The opening lines of Badfinger’s My Baby Blue — ‘Guess I got what I deserve’ — plays as Walter White (Bryan Cranston) takes a final look at the meth lab before succumbing to his bullet wound. To date, only a few creators have been able to pull off such a satisfying closure to a character. Not just Walter White, almost everyone in the Breaking Bad universe got a definitive end. Except, of course, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), whose end was more abstract — freedom. Now, with El Camino, the second-best meth cook in the world gets the concrete closure that he deserves.
The Spanish phrase el camino means ‘the way’. It is also the name of the car on which Pinkman flees from the crime scene in the final episode of Breaking Bad. In the context of this Breaking Bad movie, it could also mean ‘the way’ Pinkman chooses to tread.
Surprisingly, the film doesn’t open with the last scene of the show as expected or as teased by the promos. Instead, we get a flashback with a cameo by the taciturn Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks). Gilligan’s choice to make this particular scene the prologue to this Netflix Original film is significant. Without giving away too much, let’s just say it is Gilligan’s conscious move to curtail expectations at the outset and let the viewer know where El Camino is going to take Jesse Pinkman.
No points for guessing the first stop of Pinkman’s car. He indeed goes to his friends Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) and Brandon Mayhew aka Badger (Matt Jones). When we meet the two, they are involved in a hilarious banter, which also sums up what they have been up to all this while — nothing. Their hospitality to the most-wanted man in the country is warm and heartbreakingly sweet. By the time Pete bids adieu to Pinkman with the dialogue, “You are my hero and sh*t,” you wish you had a Skinny Pete and Badger in your life to turn to.
El Camino also has a few other characters from the Breaking Bad universe, and we get to see more of the disturbing Todd. The uneasiness in watching this sinister character doesn’t stem from the crime he commits nor the motive, but his cold and insensitive composure in the aftermath. The credit for this goes more to the writing than the performance.
Speaking of performance, Aaron Paul does a splendid job of bringing out the mature and traumatised Jesse Pinkman. He is still recovering from not only the torture of Uncle Jack & co, but also from the gaslighting of Walter White. After everything he has been through, Pinkman is a bit more intelligent but there is a desperation to prove himself time and again. Take the scene with the ‘transporter’, for example, which is more or less an homage to Jason Sathom’s action franchise. Pinkman calls the bluff, but the scene ends with him being hilariously stupid and running for life.
Such character detailing and arcs have been the lifeline of Gilligan’s creations. It’s about how people change, and it is also about how something remains. Philosophically speaking, El Camino is the most optimistic story in the Breaking Bad universe. Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul are about the descent into the dark side of an honest chemistry professor and a striving-to-be-good lawyer, respectively. El Camino, on the other hand, is about a fresh start.
Vince Gilligan respects the difference between the two mediums — TV and cinema — and that’s why El Camino doesn’t end up as another episode of Breaking Bad nor a middling film that aims to squeeze in a whole timeline that would have better suited a TV show. It is a thoroughly satisfactory conclusion to the story of Jesse Pinkman.
'El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie'
Director: Vince Gilligan
Cast: Aaron Paul, Charles Baker, Jesse Plemons