The serial finale of Breaking Bad was hailed by critics as one of the best series finals ever, when former chemistry teacher and meth maker Walter White faced the inevitable bill for his many crimes and misdeeds was asked. But other narrative threads remained unresolved, in particular the fate of Walter's former student and partner in the meth business, Jesse Pinkman. The series' creator, Vince Gilligan, has long wanted to end the story of Jesse, and the result is El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie which debuted on Netflix last week, six years after the end of the series.
Breaking Bad with Bryan Cranston as Walter, who is diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer. In the assumption that his death is imminent, he becomes angry about the care of his wife and children. He decides to use his chemistry skills with the help of former student Jesse (Aaron Paul) for the production of methamphetamine. This naturally attracts the attention of Albuquerque's criminal underworld. Another complication is Walter's brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris), an official of the Drug Enforcement Administration, who seeks to locate this mysterious new player nicknamed "Heisenberg." Over the course of five seasons, viewers saw Walter's gradual shift from a tight science teacher who turned Meth in his narrow minds into a manipulative, cold-blooded killer.
Walter's relationship with Jesse has always been central to the show, but as their relationship has been shattered in later seasons – a victim of their joint crime lives and the bad choices each of them makes – Jesse lost importance. In the final season, Jesse turns his former mentor into an informant for Hank and the DEA. In retaliation, Walter asks a white gang of Supremacists to kill the Brotherhood, Jesse, but the hit fails terribly. Instead, the Brotherhood kills Hank and arrests Jesse, tortures him and forces him to cook meth for her. A remorseful Walter fixes some affairs and sets out to rescue Jesse. Pretty much everyone is killed in the subsequent shootout. Walter is mortally wounded and asks Jesse to finish the job, but Jesse refuses and starts with a Chevrolet El Camino as a siren. The police will be right after Walter dies of gunshot wounds.
El Camino takes place immediately after the Breaking Bad finale. Jesse drives off and laughs as a squad of cars rushing to the burning carnage of the Methlabor of the Brotherhood. However, Jesse is still a sought after man and seeks refuge from his old friends Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) and Badger (Matt Jones). At first they barely recognize him, but like friends they help to distract the police from his track. The rest of the film is about Jesse, who finds out how to escape and build a new life elsewhere, despite all the obstacles he encounters on the way. Flashbacks are seen throughout as he works through all his psychological trauma.
Gilligan can certainly tell a compelling story, as evidenced by the success of his spin-off series Better Call Saul . El Camino is not quite up to this level, but it's still an exciting journey, fueled by Paul's powerful performance as a battered, bloody, but not-quite-broken Jesse. According to Ton, it is very in the Breaking Bad wheelhouse that alternates between violence and self-observation, with unexpected moments of somber humor. A typical example: Jesse goes to the home of his now deceased Keeper and Brotherhood Torture Brother Todd Alquist (Jesse Plemons) to take the money he knows Todd hid. He is interrupted by two bulls who surrender – only to find out that they are actually thieves who are also looking for prey. It is a quintessence of Jesse who puts another flaw in his escape plan.
Several familiar faces emerge in retrospect, notably Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), whom Walter killed last season when Mike attempted to terminate his "business" partnership; Jesse's dead girlfriend Jane (Krysten Ritter); and Walter himself, in a diner scene in which he complains that he waited until the end of his life to do something "special". He urges Jesse not to make the same mistake.
But most of the flashbacks show Todd, a true sociopath and cold-blooded killer, who was one of the standout characters of Breaking Bad 's final season. Played to perfection by Plemons. We learn a lot more about what happened to Jesse in his year of imprisonment and give us a bit more insight into this severely damaged character. The scars on his face and body are just the outward manifestations of how long his path to recovery might take.
The close focus on Jesse's story over such a short period of time is both a strength and a weakness for El Camino . Gilligan is a master of juggling multiple storylines with many different characters – one of the most impressive elements of Breaking Bad and the source of much of his rich narrative texture. El Camino is considerably more limited in scope.
The film began as a short 20-minute mini-episode before rising to a feature film, and sometimes feels like a third of ] Breaking Bad episode. Apparently, Gilligan toyed with the idea of including Walter's family in the script – his wife, son and widowed sister (Anna Gunn, RJ middle and Betsy Brandt respectively) – but eventually decided against it. I understand why he made that call. This is an independent film from the Breaking Bad universe, not a continuation of the original series, which is why focusing on Jesse makes narrative sense. However, part of this rich texture is lost.
Final Judgment: The fans will appreciate El Camino as a nice addition to the franchise, though this is not particularly necessary. It provides a fitting coda for Jesse Pinkman's story and brings an additional ending to one of our favorite characters in the Breaking Bad saga.
El Camino is currently streaming on Netflix for a limited theatrical release. It will be broadcast on AMC at a later date not yet specified.