Breaking Bad: Gus Fring’s Mexican Vendetta in “Salud”
This week saw the return of Breaking Bad on AMC, one of the greatest shows on television today (and ever). Since not everyone has caught up (hurry up, people!), I must warn that there are some spoilers in this post.
Giancarlo Esposito as Gustavo “Gus” Fring, Chilean-born meth distributor and fried chicken entreprenuer
Michoacán, Mexico, July 2010
As an astute commenter on this blog once noted, Giancarlo Esposito’s character of Gus Fring was a “man of refined style” and was worthy of inclusion here. (Thanks, Roman!) After finishing Gus’s arc, I couldn’t agree more!
Though not one of the lead characters, two-season antagonist Gustavo “Gus” Fring made an impression on viewers as an affable and charming villain with a sharp sense of style (unless wearing his Los Pollos Hermanos uniform). As the all-knowing yin to Walter White’s yang, Fring was always two steps ahead with, at least until the end, no apparent Achilles heel.
Fring’s shining moment of glory is in “Salud”, the tenth episode of the fourth season. In the episode, Fring travels with apprentice-turned-master-chemist Jesse Pinkman and loyal henchman Mike to Mexico to meet with the cartel about a meth deal. Jesse is oblivious, but Mike and Gus have a dangerous plan hatched.
After meeting with the brutal Don Eladio (played by Steven Bauer, best known even today as Manny from Scarface), Fring executes his ultimate power play – the poisoning of Don Eladio and his nine capos through a gift bottle of tequila.
What makes the play even more badass? Gus drank the poisoned tequila himself!
Knowing the effects of his poison, Gus prepped with a magic pill before meeting with the Don. Once the tequila-and-hookers party kicked off, Gus politely excused himself to head to the bathroom, where he calmly removes his coat and glasses, places a towel down, and forces himself to vomit up the stuff.
Eventually, the day ends with twelve dead cartel members, a nonfatal gunshot wound for Mike, an emergency medical procedure for Gus, and a hell of a lesson for young Jesse.
What’d He Wear?
In order to fit in with the cartel, Gus abandons his usual conservative attire for a flashier silk sport coat and slacks combo. Mike and Jesse remain true to their usual outfits, with Jesse in his dark crumpled jacket and oversized t-shirt and Mike in a dark windbreaker, but Gus is the businessman here who has to play the game.
Although flashier than usual, Gus keeps a strong black and silver motif for his trip into Mexico. His sport coat is a light gray silk that shines silver in the Mexican sunlight. It is single-breasted with slim notch lapels. The buttons are black and gray, with Gus properly fastening the top button on the 2-button front. There are also 4 buttons on each cuff.
Gus keeps his breast pocket and flapped hip pockets empty, keeping a clean silhouette in the lightweight coat. It is well-fitted, with double rear vents and a darted front. A single seam extends vertically down the center of the jacket rear, almost looking like a center vent. The lining is also silk in a white and gray check pattern.
Underneath, Gus keeps it black. No pun intended.
The shirt is a standard black dress shirt with a large collar and black buttons down a plain front. Despite the heat, Gus keeps the cuffs and gauntlets buttoned and only unfastens the collar button of his shirt rather than going “full Hasselhoff” like some of the cartel capos.
Fring’s flat front trousers are also black, with plain-hemmed bottoms and a roomy, substantial fit throughout the legs. There are, as typical with most trousers, side pockets and button-fastened jetted rear pockets.
Gus keeps his pants up with a black leather belt that fastens in the front with a squared silver 1-eyelet clasp, best seen when he is being rushed to the Mexican doctor after he nearly succumbs to his own poison.
Gus’s shoes are black leather plain-toe 3-eyelet bluchers, worn with a pair of surprisingly thick ribbed black socks.
Through the ordeal, except when kissing the porcelain, Gus wears a pair of thin gold-framed eyeglasses.
