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The ‘El Camino’ Exit Survey

Staffers reflect on the ‘Breaking Bad’ epilogue nobody knew they needed

Netflix/Ringer illustration

Now that you’ve had a weekend to digest Netflix’s Breaking Bad epilogue, hop into your favorite vintage Chevy with the Ringer staff to hear their thoughts on the ending to Jesse Pinkman’s story.


1. What is your tweet-length review of El Camino?

Miles Surrey: Probably unnecessary and a little too heavy on the fan service, but the movie has the high level of craftsmanship you expect from Breaking Bad. So overall, four batches of blue sky out of five.

Ben Lindbergh: A not-unwelcome epilogue to a story that didn’t really require one.

Dan Devine: Maybe it didn’t quite reach the heights of the best episodes of Breaking Bad, but El Camino worked. Between this and Better Call Saul, I’ll keep trusting Vince Gilligan to tell the stories he wants to in that world until one of them doesn’t ring the bell (no Salamanca).

John Gonzalez: Robert Forster died so Jesse Pinkman could live.

2. What was the best moment of the movie?

Lindbergh: Skinny Pete calling Jesse his hero. And on a more negative note, the casually devastating discovery that the Pinkmans had changed their safe’s combination from Jesse’s birthday to Jake’s.

Surrey: I loved the montage of Jesse meticulously searching Todd’s apartment for cash, which was—real critical term—the most Breaking Bad–ass part of the film.

Gonzalez: I’m a sucker for a reunion, especially when it leads to one last job for the old gang. Jesse’s real family turned their back on him long before he escaped the white supremecist house of horrors—and so he ran straight to Skinny Pete and Badger, the only family and friends he has left. Helping Jesse clean up and pull on one last leather jacket was touching, but I particularly enjoyed watching Pete quarterback the play to lead the authorities on a wild goose chase and give Jesse time to escape. Plus, Skinny got the El Camino he always wanted.

Devine: “Dude. You’re my hero and shit.” Yeah, Skinny Pete and Badger are lightly toasted criminal scumbags, guys we’ve known largely as comic relief, accelerants to Jesse’s worst impulses, or both. (Largely, but not solely. Pete contains multitudes.) But when he needed them most, they were there, stripped of bluster, bullshit, and beanies. They were willing to give up the keys to their cars, the cash in their pockets, and the clothes off Pete’s back—Badger can’t help it that he’s sized for love, after all—to keep their man free. There hasn’t been much pure, clean love in the Breaking Bad world. Maybe this isn’t quite, either. It sure felt close, though.

3. What was your least favorite part of the film?

Surrey: Some of the cameos—particularly Walt and Jane—could’ve been cut from El Camino and it would’ve barely hindered the experience. Their inclusion feels like it was a matter of both actors having open schedules/Vince Gilligan wringing the most possible fan service out of this thing.

Devine: From an emotional perspective: Watching Jesse hand Todd back the gun in the desert. I know it’s right, storytelling-wise—none of what happens to/with Jesse in “Felina” can happen if he’s already killed Todd in the desert and tried to escape again—but man, did it suck to see it laid bare just how broken Jesse was after all that Todd, Uncle Jack, and the Nazis had done to him by that point.

In terms of the film’s construction? Maybe the gunfight at Kandy Welding. Jesse’s been many things since our introduction to Cap’n Cook, but suddenly becoming the Man With No Name felt like a bit of a stretch. (It was still pretty cool, though.)

Lindbergh: The Oscar does not go to Bryan Cranston’s bald cap.

Gonzalez: I’m all for vengeance. The Breaking Bad extended universe is certainly all for vengeance. And Neil the welder—played by Scott MacArthur—certainly had his comeuppance coming after building a rig to help Uncle Jack’s murderous neo-Nazis imprison Jesse and keep him cooking. But we probably could have done without the Western-style shootout. Throughout the show, Jesse showed obvious aptitude for problem-solving under pressure. Confronting five dudes in a warehouse over $1,800 and then agreeing to a duel at 10 paces for the money seems like a bad plan.

4. Grade Aaron Paul’s return as Jesse Pinkman.

Surrey: A. He’s as good as he’s ever been, and hopefully closing the chapter on Jesse’s story means he can find another meaningful role in his career.

Lindbergh: Paul was great, and because the movie featured flashbacks to earlier periods when Jesse wasn’t quite so scarred, he had a chance to show his range. Paul’s performance may be El Camino’s lasting legacy, and he deserves to be a breakout guy. It’s fitting that one of the movies that shows up to the right of Breaking Bad in the “Known For” section of his IMDb page is A Long Way Down, because that’s an apt description of most of the projects he’s been a part of since his signature role wrapped up (BoJack excluded). The furor El Camino caused gives him a chance to reboot his post–Breaking Bad career, and if he makes better choices and has a little luck, we may be about to see a Paulaissance. Next up on the comeback trail: Truth Be Told and Westworld.

