‘El Camino’ lets fans say goodbye to Jesse Pinkman

Thursday, October 17, 2019 - 6:54pm

Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in 'El Camino'

Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in 'El Camino' Buy this photo
Netflix

Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul, “BoJack Horseman”) is, in many ways, the unsung hero of “Breaking Bad.” Even as Walter White (Bryan Cranston, “Malcolm in the Middle”) became just a tad too deplorable to sympathize with by the end of the series, Jesse maintained as a character viewers could see the humanity in, despite his crimes. After all, he was just a kid when he partnered up with Walter, his chemistry teacher, to join the meth trade. And though his youth is no excuse for what he ends up doing, it does make us more forgiving of his actions, more inclined to cling to him.

Yet, “Breaking Bad” was never really Jesse’s story. It was Walter White’s. It was the story of just how far a normal man will go to find wealth and power, confidence and meaning, even when it costs him the safety of his family and, eventually, his own life. The series finale wrapped up this story perfectly with Walter, or rather Heisenberg, making peace with himself, or at least as close to peace as he could manage. But for me there was still a looming question in the back of my mind: What about Jesse? How does his story end?

This is where “El Camino”, Netflix’s latest extension of the “Breaking Bad” universe, comes in, arriving more than six years after the show’s final episode. “El Camino” tells viewers everything they could want to know about Jesse’s fate, picking up exactly where “Breaking Bad” left off, with Jesse fleeing the neo-Nazis who kept him hostage in Todd’s (Jesse Plemons, “Fargo”) 1978 El Camino. Shootings and heists ensue, but Jesse isn’t in it for the reasons he once was. He’s desperate for money, not to fuel his own greed but to pay Ed (Robert Forster, “Mulholland Drive”) for a new identity and a new life. All in all, it appears that Jesse has learned from Walter’s mistakes. Meth dealing, despite its profitability and its thrills, just isn’t worth it for him, at least not anymore.

Jesse wants to escape his past, but can he? The short answer is no. Mike (Jonathan Banks, “Better Call Saul”) even tells him so in the film’s first scene, saying, “Sorry, kid, that’s the one thing you can never do.” No matter how far away from New Mexico he manages to run, he can’t run away from himself, from the people he’s killed and from the people he’s lost. You can see his torment, his grief written all over his face, covered in dirt and scars from his time in captivity. You can see it in his eyes, too, even after he succeeds in his mission. There’s no way for him to rid himself of it. There are only two options: die or learn to live with himself. He chooses life, and I’m happy for it.

“El Camino” doesn’t need to exist, but I’m glad it does. It’s given Jesse’s journey a closure I never knew I needed. It doesn’t tie up every loose string, but it’s all the better for it. Had “El Camino” given Jesse a happier ending and a less ambiguous future, the movie would be devoid of the realism and complexity that made “Breaking Bad” so challenging and so exciting to watch. Because this film exists, “Breaking Bad” fans can take comfort in knowing that, even if Jesse isn’t okay now, maybe he might learn to be, and that’s more than enough for me.