El Camino is a flawed but fitting end for the character of Jessie Pinkman
by Chase Hutchinson
Let it be known that Aaron Paul remains an underrated actor that I think still hasn't found a role that really lets him sink his teeth into it. Save for his turn as the meth dealer with a heart of gold, Jessie Pinkman. That is until Westworld comes out and he blows us all away. But that is a conversation for another day. For today, we are talking about the strange story that is El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie. I refuse to call it that more than once, but in case you didn't know, it picks up where Breaking Bad ends with Jessie Pinkman driving away from his captors after he was rescued by his former partner Walter White. What follows is an incredibly uneven and strange narrative that despite itself still left me genuinely connected with this character as he attempts to flee his troubled past. This is a testament to a strong central performance from Pinkman who did a fantastic job with what he was working with. It is a combination of his current day attempts to try to escape the law and a series of flashbacks filling in the necessary gaps that led him to this point.
The biggest problem is that the story leans far too heavily on these flashbacks. While nice to see old characters, they often times felt far more centered around fan service than anything else. There are some moments towards the end that felt much more emotionally resonant and relevant to the arch of this character. However, for the majority of the time, these flashbacks were mostly just to keep things moving along or establish the contained motivation for this film. They also included an extended storyline between Jessie and everyone's favorite character *checks notes* Todd? I understand why this is a central focus of the story as he was the one who was tasked with holding Jessie hostage and had the most negative psychological impact on him. Still, this comes at the expense of any reflection Jessie might have about his fraught relationship with Mr. White. Yes, every story has tradeoffs but this felt like a glaring omission that could have been folded into the story.
Narrow in scope as well as stakes, the story lives and dies by this decision to keep the narrative contained
It is inevitable that the story would feel small in comparison to several seasons of television, but this felt almost too small at times. There isn't much motivation for Pinkman other than to get money and escape. There is the establishing scene that makes it clear he wants to start fresh but an exploration into his mindset behind this is thoroughly lacking. The cops are looking for him and that keeps things moving to a sufficient enough extent. However, the reason he is wanting to go to Alaska is mostly just because Mike mentioned it in an earlier conversation. Other than that, he just is trying to get out of town. He doesn't try to reconnect with anyone or address any of the previous storylines from the show. Many scenes feel like they drag due to this as we just wait for something to happen of consequence. Even the reveal that there is a degree of vengeance in the story comes out of left field and feels tacked on to add some sort of stakes to the story. This desire for revenge is fleeting and ultimately doesn't inform much of Pinkman's decisions as he just does things mostly to get the last bit of money he needs to escape.
With all of that being said, Paul still elevates the material and makes something that feels like a worthy conclusion for the character. Pinkman has been through more than any of the characters and to see him work through some of that trauma, even if handled clumsily, is still compelling as hell. He always had tried to do right in the world and the man that is left is a shadow of that former kid. It is tragic but there are still moments where moments of kindness break through the hard outer shell he has created to protect himself. Even as he is battling a world that is almost entirely out to get him, he still shows mercy and isn't consumed by the evil that Walter was. That is what makes clear most of all that they were vastly different people. If anything, they ended up taking opposite journies with Walter becoming unredeemable and Jessie redeeming himself. The redemption comes with a degree of melancholy for what was and how isolated he is. But it is still redemption and after all he has been through, this redemption is all he can hope to have.