The Devil We Knew

 Posted by on June 20, 2012 at 1:00 pm  Breaking Bad, Past Seasons
Jun 202012

The smartest trick the devil ever pulled is convincing the world he doesn’t exist. – Verbal Kint, The Usual Suspects

When I got hooked on Breaking Bad, the character of Gustavo Fring was the reason why. Refined, quietly intense, a deliberately shadowy figure who was almost impossibly careful (he drove a Volvo! A Volvo!), Gus was the most effective villain I’d ever seen on television. I took to calling him “The Devil,” and feeling a secret thrill each time he achieved one of his objectives.

One of the rules of drama, in life as in art, is that The Devil is immortal. I was convinced for years that Osama bin Laden had to stay alive, wherever he was in the world; I thought my country needed the force of evil he represented as the opposite to its own heroism. When Seal Team Six took bin Laden down last year, no one could have been more shocked than I was. I remember thinking, Oh God. What have we done?

In retrospect, that’s when I should have known that Gus Fring would die.

I never saw it coming. Gus Fring had a fine-tuned sense of danger (see what I mean here), and he was as thorough and objective a planner as he was ruthless. He placed as much value in education as loyalty: Gus met his former colleague Gale Boetticher when the latter won a chemistry scholarship Gus had set up in memory of Max, whom he loved. His businesses (notably Los Pollos Hermanos) were successful, and he cultivated relationships with those who might have seen the chicken empire as a front for something else. He covered what became his “blue meth” operation with a spotless business and community record.

But the balance, as Aristotle implied, is all. The concept of the golden mean tells us to find the middle ground between any two extremes: a thirst for justice and a need for revenge, love of family and blind rage at those who threaten it, the need to make a living and greed. Gus Fring forgot about the golden mean; it’s possible he was never that well acquainted with it in the first place. Having seen Max die at the hands of Don Eladio and Hector Salamanca decades earlier, Gus kills the former and does worse to the latter. Some of the best scenes in Season Four featured Gus visiting an elderly, ailing Hector, for the sole reason of informing the old man that he’d slaughtered Hector’s family.

To Gus, the past was never really past. In the end, this was his undoing.

As we approach Season Five without the stabilizing, sinister presence of Gus, I feel a bit lost. I’ve seen Walter, Jesse, and even Hank fall and rise and fall and rise, and I’ve lived in that tense zone of thinking each episode could be the last for any of them. I never felt this way about Gus. He thrived in a particular darkness of his own design: I came to rely on this as the source of the threat to the other characters. Without their common enemy, what need does Jesse have for his fledgling self-control? What stands between Hank and his likely next target? Who will limit the reach of Walt’s selfishness, his rage, his narcissism?

I am newly sure of one thing, though. The Devil doesn’t die: it must follow that Gustavo Fring was not The Devil. Not in the universe of Breaking Bad.

But if Gus wasn’t The Devil, who – or what – is?


  41 Responses to “The Devil We Knew”

  1. Great Post Anne,

    I believe that the Devil will be a new cartel chief or even more likely who ever is in charge of Madrigal Electromotive GmbH (German 4th Reich Underground?) .

  2. To me, the most intriguing idea of The Devil was the one put forward by my namesake, the great Herman Melville, in The Confidence Man. The Confidence Man may or may not be evil in himself (his identity is too twisty and ever-changing for us to know), but he unfailingly reveals the true character of whoever he encounters. He is not necessarily the bringer of Darkness, but the revealer of the Darkness in ourselves.

    The closest thing to this that i can think of in a T.V series was, at least for a time, the character of John Locke on Lost. Before we learned his complete sad backstory, I was convinced he was Melville’s devil. I remember insisting on the message board I frequented at the time “He’s Satan!”

    • I like your thinking here. I was as convinced of Gus’s innate evil as you were of John Locke’s, until I saw the flashback where he loses Max. That reminded me of the old question I’ve heard for years, in cases like those of Charles Manson and Ted Bundy: can a man really be a monster if he’s survived such awful stuff?

      I also think — to rowan’s point, below — that when we’re talking about sociopaths (there’s an argument for Walt being one), the question is not one of nurture but rather nature. Or, in Walt’s case, nature set on fire. I think when Walt was diagnosed with cancer, his rage and wounded pride blew up. The disguise of mild-mannered-family-man-just-trying-to-make-it burned clean away; he’s gonna do what he wants to do now, dammit.

