In all of Breaking Bad, most of its villains share certain personality traits. They’re often loud, vulgar, selfish, and extremely violent to a fault. From Tuco in seasons one and two to Jack in season five. These guys were all gross, selfish, and dangerous.
Yet none of them were ever as intimidating as Gus Fring.
Gus was the polar opposite of every other antagonist on the show. He was neat and clean, calm and professional. Whereas everyone else was a known criminal, Gus was a highly respected member of the community, frequently giving to charity and donating to law enforcement. The dude straight-up had dinner with the head of the DEA!
However, beneath the simple owner of a chicken restaurant chain was a man not to be trifled with. Every bit as merciless as he was cunning, Gus was a man to be feared by all who dared to cross him. He may not have been willing to do business with you if you didn’t meet his standards. But he was more than willing to slice your throat if you got in his way.
Or even if you didn’t, but it would help him prove a point.
Gus had everything a good villain needs. A chilling menace to make the audience fear him. A solid backstory to give him motive and make the audience somewhat sympathize with him. A cold brutality and greed to make the audience hate him. And most importantly of all: a sense of immortality. Right up until his final scene, Gus felt truly unkillable.
But what makes him interesting are his parallels to our protagonist: Walter White. Because unlike every other villain of the show, Walt didn’t resent Gus. He wanted to be Gus.
Up until Gus appeared in the show, Walt’s every attempt to become a drug kingpin fell flat on its face. Fact of it was, he had no idea what the hell he was doing. Sure, he could cook the best crystal meth the world had ever known. But when it came to actually selling it and making a profit? Let alone not getting caught or nearly killed in the process? Walt just couldn’t catch a break.
Gus knew what he was doing. He ran a tight operation, upon which he stood as the king. The only people willing to challenge him were the Mexican Cartel. The DEA didn’t even know his operation existed and no common thug ever dared to cross him. All of his goons obeyed him without even a thought of betrayal. From his most dangerous thugs to his smallest peddlers, he commands absolute obedience.
Meanwhile, the only person that listens to Walt is a junkie who spends more screwing up than actually doing anything.
All that Walt strives to be, Gus is. Naturally, to a character as prideful as Walter White, this is the most infuriating thing imaginable. So Walt fights back, tries to put himself on top. Yet Gus is always one step ahead. For every one time Walt has gotten the better of him, Gus has one-upped him five times.
This further develops the sense of invincibility that Gus gives off. Up to this point, Walt’s greatest weapon has been his intellect. No matter how bad the situation, he always came out on top because of his wits. Yet when he comes up against Gus, even that fails. Even Walt’s most brilliant plans either fail or only sort of work.
For example, take the end of season three. Walt and Jesse get one-up on Gus by killing Gale before he could be used to replace them. This plan works; Walt and Jesse get to live for a while yet. But that comes with a catch; they were only safe for now, not forever.
It’s not until the end of season four that Walt finally manages to properly utilize his greatest strength. All because Gus proved to have the same deadly flaw that he himself had: pride.
Long ago, the Cartel, specifically one Hector Salamanca, murdered Gus’s friend/business partner. So Gus decided to spend the rest of his life getting revenge. And that he did! In the end, he took away everything that Hector valued. Then he most happily rubbed it in the old man’s face.
Right up until Walt strapped a bomb to the old man’s wheelchair and blew him to hell.
This isn’t just a satisfying defeat to a powerful villain, however. It’s also a bit of foreshadowing for Walt’s own demise. Remember: Gus and Walt have the same deadly weakness, that being their pride. In any other story, the protagonist might learn from this and grow as a person. But Walt took the lesson in the exact wrong way. In that he basically didn’t learn at all.
So, in the end, Walt’s fall from grace happens much like Gus’s. His pride and arrogance cause a domino effect that eventually leads to him losing everything. Then he dedicates the rest of his short life to revenge, only to die moments after achieving it.
But there is one key difference between the two. In the end, Walt embraced the truth of his flaws and accepted them. Meanwhile, Gus denied them right up until the end.
We can see this in Gus’s final scene. As he walks out of the explosion, half of his face melted, he goes to adjust his tie as if to adopt a business professional manner. Right up until his final breath, Gus was living two lives.
On the other hand, Walt embraces the truth about himself. He admits to being the man he always denied being and finally stopped with all the lies. When it came time for his death, Walt was alone with nothing but a meth lab to keep him company. Even still, he died with a small, satisfied smile on his face. The complete opposite of how Gus went out.
Gus is a remarkable villain on every level. He isn’t just intimidating, unstoppable, and unpredictable. He also serves as a rough outline for what Walt will inevitably become once he’s gone. All that Walt would turn into, Gus already was.
In a way, Walt doesn’t rid the world of Gus. He simply replaces him.