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Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad, Ep. 5.12: “Rabid Dog” and Setting up the Endgame

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“He’s smarter than you. He’s luckier than you.”

Rabid Dog” is more or less all talk, no (explicit) action, but as the Breaking Bad endgame begins in earnest, it does some important heavy lifting as to just how its disparate characters respond to the ongoing realization that the universe they inhabit does not operate in a just or even sane fashion. When Jesse, angry but more composed than he was in the wake of last week’s revelation, tries and apparently fails to make tenuous new ally Hank understand the level of Walter White’s mastery of evil, the second quoted sentence is much more important than the first. Yes, Walt has pulled some truly cunning, devious moves to get where he is and get off scot-free to this point, but a million other things had to go precisely right (or wrong, as it were) in order to help him along.

If you really begin to parse what Jesse’s trying to say, it’s a weirdly compelling moment of meta-commentary. It’s Walter White’s world, Jesse is saying, we’re all just living in it – and only for now. What does it mean to have a villain – not an antihero, an actual villain – as your protagonist? What does having a central figure whose every action has casually catastrophic consequences do to the fictional universe he inhabits? On The Shield, a seminal series that similarly hinged on a central figure who grew more and more openly loathsome over its run, Vic’s monstrosity was relatively contained, while secondary characters soldiered on in separate plots, making Vic the center of his own hellish universe. There’s no such escape in Breaking Bad: every single character, no matter how peripheral, has been negatively affected by Walt’s actions. If “Mr. White” – and really, is there a more jaw-droppingly loaded appellation in TV history? – really is not just a terrible person, but “the devil,” where does that leave the mere mortals?

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That depends. The Shield – don’t worry, no spoilers – contrived a fate for Vic and those in his circle that can serve as a working definition of dramatic irony. Does Vince Gilligan see the world of Breaking Bad as supporting that kind of resolution? In the other openly meta moment of Jesse’s speech, he warns that “whatever you think is supposed to happen, the exact reverse opposite of that is gonna happen.” So when he decides to take matters into his own hands in a proactive way in the episode’s final minutes – though what that means, precisely, we have yet to determine – he’s making a conscious decision to try to change the proverbial game, to finally act where he used to merely, meekly react. His fate hinges on whether or not his previous, mythic take on Walt is correct or not.

Then there’s the small matter of Walt’s personal feelings about Jesse. Yes, he saved Jesse’s life, probably more than once. Yes, he (apparently) was being earnest when he told Jesse he was leaving his fate in Jesse’s hands. Let’s assume it wasn’t just another long con. Does it matter? For Skyler, eliminating Jesse is a painful no-brainer; “We’ve come this far – what’s one more?” For Walt, that’s not the case at all. Walt’s paternal concern for Jesse is, quite arguably, the very thing that enabled him to pull off so many heinous acts in the first place. He can poison, murder, scheme, and manufacture vast quantities of chemically pristine poison with impunity, because at heart, he’s looking out for the best interests of a wayward former student, and isn’t that something? So the most significant moment of “Rabid Dog” comes, as with so many recent Breaking Bad episodes, in the final seconds, when Walt finally comes to Saul and Skyler’s way of thinking, severing his final, tokenistic tie to any semblance of humanity. Does it pain him? Certainly. But his reticence is the very thing that enables him to give Todd’s uncle the green light. As with every horrible thing Walt has ever done, it’s to service his own continued prosperity, whatever the damnable cost. Perhaps the only logical end to Breaking Bad will entail Walt seeing himself for what he truly is, beyond his own pathetic self-justifications, but of all the possible twists and turns in the Breaking Bad universe, that may be the least likely outcome of all.

Simon Howell

Simon is a roving writer and editor who has been crawling slowly Westward across Canada for the last decade. (He currently resides in Toronto.) He obtained a BFA in Film Studies from Concordia University in the spring of 2012 and a Graduate Certificate in Technical Writing from Algonquin College in 2015. He is a former co-host of the Televerse podcast. His favorite films include F for Fake, Brazil, Stroszek, The Fog of War, Grave of the Fireflies and In a Lonely Place. He can be found on Twitter (mostly yelling about far-left politics, ye been warned) at @hollowmines.