      I doubt that’s what the Devil would do, though. Gus had me convinced the was the force of evil for so long because he was so cool, such an effective politician and a meticulous planner. He didn’t seem to have the anger thing that undermines the weaker bad guys. He was a wrong number who looked absolutely right: a well-dressed, well-spoken, successful man of manners. Who happened not to mind killing people.

      I still think when the Devil does turn up, he’ll be just like that. (Also, boy am I gonna miss Gus this year.)

      • Please allow me to introduce myself
        I’m a man of wealth and taste . . .

      • I also think — to rowan’s point, below — that when we’re talking about sociopaths (there’s an argument for Walt being one), the question is not one of nurture but rather nature. Or, in Walt’s case, nature set on fire. I think when Walt was diagnosed with cancer, his rage and wounded pride blew up. The disguise of mild-mannered-family-man-just-trying-to-make-it burned clean away; he’s gonna do what he wants to do now, dammit

        So, to combine our views, that would mean that The Devil in the BB universe is … Cancer. That’s what revealed and unleashed the darkness (“nature set on fire.” Terrific phrase!) that was in Walt all along.

  3. The Devil is Walt. I believe that is where we are heading. Who or what is going to stop him now? Jesse? Mike? Hank, even? Walt is the ultimate evil on this show-Fring was just a model for Walter to fully become Heisenberg and take the power all for himself. But I could be wrong….

    • Good point rowan, Walt is the Villian of this series now.

      • I think we’ve had some evidence from Walt’s past that points to his repressing his feelings about money, relationships, ownership, and that his ambition was always beyond his actual capability-take the scene from the finale of season 3 where we see him and Skyler checking out the house that they do end up buying. Cancer finally freed that demon in Walt that was always there, bubbling beneath the surface, occasionally popping up in moments of extreme stress or whatnot. But cancer, and then cooking meth, well, now he can do ANYTHING, and I think we’ve been watching that evolution as it happened and as he figured it out himself.

        I think the big question now is who is he going to take down with him, because this has to end, and it won’t be a pretty, happy ending where we leave Walt safe, alive still, happy with his family and with Jesse still in his life somehow. Not gonna happen. To quote Jon Hamm in an old BB promo, “you just know this isn’t going to end well”, when referring to the amazing storyline in BB and the crazy character of Walt.

        Epic tv man, epic.

        • “I think we’ve had some evidence from Walt’s past that points to his repressing his feelings about money, relationships, ownership”? That is also Don to a T.

          It will be either Jessie or Hank that will take Walt out.

          • Imagine Don with terminal lung cancer. Scary, he would not go quietly into that that good night.

          • “Megan, you know what I really need you to do? Climb up out of my ass. Can ya do that for me, honey? Can you just get off my ass?”

            Don with cancer. I can see it.


          • The ultimate twist would be for Walt to ‘win’ at the end of the series. He goes unpunished, morally, for his crimes. He kills Jesse. Off into the sunset.
            The only person who can take WW out is Skyler. The cauldron of guilt she harbors, is just one homicide away from froth. She’ll rat him to Hank.
            A man provides for his family. I don’t see how Walter is the villian, now. Fring and the Cartel were cyborg killing machines. Walt merely took them out, in a high stakes game of chicken. Oh, well. A dozen or so less scumbags (a gross?) for this Kentucky Fried world to deal with.

            A well dressed man of manners, who does not mind to kill someone, or many someones, accurately describes the forty-three men who have been President of the Yoo-nited States. Gustavo and other criminals, do not share in that great hipocrasy

          • The only person who can take WW out is Skyler. The cauldron of guilt she harbors, is just one homicide away from froth. She’ll rat him to Hank.

            I can totally see this happening.

          • Walt is a lot of things, but not a hero. A hero doesn’t poison a little boy in order to win back Jesse and set up Gus. A hero doesn’t cook Meth that brings death/jail time to addicts and heartache to their families. Mr Chips has some shit he still has to pay for and I can’t wait for this season’s final ride.

    • The twist at the end will be Walt, after everyone he has ever loved has died as a result of his cowardice, will be pronounced cured of cancer. His punishment will be to live with the results of his actions.

  4. Oh, man, Giancarlo Esposito just killed it in this role (no pun intended!), even if it was obvious that, not being a native speaker of Spanish, he had to learn his lines phonetically. It actually fit his character that he over-enunciated every syllable.

    Him straigtening his tie right before dropping dead was a bit OTT, but still hilarious. (Also, the bombs on this show are incredibly creative. Tortoises? Wheelchairs? What’s next, an exploding pizza?)

