EL CAMINO Review: An Unneeded But Appreciated BREAKING BAD Epilogue
I never needed any more closure than what Vince Gilligan already offered with his Breaking Bad conclusion. The sight of Jesse Pinkman escaping neo-Nazi bondage was a happy enough ending to satisfy what I felt the character deserved. A million things could have happened to him next, but the details were not for me to know.
Well, now they are. Netflix’s El Camino tells us what came next in the emancipation of Jesse Pinkman, offering an extended, deeply melancholy epilogue to a show we all said goodbye to over half a decade ago. It doesn’t aim to do anything spectacular. There are no additions to the Breaking Bad mythos or shocking wrinkles. It’s really is just an extended conclusion to Jesse Pinkman’s story. While feature-length, it has the feel of a short - an extremely well-made indulgence you might have one day found as a DVD special feature. Which is to say, it’s perfect for Netflix.
It is also very good and worth your time, particularly if you are lucky enough to see it on the big screen. Breaking Bad (and, holy moly, Better Call Saul) was always one of the most cinematic television shows; obviously El Camino was going to look good. Technically, the film is across-the-board great. Badger and Skinny Pete offer laughs, there is tension galore and by the end, we even get some Western-influenced action. It has all the highs you expect from Breaking Bad, just not the importance or urgency.
The film picks up right where the series left off, with a disheveled and tortured Jesse Pinkman driving away from his captors. Of course, things are not that easy. He’s destitute and wanted by authorities. What follows is an Odyssey-like journey to make that freedom complete and secure, peppered liberally with cameo-laden flashbacks that will almost certainly pull at your heartstrings.
This is especially true when the flashbacks reacquaint us with a younger, happier Jesse Pinkman. Aaron Paul is so good in this role, capable of flipping back and forth between the smart young criminal with a big heart and the traumatized old warrior the show’s last season left him as without losing the emotional link between the two. El Camino is as much about mentally surviving trauma as it is physically getting out of Dodge, and Paul has to carry a lot throughout the film.
Of course there are many familiar faces. Some you will expect, some to surprise you. Some via flashback, others in the present. There is a fan service element to this, sure, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t used for good reason - usually to inform Jesse’s present actions or offer an emotional button. Really, there is a fan service element to all of this, but maybe that's not the worst thing in the world in this case. I personally believe the last few episodes of Breaking Bad are about as good as it gets in terms of saying goodbye to a show. This addition doesn't replace that, but it doesn’t hurt it either.