Breaking Bad

Yeah, Bitch! ‘El Camino’ Gives Jesse the Ending He Deserves

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El Camino Breaking Bad Movie

**Spoilers Ahead**

El Camino began as a simple short film that Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan wanted to make for the series’ 10th anniversary. Plans changed, and over time that simple concept expanded into a feature-length film designed for viewers who wondered what happened to Jessie Pinkman (Aaron Paul) after he escaped the Nazi compound driving Todd’s titular vehicle.

The question I had before watching El Camino was if any closure was needed, and whether El Camino would have anything to add to one of the greatest shows ever made. The answer lies somewhere in between yes and no. El Camino might not be essential viewing for the phenomenally popular AMC show, but it does provide a proper ending for arguably the fans’ favourite character. And thanks to Aaron Paul’s raw and committed performance, as well as Vince Gilligan’s talent behind the camera, the Netflix original film is one of the best things the streaming giant has produced thus far.

Breaking Bad‘s final episode is regarded as one of the greatest series finales of all time, and so many fans were naturally worried that El Camino could in some way damage the finale’s conclusion. The last time we saw Jesse Pinkman, he had escaped an underground prison where he was held prisoner and forced to cook industrial-grade crystal meth. His final moments at the end of Breaking Bad were powerful indeed, as we watched him speed into the distance, seemingly leaving all of his problems behind. It was just ambiguous enough to imagine a happy ending for Jesse, but it also didn’t seem like the ending the character deserved. Even as he escapes the worst experience of his life, it was hard not to think that Jesse’s problems were far from over. And knowing how things unfold in Breaking Bad, chances are that any plans Jesse may have would soon be derailed by a series of unfortunate events.

El Camino Has No Major Plot Twists

Picking up immediately where the hit drama left off, Netflix’s follow-up film tells the story of what happens to Jesse after he is freed with the help of his mentor–turned–nemesis, Walter White (Bryan Cranston). Taking place over the course of a few days, Jessie now attempts to evade the police manhunt and escape New Mexico with the help of some old friends. Complicating matters are Neil (Scott MacArthur) and Casey (Scott Shepherd), two small-time criminals who are after the same missing cash that Jesse is tracking. Apart from that, there are no major twists or new story developments, and there’s really no need to give a full plot synopsis (since I assume anyone reading this has already seen El Camino). Nevertheless, it is worth commenting on the structure of the film, since it pretty much plays like an extended episode of Breaking Bad, and in no way reflects badly on the series as a whole. El Camino exhibits a respectable level of restraint; there are no story beats that undo any of the revelations from the series, there are no scenes that try to shoehorn some ridiculous plot twist, and there are no characters coming back from the dead. Instead, El Camino is a mostly quiet character study, and a strong companion piece to one of the most beloved shows ever made.

El Camino’s Flashbacks and Cameos

There was much speculation on which characters from the original series would return, and thankfully the answer is several — including a few who died (they appear in a number of flashbacks that put a clever spin on the proceedings). In the present timeline, we get a touching sequence with Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) and Badger (Matt Jones), who provide some much-needed levity. Later, there is also a wonderfully written scene featuring Robert Forster as Ed, the proprietor of a vacuum-repair shop, and his sweet customer played by Marla Gibbs. Todd (Jesse Plemons) also returns as Pinkman’s affable white-supremacist imprisoner, and fans are treated to a poignant scene between Jesse and Mike (Jonathan Banks), which unfolds roughly around “Buyout” (season five’s sixth episode), where Mike and Jesse decide to break away from Walt’s business, and Mike recommends Jesse relocate to Alaska. Fans will remember that Jesse originally said that he wanted to move to Alaska in season five, episode 11’s “Confessions,” and now we know why. Putting aside those clever connections to previous episodes, it is scenes like this that remind us that the show’s biggest strength is in the quality performances of every player, no matter how big or small their role — and more importantly, they demonstrate why Jesse became the fan favourite.

