Reel talk: ‘El Camino’ — An unnecessary but enjoyable epilogue to ‘Breaking Bad’

The titular car, owned by character Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad and the new movie "El Camino. The black car with orange stripes on the hood is displayed in front of a bright orange background.
Graphic by Natalie Bauer

This article contains spoilers.

“Breaking Bad”’s Jesse Pinkman is one of those rare and unforgettable characters who stays with you long after the show has ended. From his first aggravated utterances of the word “bitch” to his final hysterical scream as he speeds away from captivity, Jesse captured our sympathy and our laughter.

In a show full of characters lacking any semblance of a moral compass, Jesse — despite his prickly exterior and poor judgement — challenges viewers to rethink what they believe makes someone a good person, and compels compassion for a kind of character who, in the real world, is rarely given any.

But to go beyond the moral complexities of his character, Jesse simply has such a terrible time over the course of five seasons that you end up rooting for him regardless of your stance on his virtues. After a laundry list of tragedies and abuse, beginning with the death of his girlfriend Jane and ending with enslavement by a group of deranged, meth-cooking Nazis, we just want him to be okay — an outcome that’s implied by Jesse’s escape from captivity in the practically perfect series finale episode “Felina.”

Writer and creator Vince Gilligan, however, had a nagging idea of a more concrete conclusion for Jesse’s story, ultimately manifesting in “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” which was released on Netflix and in limited theaters shortly after the 7-year anniversary of the show’s finale. 

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Given the perfect, satisfying conclusion that “Felina” provided, I was skeptical about the necessity of an epilogue, and of its ability to seamlessly mesh with the rest of the show. But my undying love for Jesse overrode my concerns, and I gleefully paid $15 to see it in theaters on opening night — a decision I did not regret.

“El Camino” doesn’t quite feel like an actual movie, nor just an episode of TV. Instead, it occupies some nebulous middle ground in which plot arcs must be contained within a two-hour time frame but the viewer has spent over 60 hours with the characters, getting to know and love them. 

This is much of what makes the film so enjoyable; appearances by Mike (Jonathan Banks), Jane (Krysten Ritter) and Walt (Bryan Cranston) are a joy to watch (the old RV even makes an appearance!). The return of Jesse Plemons as the enigmatic, sociopathic and just plain weird Todd, on the other hand, is decidedly less joyous but equally entertaining.

Despite it straddling the line between film and television, “El Camino” still feels like quintessential “Breaking Bad.” It maintains the integrity of the show with the same breathtaking shots of the New Mexican desert, which are even better on the big screen. There are unique point-of-view camera angles, clever use of time lapses and a fantastic script that captures the same dark humor that made the show so spectacular. Even Badger and Skinny Pete are there with the same brand of absurdly hilarious comic relief.

As for the film’s necessity, that question still remains. We know that Jesse has suffered too much for Gilligan not to give him a happy ending, which ends up detracting from some of the tension as Jesse struggles to escape police and start a new life. 

The movie does fill in Jesse’s story somewhat by giving his relationship with his parents more closure and providing viewers with more insight to the abuse he suffered under Todd’s watch. But it ultimately adds little to the ending we already knew. “Felina” implied that Jesse would get to start fresh, and “El Camino” confirms this.

Despite being an inessential addition to Jesse’s story, the film certainly doesn’t detract from the magnificence of the show’s conclusion. Aaron Paul is excellent as always, and it’s impossible not to tear up when Jesse finally gets to put his past behind him and begin again. 

If nothing else, “El Camino” is an opportunity to immerse yourself into the world of “Breaking Bad” once again, and I can’t imagine that any fan of the show wouldn’t be happy to have it. 

Rachael Diamond SC ’21 is one of TSL’s film columnists. She’s a philosophy major who enjoys talking about movies to anyone who will listen. 

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