It is customary for movie reviewers to add a spoiler warning to the opening paragraphs of their articles, however in the case of the new Netflix film El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie such a statement is redundant due to the fact that there is really nothing there to spoil.
When Breaking Bad wrapped up in 2013 I, for one, was satisfied with the ending, the whole five-year roller coaster ride with Walter White and the supporting cast was over and all the plot streams were resolved.
What I was not asking myself as the final credits rolled was “I wonder what happens to Jesse Pinkman?”
For those few troglodytes not familiar with Breaking Bad, the seminal “peak TV” drama series from AMC, Jesse Pinkman is the partner in crime of amphetamine baron Walter White; a listless suburban waif Pinkman bears much of the fallout from White’s ascent into megalomania.
I’d suggest that readers first binge-watch the five seasons of Breaking Bad but, if you are an Australian Netflix subscriber at least, you can’t because the show is not carried on the local service.
That is one of the immediate problems with El Camino, if you haven’t seen Breaking Bad you will be all at sea since it is built entirely upon nostalgia and the situations in which Pinkman finds himself as he tries to escape his immediate past are a confusing mix of flashbacks, hallucinations and anxiety-inducing PTSD references.
I have watched the original series twice and I was baffled at times by the scenes wedged in between the gratuitous cameo appearances and Aaron Paul’s portrayal of a battered, traumatised Jesse.
See Jesse was never a heroic character, he was a weakling, human flotsam adrift on a river of indifference simply going with the flow; he was a subject rather than an object, one who is acted upon with little to no agency of his own.
Nothing has changed in his world in the months that he was undergoing his ordeals, his friends are still exactly where he left them and the few remaining underworld contacts still alive after Walter White’s final sorties are likewise unchanged, the whole movie just feels inert.
There is one cameo worth watching, the flashback to the perverse relationship between Pinkman and Aryan Brotherhood head-case Todd Alquist is very well done; Jesse Plemons’ Alquist is a pure sociopath and this small window into his life beyond the gang is titillating, yet it tells us little we didn’t already know about this gruesome character.
I have to admit I wasn’t even aware that El Camino was due for release this week, so as a fan of Breaking Bad I was quick to hit play and lay back in bed to watch it, however by the end of the movie I was happy just to roll over and go to sleep, it was that bland and uninteresting.
There is really no reason to watch El Camino apart from nostalgia, if it was downloadable content for a video game then die-hard fans would be complaining long and loud that it added nothing to the experience and was over before it really got rolling.
For newcomers to the Breaking Bad story I’d say give it a miss as you likely will not understand much of El Camino; watch the original series plus Better Call Saul and then if you really feel you need to know how Jesse Pinkman ends up then have a gander.