Giancarlo Esposito told The Onion‘s AV Club a great story about the glasses, explaining how they came to be:
My daughter was on the set—my youngest was 4, she’s now 7. I brought my own personal glasses, 18-karat gold-framed. Those are my Giancarlo glasses. I’ve had them for 10 years. I knew that they were the right look for Gus. Ruby was on the set with me, we’re shooting in a parking lot, and I had never, ever dropped these glasses. The make-up gal came up to powder my face, and I took them off and I dropped them, and I chipped the little corner of the glasses. It was in that moment I was complete. I thought, “Oh, these aren’t Giancarlo’s glasses.” I was carrying them back and forth between episodes, wearing them at home and back in Albuquerque, afraid to lose them. Once I released them and said, “Send these back to Toronto where I got them made and they’ll make the exact same glass lens, the frames are fine and you keep them after that,” that’s when I knew Gus had taken over and claimed them. He claims a piece of me.
For the full interview between the AV Club and Esposito, click here.
Go Big or Go Home
Despite his moral shortcomings, Gus Fring is a brilliant character and an excellent foil for Walt. His brilliant strike against the cartel is so fun to watch, both because of its boldness and because it’s not a direct offense against our main character.
So… let’s say you find yourself forced to meet with a gang of vicious cartel thugs. They don’t know not to trust you, but they’ll be suspicious of you all the same. As Mike would say, either you and your friends will all leave together or you’ll all die there. If you find yourself in this situation, try Gus’s nod to the Princess Bride poison gambit.
Gus brings a gift for Don Eladio. Evidently, this is a custom amongst cartel members. The gift turns out to be Zafiro Añejo, a fictional brand of a very exclusive tequila. So Mexicans like tequila, who’d have thunk it? (Zafiro Añejo is indeed a fictional brand. No actually alcohol manufacturers would lend their product to a scene where all drinkers subsequently died from the booze.)
Naturally, the Don eagerly cracks open the bottle, but he won’t be the first to drink. He offers a glass to Gus, who politely accepts. He then offers one to Jesse, the chemist. Not showing the fear of consequences on his face, Gus quickly explains that Jesse is a recovering addict and, thus, can’t touch alcohol or his manufacturing would be compromised. Out of security for his product, rather than concern for Jesse’s willpower, the Don takes Jesse’s glass away.
Next, the Don eyes Gus. His eyes say, “I ain’t drinking until you prove this isn’t poisoned.” Gus smiles back and downs the shot.
The Don watches him swallow it and is pleased; not only is Gus on his side, but it’s time to party! He does his own shot and all of his capos follow. Without foolishly letting on that he just executed a near perfect coup, Gus calmly goes and sits down while the party fills with whores.
Why is Gus safe? Prior to the Don’s arrival, he took an emetic pill. The scene is made even more poignant by Gus standing over the swimming pool where his partner and friend was killed by the Don’s orders twenty five years earlier. The pill soon takes its effect, and Gus pukes out the offending poison into the Don’s toilet. Meanwhile, outside, the Don and his capos drop like flies. Jesse and Mike arm themselves with Berettas from the dead capos and await Gus’s return. Gus comes back, but – oh, shit! – there’s still some poison in him. They make their escape, shooting their way past a few more, before Jesse commandeers a Cadillac and speeds the trio to safety at a makeshift Mexican field hospital.
So, basically, plan ahead is the main lesson to be learned from Gus. Plan way ahead.
However, and I cannot stress this enough, please don’t become a meth kingpin. If you want to start a fried chicken enterprise that spreads across several states, good for you. I wish you luck as long as you don’t knock Bojangles out of business.
How to Get the Look
Gus dresses up what could otherwise be a very simple shirt and slacks with a nice silk sportcoat. Not all of your clothes need to be budget-busting designer clothes, as long as you have one nice piece and wear it well.
- Light gray silk single-breasted 2-button sportcoat with slim notch lapels, breast pocket, flapped hip pockets, and double rear vents
- Black long-sleeve dress shirt with large collar, plain front, and buttoned cuffs and gauntlets
- Black flat front trousers with belt loops, side pockets, button-fastened rear pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black leather belt with a square steel single-prong buckle
- Black leather 3-eyelet plain toe bluchers/derby shoes
- Thick black ribbed socks
- Thin 18 karat gold-framed eyeglasses
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the fourth season. Of course, if you haven’t watched the show, you’d better start at the beginning.
Despite being poisoned, Gus still offers a badass ultimatum (in Spanish) to the remaining cartel associates:
Don Eladio is dead. His capos are dead. You have no one left to fight for. Fill your pockets and leave in peace. Or fight me and die!
