play here in the clean-up, arguably the thing Mike is best at and he’s none-too-shabby about other things either. But here’s what I thought when I watched this episode: the Gus I saw in Breaking Bad was a triumphant Gus. He was a Gus who already won as far as he was concerned. Lalo is dead. Tuco isn’t really a threat. The Cousins can be dealt with. And Hector can suffer. Gus isn’t infallible. Arguably his downfall, besides letting the man who hates him the most live, but in not anticipating a Walter White, a man who in his own way has a lot of Gus-like qualities. Walt takes Gus down because he notices things and planned ahead. That was what Gus did with Lalo. If anything, the big difference is Lalo didn’t underestimate Gus quite the same way that Gus underestimated Walt. But the Gus Walt met was one at the top.
I guess Gus forgot that other people would want to come out on top just as much as he did, and with arguably far pettier reasons than anything. At least Gus is working in part to get back at the man who killed the love of his life. Walter White just did it to feel good about himself.
But that’s not something Jimmy McGill needs to worry about…yet.