How 'El Camino' Honors and Moves Beyond 'Breaking Bad'

Vince Gilligan's feature film sequel features countless connections to the AMC drug drama, far beyond Aaron Paul's return as Jesse Pinkman.
Ben Rothstein/Netflix

[This story contains major spoilers for Netflix's El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.]

As Jesse Pinkman, Aaron Paul stands front and center in El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, written and directed by Vince Gilligan. While he's at the heart of the latest story in the greater Breaking Bad empire, he's far from the only holdover from the AMC crystal meth drama.

El Camino exhibits a respectable level of restraint, refusing to pile every single major Breaking Bad player into the film just for good measure. For instance, there's no sign of Skyler White and Walter Jr. (Anna Gunn and RJ Mitte), no sign of Betsy Brandt's Marie Schrader; the family Walter White (Bryan Cranston) destroyed with his eternal quest for "more money" are nowhere near the heart of Jesse's last ride. The Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) of it all is mostly untouched, with the exception of one major player who now exists prominently in all three entries in the Breaking Bad franchise. While many of Jesse's ghosts come along for the journey, the chief adversaries of El Camino (aside from the ticking clock and the ever-present risk of capture) are brand-new to the Breaking Bad lands, created specifically for the film: Kandy Mobile Welding duo of Neil and Casey, played by Scott MacArthur and Scott Shepherd. Similarly, most of the film plays out in New Mexico, but not all of it, with the El Camino production breaking free from the Land of Enchantment for a pair of meaningful scenes set in Arizona and Alaska.

There's plenty of time to process the new elements of El Camino. Let's take a moment, first, to stop and admire the old. Featuring several returning cast- and crewmembers, El Camino proudly wears its Breaking Bad origins on its sleeve, extending the series' mythology and characters with new scenes set during the AMC drama's original run. For instance…

1. Returning Players

The sprawling El Camino cast includes several familiar faces from the Breaking Bad universe. The list includes: 

• Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks);

• Skinny Pete (Charles Baker);

• Badger (Matt Jones);

• Old Joe (Larry Hankin);

• Todd Alquist (Jesse Plemons);

• Jesse's parents (Tess Harper and Michael Bofshever);

• Ed Galbraith (Robert Forster);

• Kenny (Kevin Rankin);

• Walter White (Bryan Cranston);

• and Jane Margolis (Krysten Ritter).

2. Heard but Not Seen

Without appearing in the flesh, a few key Breaking Bad characters hang heavily over El Camino. With the exception of Todd and Kenny, the Nazi gang who held Jesse captive are unseen in the film, though they make their presence known in one harrowing flash-in-the-pan flashback where they power-wash Jesse. We see the photo of Andrea and Brock (Emily Rios and Ian Posada) designed to keep Jesse loyal to the meth-making cause, but neither character makes an active appearance in the film; but the movie does end with Jesse asking Ed to send a letter to Brock, presumably offering some words of explanation and comfort for the boy who lost his mother. Speaking of lost mothers, there's no physical sign of Laura Fraser as Lydia Rodarte-Quayle (at least, not her flesh-and-blood person), but the Stevia-savoring meth distributor gets name-checked over the radio; she is reportedly in critical condition and is not expected to survive her poisoning at Walter White's hands.

3. Todd's Scrambled Easter Eggs

When Todd takes Jesse to his apartment, he states the pastel-covered walls were once filled with Easter Eggs. It's no surprise, then, that most of the El Camino blink-and-you-miss-it shoutouts to the Breaking Bad universe are found in Todd's abode. There's a Vamanos Pest shirt lying around in Todd's room, for instance, a remnant of his old bug-bombing job before linking up with the Heisenberg operation. There's the spider Drew Sharp (Sam Webb) found on that fateful day in the desert, before Todd shot the poor boy to death; Todd held onto the spider as a pet. As for Todd's crush, Lydia? He pays tribute to his unrequited love with a few totems in his apartment, including a creepy and cheaply made snow globe featuring Todd and Lydia miniatures.

4. Old Episodes, New Context

Leaning on the flashback structure that defined so much of Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan infuses El Camino with several scenes set during the AMC drama's original run. The opening scene roughly takes place around "Buyout," season five's sixth episode, in which Mike and Jesse announce their decision to break away from Walt's business; in El Camino, Mike tries to walk Jesse through the process, and even comes up with the idea for Jesse to move to Alaska. Jesse originally stated his desire to move to Alaska in season five, episode 11's "Confessions," and now we know where the idea came from. The scene between Mike and Jesse seemingly takes place at the same location where Mike later dies in season five's "Say My Name." El Camino calls out the season five premiere, "Live Free or Die," when Old Joe fondly reminisces on Jesse's infamous magnet heist. ("Magnets! That was a good one!") The Walter White scene takes place within the space of season two's "Four Days Out," one of the most celebrated episodes in the Breaking Bad pantheon, in which Walt and Jesse's RV breaks down in the middle of the desert; it's one of their closest bonding points in the show, hence Walt's less-threatening-than-usual demeanor in the restaurant. The final flashback, featuring Jesse with Jane, takes place roughly in the space of season three, episode 11's "Abiquiu," in which the young couple visit the Georgia O'Keeffe museum in Santa Fe; that scene itself was a flashback to Jane and Jesse's date at the start of the aforementioned "Four Days Out." Inception!

5. The Last Stand

Jesse's final showdown with Kandy welders Neil and Casey owes thanks to his mentor Walter White. Much like Walter brought down the Nazis with a machine gun in his trunk, Jesse brings down his new enemies with a top secret weapon: a gun in his pocket. He foregoes using the Luger pistol (traditionally associated with Nazis, an association Jesse wouldn't want on any day of the week, and certainly not after spending months and months in captivity at their mercy) and instead uses a revolver, not unlike the weapon Walt used to shoot and kill Mike in season five. In a way, Jesse's hidden weapon echoes one of Walt's earliest acts of violence in season one's "Crazy Handful of Nothin'," when he showed up to Tuco's operation with a pocketful of chemically engineered explosives. As for Jesse, it marks a new stage for the man who once became an emotional wreck after killing Gale Boetticher (David Costabile) and later emotionally strangled Todd to death; here, in the climax of El Camino, Jesse exhibits no emotion whatsoever as he shoots Neil and Casey to death. There's no way to clear the conscience, according to Mike Ehrmantraut — but one last act of breaking bad before getting a chance at a new life? That's another story.

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