It’s been six years since Breaking Bad wrapped up it’s seminal five-season run with the perfect send-off for Walter “Heisenberg” White, one of television’s most iconic characters. The series finale saw Walt free his former drug-manufacturing partner, Jesse Pinkman, from the neo-Nazis holding him captive and forcing him to cook meth for them. Walt met his demise and the last we saw of Jesse, he was speeding down a dirt road to freedom in an El Camino. But what happened to Jesse after that? So begins El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.
Warning: spoilers ahead
El Camino picks up immediately after the series finale. Jesse is finally free, but the police are already on their way. He narrowly avoids them before driving to Skinny Pete’s house, where he and Badger are stunned to see Jesse still alive. When police begin a statewide manhunt for Jesse, he knows he must find a way to evade capture, courtesy of a certain vacuum cleaner salesman. The film is interspersed with flashback sequences that depict what Jesse’s life was like while he was being held captive which tie into Jesse’s present story. The flashbacks also allow for the return of a few familiar faces, but none of the cameos feel forced or gimmicky. Each cameo is earned and integral to Jesse’s narrative.
El Camino, written and directed by Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, is a wonderfully written thriller focusing on Jesse, and Aaron Paul gives a career-defining performance. Throughout the film, Jesse struggles to cope with the PTSD that was brought on by his imprisonment at the hands of Todd and his neo-Nazi companions, while still retaining the charismatic charm he’s known for. The Jesse of El Camino is a far cry from the Jesse we first met way back in the first episode of Breaking Bad. This Jesse is a more seasoned outlaw, often using his knowledge of the criminal underbelly to gain the upper hand, though he still finds himself getting caught in traps with nothing but his tenacity to help him escape.
Further tension is added by the cinematography, which often has the characters in confined, claustrophobic spaces, highlighting the anxiety and uncertainty Jesse feels hiding from the authorities. Though the film can feel slow at times, the action sequences are exactly what you’d expect for Breaking Bad—a particular favorite moment being an old west style duel between Jesse and a cocaine-addled criminal.
El Camino is a fitting title for this film, and not just because Jesse escapes the neo-Nazi compound in an El Camino. Translated, ‘el camino’ is Spanish for ‘the path’, and this film tells the story of Jesse’s long-earned path to freedom. El Camino opens with a flashback wherein Jesse tells Mike that he’s planning to give up living the life of the criminal and start fresh. Jesse asks Mike where he would go to have a fresh start if he were Jesse’s age. Mike says that he’d go to Alaska because it’s the last frontier. The rest of the film is Jesse’s journey to get to that fresh start in Alaska.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie gives Jesse Pinkman the ending he deserves in a compelling two-hour film now streaming on Netflix. With great writing from Vince Gilligan’s script and a brilliant performance from Aaron Paul, El Camino is essential viewing for Breaking Bad fans everywhere. This film is not just great fanservice, but it’s also a welcome addition to the world of Breaking Bad.