Very much a continuation of Breaking Bad‘s autumnal, desaturated last few episodes rather than the scorching sand and blue skies drug western that concluded in the seminal “Ozymandias”. This isn’t an essential coda by any stretch of the imagination, and basically acts as a Jesse Pinkman-centric “Granite State”, but as a Breaking Bad superfan I was always going to be in the bag for whatever Vince Gilligan was cooking up even if that last shot of Jesse in the show achieves in a matter of seconds everything this strives for over two hours. Anyway…
It helps that El Camino is directed with the same disciplined, steady-hand which made the series such a visual splendour. Again, it continues in the same mode as “Felina”, with Gilligan’s penchant for scenes unfolding in single sleight-of-hand master shots or framing images from within odd nooks and crannies in the decor on full display. Remember that shot in the finale where Skyler was on the phone in her kitchen, then the camera moves to reveal Walt was stood there the whole time blocked from view? I think about that shot all the time and there’s more of that good stuff here. Regardless of its connection to one of the greatest TV shows of all time, I would still consider this one of the most confidently directed thrillers of the year.
Most of all though, it’s terrific to see Aaron Paul shine again. This is a welcome reminder of just how good an actor he is, the kind of reminder Hollywood has failed to give us since the series concluded. This Jesse Pinkman is a lot different to the bumbling, sensitive knucklehead that dominated most of the show. He’s still recovering from the fallout of his days as a caged animal, meaning this is a much darker and dour experience than the “Jesse Pinkman Movie” we might have imagined in the series’ heyday. Paul nails it all though, delivering one of my favourite performances of the year, no doubt heightened by just how much history we have with this character. I especially loved his scene with Robert Forster (RIP, so sad!), when you can see him slip back into his naively cocky Pinkman persona as he tries to outsmart a smarter opponent which, of-course, completely backfires. It’s a brief but important glimmer of hope that the old Jesse is still in there. Just lovely.
A lot of my good will towards El Camino comes from just how much the show, these characters and its creators meant to me during its run. I really went into this skeptical and half-convinced I would groan my way through it, but I was instead sucked in and more or less entirely on its wavelength. There are some missteps, sure. Jesse Plemons’ appearance can’t help but be jarring in terms of continuity and the way Jesse just casually shoots down his opponents like the fastest gun in Albuquerque doesn’t feel true to the character who spent entire seasons grieving over the loss of lives. I also think that cameo was entirely unnecessary and further hampered by a bad skullcap and the fact that Paul, now in his forties, just can’t get away with playing a Jesse circa-Season 2 anymore. Beyond that though, this could have been a lot worse. I didn’t realise how much I wanted a new slice of this universe to chew on.
Farewell, Jesse Pinkman.
Watched on Netflix