The Glasses and Humanity of Breaking Bad

I fell asleep at eight p.m. last night, so here I am, watching Better Call Saul and swooning over Gus Fring’s glasses at almost five in the morning. This early in the day, my mind gets away from me in the most constructive manner, so here are five hundred words about the glasses on Breaking Bad.

When Breaking Bad introduced Gustavo Fring in season two, I was absolutely hooked. Never before had I seen a villain so reserved, so calculated. He became my favorite avatar of evil, and it’s because he makes sense. He’s a calculated business man with roots in the cartel—his heritage is shared with that of the actor, Giancarlo Esposito—Chilean, and he finds himself climbing the rungs of a in a Mexican world. His suits are immaculate; his colours are always reserved, much like himself, and the crown jewel—the single feature to accent his entire being, are his glasses.

They’re an eighteen karat, thin, gold, semi-rimless frame. To call them semi-rimless is actually a bit silly, as the eye wire only goes across the brow of the lenses in a thin strip—just enough to hold a T-bar and nylon faster at the temples and bridge. The heaviest piece of the glasses is the bridge, a simple, gold bar, bent into position to hold the pads and secured to the lens by drill mount. The cut of the lens is the most fascinating thing part to me though—they’re not quite circular, but they’re not exactly any other shape. It seems as if they cut in on the nasal sides, with complementing shaping done to the temporal edges, framing the face with a subtle definition. They’re an extremely elegant frame and speak volumes for Fring’s character, they invoke a life lived by a plan. People who have supreme control of their world wear delicate frames like this--doctors, lawyers, chicken brothers—anything more would be gauche.

I brought my own personal glasses, 18-karat gold-framed. Those are my Giancarlo glasses. I’ve had them for 10 years. I knew that they were the right look for Gus. Ruby was on the set with me, we’re shooting in a parking lot, and I had never, ever dropped these glasses. The make-up gal came up to powder my face, and I took them off and I dropped them, and I chipped the little corner of the glasses. It was in that moment I was complete. I thought, ‘Oh, these aren’t Giancarlo’s glasses.’ I was carrying them back and forth between episodes, wearing them at home and back in Albuquerque, afraid to lose them. Once I released them and said, ‘Send these back to Toronto where I got them made and they’ll make the exact same glass lens, the frames are fine and you keep them after that,’ that’s when I knew Gus had taken over and claimed them. He claims a piece of me.
— Giancarlo Esposito, the AV Club interview w/ Steve Heisler, 2011

When I think about the glasses on Breaking Bad, I realize that the only two characters that wear them are the two men who believe that they are the smartest guys in the room. The two men who come to a head to head battle of wits and cunning. Both Walt and Gus wear thin, metal frames. On screen, these types of glasses always convey intelligence—and Walt’s glasses, much like Gus’ make sense. They’re modest, nondescript, and most importantly, affordable. Walt is a high school teacher in America—he doesn’t have money for glasses.

For the majority of the series, he dawns his Heisenberg persona with the aid of his hat—a pretty bad ass hat, that when you think about it, is a total dad move. These are the little things that make Breaking Bad work so well. How many times, in the weeks leading up to a summer vacation, has your dad either dug out or come home with a “vacation hat?” This wide brimmed, black hat is Walt’s drug-dealing vacation hat—the thing that truly separates his two lives.

By the time he turns fifty-two in season five, life has become too heavy to deal with such trivial things, so his glasses become his black hat. In addition to the beard, Walt’s glasses change to a heavy, black plastic frame, signaling a change fundamental change in his humanity. If you pay attention to his clothing, he’s very dusty-beige-hued at the beginning of the series, with his thin little moustache, but as his journey into the dark progresses, his clothes find definition in palette, becoming a reflection of his personality. His goatee grows thick and dark, reminding you of the hair he once had—but once the cancer goes into remission, he has no time to think about his “image.” He’s on the run, and becomes as wild as his own life.


Good grief, I should go back to bed or something.

See you later.


This morning I’m wearing a top of the line coffee-stained tank on top of my Kangol sweat pants. My socks are Space Invaders and have that just-slept-in vibe.