Say what you want about Walter White (Bryan Cranston), high school chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin with a cool hat, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) is the true tragedy of AMC’s Breaking Bad. For five seasons, we watched his life go from kind of bad to horrifically violent (spoilers ahead): a dead girlfriend, a severe beating from DEA agent Hank Schrader, meth relapse, thinking he poisoned a kid, another dead girlfriend, imprisonment and torture. When Jesse drives away screaming in a mad panic following the final shootout of the series, we imagined some sort of reprieve for him.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, although we revisit old friends and learn what became of Jesse following the series finale, feels like a spoonful of croutons after consuming a perfectly good salad. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t necessarily what you need either. Good, but altogether unnecessary. Director Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad writer and producer) says audiences don’t need to be familiar with the Breaking Bad story to enjoy the movie—and El Camino does offer a four-minute recap before shoving us, literally, back into the passenger seat with Jesse as he drives away from the violent shootout—but it does seem like something made for fans, or at least people who might be privy to the various episode nods and family reunions.
Immediately following the events of Breaking Bad finale “Felina,” a traumatized Jesse seeks help from his two friends Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) and Badger (Matt Jones), but police are on a statewide manhunt to find their “person of interest” after a gang-related shooting. With few other places to go, Jesse pursues a new life through Ed, a vacuum salesman who helped Walter, and criminal lawyer Saul Goodman, to find a new identity in a new place.
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What made the series work translates over to El Camino. The use of (and lack of) music, including Dave Porter’s unorthodox score, adds to the jarring tug and pull of the story, sweeping and dramatic cinematography by Marshall Adams propels us forward, and the sudden bursts of intense violence keep us engaged. What’s different here is the depth to which we understand the tragedy of Jesse Pinkman, his trauma, his grief. A shower reminds him of being tortured. A car ride reminds him of the love of his life.
In El Camino, Gilligan gives us a story we didn’t need, while also giving Jesse the ending he deserves. Closure, they call it. And it works if you’re up to speed on the series. If not, it might be time to be influenced by the crystal blue persuasion.