    Walt can never be like Gus for one simple reason: his ego demands that he get credit for everything he does, even if it means putting people (himself included) in grave danger. Gus was perfectly happy to have no one ever know he did anything but own a chicken restaurant. It worked great for him…until it didn’t.

  5. Well, this class is too advanced for me. In this viewer’s mind, Gus lives! He lives!! Still, due to the genius of Giancarlo, always a great name, always a fabulous actor.

    Sincerely, Only a Netflix viewer.

  6. OK so I set up the DVR to record the episodes FROM THE BEGINNING…so y’all keep talking, and I’ll just catch up in a couple weeks…

    • That’s how I caught up last summer.

      A word of advice: DO NOT try catching up on Season Two on a high-volume, late-night basis. I did this while Jim was out of the country, and I could not sleep. At all. Of all the darkness this show serves up, that season might have been the darkest.

      If I could do it over again, I’d cut the darkness with a little Arrested Development or something. Throw some funny in. You’ll need it.

      xoxoxo to you, my friend. <3

      • Season three was tougher for me – with all the tension between Skyler and Walt – those scenes were hard to get through.

  7. With Gus gone and his lab destroyed one can easily see his entire network fall apart. Who will inherit the chicken chain? What will become of the wealth he left behind – much of it lying idle in offshore numbered accounts, vacation homes waiting empty.

    (what does a drug lord DO with tens-of-millions?)

    Walt and Skyler are down to a mere $100k-200k (in the crawl space) plus the cash flow from a free-and-clear car wash. With Hank’s rehab bills coming in Skyler, ironically, may press Walt to keep cooking. But who will take the “product”? Mike is still recovering in Mexico. Tyrus might come around.

    Quite a vacuum left behind by Gus’ and Eladio’s deaths.

    With Gus out of the picture, our pipe-hittin-member-of-the-tribe will reopen his office.

    Jesse is fairly “intact” with probably $500k to $1-million at hand. That would readily finance a new meth lab at least on a modest scale. Finding the feedstock would be a problem until they figure it out.

    Hank will be (or at least feel) justified once the Fring/Salamanca connection is made (both having died by explosion). Because of that the DEA will not attend Fring’s funeral.

    Kinda looks like the situation is wide open.

    • This is where I think Saul comes in. He’s the single link between all of these people. In terms of Gus’s holdings, I think he alone would know what they are and be able to access them. (I’m also thinking he has another university endowment somewhere, like the one that brought Gale into the picture.)

      A careful guy like Gus would have insured his businesses against anything, including his own death. Saul would have been part of his process.

      I always look forward to seeing Saul, but this year I can’t wait. 🙂

      • I hope I never need a criminal lawyer (or a CRIMINAL lawyer), but if I do I’ll Call Saul.

        It had occurred to me too that Gus would be careful enough to record a will – especially considering that outrageous mass poisoning he took part in.

        Along with that would be a way to bequeath all the under the radar fortune he must have set aside over the years.

        The arc from young aspiring drug lord to throat slasher must have been every bit as chilling as Walt’s more rapid arc to his current dark, deadly place – perhaps worthy of a spinoff?

        • A ‘criminal’ lawyer like Saul is worth his weight in platinum. Until you’re represented by such a person, you have no idea what a farce the judicial process is in this country. It’s not about justice, only winning. Saul ALWAYS wins.

    • Tyrus was blown to bits along with Hector (& Gus) so I don’t think he will be coming around anytime soon 🙂

    • When Walt came over to Gus’s place that once and served him dinner, he mentioned he had kids.
      Could we possibly see them in season five? Will they get a huge inheritance or will the DEA seize it?
      Hopefully, Gus left them a Swiss bank account or something.

      Gustavo was my favorite character, so I want his kids to do well. They might even try to wreak havoc on their father’s murderer.

  8. Um, I’m pretty sure Gus didn’t work with Saul at all-Mike always referred to him as “the lawyer”, not “your lawyer”, and Saul never knew, until Walt told him, that Mike worked for Gus. So, I think there is little to no direct connection to Gus and Saul. Saul knows things, sure, but I don’t believe he was involved in Gus’s business in any way other than his being Walt and Jesse’s lawyer-it always seemed to me that Gus and Mike thought of Saul as a chump, and I just don’t see a careful business man like Gus entrusting his wealth to a slime ball like Saul.

