“Only you can decide what’s best for you, Jesse.” Those words, said during the opening moments of El Camino, epitomise the character’s journey through Breaking Bad – the show-stopping series that charted the rise and fall of Walter White.
Has Jesse, the former meth cook-turned-escapee, ever made a decision that’s wholly been his own? The spectre of Heisenberg has always loomed large; the drug baron doing terrible things, even going as far as to poison a child, all to manipulate Jesse. Worst of all, Heisenberg’s greed and destructive ways led to Jesse being imprisoned by a group of Neo-Nazis.
Following an initial flashback, El Camino picks up where the series finished. This, though, is Jesse unhinged. Not only has he escaped the shackles of Todd’s gang, but the hold of Walter White. Jesse’s finally on his own – a man with no responsibility to anyone but himself. El Camino is Jesse’s detox – the comedown after a life of being bullied by a rogue chemistry teacher. Yet, memories run deep. Flashbacks are aplenty, filling in pieces of the Breaking Bad series that we never knew were missing. Dead characters drive through Jesse’s thoughts and their ghosts haunt the movie.
Being back with Jesse, Skinny Pete, Badger and the rest (we won’t name any more) is an odd sensation. We know them so well – what else is there to learn? Writer/director Vince Gilligan knows this, and rather giving us major revelations about their pasts, we spend time with these characters as they have conversations about Jesse’s place in the world. There’s little to gleam for Breaking Bad aficionados, but there’s a lot of pleasing fan service – with one revived character’s appearance in particular being spine-chillingly good.
Despite being named after the car he sped away in during the Breaking Bad finale, El Camino is Jesse's show. We spend time with him driving around, listening to the radio (and hearing about another character’s fate). Yet, soon enough, after a visit to Skinny Pete’s house, the motor’s left in the dust. Jesse’s on the hunt for money, enough to escape New Mexico undetected by anyone – to start a new life of his own. There are, as expected, some complications, though nothing that feels like a major threat. The present day story certainly takes place at a lethargic pace, giving way too often to pointed flashbacks, and leading to a finale that feels inevitable, though not unearned.
El Camino could have fallen apart quite easily, yet Aaron Paul’s intense portrayal of a man suffering PTSD holds everything together. He perfectly slips back into Jesse’s shoes, making the time spent between the series ending six years ago and El Camino’s release fade away. And, thanks to Paul’s gravitas, the movie feels like a satisfying closure for the character. El Camino, then, offers a final – if not wholly necessary – farewell to some of the greatest characters ever to appear on television screens. And Jesse, poor Jesse, finally gets the closing chapter he deserves.