WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, now streaming on Netflix.
As anticipated, Netflix's El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie delivered a ton of returning characters from the acclaimed AMC series as director and franchise creator Vince Gilligan wrapped up the story of Jesse (Aaron Paul). The film reveals a few more moments with some dead characters and some surprisingly alive ones and in one case, there's a cameo that expands on a character seen all too briefly in the fifth and final season.
Sadly, the Ed "The Disappearer" is the film's most heartbreaking appearance because El Camino premiered the day the actor Robert Forster died. It adds a tragic context to a film that was already an epitaph. Forster once again delivered a masterclass in acting, and his character gave Jessie a new lease on life.
Forster died at age 78 following a battle with brain cancer. Known for nuanced, subtle roles as in Twin Peaks, he garnered a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Jackie Brown. and as a longtime fan, Gilligan desperately wanted him for Ed's role, which was crucial to the show's endgame despite its brevity. Ed appeared in just one Breaking Bad episode, the penultimate installment, "Granite State," but he was a myth, a legend and the man Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Mike (Jonathan Banks) used to get new identities. Jesse was supposed to follow suit as well but bailed. Still, in his brief time on the show, the vacuum-store owner who ran a stealth one-man witness protection program for the black market proved to be quite commanding on screen.
He was so compelling Gilligan wanted him to play a pivotal part in Jesse's salvation in El Camino and undoubtedly, he was the fugitive Jessie's saving grace as he tried to leave New Mexico. After Jesse finds over $200,000 from the apartment of the sinister Todd, he tracks Ed down using Mike's decryption clues in the phone book. Jesse enters Ed's store with cash but he's $1,800 short which leads to a dramatic heist in the final act of the film so he could gain the extra money. After the dubious robbery, a reluctant Ed is found fulfilling his promise to Jesse, seeing shades of Mike and admitting that he was ultimately a good kid who got stuck in a bad way. And as a man of his word, Ed helps Jesse out by giving him a new identity in Alaska by the name of Mr. Driscoll, finally free from Walt's drug empire.
But what makes Forster's appearance all the more poignant is he isn't just Jesse's physical escape, he's also the path to closure mentally. Jesse leaves a letter with him for young Brock, the son left without a mother following the death of Jesse's ex, Andrea, at the hands of Todd in Season 5. Ed reads the letter and you can see the emotion on his face, moved to the point he promises the get the kid the letter following Jesse's misdeeds. Their exchanges aren't too loquacious or lengthy, but through simple stares you can see they believe they're kindred spirits, albeit cut from a different cloth.
After Forster's death, Gilligan spoke highly of Forster, especially when talking about a deleted scene with from the film, where he found a wounded Jesse after the heist and realized that he had to keep his word with a hint of a paternal instinct.
While publicly eulogizing Forester, Gilligan called him "the real deal," and had praised his performance.
"You never saw him trying hard," Gilligan said. "You never saw him sweat, but every time you looked at his face, you could read his mind. That's the mark of a truly brilliant actor."
While Ed could've easily been a perfunctory character who was only a means to an end, Forester brought a deep humanity and empathy to the role that enriched it and made Ed one of Breaking Bad's most memorable characters.
Written and directed by Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie stars Aaron Paul. The film is available to stream now on Netflix, with a later release scheduled for AMC.