October 16, 2019


El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie closes the Jesse Pinkman chapter, in a way that may not seem necessary to many, but even as an epilogue that the show could do without, it makes an interesting tribute to a character we loved

When BREAKING BAD came to an end, it was written about (and still is considered) as one of the best series finales of all time, and it is. That’s saying a lot even for a ‘peak TV’ show, given that such iconic shows as LOST, GAME OF THRONES and even MAD MEN have had less than satisfactory endings. This in part was because even though BREAKING BAD had a five-season run, there was a finite story to tell, and creator/showrunner Vince Gilligan didn’t stray from telling that story in order to feed the show’s popularity. The show saw a proper closure to a majority of the characters’ stories, even though it was mostly tragic. Walter White died, while he left behind a damaged family. Jesse Pinkman, on the other hand, got his chance to escape from the neo-Nazi camp—where he’d been enslaved to cook crystal meth—but with only the implication of a potential happy ending. That is a major reason why Gilligan wanted to give an absolute end to the Pinkman factor. “I thought it was up to the audience to figure out how Jesse got away, but that it was enough to see him driving off into the night victorious,” Gilligan told Entertainment Weekly. “But then as the years started to pass, I found myself wondering at idle moments, ‘How exactly did he get away? Because that’s no easy feat! And what if he didn’t get away? What if he got busted right around the next corner?’” 

This explains why, some six years after BREAKING BAD ended, Gilligan chose to release a follow-up movie. It also explains why El Camino is exactly what it is and no more than it is. The truth is that many of us were expecting the gripping, complex and engaging essence of what BREAKING BAD was, with a tight plot to capture the magic of the series in a two-hour feature.

[Spoiler alert: details of El Camino’s plot are revealed as you read on]

Instead, what we got was an extended epilogue that was only about how Jesse eventually did get the happy ending, which was only implied earlier. And that essentially boiled down to showing us how he obtained the money he needed to pay to pay Ed, the guy who helped Saul Goodman disappear, in order for Ed to do the same for him. And when you simply say it this way, the plot carries very little weight. Furthermore, the storytelling approach included a lot of slow-moving, silent moments, which were a big part of BREAKING BAD, and which we see a lot more of the still-ongoing prequel series BETTER CALL SAUL. However, in just two hours, it may have seemed like such choices in the narrative were too much of a luxury. We’re talking about scenes such as Todd offering soup to Jesse, or singing on the highway, or the extended telling of the fact that Jesse didn’t have enough money for Ed to take him on as a client. Even with a very limited story to tell, such decisions may have seemed a tad indulgent. 

That being said, it was still necessary for us to know details such as the lengths that Todd would go to in order to keep his money a secret (the fact that he murdered his trustworthy housekeeper simply because she found out about the money). And while Todd’s neighbor Lou was quite annoying, the exchanges of his that we saw added some humor, and they even helped Jesse to some extent. Additionally, a few flashbacks that seemed simply like reminders, were definitely required. The one where we see Neil being made to install the physical restrains for Jesse in the lab at the neo-Nazi camp was necessary in order to draw the connection. Yet, it did feel like it was quite a stretch for the welder to become the main adversary for Jesse. The result was that it left us with an antagonist that was weak, especially if you do compare him with the Tuco Salamancas and the Gus Frings of the franchise, and even Todd for that matter. The truth is that all (or most of the) worthy adversaries of the past were dead, and it must’ve been a struggle to create a new one that would still make for a gripping tale. In fact, without the Todd flashbacks and the previously-unseen struggles that Jesse faced during the time before the end of the series, El Camino would have been quite flat.

However, the movie epilogue did have moments where it really did shine. One of the best parts for me was revisiting Jesse’s bond with Badger and Skinny Pete. It was extremely endearing the way those two came through for him, and helped him with the problem of the titular El Camino car. Further to that, Jesse’s primary struggle of finding the money and adding to his share gave us some intriguing moments. The standoff at the Kandy Welding Company facility was probably the biggest highlight—the kind that great action films are made of—complete with Jesse’s smooth and (literally) explosive exit from the scene.

The most significant of all things though was seeing Jesse itself. Whether you enjoyed El Camino or compared it too much with BREAKING BAD, if you liked Jesse, there’s no way you wouldn’t have liked seeing him get a proper and satisfactory end. Aaron Paul delivered in spades to a role that won him three Emmys during the series. He was moving as he conveyed Jesse’s PTSD and despair. He presented conflict and desperation when he had to lie to his parents and steal from their home. He was exhilarating as we saw Jesse’s determination to succeed with disappearing. And he showed us immense growth in Jesse Pinkman, which was so good to see. I always liked Jesse’s character more than anyone else’s on the show, so it felt good to be able to give Jesse a proper farewell. El Camino may not have lived up to many expectations, but in this regard, it certainly achieved exactly what it intended to.

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