WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, now streaming on Netflix.
With El Camino: A Breaking Bad movie bringing back a slew of characters from the AMC series, fans were eager to see how writer/director Vince Gilligan would fit Bryan Cranston's late Walter White into Jesse's (Aaron Paul) quest for a new life away from the meth empire they started.
While Walt's appearance in the film seemed like a guarantee, it occurred in a clever quiet scene near the end of the film. As Jesse thinks about his life, a previously-unseen moment between Jesse and Walt helps define Jesse's future and his overall search for peace and closure.
By the time the finale hits, Jesse has escaped New Mexico and he's in Alaska thanks to Ed "the Disappearer" (Robert Forster). He got Jesse the new identity of Mr. Driscoll and finally liberated the young man, who only left a letter behind for the kid he considers a son back in Albuquerque, Brock. But as Jesse contemplates what his future will look like, he thinks of his love Jane (Krysten Ritter) and surprisingly, Walt, who we now see is someone he really truly considered a father-figure at some point in time.
Their relationship may have devolved considerably over the rest of the series, but Jesse still cherishes a memory of them in a diner in the ninth episode of Season 2, "4 Days Out." To recap, this was where Jesse and Walt drove an RV out to the desert to cook over $1 million in meth, only for the RV to stall the next day. It dealt with Walt trying to get them back into the city to sell the drugs but in that episode, director Michelle MacLaren didn't show us the night they spent at a nearby hotel. This is where Gilligan picks up their relationship as he focuses on the morning before they head back to the RV.
The scene reunites Walt and Jesse in a diner, getting ready to head to the RV, unaware that the battery was dead. As Jesse loads up on fruit at the buffet, Walt contemplates his death and if his family will get the money from this cook. He tries to build conversation with Jesse, so he doesn't come off cold and caring about money only, urging Jesse to maybe look at college someday with all the money he's making. He asks Jesse about his future and what he'd study, to which Jesse indicates he'd enter into sports medicine.
While Jesse doesn't buy the nice guy act, Walt does have a genuine nature to him as he seems to look at Jesse as more than a wayward student. It's a fatherly speech about doing better -- which is supremely ironic given Walt's dragging him into a life of crime -- and Walt recommends business management as he sees Jesse's financial potential as something he should optimize. Walt points to the meth business they're in as proof of concept, telling Jesse he's doing something great already so imagine if he had a degree to go with this experience.
At this point, the conversation gets existential, because Jesse doesn't see this as anything great at all. To him, this is temporary, a mere pit-stop, but to Walt it's not just the end of the line, it's everything. By coincidence, Walt starts coughing up blood as Jesse starts to wonder what the hell he's really doing with his life, with Walt inadvertently planting the seed here he's better than being a meth dealer and better than engaging in a life of crime with Walt.
Jesse does believe he's "young and special" as Walt says, but he can't help but feel sorry for the teacher, telling him not to worry and that he'll ensure his family gets the money when he dies. This conversation that informs Jesse's retirement and apart from being one of their best exchanges, it's the chat that saved Jesse's life and urged him to head to Alaska.
Jesse, as he matured, realized Walt didn't have freedom -- from his job, family or from cancer -- and that's why Jesse wanted it for himself. Here, he sees how good men can be turned into monsters, and he makes it clear that he doesn't want to follow by Walt's example.
While Jesse didn't realize it at the time, Walt was telling him to plan for the future and take care of your loved ones. But as their journey continued, Jesse would embrace this concept, which is why he eventually went to Ed to finally make the move when Breaking Bad ended and he murdered his captor, the sadistic Todd. Most of all, this cameo from Walt defines the title of the film: "El Camino" means "the way" in Spanish, and through this conversation, Jesse finally saw the light and understood Walt was showing him the road all along.
Neither Walt nor Jesse may have realized at the time, but by the time the teacher gave his life to free Jesse in the series finale "Felina," the young dealer knew he had to make the best of the opportunity. Even though he was ultimately responsible for years of Jesse's tortured life, Walt was indeed Jesse's salvation, and this cameo gives us insight into how he opened the door in Jesse's mind to keep searching for a brighter tomorrow.
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.