Gonzalez: To borrow from a line Jesse delivers while trying to convince Ed the disappearer (RIP) to help him start over, 96 percent pure.

Devine: A. (“A, bitch?” No, that’s too much. Just A.) Paul plays so much here—the early-days exuberance of the Walt flashback; the quiet, haunted desolation after his escape; the reclaimed bravado of calling Kandy’s bluff when he’s making the withdrawal from Todd’s fridge (a win!) and Ed’s “bluff” after he’s called the police (whoops!). We revisit the entire sweep of one of modern TV’s great character arcs in a tidy two-hour bundle, re-living it all through those scars, that grit, and those big, shining eyes. It was gripping.

5. Does El Camino change what you think or how you feel about Breaking Bad?

Surrey: Not nearly as much as Better Call Saul, an excellent spinoff you can watch right now!

Lindbergh: No, although it did give me a reason to rewatch some old episodes. I can confirm that the show is still good.

Gonzalez: Some people questioned Gilligan’s decision to take another swing at the Breaking Bad universe after hitting a walk-off home run in the series. The same criticisms were initially levied at Better Call Saul. I don’t get that. I will gladly take every opportunity to spend more time in that world with those characters. Moderates who think you can have too much of a good thing are boring. Gluttony is much more fun.

Devine: Nope. Everything that happened over those five seasons is set in amber. This doesn’t alter anything about that.

6. LET’S TALK ABOUT TODD.

Surrey: Still the absolute worst!!! One of the first things I wanted to do after watching El Camino was rewatch his death scene on YouTube. (It’s low quality but here you go.)

Devine: OK, first off: Fuck Todd. Like, off the rip, and on general principle. That said: Holy cow, is Jesse Plemons great in this role. I didn’t even know you could be menacing while offering someone soup, or singing Dr. Hook and asking a trucker to blow his horn. And yet: There’s Plemons, blank and muted and vicious, totally merciless and totally spellbinding.

Lindbergh: I’m not saying we need another Breaking Bad Story, but if there’s going to be one, I want it to be about Todd, the friendly neighborhood savage who never leaves a good belt behind.

Gonzalez: Yes, let’s! As dead-eyed monsters go, Todd is at the top of the irredeemable villains list. We knew that when he shot young Drew Sharp, and we were reminded of it throughout El Camino—from how he describes why he dispatched with his cleaning lady who was “as honest as the day is long,” to the endless, cruel psychological war he wages on Jesse. Todd is chilling. He should also probably work in a salad between canned soup and pepperoni pizzas.

7. Was there anything missing in El Camino?

Devine: When Jesse tells Walt in a flashback, “Your family is gonna get every dime they got coming to them, Mr. White, no matter how long it takes,” I found myself wondering how Skyler’s getting along—with Walt Jr. Flynn, with Holly, with herself, with everything. Oh, well. There’s always next time.

Lindbergh: A real reason to exist? Gilligan and Paul had already told us how they thought Jesse’s story ended, and the movie didn’t deviate from that vision. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t feel like I learned anything. Which isn’t to say I had something better to do with my Saturday.

Surrey:

Gonzalez: More time in Alaska. That’s sort of where I was hoping we’d start the movie, not end it. We’ve gotten some Breaking Bad prologue with Better Call Saul, but it would have been nice to get a postgame breakdown where Jesse copes with his past and tries to start over in the great white wilderness—even if, as Mike told him in the beginning, he’d never be able to set things straight.

8. What should be our takeaway from the only scene featuring Walter White?

Surrey: I made the mistake of doing a cursory El Camino search on Twitter, and way too many people have the wrong impression. Unless you consider cooking meth, starting a drug empire, and being implicated in countless deaths “something special,” sentimentality over the Walt-Jesse relationship is not what should be taken away from their exchange.

Devine: That Paul and Bryan Cranston really, really, really enjoyed working together, and that chemistry like theirs is a very rare and special thing.

Gonzalez: Holy hell did those two spend an inordinate amount of time in diners. (It was sugar-rush fan service. I’m not sure we need a take here.)

Lindbergh: It reinforced what we already knew about Walt: that for him, meth-making was more of an ego trip than a means of paying his medical bills or providing for his family. Not that we couldn’t already infer that from the way he lovingly caressed the cooking equipment just before he died.

9. Jesse got his happy ending—are you happy?

Surrey: [Wipes away tear.] Yeah, bitch.

Devine: Yep. After Breaking Bad’s finale, I would’ve been cool with never seeing Jesse again—with letting him scream and smile and wail his way into the night. But whether we needed this story or not, this felt less like fan service than character service, and it was really great to see Paul bring this character—the defining job of his career, the role he was born to play—to life one more time.

Gonzalez: I’m happy we got to see him rock that sweet cream-colored cable knit sweater. Who knew Alaskan fugitive fits could be so fashionable?

Lindbergh: In my head, he already had one. That said, it was satisfying to see him transcend his latest struggles and start to heal, although having him drive away into an uncertain future wasn’t so different from his final scene in “Felina.”