Better Call Saul: Are Walt and Jesse a Distraction?

Walt and Jesse cameos were always an inevitability on Better Call Saul. But was confirming them ahead of time a mistake?

Jesse (Aaron Paul) in El Camino
Photo: AMC

One of the joys in watching Better Call Saul has been getting to see a myriad of favorite characters from the Breaking Bad universe in a new light. We got to see how Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis) lost his ability to use his motor functions. There are great scenes in which Domingo becomes Krazy 8 (Max Arciniega), the first antagonist in the parent show. Perhaps the best connective tissue between the two programs was giving Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) a backstory. 

All of these nods to the past lives of Albuquerque’s underbelly have been well-timed and perfectly executed. It allowed us to glean a clearer picture of the cartel world while not distracting from the main plot. That’s why some fans were equal parts concerned and excited when Walter White and Jesse Pinkman’s (Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul) cameos were announced before the start of the final season. How would the two icons of the previous show, two men who already had their stories told completely, fit into this prequel without coming off as forced?

We still don’t know the answer to this question, and that’s what has been a big blunder as it relates to how the show is being discussed with only three episodes left. Every week we get closer to their appearance, and instead of appreciating what makes Better Call Saul one of the most artfully executed pieces of entertainment ever, some fans are tuning in with one thought in their minds: where are the meth cooks? 

In some corners of the internet, the anticipation for Walt and Jesse has hijacked the watercooler talk each Tuesday morning after the show, and there is a not insignificant number  of fans who only watched Breaking Bad who have tuned in to see their favorite characters from that show. In the process they are contributing to negative discourse around the spinoff. They aren’t used to the slower-burn, character-driven drama that’s on their screen. Better Call Saul is a deliberate, intentionally thoughtful story that takes all the time it needs to reach the finish line. It doesn’t need to use fan service to drive its success, but AMC clearly felt differently when they announced the Walt and Jesse reunion on social media a few months back. 

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Ever since then the audience has been looking for every clue, any semblance of evidence that this week is the week they will appear. The plot synopsis for “Nippy” seemed to be evidence enough for many rabid fans: “A new player gets in the game”. This ended up being Gene Takovic’s potential antagonist, Jeff. Some assumed the “new player” was supposed to be Walter White.

Why would he be the new player, though? We are seeing Gene’s story right now. In this world, Walter has already gone into hiding or died. We’ll continue to learn more about the timeline of these two shows matching up during these final three episodes, but whatever we learn in the post-Breaking Bad events is not going to involve Walter or Jesse’s resolutions; those characters’ stories were already completed in the previous material. 

Instead we were treated to a supposedly “boring” episode showing Gene pull off his first big scam in Nebraska. The episode’s only sign of Walter White was a reference to him from Gene to Jeff while they are planning the heist of the department store. 

Twitter went crazy as if Heisenberg was going to suddenly teleport to Omaha right in front of their eyes in the middle of a cornfield. He didn’t, and the story continued just as it should. So now we move on to an even bigger sign that Walt and Jesse will appear this week. Executive producer Tom Schnauz confirmed the rumors that the 11th episode of the season will be titled “Breaking Bad”. 

This is a great homage to the parent show, and it parallels the way Breaking Bad’s eighth episode of the second season was titled “Better Call Saul”. You would think that if the iconic duo don’t appear this week it might just be too late, but these writers have a way of playfully messing with their fans and the audience. 

Walt and Jesse are fantastic characters, and this show would not exist without their journey in the previous one. Their inclusion in these last episodes is warranted if their appearance makes sense and contributes to Jimmy/Saul/Gene’s story. I’m sure Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have something intelligent and fitting planned. Their ability to storyboard and plot perfect conclusions to their material is as good as anyone in the industry. 

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That’s why it’s on the marketing team and the higher ups at AMC that the end of this show has turned into one big waiting game. Announcing these characters’ cameos shouldn’t have been done. It’s a disservice to Better Call Saul’s story, and it has made the weekly analysis and commentary online turn into one big fanfiction/Reddit board of criticisms towards a show that deserves more discerning and accommodating fans.