by Preston Tolliver
It’s been six years since Walter White rigged a military-grade machine gun to a remote-controlled swivel and killed a group of meth-peddling Nazis in a fashion so gruesome that it would make each of the Inglorious Basterds proud. The final season of “Breaking Bad” marked the end of most of the series’ main characters; who wasn’t dead had their stories wrapped up in a neat, bloody bow. White, the Nazis, “that dead-eyed Opie fuck” Todd and the entire Heisenberg meth empire were left dead in a hail of bullets and pseudoephedrine. Those left alive were arguably the worse for it: the fates of Skyler, Walt Jr., Marie and even Saul Goodman were sealed by the time the credits rolled for the last time. The only character who lacked closure was Jesse Pinkman, who was last seen speeding down the highway after gaining his freedom from Walt’s slaughter.
With “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” Aaron Paul has gone from co-star of “Breaking Bad” to the lead of his own movie, reprising his role of Pinkman in a film that details the events immediately following - and preceding - the carnage at Uncle Jack and Co.’s hideout. Paul is joined by other actors who represented different stages of Pinkman’s growth throughout the series: Matt Jones and Charles Baker are back as Badger and Skinny Pete, respectively, along with the late Robert Forster and a couple of cameos from Jonathan Banks and Bryan Cranston; and working immediately opposite is Jesse Plemons in his role again as Todd, who, though dead since the “Breaking Bad” finale, is still alive and well in Pinkman’s story.
There are a couple rules we’ve learned in television. The first is that if you don’t see someone die, then you can’t count them dead. Anything short of seeing a person’s ghost exit in their body leaves the possibility of a return. The final shot of the “Breaking Bad” series was ambiguous enough to leave audiences guessing if Heisenberg - despite his mortal gunshot wound and the cancer that had been killing him for years and the tons of armed cops heading in for him - would make his way out of that meth lab. The other rule is that if someone is lucky enough to ride off into the sunset, it’s generally the viewer’s responsibility to determine what’s next. Television is great in the way that it gives a visual interpretation of a story so we don’t have to strain our imaginative brain cells, but it’s even greater when it forces us to anyway. The way the series ended with Pinkman screaming (in grief or relief, we should never know) as he sped off from the cage that left him a shell of the person he was at the beginning of the show wasn’t just fodder for fan-fiction sites the world over. It was an invitation from creator Vince Gilligan for viewers to write their own ending for the character.
With “El Camino,” Gilligan again takes the role of storyteller to answer all those will he/won’t he/how can he questions. Sure, the final scene of the film still leaves some of Pinkman’s fate to the imagination, but the icy road he exits on is a lot more linear than that dark New Mexico highway.
That’s not to say that the film isn’t bad or even a good extension of the series - Gilligan and Paul are still able to captivate an audience as well as they could six years ago - but perhaps the best ending for Jesse Pinkman was no ending at all.