View Single Post
Old 12-09-2021, 04:00 PM   #45
SolemnGolem's Avatar
Join Date: Apr 2010
Location: Fallen Column?
Default Re: Villains worth Stealing!

Just a brief write-up of my personal favorite antagonist in TV: Gustavo Fring from Breaking Bad. Spoilers abound below, as I assume the reader will be familiar with the TV series which wrapped up in 2013 (and gave him a prequel treatment in Better Call Saul).

Character concept: Fring appears briefly in the second season, and then goes on to play the role of primary villain for S3 and S4. Before him, the main drug dealer character was Tuco, played as an erratically violent gangster. The show writers made a conscious decision to portray Gus Fring as a very different thinking man's villain, with a calm demeanor, careful preparation, and quick-thinking misdirection.

Several elements about Fring's operations stand out:

He hides in plain sight: In the majority of his public appearances, he wears the humble uniform of a fast-food restaurant franchise owner. In a few shots, he's seen giving instruction to subordinates in cleaning and maintaining kitchen equipment. Later on, in the series, the DEA attempts to put a tracker on his car - Fring makes no effort to stop them, and merely uses this as a further method to prove his humdrum civilian existence - the car is traced only to and from the restaurant, his home, and a local gas station. Socially, he has curried favor with the local police and DEA offices, cultivating a careful veneer as a philanthropist businessman and public ally, and making his own reputation unimpeachable.

He operates intelligently, both showing foresight and also on-the-spot adaptability: His preparations ahead of complex endeavors is covered later on below, but there is one episode where the APD/DEA take him in for questioning, egged on by a suspicious drug enforcement officer (who turns out to be right on the money). Legalistically, Fring takes a highly questionable route: he agrees to meet with the agents and answer their questions without the presence of his lawyer. However, in practical terms, this comes out as a media relations coup. Not only does he answer their questions convincingly, he successfully dissembles a plausible explanation for other third party agents who have complicated the equation - and he does so with extreme calm and innocence in his demeanor. The performance itself is enough to further entrench his reputation as blameless benefactor, and to further isolate the suspicious DEA agent.

He is shown to have a pattern of surveillance and middlemen for dangerous tasks: The series has to deal with this somewhat peremptorily, given time and space constraints, but Fring is often shown monitoring a bank of camera footage, as well as deploying a number of trusted lieutenants (Tyrus, Mike) to deal directly with any compromised aspect. Over time, this builds up to a persona who almost never places himself at unnecessary risk, and is quite credibly described as being "invincible on his home turf". (And by the end of his character's run, in S4, the protagonist has to specifically lure him away from his home turf, using one of the rare ego-driven motives of his personality, in order to strike at him.)

He clearly invests in proper equipment and facilities for his criminal work: One of the rare moments where Fring and Walter White appear to be heading towards mutual collaboration and trust, comes about pretty early on in their direct collaboration. Fring unveils a massive underground meth lab, carefully hidden behind a laundry mass-processing facility on the outskirts, with chemical means taken to baffle the exhaust and prevent detection. (And indeed, the prequel series Better Call Saul even digs into the backstory of how difficult this design was to make.) Separate from the meth production, Fring maintains a chicken farm outside of town limits, further supporting his fast food cover story, which also serves as an anonymous meeting place and occasional venue for illicit disposals - as well as the local point of origin of his meth trade (bags of meth are smuggled out in containers of food product specially marked with UV stickers). Even in his "ascension arc" (discussed below) Fring proves himself crazy-prepared, with a medical tent set up in a remote area in a foreign country to allow his crew time to recover.

He has an ascension story too, and is not just a static cackling villain already established at the height of his power: Many villains portrayed in film and TV are already in their position of power, and the main hero is striving to dislodge them. Breaking Bad's Fring is not. As the story begins, he's a mid-to-high level captain in the drug trade between European, US, and Mexican cartel rivalry, and he's also the underdog - as one or two turf wars prove the Mexican cartels can literally shoot his people in the head and get away with it. Fring has a few flashbacks to a younger, greener self - and the implied loss of a beloved colleague with whom he hatched his initial villainous plans. Most dramatically, at the end of his own character arc, he breaks free of the cartel encirclement and engineers a strike to decapitate the cartel leadership, in a gambit that results in his own poisoning (and hence the medical tent preparations mentioned above).

Unlike many TV villains, constrained by time and writing limitations, Gus Fring is characterized by his intelligence - a trait that usually cannot be demonstrated via flashy camera tricks or special effects, but which rather require careful writing to show actions that make sense within a greater context of established reality. This takes time and exposition, and so it's perhaps rarer to see in visual media than "lifts man off ground with one hand" or "fast-draws and puts bullet between eyes at a hundred paces".

But if your campaign allows the PCs to know the identity of the guilty villainous party ahead of time, and if your narrative structure allows them to see not just "whodunit" but "how" and "why" - and then charges your PCs to prove it in a court of law - Gus Fring is a character study in a smart, effective villain who even carves out a quasi-sympathetic ascension arc of his own... before the protagonist finally confronts him.
SolemnGolem is offline   Reply With Quote