The following contains spoilers for El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.
To discuss the ending of El Camino: A Breaking Bad movie, we must first look at the beginning. In the film’s first scene, Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) delivers a grim little nugget of advice to a young Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul).
It’s a flashback to somewhere in season 5 on the timeline of Breaking Bad and Mike and Jesse are discussing what Jesse can do with the fortune he’ll gain from retiring early from the meth business. After Mike suggests Alaska as a good retirement spot, Jesse excitedly says that with this money he can change things, in fact, he can right all the wrongs of his past. He can “put things right.”
“No,” Mike solemnly says. “Sorry kid, that’s the one thing you can never do.”
Mike Ehrmantraut is very rarely wrong on Breaking Bad and prequel series Better Call Saul. Based on the events and ending of El Camino, it seems as though Mike’s streak stays alive.. Jesse Pinkman does a lot in El Camino. One thing he does not do, however, is put things right. So how does Jesse Pinkman’s Breaking Bad journey end in El Camino?
Despite being a feature length, two-hour film, El Camino doesn’t cover significantly more ground than your average episode of Breaking Bad. Sans flashbacks, the rough outline of Jesse’s final story is that he escapes, visits Todd’s old apartment to pick up some cash, comes across a new villain, defeats said villain, and then finally makes it to safety in Alaska. Pretty much all of El Camino is an ending – the real ending to Jesse Pinkman’s story. And in true Breaking Bad fashion, it all concludes with a gunfight and a fateful trip to the vacuum cleaner repair shop. So let’s break down exactly what happens in that ending and what it all means.
Creator Vince Gilligan likely had a multitude of reasons for bringing Aaron Paul and Jesse Pinkman back for this last ride. Chief among them, however, has to be that he couldn’t turn down one last opportunity to stage a Western-style quick draw. Jesse comes across his new nemesis partway through El Camino‘s runtime. Neil Kandy (Scott MacArthur) of Kandy Welding Co. is not just an opportunistic criminal searching for Todd Alquist’s hidden money, he also happens to have a shared history with Jesse.
Kandy is the man who installed the machinery that kept Jesse imprisoned on Jack’s property. It was Kandy’ “gussets” and “fish plates” that tied Jesse to the ceiling essentially. Here Vince Gilligan’s appreciation for good engineering pays off once again. What’s important to the ending, however, is that Jesse doesn’t seek out Kandy for the crime of good construction work – their paths just happen to cross.
Jesse is all too happy to let Kandy go in his merry way and enlist the help of Ed Galbraith (Robert Forster) to get disappeared up to Alaska. The problem is that Jesse is $1,800 short of the money needed for Ed Galbraith’s services. So Jesse visits his parents’ home, grabs two guns from their safe and heads off to Kandy Welding Co to borrow from Kandy’s half of the Todd winnings.
Kandy is charmed to see that Jesse has brought only a little .22 caliber Luger to intimidate him with. So he proposes a duel for all the money.
“What do you say – your. 22 versus my .45? Winner takes all,” Kandy says.
“Like the Wild West?” Jesse asks.
“Like the Wild West.”
When Chekhov first spoke of introducing a gun in the first act, I’m not sure this is what he had in mind. Jesse finds two guns at his parents’ house just a few scenes before and then only one goes off in this act. It’s more than enough, however, as the gun Jesse has concealed with his left hand in his jacket pocket is more than enough to kill Kandy. With El Camino‘s one manufactured villain out of the way, the movie is able to move on to its real ending.
El Camino‘s true conclusion comes in three scenes: one in the present and two in the past via flashback.
The flashback scenes bring back important people from Jesse’s life to highlight just how much things have changed between Breaking Bad‘s beginning and El Camino‘s end.
The first flashback features none other than ol’ Heisenberg, himself. Yes, Bryan Cranston returns briefly as Walter White. Though Walt in the present is very much dead, this scene finds Jesse and Walt partaking in the Owl Cafe after a meth cooking trip into the desert circa season 1 or 2. Walt is very much in the throes of his cancer, and Jesse assures him that the $1.3 million worth of meth they sell will find its way to his family one way or another. Meanwhile, Walt is dismayed that they can’t find a buyer for one lump purchase (*cough*Gus Fring*cough*).
It’s all a fascinating blast from Breaking Bad‘s past. It also contains a crucial bit of character development for the long dead Walt. After trying to convince Jesse to go to college or do something else with his life (and forgetting he graduated high school in the process) Walt sighs and says, “You’re really lucky, you know? You didn’t have to wait your whole life to do something special.” It’s a disquieting notion to think that Walt sees what they’re doing now as special. It hammers home the idea that Walt was always about one thing and one thing only: his pride. Jesse, meanwhile, has no choice other than to be about pure survival.
The next flashback finds Jesse and Jane on a road trip to some unknown locale. Jesse tells Jane what he loves about her: that she believes in the universe’s grand plan and is not afraid to follow it. Jane responds by telling Jesse he has it all wrong.
“I was being metaphorical,” she says. “It’s a terrible philosophy. I’ve gone where the universe takes me my whole life. It’s better to make those decisions for yourself.” In many ways, Jesse has never been able to make those decisions himself. He’s always been in the thrall of something, whether that be his mutually self-destructive love for Jane, his relationship with Walt, or even the literal bonds created by Neil Kandy. The only possible ending for Jesse now is freedom…and a freedom of his choosing, not simply due to circumstances outside his control.
And that’s the exact kind of ending that Jesse gets. He comes up with the money and Ed Galbraith lets him out of the van in the wintry tundra of Alaska. Jesse Pinkman is dead. He is Mr. Driscoll now, and he has the biggest state in the union at his disposal.
Jesse is free, but has he put things right? Was Mike wrong? Is it possible to do so? I suppose it all comes down to the contents of the letter that he hands over to Ed to deliver to someone. That someone is undoubtedly Brock and that letter has a lot of ground to cover. It has to describe a lifetime of mistakes, misfortunes, and lessons, and how to redeem one’s self. Walt is dead, Saul is in Omaha, Jesse is in Alaska. There aren’t many innocents left on the board to save or protect. In the end, Jesse seems to have realized that he can’t fix the world. The best he could hope to do was save himself…so he did.