9:00am PT by Josh Wigler
'Breaking Bad': How 'El Camino' Continues Aaron Paul's Story
[This story contains major spoilers for Netflix's El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.]
In the script for the Breaking Bad series finale, creator Vince Gilligan left the fate of Aaron Paul's Jesse Pinkman up in the air for the viewer to decide: "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."
But Gilligan did not leave it at that. Instead, he wrote and directed a two-hour feature called El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, on Netflix and in limited theatrical release now. The highly anticipated thriller continues Jesse's story, chronicling his great escape after Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and a trunk-mounted machine gun killed off Uncle Jack (Michael Bowen) and the white supremacist army who kept poor Pinkman trapped in a cage, cooking the signature blue crystal recipe on pain of death — not just his death, but those of the ones he loves.
While Gilligan's original vision for Jesse's ending was open to interpretation, the man who first dreamed Heisenberg into existence made it clear in his script he saw a brighter road ahead for Mr. White's star pupil. Would the outcome of El Camino impact Jesse's ending for the worse? Did Gilligan think better on cutting Jesse some slack, and instead decided to revert to his original vision for the character by torturing him beyond belief, almost as agonizingly for the audience as for poor Jesse himself?
The answer to those questions — the final fate of Jesse Pinkman — now stands revealed, thanks to El Camino…
…and thankfully, mercifully, Gilligan's series finale feelings toward Jesse remain largely intact, if featuring a few additional bumps and bruises.
The main story of El Camino charts Jesse's life in the immediate aftermath of the series finale — and really, a heavy emphasis on the word "immediate." Following a flashback featuring Jonathan Banks' Mike Ehrmantraut, the action slams into the present moment, as Jesse roars down the road behind the wheel of the titular El Camino. He quickly has to hide from the police caravan, on their way to Uncle Jack's compound. Jesse manages to find relief in the form of his two best friends Badger (Matt Jones) and Skinny Pete (Charles Baker), both of whom make great sacrifices in order to keep Jesse alive — Badger a bit begrudgingly, admittedly, but for Skinny? It's a wholehearted assist for Jesse, as Pete eventually explains to him: "Dude, you're my hero and shit."
Trading in the El Camino for Badger's less-than-desirable vehicle, Jesse travels across Albuquerque and stops at the home of the late Todd Alquist, the "Opie dead-eyed piece of shit" Jesse killed in the Breaking Bad series finale. A series of flashbacks reveal the sociopathic Todd, who always had an interest in Jesse, taking the good Mr. Pinkman on a field trip during his time in captivity; he needed Jesse to help him clean up the murder of Todd's housekeeper, who had the tragic misfortune of finding Todd's stash of meth-made cash. In the flashback, Todd reveals his need to hide his money somewhere in his apartment where no one will ever find it. In the present, Jesse remembers Todd's words and spends a long night searching for the considerable chunk of change — and he eventually finds it, but not without running into new trouble.
Two men posing as police officers — Neil and Casey (played by Scott MacArthur and Scott Shepherd), Kandy Mobile Welding employees who did business with Uncle Jack's crew — roll up to Todd's apartment in search of the money. After a tense standoff, they reach terms with Jesse: he can take a third of the money, as long as he shows them where it's stashed. No one is especially thrilled with the deal.
Jesse spends the rest of the afternoon visiting vacuum retailers, hoping to find the cleanup guy Saul (Bob Odenkirk) once told him about, so he can buy his way to freedom. Eventually, Jesse finds the right man: Ed Galbraith, played once again by "Granite State" actor Robert Forster. Ed won't take Jesse until he has enough money to pay for the time he ditched the opportunity to escape in season five's "Confessions," as well as the new disappearing costs. Jesse is $1,800 short of the expense, sending him back out into the world to get the right amount of cash.
The film reaches its climax when Jesse steals a pair of guns from his parents' house and shows up to Kandy Mobile Welding, where he plans to score more money from Neil and Casey. He tries to ask them nicely, but a coked-up Neil has a different plan in mind: a gun battle, wild west style. Neil likes his odds, with his eyes on Jesse's antique luger — but what he doesn't account for is the second gun, the revolver held in Jesse's pocket. Like Walter White's machine gun in the trunk, Jesse uses the hidden weapon to blast Neil out of existence the second he tries to draw. Jesse's forced to kill Neil as well, and when the dust settles, he's able to score the money needed to get out of town.
In the closing scenes of the film, we see Jesse in two earlier moments of his life featuring two of the most significant people from his past — Walter White and Jane (Krysten Ritter) — offering different pearls of wisdom. In a scene set within the events of season two's "4 Days Out," a proud Walter says he's happy Jesse "didn't have to wait [his] whole life to do something special." Jane, for her part, tells Jesse that he shouldn't go where the universe tells him to go — he should go where he chooses to go.
In the end, Jesse takes Jane's advice, and chooses his final destination: Alaska, the last frontier, the place he said he wanted to escape to all the way back in "Confessions." (The first scene of El Camino reveals Mike as the originator of the Alaska suggestion; so perhaps the real lesson is don't go where the universe tells you to go, and don't choose yourself; let Mike Ehrmantraut make all your decisions for you. Good advice!) Before they part ways, Jesse provides Ed with a letter for Brock (Ian Posada), the contents of which are kept hidden from the viewer. Ed promises he'll send the letter once he goes on a trip to Mexico City in a month's time.
The film's final image mirrors Jesse's final Breaking Bad appearance, behind the wheel of a vehicle — except this time, there's no howling, no tears streaming down his face, no need for speed. This time, at last, Jesse is at peace — and this time, what Gilligan wrote about Walter White in the series finale script now applies to Heisenberg's most notable student: "He got away."
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