Arts & Culture News

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie Is Baller, But Did Jesse Pinkman Need a Definitive Ending?

Actor Aaron Paul, who plays Jesse Pinkman, at the Los Angeles premiere of El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.
Actor Aaron Paul, who plays Jesse Pinkman, at the Los Angeles premiere of El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie. Charles Gallay/Stringer
Every good show on TV should do what Breaking Bad has done. For starters, every show should strive to be as awesome as Breaking Bad. Someone should tell the makers of CBS' now defunct Fam.

Breaking Bad is as close to perfect in achieving what humanity hopes for from any TV show of any genre. It has characters people care about, with moral motives that constantly weave between good and evil. It has high, reasonable stakes for everyone involved that made every episode worth watching from start to finish. It holds just enough back to get you to watch the next episode and always gave you enough back — like tasty snack treats for hyper kids who manage to muster mountains of patience and restraint.

And even though it delivered a beautiful series finale where wrongs were righted and a ruthless villain became a hero, show creator Vince Gilligan and company still find ways to satisfy their fans without stretching out a show into a gooey, pizza cheese-stretch of mediocrity. The prequel spinoff Better Call Saul has been a fun ride with lots of surprises — especially with the story line of Jimmy McGill's psychologically disturbed brother Chuck played by Michael McKean, who should have at least been nominated for an Emmy for his stellar performance. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie on Netflix that follows Jesse Pinkman's story after he's finally freed from the shackles of the Nazis' meth lab compound is also a joy to watch and brings an equally satisfying conclusion to one of TV's most likable drug peddlers (yes, including Max Headroom).

So why does it feel strange to have another Breaking Bad character's story all wrapped up in a tiny, pseudoephedrine-stained box?

For starters, I know this thought makes me sound like a whinier person than Donald Trump at a closed McDonald's drive-thru. Questioning the tinier merits of a good movie based on a TV show is a rarity in this world of constant reboots and the recycling and reimagining of pop culture icons. It's only a matter of time before we get something like a Jumanji sequel in which a group of kids are trapped in a fictional, magical board game that's based on the fictional, magical video game that's based on a fictional, magical board game or Westworld: The Movie The TV Show The Movie.

"Why does it feel strange to have another Breaking Bad character's story all wrapped up in a tiny, pseudoephedrine-stained box?"

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Both the series and the El Camino movie offer satisfying and clever endings for its players — and that's not easy to do. Even titans like Game of Thrones and The Sopranos led to series conclusions that may be mysterious and somewhat conclusive but still feel more hollow than Kanye West's ability to reason with reality.

This is strictly about the knowing of what happens to Jesse after he speeds out of the Nazis' compound with that creepy psycho Todd's 1978 Chevrolet El Camino. The final episode that aired in 2013 and sparked the making of the Netflix film ended on a high note for Jesse: He drives off into the night after Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston) uses a military-grade weapon to mow down those Nazi, meth-making bastards. It's so satisfying on so many levels. A likable character is finally freed, the anti-hero pays for his crimes with his life and a bunch of Nazis are cut down with a wave of hot, spraying lead. And if you're mad that I spoiled the end of Breaking Bad for you, get over it. It's been seven years. Pay your cable bill and quit whining.

Everyone who watched that final episode and understood at least a modicum of Jesse's story line imagined what happened to him and that supercharged El Camino. Some of us hoped he finally found the peace he's been trying to achieve as a criminal who caused much unintended collateral damage to the people he loved most.

Some thought he might get back in the game and try to take the empire that "Heisenberg" ruled over, and continued the dark path he set out in life — or else, turned it into something good by using the drug money to rebuild a community or by inventing a harmless "Impossible Meth" substitute.

The point is that not knowing what happens to Jesse gave it an air of mystery and a chance for self-reflection. Knowing what happens to Jesse takes that away now that there's an official record of what actually happened. Jesse's fate has been carved into that great, big, blue rock of storytelling.

It's not about being proved wrong or made to feel like a fool that our theories of Pinkman's plot line don't match up with what actually followed. The surprise is part of the fun of El Camino, just as it has been since the start of the series, and anything that shuts up annoying, fan fiction know-it-alls should be given a medal for bravery and shutup-ery.

This feeling of certainty also means a big part of the Breaking Bad legend is over. El Camino is a true finale to something that's so good and has shocked, saddened, moved and entertained us for a long time. Philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti wrote in his book You Are the World that, "One is never afraid of the unknown; one is afraid of the known coming to an end.” It's like a breakup with someone you thought was "the one," or a parent sending their kid off to college knowing that they may not see them again.

Then again, maybe they'll give Jesse Pinkman his own sitcom called Yo, Bitch! or another series called Breaking Bad: The TV Show The Movie The TV Show.
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.