It's been six years since the final episode of Breaking Bad finished the story in spectacular fashion. As far as finales are concerned, it's hard to get much better than "Felina," a heartbreaking but ultimately victorious end to one of TV's most complex and anxiety-inducing dramas. It had just about everything: sendoffs for all of the major surviving characters, little nods and winks to some of the show's earliest plot threads, an explosive climax, and an immensely satisfying conclusion.
In terms of last episodes, it would have been hard to do any better--which, really, is why the prospect of El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie feels so daunting. Is it really worth revisiting and adding to those final moments at the risk of muddling a perfect ending?
Well, get ready to feel at ease, because the answer to that question, shockingly, is "yes." If you're a fan of Breaking Bad, El Camino is a labor of love made specifically for you, and it's one that will not, in any way, corrupt or dismantle your carefully crafted perception of the original show. If anything, it's a grace note--one that, quite frankly, is surprising really only in the sense that it's allowed to exist at all given just how long Breaking Bad has been out of the spotlight.
El Camino tells the story of Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), picking up exactly where we left him in the series finale. His last shot on the show was him driving an old El Camino out of the white supremacist compound he'd been kept in as a hostage for months and months--finally escaping while Walter White bled out on the floor of the compound's lab. In the context of the show, we're meant to see Jesse's final moments as, ultimately, victorious. He's alive, he escaped, that's good enough. In the movie, we're meant to understand that things are a bit more complicated, especially given the monstrously inhumane treatment and trauma he'd been subjected to for so long. We get to see him meet up with old friends, finally unpack some of his more daunting baggage, and figure out what his new, post-Walter White direction in life ought to be.
Making changes to that ending could have been disastrous, but thankfully, nothing about the final episode is actually recontextualized or changed in any way by this film. It's simply expanded.
This makes El Camino a pretty unusual viewing experience. There really aren't any stakes, and the movie totally lacks a conventional three-act structure. The journey Jesse goes on is both predictable and literal--he has to move on from Walter White. That's a given. And he does so by taking a trip around Albequerque and down memory lane. It's all bit uncanny, especially if you go in expecting a traditional action movie.
Writer/director/creator Vince Gilligan deftly avoided tampering with the past by telling a new story that feels, in the most non-pejorative way possible, like Breaking Bad fanfiction. It's less an attempt to add anything new to the legacy and more a labor of love that explores a character fans already have a ton of emotional investment in. It's ultimately a small story--one that, had it happened in an episode of the series proper, would have undoubtedly taken up about 15 minutes or so--protracted into a feature-length film. That breathing room affords the movie plenty of time to really dig into the ins and outs of Jesse's character and revisit some of the more important relationships he had throughout the show.
Simply put, it's a love letter both to Jesse and to Breaking Bad as a whole, but as such, you'll need to have an understanding of and appreciation for the franchise going in. It's beautifully shot and impeccably well crafted--Gilligan's aesthetic sensibilities as a director have only gotten better and more defined in the six-year gap--but it won't mean much of anything to someone who isn't already steeped in the canon. Similarly, it may miss the mark for anyone who wasn't specifically invested in Jesse. This is, absolutely and without question, his movie, meaning that while El Camino might feature a revolving door of some of Breaking Bad's greatest side characters, there are some major ommissions. Jesse may not be the only character left without an absolutely conclusive ending (Skyler, we're looking at you) in "Felina," but he's the only one this movie is concerned about exploring in any meaningful way.
Ultimately, your mileage is going to vary. If you love Breaking Bad and Jesse Pinkman, El Camino is a beautifully crafted kindness, and a chance to spend another hour or so with a character you care about. If you don't have strong feelings about either of those things, El Camino may feel like a really spectacularly shot screen saver. Either way, the fact that it exists at all, and that Sony TV and Netflix were willing to put money behind what is so obviously an extremely niche passion project, feels like a good omen for franchise TV.
El Camino is streaming now on Netflix and in a limited number of theaters, and will air on AMC at a later date.
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