By the time Breaking Bad (dev. Vince Gilligan, 2008-2013) concluded its final season, it was among the most watched American television series of all time. The series finale provided a definitive end to the saga for all but one character, Jesse Pinkman, who was last seen driving off from the site of his captivity and torture. His destination was ambiguous, but that was a satisfying conclusion in itself. Throughout the series, which dealt with the criminal underworld of Albuquerque, New Mexico, morality was a consistent theme. Jesse was shown as one of the few characters in this on-screen world who possessed something of a moral compass, and he was punished for it. He suffered the loss of family, friends, and loved ones, and often endured physical and emotional harm from those he encountered. So, when Jesse rode off into the night at the conclusion of Breaking Bad, it was perceived as a happy ending. He was finally free, both literally and metaphorically.
When El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (dir. Vince Gilligan, 2019) was announced, many fans and critics alike held reservation towards the project. After such a satisfying ending, a sequel seemed like it could inch the story to the point of overstaying its welcome. Many were also skeptical that the film only existed to appease fan questions, so the story would not feel natural.
El Camino premiered digitally on Netflix to moderate praise. Focused on the continuation of Jesse’s story, the film seems to portray his ethical code in a new, more positive light. Perhaps this is because he is now the main protagonist. In El Camino, Jesse’s innate sense of right and wrong allows him to be the hero; he exacts revenge on those who have wronged him, and the film ends on the same note Breaking Bad did, with Jesse driving away. Only this time, he has a destination in mind, and he has begun to make peace with his actions.
Reaching this state of peace and acceptance is one of the most prominent focuses of El Camino. Interestingly enough, despite the fact that Jesse’s decency makes him one of the “good guys”, much of the arc he experiences in El Camino depends on his repentance for his involvement in a life of crime. This is consistent with the themes of good vs. evil and success vs. failure that were presented in Breaking Bad, and it presents them in a harshly grounded way. While Jesse is for all intents and purposes the hero of this story, his struggles will continue far beyond its conclusion.