Aaron Paul shines in this direct sequel to the hit AMC television series
Aaron Paul in El Camino
I’ll be honest: when the news broke that Vince Gilligan, the brilliant mind behind the hit AMC series Breaking Bad, had secretly shot a feature-length sequel called El Camino—and that it was premiering on Netflix—I let out an involuntary sigh. Yet another theatrical cash grab follow-up to a beloved television series. What’s next, a three hour Mad Men epic where Don Draper navigates the sex and disco fueled New York of the ‘70s while palling around with Andy Warhol? Is nothing sacred anymore?
Yet, El Camino is not only one of the most satisfying resolutions to a long-running series that continued to out-due itself from season to season it’s also one of the most enjoyable crime thrillers of 2019.
The film picks up in the moments immediately following the Breaking Bad series finale. Unlike Downton Abbey, another TV series-turned-movie released this year, you’d be doing yourself a favor going into El Camino having seen the series. Directing from his own script, Gilligan hurls us right into the chaotic aftermath of the sacrificial coup de grace that closed Walter White’s story by following Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), newly liberated from the white supremacist gang who’d tortured him within an inch of his life while forcing him to cook meth for them. What follows is a race against time as Jesse desperately tries to avoid law enforcement while trying to find the escape he’s longed for since realizing his former teacher and mentor, you know, broke bad and stuff.
Fans of Breaking Bad will be delighted to see many of the series’ supporting cast pop up throughout El Camino, including the comically dim duo Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) and Badger (Matt Jones) and Todd (Jesse Plemmons), the psychopath with a childlike demeanor who forms an unlikely—and unsettling—friendship with the captive Jesse.
El Camino, a spiritual cousin to the kind of pulpy, slow-burn crime thrillers of a bygone cinematic era, bears much of the visual hallmarks from the series. But while the movie serves almost as an epilogue to the AMC series, here Gilligan—unbound from the strictures of the episodic TV format—is afforded the luxury of time, expanding and contracting the levity and high-stakes drama the feature film structure affords. It’s the perfect use of the medium to explore what ostensibly feels like the denouement we never got when Jesse was extricated from his captors.
Throughout the entire Breaking Bad series, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) never really had any agency. The aimless yet excitable burnout who never quite lived up to his potential became something of a shuttlecock, bandied back and forth, sometimes violently, by whoever could manipulate him to their advantage. Whether it be Walter White (Bryan Cranston), Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), or the white supremacist drug gang that kept him captive in the final season of the series. While the show’s finale felt like many of the primary players got the sense of finality they deserved, Jesse’s fate always felt incomplete. Finally, in El Camino, Jesse Pinkman gets the send off we’ve all hoped for—finally taking charge of his own fate and finding the freedom he lost long ago, no matter the cost.