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Editor’s note: The below contains spoilers for Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, and El Camino.Few crime series reach the depth of world-building present in the work of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould. The genius approach of Breaking Bad was introducing its audience to a small group of relatable characters, and having them be our guides through the darkly hilarious world of Albuquerque’s criminal underworld. Walter (Bryan Cranston) acts as our “White” Rabbit, leading us down the rabbit hole and into the dangerous meth-peddling Wonderland. As Walt veers further from relatable, and we find ourselves siding with characters like Jesse (Aaron Paul), Hank (Dean Norris), or Skyler (Anna Gunn), Walt remains our vessel for appreciating the characters that existed in this world before he arrived.
The rich world includes many great unsung characters that give the story a heightened yet believable history. Some even appear in its prequel series Better Call Saul, which details the backstories of Saul Goodman AKA Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), and Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), further establishing their deep roots in the world. The minor characters that appear in one or both of these series make the world feel full of living stories, vignettes of which we see through the lens of our main cast. Of all of these characters, here are some of the best.
Wendy is a meth addict and prostitute who provides her services in the parking lot of the Crossroads Motel. Played by the talented Julia Minesci, fans may be surprised to learn that this memorable character only makes three appearances in Breaking Bad, and only within the first three seasons. Her only appearance in Better Call Saul was in the fourth episode of its final season.
Despite this, she is involved in scenes with a plenitude of characters who often don’t cross storylines with each other, making Wendy a constant in the seedy world of Albuquerque’s underbelly. Her services are required by Jesse Pinkman several times, and Hank uses her as an example of the slippery slope of drugs for the benefit of Walter Jr (RJ Mitte). Wendy’s effect on the world of the show made such a profound impact on its tragedy (she mentions her son Patrick), comedy (aiding Rhea Seehorn‘s Kim in getting back at Patrick Fabian‘s Howard), and drama (reluctantly helping Jesse poison Gus’ henchmen), that she felt a much more consistent presence in the show than she actually was.
Kyle Bornheimer‘s Ken (also known as “Ken Wins” due to his personalized license plate) is a BMW-driving stockbroker who obnoxiously brags into his Bluetooth earpiece, much to the annoyance of those around him. Another example of the writers’ reserved yet effective approach to crossover characters, Ken features only once in Breaking Bad and only once in Better Call Saul, playing a very similar role in the development of both respective protagonists. How better to showcase Walt’s chemical know-how or Jimmy’s con-man prowess as they become tempted by the idea of using their powers for evil gain than to pit them against Albuquerque’s most self-involved jerk?
Ken steals Walt’s parking space and ignores him only to have his car blown up, while Jimmy and Kim slyly leave the stockbroker with an expensive bill for the $50-a-shot Zafiro Añejo. As a minor character in the early seasons of both shows, Ken works as an example for the audience of how the writers plan to overlap the two stories, and how characters like Ken both maintain the reality of this small-world feeling while also servicing the arcs of Walt and Jimmy respectively.
After a haunting appearance early in Breaking Bad and a brief cameo near the end of Better Call Saul, Spooge (David Ury) works as a book-ending presence for the audience. When we first meet him, he and his “Lady” (Dale Dickey) hold Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) at knifepoint to steal an ounce of Walt and Jesse’s meth. In the next episode, Jesse arrives at Spooge’s house demanding reparation. It’s revealed that Spooge and his Lady have a young child (Dylan & Brandon Carr) whose malnourishment and lack of care shine a light on the unforgivable collateral damage caused by addictive drugs. Jesse cares for the child while Spooge tries to break into a stolen ATM, only for the mother of his child to crush his head with it when he calls her “skank” one time too many.
Unsurprisingly, Spooge doesn’t make a return appearance in Breaking Bad, but his unique and memorable fate ranks high on the list of creative Gilligan-character deaths. 13 years later, Ury returned to our screens in Better Call Saul‘s final season, playing Spooge four years before his demise in Breaking Bad. He is dressed in expensive-looking clothes and jewelry, with well-kept hair and healthy-looking skin. Spooge’s cameo here drives home just how serious the world and the effect of methamphetamine can be, that his whole demeanor could have such a drastic shift in just four years.
On the subject of memorable deaths involving a grotesquely mutilated head, Danny Trejo plays Tortuga in a Season 2 episode of Breaking Bad. The actor is well-known for roles in Machete, Spy Kids, Con Air, and From Dusk Till Dawn. In the world of Vince Gilligan, Trejo’s Tortuga is a DEA informant who works in the drug trade under Juan Bolsa (Javier Grajeda). After making demands to Hank and other DEA agents in El Paso, Tortuga mentions the significance of his name: “Tortuga means turtle, and that’s me. I take my time but I always win.” Later, his severed head is found on the back of a turtle’s shell in the desert, and on the turtle’s shell is written “Hola DEA.” As if that wasn’t traumatic enough, the turtle is rigged with a bomb that explodes, killing one agent and wounding three more.
This is the catalyst for Hank’s PTSD, leading him to return to Albuquerque and the hunt for Heisenberg. Between his portrayal by a famous actor, his arrogant personality, and his pivotal story-triggering death, Tortuga became iconic within the world of Breaking Bad in one episode alone. Trejo returned in Season 3 for a scene in which Marco and Leonel Salamanca (Daniel and Luis Moncada) perform the decapitation in a flashback.
