Breaking Bad (2008-2013) was a phenomenal series that explored the consequences of taking your mid-life crisis too far. It was story about descending into darkness, being consumed by greed, and eventually facing the repercussions of your actions. It was delivered with more depth and thought than most any TV series before or after. And with its series finale Felina, the show came to its inescapable conclusion; a conclusion that was both satisfying and just.
The death of Walter White (Bryan Cranston) was something of an inevitability – albeit one that was, to many fans, heartbreaking. White had fallen too far down the rabbit hole. But this was not a fate shared by Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), White’s ex-partner. And with his fateful escape from the neo-Nazis, a broken and jaded Jesse drives off into the unknown darkness in a 1978 Chevrolet El Camino.
Immediately after the events of Felina, Jesse Pinkman rides off in Todd’s El Camino having just survived months of torture and slavery at the hands of the neo-Nazis. Haunted by the ghosts and memories of his past life, the former meth cook looks to escape his guilt by forging a new future somewhere he can finally find peace.
El Camino is a love letter to fans of the series it spun out of, reuniting them with not only Jesse Pinkman but also a multitude of other characters from Breaking Bad. These cameos, however, never felt like unnecessary fan service flavor that were forced into the scene for the sake of getting a cheap reaction from audiences. Instead, every character that returned felt organic and essential to tell the story of a broken and haunted Jesse.
Speaking of Pinkman, Aaron Paul (Need for Speed, Exodus: Gods and Kings) returns to his breakout role in a character portrayal that is nothing less than career-defining for the actor. Paul doesn’t merely rehash the character’s greatest hits with random outbursts of ‘Yeah science!’ In true Breaking Bad fashion, we’re given the culmination of the character’s development arc. Paul’s believable portrayal of a character who’s driven by near-hopelessness breathes new life into Jesse Pinkman and the world he inhabits.
Vince Gilligan shows us a familiar but welcomed directorial performance in the film, delivering on the same high-stakes tension and masterful visual storytelling that many of us miss from the original series with El Camino. His use of the most claustrophobic and contained shots in the film embodies the emotion of the main character, whose perspective the film is solely framed from. These shots are deliberately contrasted by wide, open views and bold cinematography that immediately puts things into perspective.
Overall, while it might not be as entertaining a film for those who’ve yet to enjoy Breaking Bad in its entirety, El Camino is a thoughtful and introspective swan song that lives up the series that birthed it. While Felina delivered the ending that we needed, El Camino presents the ending that we wanted, at least for Jesse Pinkman.