Don’t call it a comeback — fried chicken king and drug lord Gustavo Fring is, after all, already dead, thanks to that wheelchair explosion that left him with just half a face in the Breaking Bad Season 4 finale.
But in the prequel timeline of Better Call Saul — set approximately six years before the events of Bad — Gus is not only alive and kicking. He hasn’t even been introduced to Jimmy McGill … who hasn’t yet become the titular Saul Goodman.
This is extra good news for viewers, because it suggests that when Gus is introduced into the McGill/Goodman universe in Better Call Saul’s upcoming third season — as AMC has confirmed he will be — there will be plenty of time to dig deeper into the mystery of Gus.
So now, the big question is, how will the proprietor of Los Pollos Hermanos first cross paths with Jimmy/Saul?
Let’s do a quick throwback to what we have already learned about Gus: He’s from Chile. He moved to Mexico in 1986, where he and his friend Max started the fried chicken restaurant. Max — who may have been Gus’s lover as well as his friend and business partner — was murdered by Hector Salamanca, on behalf of Don Eladio, the leader of a powerful drug cartel, after Gus manipulated Don Eladio into a meeting to try to sell him on a superaddictive new meth that chemist Max had created. Gus then moved to the United States, in 1989, where he reestablished Los Pollos Hermanos and opened an industrial laundry business, both of which are fronts for his multi-million-dollar drug biz. And Saul is the one who connects him to Walter White in Breaking Bad Season 2, when Walt is looking for someone to buy his signature blue meth.
We also know that, for some reason, Jimmy becomes Saul and begins his strip mall legal practice, which represents clients who are, more often than not, very clearly guilty.
Is that the point at which Gus meets Saul, after he’s left his life as Jimmy McGill behind? Does it perhaps have something to do with the secret tape recording Chuck made of Jimmy’s confession in the Season 2 Saul finale?
Perhaps Gus, hearing of Saul’s reputation, his willingness to play fast and loose with the law, hires him to prepare legal documents that help him hide his illegal dealings behind his legit businesses? We know, from Saul’s business matchmaking between Gus and Walt on Breaking Bad, that Saul knows about Gus’s drug trade. Why would he possess that knowledge — and be allowed to continue to breathe by Gus — unless he was a trusted cog in the Fring empire? Saul eventually gets close enough to the very cautious Gus to facilitate a business relationship between Messrs. Fring and White (and Jesse Pinkman), so it makes sense that Saul is Gus’s entry point into the Vince Gilligan universe.
Unless it’s Hector Salamanca. We know Gus hates Hector, going back to the murder of Max, pre-Saul. Perhaps Gus establishes himself in New Mexico specifically to be near, and enact his plan for revenge against, Hector. Hector and his deadly nephews, Marco, Leonel, and Tuco, have already made Mike’s acquaintance on Saul. It’s possible Gus enters the scene as part of his long-simmering plan to make Tio Salamanca pay for so callously taunting and then murdering Max all those years ago, and it’s possible that in the process Gus drags Mike, a Salamanca enemy, and then Jimmy/Saul — who Mike reluctantly works with — into his universe.
Speaking of Mike … someone left that note on his windshield in the Season 2 Saul finale, a note which simply read “Don’t,” after rigging Mike’s car horn to honk and interrupt his plan to assassinate Hector. Gus wants Hector dead; Mike wants Hector dead. Gus wants to torment Hector before killing him, and that’s why he’s the best guess for who put the kibosh on Tio’s murder at that moment. But if the enemy of Gus’s enemy is his friend, perhaps we first see his face on Better Call Saul as he approaches Mike with the proposal of a partnership against the Salamancas.
And then there’s Nacho. He’s a rising, very ambitious drug dealer toiling under the insane Tuco on Better Call Saul. Maybe Gus learns of Nacho’s skills and intelligence in this area; the drug trade in the ABQ has to be led by a fairly small number of people, just guessing, and it doesn’t seem at all unlikely that Gus would scope out the Salamanca operation as part of his vengeance quest. That, coupled with Nacho’s ambition and fear of working with the increasingly unstable Tuco, would make Nacho a great recruit for Gus, and could explain how Gus meets Nacho associates Mike and Jimmy/Saul as well.
One more theory to toss up, involving Aaron Paul, who teased during an Ellen appearance earlier this week that he might make a guest appearance on Better Call Saul’s new season. His Jesse Pinkman could be starting out his drug-slinging career as a member of Nacho’s crew, or he could be simply a customer of some of the Salamanca — or maybe Gustavo Fring — product?
Better Call Saul Season 3 premieres April 10 at 10 p.m. on AMC.