El Camino A Breaking Bad Movie Review

Jesse is the Beating Heart of Breaking Bad

It’s worth remembering that Aaron Paul was initially cast to play a small part, with the initial plan to kill his character at the end of season one. Instead, Paul proved so utterly compelling in the role that Jesse not only survived, but in time was seen as Walt’s narrative equal. If Walter White is the brains of the show, Jesse is the beating heart, and his relationships with everyone he meets not only strengthens his character, but also the performances of those who surround him. Late in the third act, El Camino flashes back to a time before Walter White was known by his clandestine alias, Heisenberg. The scene takes place within the space of season two’s “4 Days Out,” in which both men formed a close bond. It was a simpler time when Walt was trying to make some fast cash to leave for his family before cancer got the best of him. And it was a time when Jesse was a simple naïve high school graduate trying to figure out what to do with his life. Through the beauty of the flashback, Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston share one final scene, and thanks to their onscreen chemistry, we are reminded that the best moments in Breaking Bad revolved around the interplay between Walter and Jesse — and despite everything that has happened to Jesse, he’s still the same guy, deep down inside. It is with this scene that El Camino successfully makes the case for its existence, and reminds us of why we all fell in love with Jesse to begin with.

When creator Vince Gilligan first pitched Breaking Bad, he described it as “a story about a man who transforms himself from Mr. Chips into Scarface.” The show began as a story about Walter White — a chemistry teacher–turned–drug kingpin who, after discovering he has terminal lung cancer, decides to cook meth to provide money for his family after he’s gone. Even though Walt had the brains, he didn’t know squat about the drug business, and so he recruited former student Jesse Pinkman to help him sell his first batch. From that moment on, Jesse became a victim of Walt’s bad decisions, and when Walter let Jesse’s drugged and unconscious girlfriend, Jane (Krysten Ritter), die from choking on her vomit, the series narrative truly shifted to have Jesse serve as the series’ moral center and comic relief. Walter White may have been the driving force for the biggest scenes, but it’s Jesse who keeps viewers caring. Walter White gets his conclusion, but Jesse is left with the short end of the stick.

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Vince Gilligan’s Direction

As a director, Vince Gilligan does some of his best work here. In fact, his work here is so good that you’d be forgiven for forgetting that the man only directed a handful of Breaking Bad‘s episodes (not to mention this is his first feature film). Working alongside series editor Skip Macdonald and cinematographer Marshall Adams, Gilligan composes some truly unforgettable images, such as a stunning bird’s eye view of Jesse tearing apart a home crime scene in time-lapse photography. Much like the show, El Camino evokes the iconic imagery seen in classic Westerns, and even features a good old’ fashioned Western standoff as Jesse arms himself with his granddad’s antique semi-automatic pistol — a .22 caliber. Every shot in El Camino is meticulously crafted, whether it’s an ordinary setup, a long tracking shot, or a devastating phone conversation, Vince Gilligan ensures that Jesse is as front and center as he should be, since this is his story and he appears in every scene.

The Ending of El Camino

As good as the cinematography, score, art direction, and supporting cast are, what makes El Camino great is Jesse Pinkman/Aaron Paul. Paul hasn’t missed a beat in his portrayal of Jesse, and here he carries every scene (nearly every frame) of the movie on the weight of his shoulders. His work in El Camino is impressive considering that he has to play so many variations of his character, as Jesse goes through a roller coaster of emotions. That means the good, the bad, and everything in between.

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El Camino (Spanish for “road”) gives Jesse his road to recovery. In the end, Jesse takes Jane’s advice and chooses Alaska as the “last frontier” — the place he would escape to. Before he leaves, Jesse provides Ed with a letter for Brock (Ian Posada), the contents of which are kept hidden from the viewer, but which we can only assume informs Brock that Jesse has left a large pile of money behind for the young boy. The film’s final image is clearly similar to Jesse’s final Breaking Bad appearance, only this time he’s driving away peacefully. We can always wonder what happens next to Jesse, but chances are that he’ll be okay, and Jesse finally gets the closure he deserves.

Six years and one spin-off prequel later, the obvious question was if it was worth continuing a story that already had a satisfying ending? Not only does the El Camino’s 125-minute runtime pay tribute to the show that helped give it birth, but it also finds a reason to exist beyond making the studio a boatload of money. If the Breaking Bad finale was about Walter White getting what he wanted, El Camino is about Jesse reconciling with his past and searching for humanity he’d lost. It succeeds by giving Jesse a fresh start; he’s finally able to move on and decide what he wants to do with his life without anyone else interfering with his plans. Now that he truly is free, the question is whether or not he can create a happy ending for himself.