    Also, I’m pretty sure that the money in the crawl space was only what Skyler couldn’t keep in the car wash, and we don’t know that that is the only place they hid money. The reason Walt freaked out was not because so much of his total amount of money was gone, but that he didn’t have the cash on hand to escape-apples and oranges. I don’t think they are anywhere near out of Walt’s drug money. He had a half million in cash on hand at start of season 3, and earned much more on top of that-so Skyler’s “gift” to Ted simply used up the “mad money”, so to speak-the extra emergency cash kept on hand-but I believe the White’s finances are not depleted at all. In fact, I think that’s why Skyler thought helping Ted out, to then help herself and the family out, was not as big a deal in her mind-Walt’s making more money than that, so she felt justified in giving that to Ted, that it wouldn’t be missed right away if at all.

    I think the real question about Walt’s money is how is he going to earn MORE of it now that the lab and Gus are gone-that has been a recurring theme with him-it’s never enough, Jesse’s even called him out on that before. Now that Walt knows he is not really limited in how much he can earn, the amount he “needs” to care for his family becomes an arbitrary number that just goes up and up-showing that his true motivation is the money itself, the power, and not just providing for his family.

    “Someone has to protect this family from the man who protects this family.” Gonna be a great season this year for sure!
    The only person left who was part of Gus’s operation, that we know of, is Mike. Tyrus got blown up with Gus and Don Salamanca. I cannot wait to see what happens when Mike comes back to town!!!!

    Finally, I agree with Ghalt that season 3 was the darkest for me-I didn’t fall asleep for hours after the eps would air on Sunday nights.

    Just a reminder the rerun of season 4 starts this weekend, and the season is out on DVD, but not available on the Netflix instant yet. Happy watching to all the newbies willing to join this crazy ride!

    • It’s not so clear just how long Walt has cooked at the Super Lab. How much did Fring offer to the Walt/Jesse team to cook – about a million/month?

      Major outlays since – $800k for the car wash, $600k and change to Ted for his IRS settlement. Relatively minor amounts for Hank’s rehab and Jr’s PT Cruiser.

      ($300 for champagne)

      I presume most of the chemo and surgery bills were covered pre-Super-Lab.

      I’m not sure we have a firm handle on the objective passage of time (like we get in Med Men). In a S4 DVD feature, Vince GIlligan said that the four seasons thus far have covered about a year. The baby is less than a year old – when was she born? It was the day Walt made most of his first million selling 40 pounds to Fring. He sold a few other similarly sized batches pre-Super-Lab.

      So OK, there should be plenty of cash around.

      Right. Tyrus, like Gus, and Hector (and Ted and Gail and …. it’s a fairly long list) is dead.

      Mike, when he puts together that Walt did Gus in, may well gain some respect for him. Is it in the cards that he becomes Walt’s ally? Maybe Mike can help reassemble Gus’ old distibution network (seems unlikely, biven how careful Gas was).

      BB logic is more improbable than MM logic, so expect the unexpected.

      • ($300 for champagne)

        Heh. 🙂

        I’m always assumed there was a relationship between Saul and Gus — that this criminal of a lawyer is the go-to guy for shady characters with money to launder in the Albuquerque area. If I’m wrong about this, I’ll be a little disappointed. I like a whole lot of bad in a bad guy, and Saul is wonderfully dirty.

        As for Mike and Walt: this will be an interesting tension. I see Mike as the best soldier of them all: quiet, observant, disciplined, and absolutely loyal. Walt, on the other hand, is only loyal to himself.

        I don’t see good times ahead for Mike and Walt. Even if he doesn’t decide to avenge Gus in some way, Mike still has a long way to go before he can see eye to eye with Walt.

  9. I wonder, how did Vince Gilligan break the news to Giancarlo Esposito that Fring would die?

    Did he pour him a stiff, expensive drink as Weiner poured for Jared Harris?

    (some of that impossible-to-find tequila?)

  10. @Jahn Ghalt:I just saw you wrote “Med Men” in an earlier post. Are you subconsciously calling “Breaking Bad” “Meth Men”? Because that would be an awesome title for a spoof!

    • Recently, while I’ve been writing posts about this show and saving them here, the ads in the right navigation area have changed. They used to say, “Find a Marriage Counselor In Your Area,” “Harassed at Work? Fight Back!”, etc.

      Now they’re all, “Get Help. Meth Addiction Support in the Napa Valley.”

      It’s pretty funny. 🙂

    • I think the supporting cast of House are looking for work and would sign up for that show!

    • Un/Subconscious, no doubt – or merely a typo.

      You should take conscious-credit for the “Meth Men” idea.

      Time to write a treatment – don’t you think?

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