EL CAMINO: Getting your "Br/Ba" fix
Here’s the main question with “El Camino”: Does this sequel to “Breaking Bad” give fans their fix?
And the answer is: Yes. Absolutely. 100%.
Fans are gonna love it -- though non-fans may be confused.
For those living on another planet, “Breaking Bad” was the award-winning five-season AMC show that more than one critic dubbed the greatest TV series ever made. It told the story of Walter White, a mild-mannered chemistry teacher who, having been diagnosed with terminal cancer, began making methamphetamine so he could leave his family some money -- and gradually transformed himself into a ruthless, filthy-rich kingpin.
When the series ended in 2013, Walter’s somewhat unwilling associate -- a former student named Jesse Pinkman -- was on the lam as one of the few survivors from Walter’s wreckage-strewn odyssey.
“El Camino,” brand-new from Netflix, was written and directed by series creator Vince Gilligan. Picking up exactly where “Breaking Bad” left off, it returns lots of the cast (many in flashbacks); more important, it does pretty much everything that made the series so addicting.
One reason the show worked was that even though we could not sanction Walter’s awful deeds, we still cared about him -- and even more about Jesse, who was (almost) never a heartless killer and always sought a more normal, relational life.
With the likable Jesse now on his own, “El Camino” is just as absorbing as its predecessor; and it upholds the young man’s humane nature -- though he is quite capable of getting tough when needed.
As in the show, many of the decisions and plot-points seem strictly character-driven; yet out of this, Gilligan still manages to concoct a few set-pieces of keenly honed suspense. There’s even a thrilling wild-West-style showdown near the end.
Wisely, Gilligan never tries to out-do his amazing work with the series. “El Camino” is an appendix, a coda, an epilogue; it provides closure on Jesse without trying to recapture the layered complexity and multi-strand plotting of the original.
Indeed, the plot is careful, realistic and methodical -- yet subtle enough that you really have to pay attention. Having avidly binge-watched the show six years ago, I actually kept open the plot-summary pages on Wikipedia to recall some of the incidents and characters. Hard-core fans will have a field-day because so much of the show is reprised in this sequel.
Editing, music and locations are all on par with Gilligan’s original (how ’bout that Painted Desert!). So is the acting. One particular highlight is veteran character actor Robert Forster, who passed away on the very day “El Camino” premiered.
This fine film makes a fitting finale for Forster -- and for Jesse. And for the series.
Fans will simply gobble it up.
written & directed by Vince Gilligan
Run time: 122 min.
* * * (out of four)
Rated MA for language and violence