El Camino Review: An Epilogue Breaking Bad Fans Will Be Glad to Have

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El Camino Review: An Epilogue Breaking Bad Fans Will Be Glad to Have

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

When we last saw Jesse Pinkman, his time as the loyal, innocent, “bitch”-uttering sidekick to cancer patient and meth dealer Walter White had come to an end. The last episode of Breaking Bad, “Felina” — which critics have labelled one of the best series finales of all time — leaves us with the image of former Chemistry teacher Walt lying face up in a warehouse, bleeding from his chest, his slow descent into madness having both peaked and crashed, and Pinkman driving away in a Chevrolet El Camino, his fate left to be decided by the fans.

The new Netflix film, El Camino, however, takes off exactly where its prequel ended six years ago. Only this time, rather than leaving Pinkman’s story hanging, it offers a deep dive into what the writer and creator of Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan himself, envisioned for the loveable character.

It’s clear right from the get go that while Pinkman may have escaped the cage from where he was forced to cook the notorious blue crystal meth, and had seen the last of his tormentor, the sophisticated sadist Todd (Jesse Plemons), he’s still far from being a “free man”. With the police on the lookout for him, Pinkman must now secure a certain amount of cash to plan his escape — a journey that he often alludes to during the five seasons of the Emmy-winning show. As Gilligan once put it in an interview, “He’s got a long road to recovery ahead… All the terrible things he’s witnessed are going to scar him.” 

El Camino

El Camino features several familiar faces, including best friends forever Badger and Skinny Pete, and arch-rival Todd, the politest psychopath on television

Sony Pictures Television/ Gran Vía Productions/ High Bridge Productions/ Netflix

El Camino follows Pinkman’s journey, effortlessly sucking us back into the Breaking Bad universe with every frame, and — slightly plumper versions of — the same characters that fans invested so much time into figuring out. Serving as both a sequel and a flashback, El Camino features several familiar faces, including (without giving too much away) best friends forever Badger and Skinny Pete, and arch-rival Todd, the politest psychopath on television, played by actor Jesse Plemons, aka “Meth Damon”.

Aaron Paul is the stand-out star of the movie, pulling off yet another performance that once led Vince Gilligan to call him a “future Oscar-winning actor”. If Breaking Bad was a show about the sweet innocent Walter White taking control of his life, El Camino is about Jesse finding his own, finally free from Walt’s manipulation and the miserable circumstances that led him to losing a number of loved ones along the way. Aaron Paul pulls this off with the same soft intensity that he injected into Jesse Pinkman during Breaking Bad’s five-season run. 

Also making a surprise appearance is Rober Forster, who returns to his role as part-time vacuum salesman, and part-time transporter Ed Galbraith. The 72-year-old actor, whose role was crucial to the plot, tragically passed away on October 11, the day the movie was released on Netflix. 

If Breaking Bad was a show about the sweet innocent Walter White taking control of his life, El Camino is about Jesse finding his own.

A few critics have argued that El Camino lacks a solid plot and that the stakes are too low, considering ancillary characters make it a little too easy for Jesse Pinkman to succeed. There is some merit to this argument, since the film lacks the high-octane, non-stop action sequences that you’d expect of the average blockbuster. Instead, we’re treated to more of Vince Gilligan’s love for Western tropes – after one of the stickier moments Pinkman finds himself involved in a good ol’ fashion duel.

Considering the number of cameos, more discerning viewers may also feel like the film resorts to fan-service at several points. And admittedly, it’s not the kind of film a movie buff unfamiliar with the Breaking Bad universe will enjoy, considering they’ve missed out on over 50 episodes of backstory. 

But El Camino more than makes up for this minor setback with the excellent writing and cinematography that elevated shows like Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul to critically acclaimed status in the first place. It’s fair then to say that rather than being a standalone film, El Camino seems more like two bonus episodes of Breaking Bad  —  an epilogue that no one necessarily needed, or asked for but fans will be glad to have anyway. It’s a testament to Vince Gilligan’s writing, really: While Game of Thrones couldn’t even get a decent finale, Breaking Bad now has two.

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