WARNING: The following contains spoilers for El Camino, A Breaking Bad Movie, now streaming on Netflix.
When it comes to Breaking Bad's nastiest villains, many fans will point to the descent of Walter White from unassuming chemistry teacher to manipulative meth kingpin. After all, he brought down every rival, from Tuco Salamanca to Gus Fring to Jack Welker, and eluded the DEA, right to the very end.
However, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie makes clear that the mantle doesn't belong to drama's protagonist, played by Bryan Cranston, but instead Jesse Plemons' Todd Alquist.
Introduced in Season 5's third episode, "Hazard Pay," Todd initially appeared to be little more than a minor player, an employee of Vamonos Pest, the fumigation company purchased by Walt, Jesse (Aaron Paul) and Mike Ehrmantaut (Jonathan Banks) as a front for their meth-production business. However, he swiftly worked his way up after Walt recognized his potential, and made him his new protege.
When Walt killed Mike, Todd helped to cover it up, which wasn't particularly surprising, given that he had no qualms about killing a child, a shocking act that elevated him from slow-witted stooge to callous murderer. Still, we can't forget that Walt poisoned Brock (the son of Jesse's last girlfriend, Andrea), and allowed Jane to die of an overdose, for starters. However, with El Camino, Todd easily moves up the ranks.
In flashback, Todd enlists a captive Jesse to dispose of his housekeeper, Sonia, who inadvertently found money stashed in his apartment. Reluctantly, Jesse helps to bury the body in the desert, warned by Todd that he will kill Brock if he tries anything. Jesse cringes at the mention of "the little boy," as he knows Todd will follow through on his threat. We're reminded that Todd coolly murdered Andrea on her doorstep, as punishment for Jesse attempting to escape Uncle Jack's gang, and refusing to cook meth. It was "nothing personal," Todd said, almost in way of apology.
But it was true: Todd is clinical in his actions, avoiding emotion while doing whatever the situation dictates. As evidence, look no further than the murder of Drew Sharp, the boy whose only crime was stumbling across their train heist; "no witnesses," Todd was told. The same can't be said for Walt, who pays an emotional price for his despicable acts. That's why Jesse fears Todd, and doesn't lash out the way he did with Walt. And so, on the road trip, it's torture as Todd buddies up to him, packs Jesse in the trunk with the dead woman, and even sings show tunes during the drive.
What's particularly shocking is Todd asking Jesse out for pizza and beer when Jesse pulls a gun on him. He says it's part of their brotherhood, and doesn't even flinch as he's held at gunpoint. In tears, Jesse hands over the gun, because he knows there's little use trying to fight against such a monster. He's certain that, if something happens to Todd, Brock will be murdered.
It sums up one of Breaking Bad's more perplexing characters, cementing Todd as a cold-blooded killer whose Mr. Nice Guy routine isn't a facade. He's genuine, almost child-like. However, the moment anyone endangers his mission, he'll react with murderous intent.
That's why Jesse strangled him to death in the series finale as he fled Uncle Jack's stronghold. Many felt his escape. and his cathartic screams, were due to him being liberated from the dying Walt. But as El Camino illustrates, that was only partly the case. Jesse was also fleeing the shadow of Todd, who brought him so much pain and reminded him that, sometimes, the devil you know (Walt) is better than the one you don't.
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.