It’s safe to say that Walter White’s most formidable obstacle in his pursuit of wealth for his family and, increasingly, his assertion of himself as the dynamic force in his own life, has been Gus Fring, the deceptively meek fast-food-chicken store owner, philanthropist, and drug lord played by Giancarlo Esposito with consummate meticulousness in the season of Breaking Bad that concluded on Sunday night.

SPOILER ALERT: Don’t read this unless you’ve watched the Breaking Bad finale. Well, we saw what messing with the now-relentless Walter gets you. Turns out the episode title “Face Off” was meant literally, as Gus lost half his head in an explosion deviously devised by White in collusion with Hector Salamanca. Savoring what he thought was a victory over his old nemesis, Gus was lured into a trap, as Hector detonated a bomb with that damn bell of his.

Certainly the most stunning visual of last night was the shot of Gus walking out of the exploded room in left-side profile, followed by a shot of him full-frontal, at which point we saw that half his face had been blown away, to reveal his skull and some bloody bits.

“That make-up took five hours,” says Esposito, who was flown from the show’s set in Albuquerque, NM, to Los Angeles under what he calls “top-secret” circumstances to have the exploded-face created. Working with special effects expert Howard Berger, Esposito had a full cast of his head made — “a bust of me,” he says, laughing — which was then transformed into half of a prosthetic face he could wear for filming.

“It was glued to the side of my head,” says the actor. “Howard is so meticulous, he put little craters in that part of my face, for where the explosion would have splintered what flesh was left.” Oh, and the little touch of straightening his tie before he collapses? “All in the script,” says the actor admiringly of show creator Vince Gilligan’s writing and directing of the episode.

Esposito, who is more voluble and warm than the character he plays (I know: how could he not?), says, “I was stunned when I first read the script.” The actor had had discussions with Gilligan in the middle of filming season four about the probable demise of Gustavo Fring. The character was, he says, “a great gift”: “It’s a little saddening that he’s gone, but who knows? He could come back in flashbacks, right?”

Oh, and one more thing: What about Gus’ uncanny instinct to walk away from his car in the show’s previous, penultimate episode? Debates ranged across the Internet about how The Chicken Man could have known or guessed that Walt had planted a bomb underneath it. Esposito has an answer:

“Gus returns to that vehicle, sees it there all by itself, and he said to himself, ‘Hmmm, I left no one with that car. I did not cover that angle. I am not going there.’ It’s pure instinct. I felt that in my soul, that Gus would have that reaction.”

What do you think?

Be sure to read Melissa Maerz’s full recap of the show.

Twitter: @kentucker

Episode Recaps

Breaking Bad

Walter White descends into the criminal underworld.

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