Kulture Reviews: Was ‘El Camino’ the proper send-off for Jesse Pinkman?
El Camino is the movie that has our favorite Breaking Bad character Jesse Pinkman seeking redemption, even if it is unattainable.
Many people have argued that El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie did not need to be made. “Felina,” the anagram title for Breaking Bad’s series finale, was an episode that tied up nearly all loose ends and left most fans feeling joyful at what is so often rare in a drama series: an objectively happy ending.
However, I will argue here why El Camino was necessary, important, and if not perfect, pretty damn close to it. With director and Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan at the helm, fans of the Emmy-Award-Winning drama, knew we would get smart, delicate writing, beautiful cinematography, and delightful performances and casting choices.
Everything else would just be extra. Well, we got it and more. Aaron Paul (Jesse) returns to his role, and the hardships he went through as a slave to Todd, Uncle Jack, and his cronies are evident right away.
Paul was excellent, as was expected. The new star of Westworld’s upcoming season attributes his entire career to Gilligan going to bat for him, and we were treated to a beautiful performance from the most (and only?) redeemable character Br Ba ever churned out.
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Todd also returned, played by Jesse Plemons, although with a lot more weight on him since we saw him last. However, this could be because of his role in The Irishman, where he plays a larger man.
Where Todd was gaunt in Br Ba, and this added to his sociopathic look, his weight here is not a deterrent. He is scary, menacing, and his detachment from most human emotion and clear belief that Jesse is a friend of his, make him the real antagonist of this movie. Of course, he is only shown in flashbacks, as those of us who have seen “Felina” know how he goes out.
One terrifying scene is when Jesse gets ahold of Todd’s gun and frighteningly points it at him. Todd talks him down and Jesse whimpers into the vast night as he understands the lost opportunity and how heavy his possessor’s hold on him is.
At the heart of this movie is a conversation about decisions, and we see this in the first scene and the last. The movie opens up with Jesse and Mike talking in a flashback to a time before Jesse and Mike tell Walt they’re out of the meth business and are going to cut their losses and dip with the (already enormous) money they have earned.
This is a beautiful scene, intercut with shots of sublime mountains and a running creek. It also highlights Gilligan and his writers’ incredible decision-making, because while this was not a scene in Br Ba, it very well could have been, and so it was perfect to be included in this movie, especially as the first thing we see.
Jesse and Mike discuss what they’ll do with their money and lives after they flee the Southwest. Mike mentions how, if he were Jesse’s age, he would go to Alaska, the last frontier. “Up there you could be anything you want.”
“Alaska… start over, start fresh. Put things right,” Jesse says, more to himself than to Mike.
“No,” says Mike despondently. “Sorry kid, that’s the one thing you can never do.”
Both characters ponder this idea, and it highlights Jesse’s predicament well. Instead of fleeing, he goes after Walt, partners up with Hank, and ends up becoming a slave to Uncle Jack because of it.
The next scene pans to current-day, with Jesse screaming as he flees Uncle Jack’s base in Todd’s El Camino. There is no way to make things right, no chance at redemption. There is only moving forward, and to do this, he must evade the cops.
Through many scenes along the way (that some have argued are boring or unimportant, and to this, I most heartily disagree), Jesse manages to come up with the money to start a new life, in yes, Alaska.
Through the snow-laced trees, he drives, and once more we are treated to Gilligan’s beautiful cinematography. The next, and last, scene is a flashback to Jane, Jesse’s old girlfriend. Jane tells him how going where the universe takes you is a terrible philosophy.
“I’ve gone where the universe takes me my whole life,” she says.
“It’s better to make those decisions for yourself.”
I got goosebumps throughout this whole film, and I think every fan of Br Ba, when they look deeper, can see the beauty and enjoyment in it. “Felina” was about Walt’s redemption arc, but besides the surface-level fact of saving him, it did entirely nothing for Jesse.
Jesse, possibly the only redemptive character left in the show, and the one we’ve been with all the way from the beginning deserved to have his own send-off, and thank god for his sake it was a happy one.