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‘El Camino’ is a Mostly Satisfying ‘Breaking Bad’ Sequel

**This review contains light spoilers**

Breaking Bad, one of the top prestige series of the Peak TV era, went off the air more than six years ago, in September of 2013, with one of the more satisfying, close-ended conclusions of any great TV show. 

The series’ mythology has continued in the years since, mostly through the spinoff series Better Call Saul, which is set mostly in the events prior to Breaking Bad but occasionally incorporates flash-forwards. There was also Bryan Cranston, reprising the Walter White character in an unfortunate SNL sketch that was based on that show’s current, mistaken ethos that if they stick a recognizable actor or character in a political sketch, the recognition will carry the idea to humor on its own. 

Through Better Call Saul‘s run – which, with its fifth season next year, will equal the length of its parent show- the quality control has mostly been kept up, largely because Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan has developed and run that series himself, rather than farm it out to underlings. 

That’s also the case with El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, a sequel movie which debuted on Netflix (in addition to a small, one-weekend-only theatrical release), and which Gilligan both wrote and directed himself. 

Though it isn’t quite up to the very best of the quality of Breaking Bad, either from a plotting or suspense standpoint, El Camino is a worthy follow-up, both thematically and aesthetically in line with the series that spawned it. It’s much closer to the tone and style of Breaking Bad than Better Call Saul is, and also offers fan service, although not a tiresome amount. 

El Camino is debuting on Netflix rather than AMC, which was where Breaking Bad was broadcast for its run, although the move to streaming is somewhat apropos; it was Netflix, early on in its streaming era, where a great many fans first discovered Breaking Bad between seasons and helped make it the phenomenon that it was. 

If you’ve forgotten Breaking Bad’s conclusion, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) died, although not before making piece with his wife, Skyler, confessing that “I did it for me” in plotting revenge against all of his enemies and ensuring a financial future for his children. Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) ended the series by speeding away from the scene of the final shootout, which claimed the lives of the Nazi drug trafficking gang that had kept him captive for much of the final season. 

The El Camino movie shows us the further adventures of Jesse, still wracked with PTSD from his captivity, as he seeks to elude the law following the exposure of his and Walt’s massive drug operation. On top of Jesse’s quest to get back the remaining money he left behind, we’re also treated to multiple flashbacks in order to provide closure to Jesse’s relationships with certain characters who died during the life of the show. 

We also see Jesse doing battle with a new group of bad guys, leading to some of the nerve-wracking moments of suspense that we’ve come to expect from Breaking Bad. No, we don’t get any moments or scenes that are up there with the iconic heights of the original series, but El Camino provides a bit of closure for the Pinkman character — more satisfying than we got the first time around. 

At the heart of El Camino is an outstanding performance from Aaron Paul, who has had a mixed record of success as a movie and TV actor in the years since Breaking Bad, although he does do fine work as a voice actor on Bojack Horseman. 

Also, as we saw in the New Hampshire-set penultimate episode of the original series, Breaking Bad is pretty jarring when it moves from Albuquerque to a climate of snow. 

Could we have lived without a conclusion to the Jesse arc on Breaking Bad? Probably. But El Camino is certainly satisfying.

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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