When the news that El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie would arrive on Netflix in October (for those of you without Netflix, it makes its cable debut on Sunday, Feb. 16 on AMC), fans celebrated with both eagerness and trepidation. On the one hand, El Camino could answer all the lingering questions from the Breaking Bad finale, most notably, what happened to Jesse Pinkman after he drove off? But then again, Breaking Bad was nearly flawless, so adding anything to the canon could also tarnish the reputation of one of the most beloved television series of all time. Thankfully, El Camino does neither of those things, and the film is all the better for retaining mystery and keeping the show's halo intact.
The movie picks up mere seconds after the final shot of Jesse (Aaron Paul) driving away from the industrial meth lab where Walter White (Bryan Cranston) died. (El Camino confirms that Walt does not make a miraculous recovery early in the film.). El Camino then chronicles Jesse's journey out of Albuquerque to Alaska, where both Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan and Paul have teased Jesse ended up since 2014. The saga is intercut with flashbacks to Jesse's time being held captive by Jack Weller (Michael Bowen) and Todd Alquist (Jesse Plemons).
The flashbacks help establish Jesse's mission in the film: find enough money to get out of town, but also examine the trauma he suffered at the hands of the Neo Nazis. A previously unseen plot line in Breaking Bad involves an escapade with Todd that revealed Jesse was forced to help his tormentor cover up the murder of a helpless cleaning woman. In the process of helping Todd get rid of the body -- and it must be said that Plemon's ability to play the cordial psychopath is unmatched in Hollywood -- Jesse finds a gun that would allow him to kill Todd and make his escape, but he can't go through with it. The confirmation that Todd and his family have completely broken Jesse is juxtaposed with present Jesse, ready to kill anyone who stands in the way of him getting the hell out of Dodge.
The dichotomy of the Todd flashbacks versus post-Walt's death Jesse expertly illustrate how well Paul commands this character through his various evolutions. In the span of two hours, he moves from tortured captive to solemn, lone-gunman and back to hyperactive addict. Jesse took up so much space with his boisterous presence in the early days of Breaking Bad and it is a marvel to see Paul captivate with long stretches of silence throughout El Camino. The Academy should probably go ahead and etch his name on another Emmy trophy, this time for Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Television Movie.
Paul's performance and Gilligan's direction make the two-hour movie every bit as tense as the final episodes of the series, giving fans a nostalgic feeling of being back in the show without diluting the story by servicing their whims. El Camino is about Jesse Pinkman and his escape, which means the only information presented is the information that Jesse knows and Jesse needs in this particular moment.
The inevitable Walt flashback, which everyone predicted was coming, also isn't going to fill in plot details. The clip takes place after Jesse and Walt's second trip to the desert, after the Winnebago broke down but before Jesse dropped Walt off at the airport. It demonstrates that, at one point, Walt did want what was best for Jesse and encouraged the young man to go back to school, to make something of his life outside of meth labs. There was genuine love between these two unlikely business partners, and it makes you wonder what could have been if Walt hadn't lost his way.
An alternate version of El Camino could have had Gilligan cut to the White family after Walt's death and revealed what Skyler (Anna Gun) and Walt Jr. (RJ Mitte) actually did with the money. While the pair are mentioned in the film, during that Walt scene, there's no update on their current status or well-being. Considering the movie ends roughly a week after Walt's death, that makes sense. There would be no reason or ability for Jesse to reach out to them, and Gilligan showed great restraint in keeping such a singular focus. The movie avoids any feeling of bloat, but it does feel like re-opening an old wound in some ways.
The question of what happened to the Whites, or Saul (Bob Odenkirk), or any of the other people that Jesse and Walt left in their wake are questions that can be open-ended, but the existence of El Camino raises larger questions about the Breaking Bad universe. While the movie is an excellent addition to the Breaking Bad saga, it can hardly be called necessary. The movie confirms that Walter White died and that Jesse made it to Alaska, but that's not any different from what Gilligan and Paul have been saying for years. So, why do it? El Camino insinuates that there's still much more to this story than we thought. The idea that this is the next chapter of Breaking Bad rather than the final one changes how you perceive the story.
El Camino is not a standalone movie. Lord have mercy on the souls of the people who attempt to watch it without a refresher on the events of the Breaking Bad finale, let alone those that go into it completely blind. It is a satisfying epilogue to Jesse Pinkman's story, but it is most intriguing as the first chapter of something else. Will the movie bleed into the flash-forwards on Better Call Saul? What is the true aftermath of Walter White and his fallen meth empire? These are the questions the creative team will have to tend with for years after opening this can of worms.
While the question of where El Camino truly rests in the Breaking Bad universe will be revealed in time, the one thing that is for certain is that Gilligan is one of the most gifted visionaries in television and El Camino will go down as one of the best showcases for Paul's phenomenal talents over his stellar career.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie is now streaming on Netflix. It airs Sunday, Feb. 16 at 8/7c on AMC.