[Warning: The following contains spoilers for El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie. Read at your own risk!]
Since Breaking Bad signed off in 2013, the only glimpses we've had of a post-Walter White (Bryan Cranston) existence have been courtesy of the show's Emmy-nominated spin-off, Better Call Saul. The series, though it's mostly a prequel, opens each season with a brief black-and-white flash-forward teasing the future life of Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), who goes by the name of Gene and manages a Cinnabon in Omaha, Nebraska, after fleeing New Mexico at the end of the original series. Now, Netflix's El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie gives fans a window into the life of another character caught in Walt's schemes.
The two-hour film acts as an emotional coda to the original AMC series and reveals what happened to fan-favorite character Jesse Pinkman (three-time Emmy winner Aaron Paul) after his escape from the white supremacist compound where he'd been held captive by Todd (Jesse Plemons) and his Neo-Nazi uncle. El Camino revisits many of Breaking Bad's familiar narrative beats, backing our hero into dangerous corners and forcing him to find increasingly clever ways out. But the movie, which again makes great use of New Mexico's spectacular sweeping vistas, also spends a significant portion of its two-hour run time in flashbacks, exploring the trauma — both mental and physical — that Jesse suffered while held captive by Todd. The closure he finds when he finally makes it to Alaska with a new identity and the memory of Jane (Krysten Ritter) in the car next to him concludes a poignant epilogue to a harrowing journey that is easy to forget only covered about two years of his life. But as is the case with all revivals, we have to ask: What purpose does El Camino ultimately serve?
Breaking Bad's series finale was a pitch-perfect ending to a story that left few dangling threads in need of addressing. And while it may have bothered some fans that the end of the series was so Walt-centric, especially since Jesse was the show's moral compass as well as a co-leading man whose fate mattered just as much as Walt's, it isn't as if his story had been ignored by the writers. It was simply open ended, which meant the possibilities for Jesse post Walter White were endless. That bothered some fans — probably the same ones who hated The Sopranos creator David Chase for cutting to black and not outright revealing what happened to Tony Soprano — but in the end, Jesse was free, his story concluded.
In this regard, returning to the story of Breaking Bad differs from other recent TV-to-film continuations. This wasn't like reviving Deadwood 10 years after the HBO series was struck down in its prime to give the series and its characters proper endings. It wasn't like returning to the cult series Veronica Mars for a crowd-funded film because The CW unjustly canceled the series, leaving its ongoing storylines in need of resolution. Breaking Bad had an expertly crafted finale, and it ended the way series creator Vince Gilligan had intended. So why return at all?
Is it because Gilligan and Paul are hoping to further explore Jesse Pinkman as a character as he continues to heal in Alaska? This seems unlikely to happen, as nothing about his journey thus far indicates there is a narrative reason to do so. Jesse's story, for all intents and purposes, has now been neatly tied up. The film gives him the same ending he had before, only now we know the specific details: Jesse is free to start over in the last frontier. But does this necessarily preclude his story from intersecting with the narrative of Better Call Saul, which traces the devolution of Jimmy McGill (Odenkirk) into slippery lawyer Saul Goodman?
Given that the spin-off is a prequel, it doesn't seem all that likely that Jesse's adventures in Alaska will intersect with Better Call Saul's main story. There is a possibility that this scarred version of Jesse could appear in the show's present-day timeline, but that storyline has been limited to maybe five to 15 minutes of screentime each season, which doesn't leave a lot of room to bring someone else into the story. However, as Gilligan told TV Guide last year ahead of Season 4, the writers haven't completely ruled out the possibility that the show will spend more time in the post-Breaking Bad era either. "Never say never," said Gilligan. "I have to be a little bit coy here ... [but] you'd be shocked how little we know about what is in store. But it seems to me that Gene, in Omaha, the guy that manages the Cinnabon at the mall, is a pretty interesting character in his own right. So I think we'd be remiss not to show the audience a little more of his story."
Even if the show does eventually devote more time to Gene, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that there's really no reason for Jesse to become involved in said story. Jesse escaped. He's free from this world and his former life. For him to once again become embroiled in the same dangerous environment that required him to enlist Ed Galbraith's (Robert Forster) services in the first place would mean everything Jesse went through in El Camino — from discovering Todd's money and tracking down Ed to then killing two men in order to get the amount of cash he needed to actually escape — was ultimately for nothing.
Additionally, Gilligan has said that while planning the story of El Camino, he originally intended for Jesse to sacrifice himself for someone else and end up in prison as a result. That obviously didn't happen — thank you to Gilligan's girlfriend, Holly Rice, and to Peter Gould and the rest of the Better Call Saul writing staff for telling him what a horrible idea that would have been — but it doesn't sound like either Gilligan or Gould, who co-created Saul, has plans for the character to find his way to Omaha any time soon.
What is more likely, then, is that Jesse's happy ending is meant to further separate him from Walt and to stand in contrast to what happened to Walt and Saul, the two other men who used Ed's services to disappear. Walt escaped to New Hampshire only to later return to New Mexico, where he admitted to Skyler (Anna Gunn) that everything he'd done was for himself, because he liked it, before ultimately dying alone. Saul, meanwhile, escaped to Nebraska, where he lives out his days alone, with a guilty conscience that eats away at him and threatens to put his new identity and existence, however boring, in jeopardy every step of the way. It's a bleak existence for an outlandish character who was once comedic relief, but it's also fitting given his misdeeds as a criminal lawyer. Jesse, in comparison, is a good and moral man. Yes, he's done some bad things in order to survive, but he's not Walt and he's not Saul. He deserves this happy ending.
So while El Camino is not a necessary chapter in the overarching narrative of Breaking Bad's extended universe, it was fun (for us, at least) to return to Jesse's story and receive confirmation that his ending was, indeed, happy. It was also a treat to see Paul slip back into Jesse's skin and once again prove exactly what he's capable of (and perhaps allow him to add another award to his shelf along the way?). The more we think about it, the more likely it seems that the reason we're here at all is simply because for once, like Jesse, we deserve to have something nice in our lives.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is now streaming on Netflix.