The last time we saw Jesse Pinkman, he was driving away from the wreckage of Walter White’s meth empire, scarred and sobbing. The last time we saw pretty much every other survivor of Breaking Bad’s five brutal seasons, things were similarly not going well. So as Netflix’s El Camino promised to finally reveal in movie format what became of Jesse, we had a more pressing question: What the hell happened to everyone else?
El Camino delivered. The credits list 30 cast members after Aaron Paul’s Pinkman; of those, exactly half were newcomers to the Vince Gilliganverse, and, with the exception of villainous welders Neil and Casey (Scott MacArthur and Scott Shepherd), most of the newbies had fleeting screen time. (See: The Jeffersons’ Marla Gibbs, who briefly troubled vacuum-salesman-slash-identity-procurer Ed with actual vacuum questions before Jesse could get to more pressing matters.) Which means the movie was in large part a walk down memory lane—a reasonable enough proposition given that the plot picks up a matter of moments after Breaking Bad’s 2013 finale left off. Still, there were some surprises, some Easter eggs—and, OK, yes, some fan service, too. (Not that I’m complaining—this means Jonathan Banks is up for an Oscar now, yes?)
Below, an extremely scientific ranking of those cameos based on their effectiveness according to a panel of loyal Breaking Bad viewers (that is, yours truly).
15. SAC Ramey and ADA Suzanne Ericsen (Todd Terry and Julie Pearl)
Ramey, the DEA honcho (last seen in Season 5 of Breaking Bad chiding his officers for their pursuit of Mike Ehrmantraut, whoops!), and Ericsen, the no-nonsense assistant district attorney (a recurring figure on Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul), briefly appear early on at a press conference, at which Jesse is named as a person of interest following the chaos at the end of Breaking Bad’s final season.
14. Vince Gilligan’s Girlfriend, Holly Rice
Wondering why the camera kept lingering on the street signs for the intersection of Holly Avenue and Arroz Road, by Todd’s apartment? Breaking Bad creator Gilligan, who wrote and directed El Camino, has been with Holly Rice (arroz in Spanish) since 1991. Gilligan has long worked subtle references to her into his work. (OK, they’re not always subtle: Walt and Skyler’s young daughter, who did not appear in El Camino, was named Holly.)
13. Los Pollos Hermanos
A Los Pollos Hermanos location turned up—since rebranded as Twisters, the real-life restaurant location’s actual identity.
12. Jesse’s Deadbeat-Ass Parents, Adam and Diane (Michael Bofshever and Tess Harper)
Adam and Diane Pinkman appear in characteristic fashion, describing their least-favorite son (and doesn’t he know it?) as “an average kid” on the local news. Jesse’s good-for-nothing little brother, Jake, doesn’t appear—he’s on a band trip to London, natch—but Jesse realizes that the passcode to the safe in his parents’ house is Jake’s birthday, because of course it is.
11. Kenny (Kevin Rankin)
This fuckin’ guy. Noted Breaking Bad menace Kenny reappears in flashbacks—Kenny, we know, was dispatched by Walt’s M60 in the show’s finale—that portray his gleeful torture of Jesse during his imprisonment. Notably, he forces Jesse to try to break his own newly welded chains for the sake of settling a $50 bet with Neil. Much of El Camino is devoted to recounting the many horrors Jesse endured as a result of his time with Walt; Kenny’s particular monstrosity is the clearest example.
10. Senior Officer (Simon Drobik)
A sly callback from the greater Gilliganverse: One of the two police officers summoned by Ed to Best Quality Vacuum after Jesse comes up short on his initial escape-to-Alaska fund played the same role in a Season 3 episode of Better Call Saul. In that, he’s billed simply as “Arresting Officer,” so it seems our nameless law enforcement official got himself a promotion in the intervening years. Mazel!
