A Better Call Saul meeting between Gus Fring, Don Eladio and the Salamancas proves how a major event from Breaking Bad almost didn’t happen.
Gus Fring’s cartel massacre represents a landmark Breaking Bad moment – Better Call Saul shows how differently events could’ve played out. In Breaking Bad season 4’s “Salud,” Gustavo Fring orchestrates a mobster masterstroke by poisoning Don Eladio in his own home alongside all his high-ranking capos. This power play completes Fring’s long-gestating plan to assert total control over regional meth operations, whilst simultaneously avenging his lover, who was killed by Eladio’s cartel two decades prior.
Better Call Saul season 6 – the prequel’s final season, set four years before Breaking Bad – finds Giancarlo Esposito’s character still bending the knee to Don Eladio, feigning loyalty and biding his time with utmost patience. Any moves Gus Fring makes against the cartel in this era (killing Lalo Salamanca, for instance) must be executed in absolute secrecy to avoid Eladio’s suspicion, building towards that fateful day in Breaking Bad season 4 when checkmate can finally be declared.
Fring and Eladio’s working relationship becomes more fragile as the years pass and Gus grows bolder, but the Don treats this subversion like Gus is a child testing his parents’ boundaries, acknowledging in Breaking Bad, “I had to spank you… Once every 20 years, you forget your place.” Better Call Saul season 6, episode 9 (“Fun & Games”) goes much further, revealing Eladio actually knew Gus harbored a burning, intense hatred towards him. After their meeting with the Salamancas, Eladio utters, “When I looked into your eyes… hate.” If the Don knew how Gus felt, he could (and probably should) have done something about it, either by exercising more caution around his bespectacled employee, or killing Fring as soon as he stepped out of line in Breaking Bad. Eladio knew Gus held this grudge. He knew their feud was personal, not just a result of Gus’ overambitious nature. Had Eladio acted upon that knowledge, Breaking Bad‘s “Salud” massacre would never have transpired.
Why Did Eladio Keep Gus Alive (Despite Knowing The Truth)?
Gus Fring and Don Eladio’s very final conversation helps explain why the cartel leader didn’t fry his Chicken Man as soon as he looked into those piercing eyes and saw hatred burning within. Addressing why he forced Gus to hand over Jesse Pinkman, Eladio says, “There’s no place for emotion in this. You of all people should understand. Business is business.” The Don confidently believes Gus is a man who appreciates the classic gangster mantra of “business, not personal.” In other words, as long as business between Eladio and Gus Fring is good, personal gripes will be put aside. In fairness to Eladio, Gus adheres to this rule 99% of the time, running his meth operation with a clinical lack of emotion. It’s easy to see why the Don assumes Gus would prioritize head over heart. In truth, he woefully underestimated the depth of Fring’s buried anger.
It doesn’t take a psychologist to see Don Eladio considers himself untouchable. The gangster has gone unchallenged for so long, he simply can’t comprehend the possibility of his own downfall. When he warns Gus, “A little bit’s okay [hatred] as long as you never forget who’s boss,” Eladio treats Gus like an unruly dog. The animal wants to bite him, sure, but it’s safely on a leash. Once again, Eladio’s overconfidence causes him to misjudge the severity of threat Gustavo poses.
Eladio also overlooks Gus Fring’s hatred because the Chicken Man is a useful asset – a mistake repeated by numerous others throughout Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Gus makes his cartel employer money – more than the Salamancas do. Killing him would be bad business, irrespective of the hatred behind those cold eyes. Ironically, this is exactly the same error Gus himself makes with Walter White. Gus knew how Walt felt towards him, but ignored opportunities to quash that threat because Heisenberg was too valuable to lose. Such hubris leads to his death… just as it does Don Eladio.
More: Why Gus Leaves The Bar In Better Call Saul Season 6
Better Call Saul continues Monday on AMC.
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