“El Camino”: Stuck in the Past

Sequel to “Breaking Bad” Can’t Forget Roots


Ada Carter

Pictured: The titular 1978 El Camino, Pinkman’s means to freedom.

Andrew Mello, News Editor

Rating: 3/5 Falcons

As tempting as the possibilities for a sixth Breaking Bad season are, the most one could ever accomplish would be prolonging the inevitable, souring the taste of what Breaking Bad’s already perfect ending. By making El Camino a feature film, creator Vince Gilligan freed himself to show us many of our favorite characters in a new light. The shift to more intimate storytelling suits writer and director Gilligan, who takes advantage of his new medium to deliver a tighter experience than fans have seen before. While giving those same fans what they wanted, however, the film can’t seem to move on from the past.

The film can’t seem to move on from the past.”

Beginning where the show ended, we see the exodus of Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) from the life he once lived, now traumatized by his torture at the hands of a neo-Nazi gang. Anchored by Paul’s performance, the audience joins him on the run from the law and himself. As this more paranoid version of himself, Pinkman reflects how he arrived at his current position, coming across as an almost pitiful version of his former self.

Along the road, Pinkman returns to several familiar faces that feel less like callbacks and more like pleasant surprises. Many of these faces seem no different than when we last saw them, contrasting with Pinkman’s painful transformation. Pinkman’s fresh scars remind the audience he isn’t the same loud kid they met in 2008. I enjoyed El Camino in these almost vignette-like segments, but they were ultimately separated by flashbacks, derailing the story as well as the tension in the most crucial moments. 

The pacing of El Camino is where things started to fall somewhat apart at the seams. Switching from the long-form storytelling of TV to the constant movement of a film, Gilligan seems unfamiliar with the format. It appears that he is trying to show everything, regardless of relevance to the story unfolding then and there. Many of the flashback scenes lacked any meaning outside the context of the TV show, simply showing us Mr. White (Bryan Cranston) or Todd Alquist (Jesse Plemons) because they’re fan favorites, not because they add anything to this new story. Every flashback to places from Pinkman’s past life feels scheduled, as if a timer had gone off to switch channels to Breaking Bad reruns. Many times the tension of a scene was entirely undercut by a ten-minute journey back through the years. The placement of these interruptions was scattered almost strategically, as if to hide how little actual plot is in this two-hour film. If you removed its crutch of nostalgia, El Camino would be left with enough material for a great epilogue episode—and nothing more.

As is, El Camino is a victim of its own need for fan service but still serves as a welcome extension of the original material when it tries to carve its own path. By trying to use flashbacks to show character growth over time, the film seems uncomfortable in its own skin. Despite giving fans the send-off they wanted, El Camino felt desperate to remind you of why Breaking Bad was so beloved, forgetting the ending it already had.

This piece also appears in our October 2019 print edition.