In real life, Drobik is a spokesperson for the Albuquerque Police Department. Drobik, who has spent 20 years with the department, served as a police tech adviser for El Camino, as he has for Better Call Saul. In an interview with The Ringer, Drobik says he does everything on set from train actors on proper handcuffing technique (in the Season 3 Saul episode “Mabel,” he showed the actors playing police officers how to do the “combat stack,” handcuffing the woebegone shoplifter reported by Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill with his hands overhead—an easier move for newbies to master than the traditional “compliant” handcuffing position, since sleeves are less likely to get in the way) to advising Gilligan himself on how officers would search a home after a warrant service. Those latter lessons guided the El Camino scene in which Jesse tears apart Todd’s apartment, looking for his hidden cash—though Drobik stresses that unlike Jesse, who shreds walls and pillows alike, police officers are not allowed to damage a person’s belongings unless they have specific information that points to something in particular. (The refrigerator hiding spot was Gilligan’s idea.)
“That’s the cool thing about Vince,” Drobik says. “They don’t just want to phone it in. They want it exactly like it would happen.”
Drobik didn’t know much about El Camino—just the police-adjacent bits. “Vince was like, ‘There’s going to be a part coming up and you’re going to be the guy,’” says Drobik. “I laughed and said, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to get a better actor than me?’”
The scene at Best Quality Vacuum was shot in four days. It was Drobik’s second credited role under Gilligan (“Bob’s so awesome,” Drobik says of “arresting” Odenkirk’s Jimmy outside Chuck’s home in Season 3’s “Sunk Costs”), but not his first appearance. That honor goes to a shot in Breaking Bad’s fifth season, when Drobik played one of the arresting officers who turn up in New Hampshire to try (and fail) to arrest Walter White. “My boots and legs got famous,” he says; he now has his very own SAG card.
Drobik wasn’t the only real-life officer to appear in El Camino: The two officers who remain stationed outside the Pinkman family home when Jesse lures his parents away are former SWAT members, and a number of the drivers in the lengthy police convoy that passes Jesse in the film’s opening minutes came from either the APD or county police. One of those cars, a tactical vehicle called a BearCat, is the genuine article owned by the APD as well. In the Saul arrest sequence, Drobik was joined by yet another officer—the chief of police in Taos, New Mexico.
But in the scene where he arrives at Best Quality Vacuum, the “officer” by his side is Carlos Sepulveda, a professional actor. Drobik is the one who got all the lines.
9. Skinny Pete and Badger (Charles Baker and Matt Jones)
They’d likely be higher but for the fact that their presence wasn’t a surprise. Jesse flees imprisonment for Skinny Pete’s home, where Pete and Badger are smoking weed, playing video games, and shooting the same old shit—same as it ever was, except that they apparently invested their spoils from working for Walter White in plush gaming chairs. Like the true pals they are, they help Jesse as much as they can; he’s offered free rein over Skinny Pete’s “Tommy Hilfinger” and is ultimately given Badger’s car. Their low-ceiling, low-floor contentedness and genuine warmth toward Jesse—“Dude, you’re my hero and shit,” Skinny Pete tells his dirtbag turned kingpin turned fugitive friend before sending him on his way—was a reminder of what made the characters so beloved in the first place.
8. Clarence (David Mattey)
Another Better Call Saul alum turns up here: Albuquerque muscle-for-hire Clarence, who has apparently had no trouble finding ready takers for his stature (Mattey is 6-foot-10) in the post–Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman days. He’s seen chaperoning a trio of sex workers—Candy, Wanda, and April (Cody Renee Cameron, Alison Law, and Gabriela Alicia Ortega)—in a Hummer to Kandy Welding Co., where Neil is treating his guys after stealing Todd’s money.
7. Old Joe (Larry Hankin)
Junkyard boss Joe is summoned by Jesse, who tries in vain to get rid of Todd’s El Camino. Joe reminisces so fondly about Jesse’s beloved magnets experiment from Breaking Bad that he might as well be a stand-in for fans everywhere.
6. Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks)
Our prince, our guiding light, our thespian angel, our permanent case of the Mondays! We know how things end for Mike, but El Camino’s opening scene treats us to a pre-Walt ambush chat between the wily ops guy and Jesse, where Mike plants the seed of his eventual plan to flee to Alaska. “The last frontier,” Mike says (OK, growls; love you, JB!). “Up there, you can be anything you want.” As usual, Mike sees the whole board when others are still fixating on individual pieces. Jesse can’t ever undo the terrible things he’s left in his wake—but he can build a new life. A better one.
5. Ed Galbraith (Robert Forster)
Tragically, Forster, whose late-career renaissance began with a star turn in 1997’s Jackie Brown, died last week at the age of 78. El Camino was a showcase of the magnetism that Forster brought to Ed, the vacuum salesman with a sideline peddling new identities. Here, as in Breaking Bad, Ed observes a strict moral code, even as he works with criminals. He’s not amoral, exactly: You can see the warmth beneath his surface, as well as his quiet judgment of what has brought people like Jesse, who spends most of El Camino’s run time attempting to get the cash to pay for his services, into his orbit. In Forster’s hands, Ed is as close as a moral reckoning as there is in El Camino.
4. Todd (Jesse Plemons)
Jesse Plemons’s monstrous Todd turned up in numerous flashbacks. He’s responsible for the funniest, and perhaps darkest, scene of the movie, in which he briefly liberates Jesse from captivity for unspecified help with something—seemingly to help get a hatch onto the back of Todd’s car, but in reality to dispose of the corpse of poor Sonia, Todd’s housekeeper, who made the dreadful mistake of stumbling across Todd’s hidden cash. Jesse is horrified; Todd, as always, is unfazed. It is, in my humble opinion, a crystallization of the very best part of Breaking Bad: It was vicious and it was funny, and it was both at once so often that you wondered just how far apart those two things really were.
Bonus fun(?) fact: Gloria Sandoval, who played Sonia, also appeared as Rosa on Arrested Development, one of the many maltreated housekeepers for the Bluth family, a tenure in which she was apparently tasked with breastfeeding a young Buster.
3. Huell (Lavell Maurice Crawford)
Huell has left the safe house and #ElCamino is now available on @Netflix. pic.twitter.com/brWbk0MGV5— Breaking Bad (@BreakingBad) October 11, 2019
Technically, our guy didn’t show up in El Camino. But one of Breaking Bad fans’ favorite mysteries—did Huell ever make it out of the safe house, given that the guys who were supposed to come get him, Hank and Gomez, were killed before they could?—finally got an answer in a promo for the movie.
2. Jane (Krysten Ritter)
In the closing moments of El Camino, we see Jesse finally escape to Alaska, new identity in hand. In those first moments of freedom, he imagines riding alongside Jane, his first love, whose last appearance on Breaking Bad was way back in 2010’s Season 3. Jane’s death—choking on her own vomit as Walt watched, choosing not to save her—was one of the more memorable gut punches delivered by the show; last year, Gilligan told Variety about initially describing the circumstances of her death to the cast, who reacted with what he called “abject horror.” “I’ve gone where the universe takes me my whole life,” Jane tells Jesse (or, rather, Jesse imagines Jane telling him). “It’s better to make those decisions for yourself.” He drives on, alone.
1. Walter White, of Course (Bryan Cranston)
You knew this was coming. El Camino’s biggest surprise was its penultimate scene, an extended flashback to a moment apparently midway through Season 2, when Walt and Jesse eat together at a diner. There, the characters are as they were before the horror of what would come to pass—what they personally would do—changed them forever: Jesse, getting off a “Yeah, bitch!” and grandiosely tipping a busboy five bucks; Walt, imploring Jesse to consider continuing his education. “You’re really lucky, you know?” Walt tells him. “You didn’t have to wait your whole life to do something special.” The most cutting moment comes when Jesse turns suddenly sincere, telling Walt, then still in the throes of his fight with cancer, “Your family is going to get every last dime they got coming to them, Mr. White, no matter how long it takes.” Only one of them, we know, manages to hang on to the goodness they both began with.