Domingo Gallardo Molina (Maximino Arciniega) is revealed to have been given the nickname “Krazy-8” by Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) in Better Call Saul. He first appeared in the pilot episode of Breaking Bad as the cousin of Emilio (John Koyama), Jesse’s former partner. At the climax of the pilot, Krazy-8 and Emilio become antagonists to Walt and Jesse, resulting in what seems to be their deaths in the back of the RV. In the episodes that follow, the show becomes less about cooking meth and more about dealing with the aftermath of this mess. Jesse must dispose of Emilio’s body, while Walt is confronted with whether to kill Krazy-8 who survived the initial conflict.
Walt and Domingo bond over common ground. Domingo is a college graduate whose father’s company Tampico Furniture built the crib Walt’s son slept in. Domingo’s uncle composed the company’s jingle which Walt remembers, but ultimately, Walt finds that a shiv of a broken plate is missing, and Krazy-8 cannot be trusted. The character plays an enormous role in the eventual downfall of Walter White. In a short space of time, he is established as a well-rounded and fully-realized human being involved in the drug world. His character sets the tone for the show as a tragic yet realistic depiction of these people, and his friendship with Nacho Varga (Michael Mando) in Better Call Saul deepens that tragedy.
4 Ed Galbraith
Ed Galbraith is played by the late great Robert Forster, and is also known as Ed “The Disappearer” or “The Extractor.” He owns a successful vacuum repair company, which is also a front for his illegal service, relocating criminals and giving them new identities to avoid police capture. Although this service is expensive and tied with Albuquerque’s criminal underworld, Ed himself is not a prideful or vain man. Ed leans less toward the Tuco (Raymond Cruz) end of the spectrum and more toward the Gus end. He is reserved, calm and professional, providing a breath of fresh air for characters and audiences alike when things are at their most dangerous (which they would be if someone needed Ed’s services).
Though Ed’s motives are unknown, his services are not cheap, and he refuses to help anyone without full payment, initially turning Jesse away in El Camino. However, upon payment, Ed appears to be a fair man. He agrees to post a letter from Jesse to Brock (Ian Posada) and offers Jesse the advice that “Not many of us get a chance to start fresh.” This implies Ed believes in his work, offering wealthy criminals an alternative way out of crime, urging them to make their new life justified. Ed is one of the very few characters to appear in Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, and El Camino.
3 Dr. Barry Goodman
Dr. Barry Goodman (no relation to Saul) is part of Gus Fring’s emergency medical crew in Mexico. Portrayed by JB Blanc, Barry’s story begins chronologically with his meeting Mike in Season 3 of Better Call Saul to supply him with cocaine as per Gus’ request. In Season 4, he examines Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis) after his apparent heart attack that leaves Hector mute and wheelchair-bound. Barry next appears when treating a beaten-up Mike in Season 5, and isn’t seen again until what was his debut in Season 4 of Breaking Bad.
It is revealed that not only does his establishment exist for the sole purpose of protecting Gus and his assets (including Mike) but also that Barry has blood samples and medical histories for everyone he treats before they even arrive. He prioritizes the poisoned Gus over the bullet-wounded Mike because Gus “pays his salary”, and hilariously tuts at Jesse for smoking, “puff puff puff.” Although Barry may be a convenient plot device on the surface, his rounded performance and dry humor give him and Gus’ cartel overall a believability worthy of the world.
2 Lydia Rodarte-Quayle
Laura Fraser‘s Lydia Rodarte-Quayle is a single mother and Texas-based Head of Logistics for the German conglomerate Madrigal Electromotive. Her white-collar position allowed her to procure equipment and chemicals for Gus Fring’s meth empire, and assist him in his large-scale distribution. Lydia is the embodiment of the clean-hands approach Gus had in mind for all of his employees and partners. When Walt blows up Gus’ empire, however, Lydia finds herself struggling to stay on top of her once-cushy situation by offering Walt’s less professional business the same services, and eventually falling in with Jack (Michael Bowen), Todd (Jesse Plemons) and their gang of Neo-Nazis.
Fraser plays Lydia as a frazzled and skittish fish out of water, wonderfully counteracting the cooler criminals in scenes with Walt or Mike. As with Hector and his bell, Lydia is given an equally iconic motif to solidify her in the memories of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul fans: her love of Stevia, the coffee sweetener that Walt eventually uses to poison her. “Goodbye, Lydia.”
Similarly to Barry, Caldera (Joe DeRosa) is a medical professional with links to the criminal underworld. Caldera however is the true unsung hero of Breaking Bad without having ever even been featured in the show. An original Better Call Saul character, Caldera is a veterinarian whose legitimate workplace operates as a verbal LinkedIn for criminals looking to network. A cab driver introduces Mike to him when Mike is in need of bullet wound stitching “no questions asked” and eventually provides Mike with illegitimate work, reintroducing him to criminality. From there, Mike works for Daniel Wormald (Mark Proksch) and eventually Nacho Varga, which of course sets in motion his eventual work with Gus Fring. Jimmy also visits Caldera with his new pet goldfish when looking for a pickpocket, introducing Jimmy to Huell (Lavell Crawford).
After a run-in with Marco and Leonel Salamanca, Caldera decides to leave the criminal world behind to focus on his veterinary work, something he consistently proved a passion for, even checking in on Mike’s dog and urging Jimmy to provide his fish with more oxygen. Upon retirement, Caldera sells Jimmy his little black book of criminal contacts, thus introducing him to Ed. In short, without Caldera, it’s hard to imagine any of the events in either Better Call Saul or Breaking Bad would take place, and if ever there was a prequel spin-off to the prequel spin-off, it should be the Caldera Era!
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