El Camino falls short of unrealistically high expectations

“I would normally think that, but… we are dealing with Vince Gilligan here.” In an interview with ET Canada, acting extraordinaire Aaron Paul said this in response to crazed, fearful fanatics like myself who needed ‘El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie’ to be a perfect, unforced follow up to AMC’s masterpiece: the original ‘Breaking Bad’ series.

If you’re unaware of the show at this point that’s on you. I can’t help you and frankly you don’t deserve it. For ‘BB’ fans, we can all agree Vince Gilligan’s crafting of the notorious series as its creator and director forces all of us to take Aaron Paul for his word on this one. With Gilligan’s fingerprints all over this sequel, there was reason for fans to take it very seriously going in. 

Ultimately, as unfair as it is to Gilligan, El Camino was not very satisfactory for me after watching it twice. The main reason for this tough critique is simple: Breaking Bad has the most well executed closure of any series I’ve ever seen. Period. Once the series finale concluded with the shot of Walter White dying away on the floor of Todd’s uncle Jack’s lab as the police raid it to the tune of Badfinger’s “Baby Blue”, A beautifully fitting song to take the show out, I sat back in my living room and thought to myself ‘damn, what a ride.’ No thoughts of ‘well, what about this loose end?! What the hell happened there?’ ran through my head. This is amazing considering they naturally do after I’ve completed literally every other show I’ve seen in my life time. Once thought to be an impossible feat. for television shows, the ending was about as perfect as could be, and the story could’ve ended right there and it would’ve been poetic justice. 

But Gilligan is with the times and he understands if there’s one wish us Breaking Bad fans had once the show ended, it’s a Jesse Pinkman sequel. As the protagonist counterpart to the deceased Walter White, who also happens to have a wildly crazy character development dating back to the show’s origin, any sequel Breaking Bad did would have to revolve around the fan favorite Pinkman. Sure enough it did. 

As the movie started, the mindset was it would begin right where Breaking Bad left off, and progress forward from there with a few flashbacks with meaningful deceased or older characters sprinkled in. Instead, most of the first half of the movie was filled with flashback moments between Jesse and Todd (played by Jesse Plemons). Todd has Jesse complete a series of tasks as he is their captive at this phase of the Breaking Bad saga. Flash forward to after Todd, his Uncle, and the rest of his Neo Nazi groups death via Walter’s badass wiping out of each of them, and Jesse’s escape from the lab and the authorities. He returns to where Todd lived, seeking out the stolen meth money that he and Walt earned quite strenuously. 

Here comes the conflict. Shocker: someone else once tied with the Neo Nazi wants the cash Jesse is seeking out. Who? Members of Kandy Welding Company of course. While Jesse was a prisoner to Jack and company, they cuffed his hands to a dolly system attached to the ceiling. They can’t be cautious enough with the unpredictable nature of Jesse’s behavior. Who created this contraption to restrain Jesse? None other than the Kandy Welding Company. They’re aware of the operation at hand, and once they hear all of them have been murdered, they know there’s a fat amount of earnings potentially waiting for them. 

Two members of the Welding Company show up to Todd’s home right after Jesse does, inconveniently for him and quite conveniently for the plot. Jesse is forced to compromise with the ringleader of Kandy Welding, Neil, and split the money evenly. 

So now Jesse has the money necessary to start over. Or does he? He comes up just short of the money required for a complete identity change and move to peaceful, isolated, Alaska to live out the rest of his life by $1,800. He knows he must go directly to Kandy Welding to take what’s his. In a dramatic, wild west type standoff between Jesse and Neil, Jesse puts a few bullets in Neil and his partner afterward. He takes the cash and he gone.

Aaron Paul recalled when Gilligan first called him and pitched the movie idea in the aforementioned ET Canada interview. “He told me he said ‘look, if it’s not perfect, I don’t want to do it.’ Seven months later he gives me a call and says ‘it’s done and, I think it’s perfect.’ So, here we are.” 

I personally owe an endless amount of thanks to Vince Gilligan for bringing Breaking Bad to my TV set, as I’m sure countless others feel the same. Having said that, I must challenge Gilligan’s claim that this was the ‘perfect’ sequel movie. It was an intriguing storyline having Jesse retrace the crazed Neo Nazi’s trail to the stolen cash. And, with Gilligan’s direction, the transitions between scenes and sequencing in and out of flashbacks and present scenes was executed as beautifully as expected. 

But, the crazy, unexpected twists that made Breaking Bad the classic that it was, those unforgettable ‘it’ moments were simply lacking. Having Skinny Pete, Badger, and even good ole’ Joe help Jesse keep his identity a secret by taking the incriminating El Camino car from him was fantastic. All feel good, fan favorite Breaking Bad characters assisting Jesse at a time of most desperate need. At a time while he was still shook up by the Neo Nazi’s imprisonment, that was poetic.

Then of course, the inevitable Walt and Jesse flashback ensued as they spent a touching, three minute scene together at a diner. After they discuss the status of the ‘next batch’ of meth of course, Walt starts trying to convince Jesse to go to college to turn his life around. He suggests studying Business and Marketing, saying ‘you could practically teach that class.’ Then they have a funny exchange where Walt forgets Jesse actually managed to graduate high school and in classic Walt and Jesse banter Jesse calls him a ‘dick.’  I don’t know if I needed this short discussion between these two to take that turn, but it put a spotlight on they’re odd, unlikely chemistry (pun intended) which felt fitting. 

The ending of the conversation is what’ll resonate with me more than anything in this film. Walt looks out the window, they’re old RV where they first cooked is parked in plain view. He sighs and says “You’re lucky. You didn’t have to wait you’re whole life to do something special.” The statement is both heartwarming and tragic all in one. The ‘something special’ was cooking meth to keep his family financially stable once he passed of lung cancer. An undeniably shitty ordeal.

Calling the wild experience special expresses what makes the quirky Walt and Jesse relationship so damn special. He genuinely grew to enjoy him as a partner, and he’s acknowledging his appreciation for Jesse’s contribution despite the hardship they endured. The Jesse and Jane scene to end the film was also a nice touch, and felt necessary considering he had the greatest emotional attachment to her throughout Breaking Bad.

However, outside of that Walt moment and the Skinny Pete and Badger open, the rest of the film left something to be desired. This is the Jesse Pinkman spinoff, and we can’t forget that when diving into what we wanted from the movie that we didn’t get. We got no: Skyler, Walter Jr, Marie, and maybe most annoyingly no Gretchen or Elliott present time or flashback scenes. We also didn’t get a Hank flashback scene. Now, it’s highly possible that one of Gilligan, Aaron Paul, or the actors listed above themselves decided ‘this is a Jesse movie, let’s leave the other side of the “Breaking Bad fallout” up to fans interpretation.’  I’d get that and couldn’t knock Gilligan for that exclusion. 

Having said that, he had to know die-hard Breaking Bad fans wanted to see Gretchen and Elliott hand that huge bag of financial security to Skyler, Walter Jr, and baby Holly as Walt forced upon them at the end of the show. Being under the assumption Skyler, Walter Jr, and Holly took the money and just went on with their lives with no further information isn’t good enough for most. 

In the end, I’m so torn. The minute Breaking Bad ended I wanted that sequel. That’s human nature. And part of me is still happy it was made. But, Breaking Bad fans fear of messing up its golden legacy has validity. The 11 out of 10 show that Breaking Bad was, made it so great that it warranted a proper laying to rest, never to be touched again. A 120 minute movie could never have equated and held equitable value to a five season odyssey. Even with Gilligan as its mastermind.

 

-Simon Brady

 

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