‘El Camino’ gives ‘Breaking Bad’ fans one last ride

Photo courtesy of Netflix

Good endings are a luxury in television — closure, doubly so. 

Renowned shows as recent as “Game of Thrones” revolutionized television but failed to stick the landing without disappointing a majority of their fans. The more popular a show is, the more likely it will buckle under its own weight when attempting to end in a satisfying way. So when Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad” ended in 2013 with near universal praise, it was an industry anomaly, perhaps a delicate perfection.

Gilligan’s newest project, “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” picks up right where the series ended: a man is free, but where does he go now? Recently captive Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul, “The Path”) is on the run — from authorities and from his past as right-hand man to Walter White (Bryan Cranston, “Power Rangers”), the biggest drug kingpin in the U.S. 

Freedom is one thing, but whether or not he can have peace is another.

Every loose end was tied in the show finale. But “El Camino” wraps the story in on final bow. So, when “Breaking Bad” ended in 2013, it broke the mold by being as satisfying an ending could be for a schoolteacher turned drug kingpin. But the series finale only gave audiences half a serving
of redemption.

The film continues the character arc that Jesse ended with during the finale. In contrast to his partner, Jesse lives with a moral conscience that knows he can never repent for his sins. Guilt, remorse and self-hatred drive most of his being, and Aaron Paul excellently captures the struggle the character has as they continue to come to terms with himself throughout the two-hour
runtime.

This movie is not just fan service, it is designed to finish the story of arguably the greatest victim by his partner’s actions. Being strung along until he was over his head, Jesse was rarely ever in control of his fate. But Gilligan masterfully uses “El Camino” to give the character not just an end but a future as well.

Propelling this journey, both within our protagonist and out on the familiar streets of Albuquerque, is tension. The setting itself is a race against time as Jesse dashes from one location to the next while avoiding custody. The cinematography highlights moments dramatically ironic and impossibly suspenseful with long takes and purposeful focus. Even Aaron Paul’s acting confronts its audience with a character that may be too broken to succeed.

None of the references to itself are so ham-fisted that it takes away from the experience. Each are purposeful and meant to connect to Jesse, as it is his story now. 

 “El Camino” removes any ambiguity from a character deserving more of an ending than a mere “they got away.” The film is not evidence of lightning striking twice. On the contrary, it is an epilogue that enhances its
original material.