“I accept that I’m the bad guy.” Jesse Pinkman declares in the 3rd Season of Breaking Bad. There are a lot of bad guys to compete with in Breaking Bad – and as viewers we know Jesse can never approach their malevolence, dangerousness or calculation.
Which brings me to, perhaps, one of the greatest bad guys ever created for television – Gustavo Fring (brilliantly played by Giancarlo Esposito). I have just finished watching Season Three and in what is a remarkably gripping drama, Gustavo Fring has me more riveted than any other character.
One of the overarching themes of Breaking Bad is how decisions bring unforeseen consequences – consequences that seemingly multiply faster than credit card debt and consequences that become increasingly deadly, damaging and dangerous. Season Three picks up on this theme without missing a beat and accelerates it.
In Season One Walt and Jesse bumble their way into unforeseen consequences. In Season Two Walt’s desire to play with fire (and more rookie mistakes) crescendos into planes literally crashing above his house. In Season Three Walt’s “No Mas” decision in the first episode is almost immediately overturned and the rest of the season his “Mas” decision leaves a corrupt and destructive path.
Many other fans of the show do not agree with my assessment of Walt. I believe him to be a sociopathic narcissist – a bitter man who has failed because, in his mind, he is so brilliant and superior. Finally in meth manufacturing, he can embrace science and profit from it as he so staunchly believes he deserves.
One of the great scenes of Season Three is Walt meeting with Gustavo Fring. Fring offers him $3 million for 3 months of production. Walt blathers away about how he has reached a crossroads. Fring sits silently letting him go on. Preternaturally cool. I was reminded of how in negotiation training you’re taught that silence is power. And as you see more and more of Fring’s character, you see him wield silence as expertly as the Salamanca cousins wield an axe. Walt, completely deluding himself into thinking his is speaking to an equal, flatters Fring by telling him “I find you extraordinarily professional.” Fring silently observes with the certainty of a spider watching a fly flapping itself captive in the web.
One of the things I love about Breaking Bad is the depth of the characters and how the show reveals them in a variety of ways. Early in Season Three we know that Fring is a major drug lord and that he has a front with the Pollos Hermanos. But soon we see, visually, Fring’s extensive enterprise. He controls the entire supply chain (as soon he will do with the blue meth): the restaurants, an enormous chicken farm, trucks for distribution, and an industrial laundry complex for uniform cleaning. The perfect set up to hide a state of the art meth lab – akin to a Bond villain’s subterranean lair. Finally, the type of digs Walt deserves!
But it continues to get worse for all of those in Walt’s world, seemingly the very people he wants to protect.
I thought Season Two was as perfect a season of TV drama as I’ve ever viewed. But Season Three surpasses it. It is taught, entertaining, and thought-provoking.
Please share your comments on Breaking Bad – I would love to hear your take.