  • Ricky D
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Breaking Bad

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

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El Camino Breaking Bad Movie Review

**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. 

El Camino Breaking Bad Movie Review

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. 

El Camino Breaking Bad Movie Review

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.

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Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad, Ep. 5.16: “Felina” is a Definitive Punctuation Mark

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Breaking Bad Felina Review Series Finale

“I did it for me.”

After Walter White utters these words, the rest of “Felina,” the final episode of Breaking Bad, almost doesn’t matter. It’s a definitive punctuation mark, the ultimate silencer to the creepy paternalistic Walter fans who have grown so vocal over the last few months, and a genuine turning point for a character who long ago gave away any possibility of anything approaching redemption/ Those words, spoken to Skyler in their last moment together, are the closest thing to kind words he can offer. After two years of betrayal, abuse, and lies, he finally admits what anyone with eyes has always known, and it may actually help Skyler attain some level of peace to hear him acknowledge it. It’s a far more significant character moment than leaving the remaining money behind in secret.

After “Ozymandias” aired, Vince Gilligan stated that it was the best episode they’d done – or would ever do. He wasn’t being falsely modest about the remaining episodes, as it turns out; a rewatch is necessary to assess the former claim, but it’s certainly true that neither “Granite State” nor “Felina” can match that episode for intensity or wrenching drama. Instead, “Felina” opts for a series of payoffs that favor symmetry and logic over shock value, and the result is satisfying but surprisingly safe, especially for a series as prone to risk-taking as this one. While that may disappoint the easter-egg / trainspotting contingent of the fanbase, there’s no denying that “Felina” delivers more or less every character and plot beat needed to bring the series to a fitting, rewarding conclusion.

Breaking Bad Ending

The major downfall of the last two seasons has been the lack of focus on Jesse, who before then was the series’ beating heart and (relative) conscience, a role that has since shifted to Skyler, much to the dismay of misogynists everywhere. “Felina” doesn’t do a lot to correct this, but Jesse’s final moments on the series might well be the most powerful of the episode. After taking his sweet, brutal revenge on Todd, a profoundly broken, physically unrecognizable Jesse speeds off into the night, laughing and crying and screaming, with no discernible future to speak of. The door was theoretically left open for Jesse to find Brock and start anew, but given what he’s been through and the things he’s done, that sort of rosy outcome would have been a cop-out; The only path that makes sense for him now is a quick one towards oblivion.

Breaking Bad Felina Series Finale Review

If anything is surprising about “Felina,” it’s the degree to which Walt is able to go out on his exact terms; it’s tempting to imagine a scenario that truly humbled Walt, thereby amplifying the series’ function as a tragedy. None of that, as it turns out: Walt is able to dispatch his enemies (with one last crazy handful of nothin’, of course), get one last moment with Holly, terrify his former business partners, poison Lydia, and generally underline that he was a true artist of criminality, all perfectly according to plan. That element that used to drive Breaking Bad to its most crystalline moments of brilliance – chaos – is entirely absent here. Gilligan even lets the final moments play out as a kind of triumph – a word Gilligan used to describe the finale back when the season began – by setting the last scene to Badfinger’s “Baby Blue.” (If you want real tragedy, incidentally, look up their story sometime.) “Guess I got what I deserved,” the song goes, and it’s all at once cornily on-the-nose, clever, and poignant. The full picture has only just been revealed to us, and only a consideration of the series as a whole will answer whether or not the series holds together as cohesively as one would hope, but “Felina” gets the broad strokes right, and that’s a fair sight better than most. At the very least, it was a generous wellspring of incredible characters, performances, and moments, all rendered with cinematic precision and daring. There has never been and never will be such a thing as a perfect TV series; there are simply too many variables at play. We must simply make do with plain old greatness, and Gilligan and his remarkable writing and directing staff achieved it with astonishing regularity. In the light of their accomplishments, the impulse to poke holes falls away feebly. All hail Breaking Bad.

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