If there’s one recurring theme or detail in the Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul mythos, it’s that it loves its bald characters. Some of the most well-developed fan-favorite characters there are either bald or getting there. Side characters are no exception especially criminal prodigies like Jesse Pinkman and Nacho Varga.
It’s safe to say that (Ignacio) Nacho Varga is the Better Call Saul equivalent of Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad. Both are young-ish gangsters who fell out with their respective families and got off with the wrong crowd. So they ended up being used as pawns by their crime bosses. Even so, they remain two of the most compelling side characters in the lore– which one is the better henchman than the other? Well, if you’re reading this, Mr. White or Mr. Fring, this guide should help.
WHY NACHO: MORE COMPETENT
Looking at the imaginary criminal portfolio of both Jesse Pinkman and Nacho Varga, it should be easy to see who’s the more professional of the two. Jesse might be more creative or eccentric but Nacho gets results. He’s every druglord’s ideal right-hand man: street smart, clever, and composed.
Even when under pressure, he doesn’t crack and always knows how to improvise or think of the best solution for any problem, immediate or otherwise. By comparison, Jesse is much more impulsive and decides on a whim– even acting out of anger or sadness most of the time. Nacho never seems to lose his cool.
WHY JESSE: BETTER CONSCIENCE
The price of logical infallibility is a worse moral compass, it seems. Such is the case for Nacho Varga where in most of the solutions he comes up with, the ends usually justify the means. Planning to kill Tuco or landing him in jail, stealing money from a suburban family, and even poisoning an old man, Nacho doesn’t care. He’s out for his own skin.
Jesse is more sympathetic to everyone around him. He couldn’t even kill Gale Boetticher without going into a severe depression. Jesse also has a soft spot for kids and even his fellow criminals. In fact, the only person he killed willingly was Todd Alquist but that death was well justified. It’s safe to say that when they die, Jesse has a much better chance of going to Jesus than Nacho, in Christian terms.
WHY NACHO: MORE INDEPENDENT
They both might be skinheads but of the two, Nacho is the more “adult.” He just handles himself better than Jesse Pinkman does. Jesse is easily seen throughout most of Breaking Bad using the very products he sells. Nacho, however, has a lot more restraint.
Additionally, he has shown that he is very much capable of planning and executing some assassinations and other intricate schemes by himself. Jesse Pinkman simply doesn’t have this level of grit and autonomy in Breaking Bad. In fact, Jesse often acted like a rebellious teenager before learning from Walter White.
WHY JESSE: MORE LOYAL
Now, even though he’s less reliable and less stable than Nacho Varga, Jesse Pinkman’s loyalty will seldom falter. This can be attributed to his naivety and lack of experience but he still stuck through near the end with Walter White. After all, they were the original partners in crime… literal crime.
Jesse only betrayed Walter White once and even that was a little justified as well. Nacho, on the other hand, has no qualms about betraying both his bosses, Tuco and Hector Salamanca. He’ll easily bite the hand the feeds him if it meant gaining an advantage or keeping himself safer. He might be smarter because of that, but he and the people around him won’t be sleeping well at night knowing what he’ll do when push comes to shove.
WHY NACHO: TOUGHER
The criminal underworld of Albuquerque and beyond is a dog-eat-dog world and the only ones who survive are either intimidating, smart, or lucky. A combination of all three makes them a good kingpin candidate. Sadly, Jesse Pinkman lags behind in the intimidating department… maybe even the smart one too. Nacho, meanwhile, is just a whole package of criminal potential (odd praise, really).
Nacho is no doubt more physically imposing than Pinkman’s lanky butt. He’s also proven that he can easily dish out some physical punishment to any dealer who underperforms. Additionally, he also can take some punishment such as being shot in the guts and surviving without proper hospitalization, unlike Pinkman who had to be hospitalized after Hank Schrader clobbered him.
WHY JESSE: BETTER COMPANY
Since Nacho is someone who might never build any level of trust with anyone– not even with his own father, he probably doesn’t have any genuine friends. It’s a sad life for him, in that regard, and the show usually portrays him as truly alone.
Jesse Pinkman, at the very least, has people watching out for him. Comrades like Skinny Pete and Badger or even the dearly departed Combo are loyal to him. Even Skinny Pete risked his neck to save Jesse Pinkman in the El Camino movie.
WHY NACHO: WISER
Wiser might be a bit of a contradiction here when comparing Nacho to Jesse as the latter has better close friends but when it comes to life choices and judge of character, Nacho is more experienced. He’s pretty much a self-made rich man with a better house than Jesse. Nacho’s family is also noticeably less fortunate than Jesse’s so it’s understandable why he turned to a life of crime.
Pinkman, however, practically had it better but still chose to ruin his life even with all the privileges he has. It could be an age thing since Nacho appears to be in his early 30s and Jesse was just in his early 20s in their appearances in their respective shows but that only proves the point further.
WHY JESSE: FUNNIER
Now on to the entertainment appeal of both characters. Jesse wins here, hands down. It should be hard to find someone who gets annoyed at his antics even when they cause failure half the time. Jesse is pretty much the most effective comic relief in a supposedly dark and graphic show.
Even his at his most brilliant (the magnet suggestion), he is still entertaining as it shows just how much potential or development he has. He might not be as efficient Nacho Varga but he still manages to turn his failures into comedic television moments.
WHY NACHO: MORE AMBITIOUS
What does make Nacho a less depressing character than the tragic Jesse Pinkman is how he’s driven. He’s always striving for something higher. Be it killing an unstable business partner to get promoted or even getting into the inner circle of the Juarez Cartel.
Nacho is someone who is more successful than Jesse at what he does. He’s also more resourceful, using his guile and street smarts on demand. He’s definitely more in control of his life than Jesse especially considering Gus Fring is a sharper villain than Walter White and that’s usually what Nacho is up against.
WHY JESSE: MORE RELATABLE
If both characters were to exist in the same show at the same time period, and both their lives were put at risk or they had to kill each other, most viewers would probably root for Jesse Pinkman. That’s because it’s easy for viewers to imagine themselves in Pinkman’s situation where he often has unresolved weaknesses and is clueless.
Jesse is the more “human” of the two characters where he shows that he still has values and holds others dear to him while Nacho is a little too distant from salvation or redemption. Although with the way El Camino ended, Jesse may or may not be too far off from becoming someone like Nacho. For all we know, perhaps Nacho was also like Jesse back in his early 20s.