Seven years after Badfinger’s Baby Blue played out the story of Heisenberg on our screens, there are few people who will disagree with the notion that Breaking Bad is one of the all-time greats in TV drama. Over 62 unforgettable episodes, Vince Gilligan’s acclaimed series followed the brutal rise and fall of a drug kingpin in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It came as no surprise when rumours began trickling out that a follow-up film was being shot, in secret, in 2018.
The result was El Camino, an epilogue-esque drama that ties up all the loose ends surrounding the character of Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). First and foremost, it is certainly debatable whether this project was necessary.
The script of Breaking Bad’s final episode has these final notes on Jesse.
CLOSE ANGLE — JESSE. Grimly determined, fearing nothing, he speeds through the darkness. From here on, it’s up to us to say where he’s headed. I like to call it “something better,” and leave it at that.
Jesse’s ending was mysterious and exciting. Audiences’ ideas of the “something better” probably differed wildly, and therein lay part of the finale’s power – its’ ambiguity. El Camino felt like unnecessary closure, adding a chapter onto a story that had been completed so perfectly with that masterpiece finale. Like Toy Story 4, the entire concept felt like a desperate cash-grab that couldn’t possibly match what came before it. But, also like Toy Story 4, the result was surprisingly decent, if indeed not on par with its predecessor.
This is Aaron Paul’s film through-and-through, and he’s simply stunning. As a battered and broken Jesse, his raw and powerful performance steals the film and alone justifies its existence. Appearances from other Breaking Bad stars including Jesse Plemons, Robert Forster, Jonathan Banks and – now that the statute of limitations on spoilers has certainly expired – Bryan Cranston, will delight fans of the show, with each given an opportunity to expand upon their characters’ arcs (although Jesse Plemons’ weight gain between the series and film is certainly jarring). The film is also beautifully shot, faithfully recreating the series’ unique aesthetic and visuals thanks to Marshall Adams’ cinematography.
Narratively, the film is rather simple and certainly not as intellectually challenging as the series often was, instead presenting a rather straight-forward coda with limited scope – unsurprisingly when you consider it was shot in secret over just 50 days. Even coming from a big Breaking Bad fan, the film doesn’t feel essential. Instead, it feels more like an optional epilogue for those who want to know what happened to Jesse after the finale. On that level, it works – the filmmaking and performances are certainly as stellar as we’ve come to expect from the Breaking Bad universe.
But it’s just that question of whether or not this was necessary that taints the experience. After such a flawless finale, Breaking Bad simply didn’t need this continuation. But thankfully, the high level of quality here doesn’t ruin the memories of the epic series.