It has been six years since Vince Gilligan’s masterful series ‘Breaking Bad‘ last aired on AMC. Since then, Gilligan has come up with a prequel spinoff titled ‘Better Call Saul‘, which only reaffirmed his exceptional talent. On the hand, ‘El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie‘ is the direct sequel to the show, which is why we all were so eagerly anticipating it.
In case you need to refresh your memory about ‘Breaking Bad’, it follows a high school chemistry teacher, Walter White, who is diagnosed with cancer and gets into the methamphetamine cooking business to raise money for his treatment and family. He joins the business with his former high school student, Jesse Pinkman. Over the seasons, Walt descends into a life of crime as he turns into a tragic figure of epic proportions, capable of infinite malice.
Jesse, who gets caught up in Mr. White’s plan, is forced to watch helplessly as the man systematically proceeds to destroy almost all things that Jesse cares about. In all regards, Jesse’s imprisonment to a life of crime is literally represented towards the end of the show, when he is caged and forced to cook meth for a group of Neo-Nazis. Thus, in a way, when Walt kills Jesse’s prisoners, he sets Jesse free. The ultimate act of freedom comes when Jesse asserts that Walt has a death wish but refuses to follow up on it.
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‘Breaking Bad’ ends with the haunting frame of Jesse’s face laughing and sobbing, scarred with torture, as he drives away in an El Camino, free of all shackles. The imagery might feel like Jesse is riding off into the sunset as Walt dies, but the discerning viewer will realize that the youngster now needs to rely on his resourcefulness, willpower, and determination to survive if he wishes to evade the law and get out of the disaster that is his previous life.
‘El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie’ picks up the story from this point. Gilligan makes the structure of the movie clear at the outset. Jesse’s plan is to evade the law, get rid of the conspicuous El Camino that he has been driving. His intention is then to collect some money so he can use Saul’s contact to disappear and start a new life. However, nothing is ever as straightforward in Jesse’s world, as Gilligan weaves a masterful tale that is characteristic of how he conceived of the original show. The movie fits right in, thematically.
Viewers will immediately recognize the unique points of view through which Gilligan establishes a shot, introducing us to various scenes. He also includes some of the sprawling vistas that we have come to associate with the ‘Breaking Bad’ universe. However, symbolically perhaps, the scenes we are treated to in ‘El Camino’ are barren, almost as if to suggest that the town has no life left for Jesse Pinkman. ‘Breaking Bad’ fans are bound to love ‘El Camino’ as Gilligan painstakingly explores and explains every aspect while spacing out the film’s taut pacing with flashbacks that shows Jesse’s relationship with various characters. In all regards, ‘El Camino’ does not feel like a dragged out episode, it gives us the feeling of a properly structured movie that moves at a fast pace mimicking Pinkman’s attempt to flee.
‘El Camino’ also manages to incorporate Gilligan’s unique style of infusing humor in an otherwise serious sequence of events. Jesse’s interaction with his two old friends, Skinny Pete and Badger, is the best example of how the banter is used to lighten the mood. Even as we see a traumatized Jesse cleaning up after himself and coping with how to make the best use of his freedom, Pete and Badger’s exchanges about the deodorants Jesse can use is sure to bring a smile to the viewer’s face. Through flashbacks, we see Jesse’s relationship with Todd, his captor.
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The disconcerting nature of how the character can oscillate between being mild-mannered and extremely violent is striking. We get a better idea of Jesse’s time in captivity, but the important point is that now deceased Todd (Jesse strangles him in ‘Felina’, the finale of ‘Breaking Bad’) has some money stashed away that Jesse can use. Although he finds the money, he runs into two fake cops who get the best of him. It turns out these fake cops are members of Kandy Welding, the people the Neo-Nazis went to, in order to make the contraption where they could chain Jesse and make him cook meth. Jesse manages to strike a deal where they split Todd’s money among the three of them. However, this amount is insufficient for him to use Saul’s contact to disappear. Out of options, Jesse tries to steal from his parents as well, but instead of finding money there, he finds two guns.
Well accustomed to a life of crime by this point, we see Jesse’s trauma bubbling violently to the surface as he forces an explosive confrontation with those at Kandy Welding. Finally, he uses the money to start afresh in Alaska, saying goodbye to everyone in his old life. The movie ends with a conversation Jesse recalls with his first love, Jane, and decides that he will no longer be a victim to fate or the universe. Instead, in his new life, he will choose for himself.
Jesse’s story comes to a befitting conclusion in ‘El Camino’. While ‘Breaking Bad’ only hinted at possible freedom, it had established that Jesse had paid immensely for his transgressions into a life of crime. Moreover, Jesse’s life is filled with near-psychotic characters who have influenced and controlled him, be it Walter, Gus Fring or Todd and his gang. However, Jesse has also learned from those who are essentially good people forced to do bad things, like Saul and Mike. In fact, Jesse’s idea to go to Alaska comes from Mike as ‘El Camino’ shows.
Overall, the movie is a perfect addition in the ‘Breaking Bad’ universe, telling a tale of hope for a protagonist whose story had been left unfinished. Jesse had become the mirror of the audience’s conscience and Gilligan masterfully draws his story to a close. That being said, if you have a Netflix subscription, you will surely want to check out ‘El Camino’ for the wonderful storytelling and Aaron Paul’s fantastic performance as Jesse Pinkman. The visuals are so excellent that you might even consider checking out the movie in theaters, if possible.
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