‘El Camino’ Is the Breaking Bad Post-Credits Scene We Didn’t Need
When Breaking Bad came to an end six years ago, it was hard to part ways with a show I had become so invested in, but what I did appreciate was that its creator Vince Gilligan had decided to quit while he was ahead. He could have chosen to milk the massive fan following that Breaking Bad had gathered when it was made available on Netflix after the premiere of season four, but instead wrapped the story up in five tight seasons and sent it out with the rat-tat-tat-tat of machine gun fire in the hour-long series finale Felina.
The circumstances surrounding Walter White’s inevitable death at the end of the show might have sparked a conversation about whether he really “won”, having died on his own terms after saving his partner-in-crime Jesse Pinkman – there is only one right answer and if you’re team Heisenberg, I suggest you take a good, hard look at yourself – but the finale itself was never really subjected to debate like that of The Sopranos. With shows such as Deadwood or Firefly, which were prematurely taken off the air, cinematic epilogues offered closure to fans. Breaking Bad, however, had its proper run and ended on an unambiguous note. Which made us ask, what’s left to tell in El Camino?
While Vince Gilligan doesn’t go full JK Rowling and hand us a cursed sequel that threatens to ruin its source material, he also doesn’t contribute additional value to the original story. The Netflix film takes off from where Breaking Bad ended and follows Jesse Pinkman after he breaks free from the captivity of Neo Nazis Todd Alquist and his evil uncle Jack in a stolen Chevrolet El Camino, which gives the movie its name. The subject of a manhunt, he must evade the authorities and gather the means to disappear and start a new life.
Flashbacks in the film offer a look at the time Jesse spent in captivity, but we learn nothing we couldn’t have figured out for ourselves. Aaron Paul, however, is still compelling to watch as a subdued Jesse who, riddled with PTSD, cowers by the door of his best friend’s home like a frightened rabbit and no longer punctuates every second sentence with “B***h!” In a particularly rending scene, we see just how broken he is as he silently dissolves into tears when Todd convinces him to hand back his gun after Jesse’s failed attempt to shoot him and escape.
Fan service is duly paid with the return of a handful of cast members, including hitman and cleaner of messes Mike Erhmantraut, Jesse’s bumbling friends Badger and Skinny Pete, and yeah, Walt too. To Gilligan’s credit, their appearances do not feel shoehorned for the sake of it. But it feels like a missed opportunity that we never learn of what becomes of Walt’s wife Skylar – who we last saw alone with no money and two kids to raise – and her sister Marie, whose husband Hank was killed because of Walt, a question that even Felina didn’t answer.
That’s not to say El Camino is entirely devoid of Gilligan’s signature touches. The film pays tribute to Neo Westerns, much like Breaking Bad did — there’s even a gunslinging scene that provides one of the few real moments of tension in the otherwise predictable film. There are plenty of familiar wide shots and sweeping views of the landscape, and he uses cinematography and tone cleverly to convey the mood of each scene.
We also see Breaking Bad’s penchant for juxtaposing the banal and macabre when the sociopathic Todd invites Jesse to his uncharacteristically well-kept bachelor pad and casually enlists his help in disposing of the body of his housekeeper. He matter-of-factly reveals, in between offering Jesse a can of soup, that she “didn’t do anything” but he had no choice but to murder her because she stumbled upon his hidden stash of money. As a final flourish, Gilligan continues the show’s often darkly ironic and tongue-in-cheek use of music to emphasise a scene – Todd sings along to Dr Hook’s cheesy ‘Sharing the Night Together’ while Jesse lies in the backseat of his car, desperately trying to avoid bumping into the housekeeper’s corpse that’s next to him.
If the road in Breaking Bad was riddled with twists and turns, El Camino is a straight route from point A to B, and at the end of the ride, we’re back where we started. The film doesn’t hold up as a stand-alone project, and even for fans of the show, it’s essentially a two-hour-long post-credits scene that is entirely unnecessary.
El Camino is currently streaming on Netflix.
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