It’s been six years since Jesse Pinkman escaped Walter White’s last stand in “Felina,” the final episode of the now-legendary AMC series “Breaking Bad.” And while the story of how he managed to evade the police afterward is largely superfluous, it’s fun to see Pinkman and his drug- and video game-addled pals Skinny Pete and Badger in action once again.
Because ultimately, “El Camino” comes down to fan service. It doesn’t really have anything new to say, and Pinkman’s character arc has already disappeared over the horizon. But if you liked the pacing and storytelling the writer and director Vince Gilligan brought to “Breaking Bad,” then you’ll quickly digest and enjoy “El Camino.”
Coming in at just past the two-hour mark, “El Camino” feels mostly like a long episode of the original show. It picks up right where “Felina” left off, with Pinkman absconding in the El Camino of his former captor — Todd (Jesse Plemons), once the group’s meth-cooking intern who graduated in short order to sadistic, backstabbing torturer and murderer.
When last we saw him, Todd had been strangled to death by Pinkman, but have no fear, there’s plenty of Todd in “El Camino,” thanks to a number of flashbacks that help guide the action of the film. I won’t go into how exactly he’s involved in the story, but I’ll just say that Plemons does a fine job resurrecting the character, simultaneously looking like an innocent child and a serial killer whose eyes betray not a flicker of remorse.
While the title references Todd’s car that helps Pinkman leave his former life behind, it also captures the theme of the film. Spanish for journey or path, Pinkman’s “el camino” takes plenty of “Breaking Bad”-trademarked twists and turns, with appearances by several old friends.
I actually watched “El Camino” on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, the day that the death of actor Robert Forster, 78, was announced. So it was especially poignant that he appears in the film, reprising his one-episode role as the mysterious vacuum cleaner repairman Ed Galbraith, who sidelines as a professional “disappearer,” procuring fake passports, social security numbers and more for anyone who can afford his services.
Lastly, it’s fitting that Pinkman should get his sendoff on Netflix, since the streaming service played such a big role in the success of “Breaking Bad.” As The Washington Post’s Travis DeShong points out, the show was in danger of being canceled for low viewership numbers before it earned mega-hit status after fantastic word of mouth convinced audiences to get caught up on the story through streaming.
Jesse Pinkman was always the heart and soul of “Breaking Bad.” While he was the person who first gave Mr. White the idea to go into the drug business, Pinkman was consistently in over his head when it came to the criminal world. Not because he wasn’t good at it, but because he didn’t enjoy it. Pinkman deserves some peace after all those years of mercilessly paced mayhem. And in “El Camino,” he finally gets a shot at achieving it. Anyone who was a fan of “Breaking Bad” will be rooting for him to achieve it.