Everything below pertains to the character of Gustavo Fring on Breaking Bad. Forego the next paragraph if you aren’t up to the end of season four.
I steamrolled through the final three episodes of Breaking Bad‘s season four, with a sharp (and maybe nervous and twitchy) eye on Gustavo Fring, played by Giancarlo Esposito with alternating charm and chill – causing me to root for him or shudder at his sight, depending on the episode.
I avoided looking at the interweb to maintain the suspense and tension between Gus and Walt that had been building all season. When my mini-marathon ended, I began to seek out answers to my many questions, but the man remains a mystery.
In fact he’s been the mystery man of the entire season – even out-maneuvering Walter White as a diabolical genius whose veneer seldom cracked, and now that he’s been killed off, through the unholy partnership of Salamanca and Walt, I fear I will never get the answers to my many interlocking questions – for the showrunners, for the writers, and for Giancarlo Esposito. Who will be held accountable for giving me answers? I can’t let this go!
Most of my questions hover around one issue: the nation of Chile.
1. Who was Gustavo and what did he do in Chile that had to be hidden, yet was recognized, respected, or feared widely enough in the cartel world to prevent the Steven Bauer (Scarface, ¿Qué Pasa U.S.A?) Mexican drug lord don Eladio character from having him taken out alongside his partner? Was he already an established criminal, and if so, how did he come to running a fast-food franchise/phenomenal front in the Southwest?
2. Why Chile for a drug lord? It’s not exactly the epicenter of the international drug trade? Gus vaguely mentions the chaos of the Pinochet era during a police interview to explain away how his records virtually disappeared during his Chilean years. Was he actually involved in the 1973 Salvador Allende overthrow and/or the following Augusto Pinochet dictatorship? This might explain the combination of his upper-class, erudite manner coupled with a terrifying, methodical savagery. Gus also discusses Chile and keeping a lid on whatever transpired there with Mike. Earlier in the series, one cartel member refers to Gus derisively, saying something about never wanting to work with South Americans. They repeatedly make an issue about Chile and his past. Why?
3. Why Fring? I looked up surnames and it seems to be English. Could this be a clue to his connection to Chile and to solving the quandaries of my questions #4 and #5, or is the last name part of an alias, and if so, what is his real name?
4. Accent: Giancarlo Esposito speaks with Spanish with a notable U.S. accent. Some of his dialogue in Spanish sounds quite labored. Is there a back story to explain this? I would be less distracted during the scenes when everyone is speaking fluent Spanish except him if I had some kind of explanation. Was he an immigrant to Chile as an adult?
5. Ethnicity: Giancarlo Esposito has an African American mother and an Italian father. His appearance doesn’t really match the ethnic demographics of Chile. There is convincing evidence that the German corporation connecting Gale’s lab equipment orders to the meth mega-lab points to a possible German connection with Gus. (If he is German, I’ve got a whole host of new questions.) Anyway, why make him a standout in Chile when his ethnicity would match most other Latin American nations, including ones like Colombia that have histories entrenched in the drug trade?
There are many more pressing questions, but I need to know about Chile first before I can begin to approach what drove Gus Fring to become a fast-food enterpeneur AND a drug kingpin. How did he become so viciously violent, slashing an underling’s throat to make a point and threatening to kill children? Who taught him such impeccable manners, outside of slashing throats and threatening to murder infants? How did he rise to rival Steven Bauer’s cartel even though Bauer seemed to put a definitive end on any inroads into the game in the conclusion of the poolside flashback in the “Hermanos” episode? Did Gus like the gents and did he take a shine to Jesse? How did he manage his multi-million-dollar meth monopoly with mostly just Mike as his back-up?
And, as I strongly suspect, did he press his own shirts?
But first: Chile. Then I might begin to understand drug lord, restaurant entrepreneur, probable homo, vindictive viper, gourmet cook, surprise throat-slasher, philanthropist, mass-poisoner, and perfectly tailored Gustavo Fring.