As an epilogue to the phenomenal Breaking Bad series, El Camino never aims to blow the mythology wide open or alter the trajectory of its greatness. Instead, this two-hour movie functions mainly as a gift for the franchise’s many fans, tying up loose plot threads and offering one last glimpse of a few favorite characters. With that in mind, Camino offers its own self-contained satisfaction: It may not have the same high ambition or potent wallop of its predecessor, but the Ballad of Jesse Pinkman still offers wry humor, dramatic nuance, and a poignant conclusion to one of television’s greatest dramas.
The story, written and directed by series creator Vince Gilligan, picks up immediately after “Felina,” the final episode of Breaking Bad. Both the movie and this review assume you’ve already seen the entirety of Walter and Jesse’s journey as Methmeticians. If you haven’t, stop reading and get over to Netflix immediately. I promise, this show is well worth your time. Now, on with the countdown: A mortally wounded Walter has just mowed down the Neo-Nazis who were holding Jesse as a captive-cook. Battered and tattered, Jesse barrels away in an El Camino, screaming for joy as he breathes free air for the first time in ages.
Jesse’s euphoria is short-lived, as he quickly realizes that the shadow of Heisenberg still looms large. Every cop in New Mexico goes on the hunt for Walter’s sous-chef, and his picture gets plastered all over the news. In this moment of desperation, he turns to two old buddies: Badger (Matt Jones) and Skinny Pete (Charles Baker). Jesse’s former drug dealers turn out to be his most loyal friends, helping him clean up and stay one step ahead of the law. On his way out, Jesse asks why they help him so unconditionally. Skinny Pete is matter-of-fact: “Dude, you’re like, my hero.”
Along this exodus, many other familiar faces from Breaking Bad show up for a scene or two. By and large, I don’t want to spoil the who, when, or why, but I will single out one performer in particular: Robert Forster as Ed Galbraith, the vacuum salesman who also specializes in sweeping people under the rug. You might recall that Ed helped shuttle Saul Goodman and Walter White into hiding, just as it seemed death was coming for both of them. Jesse approaches Ed for a similar deal. Ed’s been burned by Jesse before, and he quickly shoos Jesse out the door. Forster passed away the day this movie premiered, and his acting here is a fitting benediction for a career that dates back to the brilliant Medium Cool (1968).
With El Camino, Gilligan walks a perilous tightrope: He has to add something substantial to an iconic show, without undermining anything that made it special in the first place. On that front, this movie largely succeeds. Those expecting the fire and fury of episodes like “Ozymandias” or “Face Off” won’t find it here. But for everyone curious about what happened to Jesse Pinkman after the frenzied finale, this story will fill your appetite.
122 min. TV-MA.