In the final frames of Breaking Bad, beaten and broken anti-hero Jessie Pinkman (Aaron Paul) raced to freedom after spending months locked in a cage, forced to produce the meth that ruined his – and so many other lives.
Inevitably audiences questioned what happened next to Jesse. Would his elation be short-lived? Would the tape of his interview about his mentor-turned-enemy Walter White’s confession be discovered by the cops? Where could one of America’s most wanted criminals possibly go?
It wasn’t just the audience pondering the outcome for Pinkman. Showrunner Vince Gilligan admits he too often daydreamed about what came next for his creation. Enough so that he eventually started to write down his ideas. Which brings us to El Camino…
Six years after Gilligan turned Felina into a finale, we find out precisely what came next for Pinkman, as Gilligan charts the days after his release, while reminding us of what Jesse went through during his horrific time in captivity.
And while that’s what the events of El Camino show, what’s at the heart of the story is how Jesse breaks free from the shackles of his past, and how that intricately plays into him finding his own future.
Covering a period of days, El Camino isn’t here to continue the BB story. We’re not going to see Walt’s wife Skyler bargaining with the police, or Hank’s widow Marie coming to terms with her loss, or indeed, see how the cops are dealing with the fallout of Heisenberg’s demise.
This is all about Jesse.
And it’s not just a thrill ride (though there are many white knuckle moments), rather, El Camino is driven by the tender moments. Whether it’s Skinny Pete coming to the rescue as best he can, or Jesse’s flashbacks to better – and indeed worse – times. It’s those worse times that act as both explanations for why Jesses was so traumatised, and how he might just find redemption and the new life he arguably earned.
It’s certainly a welcome return to the BB universe (especially for viewers who haven’t yet enjoyed the similar stylings of Better Call Saul), with Gilligan revelling in finding those miniature mysteries, quirky angles and indicative colour palettes.
Indeed, Gilligan’s writing and direction are comfortingly assured, particularly when he switches to flashbacks, although there is a requirement to suspend disbelief given the ageing of the cast (something Gilligan has asked us to basically ignore in the same way he has with prequel show Saul). For prequels, sequels and spin-offs work if the creative forces behind them have a story worth telling, and with El Camino, Gilligan has an epilogue worthy of our attention.