El Camino

“Only you can decide what’s best for you, Jesse. Not him, not me.”

Mike Ehrmantraut

El Camino is essentially a Breaking Bad special, so judging it as a standalone film may seem unfair; however, since that’s apparently what Netflix wants, I will oblige. We pick up with Jesse Pinkman at the end of the series, hurtling down a darkened highway to freedom in the titular El Camino. Using his former crew as a first stop is smart way to remind viewers just how far Jesse has developed, but the comparison is with a broken, psychologically shattered Jesse in the throes of PTSD after his time in captivity. Given Breaking Bad’s body count, flashbacks are how we revisit a number of characters, though it often feels more like fan service than necessary to show Jesse’s decision-making. Overall this plays much as an extended episode of the show, with carefully ratcheted tension and a few impressive instances of prestige cinematography. The problem is that the methodical pacing is no longer serving a grander season-long arc, leaving El Camino feeling hollow as a result. Some have suggested the movie is about PTSD but we never really see Jesse dealing with his experience or coming to accept it. Rather, the film is about him learning finally to make a genuine decision for himself and to act upon it, reflected by the flashback conversations which bookend the film. That step serves as an acceptable coda to the series, in which his character was largely passive beneath Walter White’s determination and self-belief, but it has little to offer as a standalone film.