Nice! Probably the sharpest outfit through the series. Breaking Bad is many things, but, sadly, not a style guide show. With the exception of Gus, every other costume is pretty much tasteless (special prize goes to Saul Goodman and his awful shirts. Also, leopard-linen suit).
And BTW, on close-up screencaps, Gus’ coat fabric appears to be very, very light sharkskin. Hope that could be helpful.
That is helpful, thanks! Gus wearing a light sharkskin would be very in-character, especially for a moment like this.
Yes, I almost half-consider a brief piece – perhaps for April Fools’ Day – “honoring” Saul’s blindingly-colored shirts. While you’re definitely correct that the emphasis is not on style, it is interesting to note how each character’s attire reflects perfectly who they are. As Jesse gets a little more “professional”, he loses his overly gangsta-wannabe attire. His t-shirts are still ridiculous, but at least they’re paired with some sensible jackets and the beanie cap is gone. Mike, of course, looks every bit of a pro cleaner/hitman, much like Harvey Keitel in Point of No Return. And then there’s always Heisenberg’s pork pie hat.
Hi there! You know, I’m currently rewatching the whole series, and, once again, Gus’ wardrobe caught my eye. That double-breasted coat of his looks pretty neat, and he’s wearing it in his second-badass scene (you know that one – facing the cartel sniper). Any plans on covering that one one day?
I hate to nitpick, but these things bug me. In short, the date is wrong. In Breaking Bad’s pilot, Walt is supposed to be turning 50 in 2008. While I haven’t gotten to it yet, the finale is supposed to take place on/around his 52nd birthday. That means this can’t be 2011, as the show’s timeline ends in 2010.
You’d think the developers would have paid more attention to their own series; they have people driving 2011-12 Chrysler models in seasons 4 and 5, which is a serious problem for me. I hate anachronisms.
It’s a great show overall, and a great post. I knew Gus was going to be epic as soon as I found out he ran chicken restaurants and a meth business at the same time. This outfit, and his plan, definitely exemplify BAMF.
P.S. That Eric guy on your Suggestions/Feedback page has the right idea. Seriously, check out Magic City. I’d like to see how you cover some of those looks.
Jeff – you and I would get along quite well in real life! I’ve become pretty attentive to TV show timelines myself. When I first posted this, I hadn’t been watching with that sort of eye, but re-watching TV shows lately, it’s become more interesting for me to try and decipher the time of the show’s action.
You inspired me to do a little more digging re: the Breaking Bad timeline, and I found this great breakdown on the BB wiki: http://breakingbad.wikia.com/wiki/Timeline. It’s pretty close to what you were saying, although it shifts the two-year timeline from 2008-2010 to 2009-2011, placing this episode in July 2010. (I just made this change in my post.)
Glad to see you’re such a fan of the show and character as well! Breaking Bad had the remarkable ability to permeate humanity through ALL characters. On other shows, Gus would’ve just been ruthless, Gabe a nerd, Jesse a punk, etc. Vince Gilligan’s long game really paid off, and we were treated to one of the most perfect TV shows – start to finish.
Maybe this weekend I’ll be able to set aside some time to get cracking on Magic City! (BTW, I appreciate all the kind words!)
Huh. I’ll have to check the timeline out. I love specifics, the little tiny details like that. Bedides Saul, are you ever going to post about another character or is this just a one-and-done kind of thing?
And, at the risk of redundancy, is The Smoking Man BAMF enough for you? 😉
I bet The Smoking Man would be an excellently BAMF entry – I’m ashamed to say I haven’t watched The X-Files (despite so many people telling me I should!), but I think this may be the time for me to give the series its due.
As for Breaking Bad, I’m certainly open to looking at more characters from the show. I have other Gus outfits screencapped, and I’ve even considered revisiting to break down Mike’s practical/minimalist “ex-cop” style. Do you have any suggestions?
I don’t know. With the exception of those damn glasses, Walt’s ‘Heisenberg’ outfit seems a viable option. I’m halfway through season 3 and I’m becoming a huge fan of Mike, so I hope you get around to that. Jonathan Banks does a fantastic job here.
As far as The X-Files, it’s all on Netflix, but The Smoking Man doesn’t really start appearing until seasons 3 and 4, but it’s all worth watching.