A ‘Breaking Bad’ Refresher, Ahead of ‘El Camino’
In 2013, Breaking Bad fans watched meth cook and lover of magnets Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) flee from years of manipulation and tragedy at the hands of his one-time high school chemistry teacher-turned-meth kingpin Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and months of physical torture and imprisonment by a group of white supremacists (we’ll get there), and drive away in an El Camino, laughing and crying, a broken man. This Friday, we finally get to see the other end of that getaway ride. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie picks up immediately after the events of the Breaking Bad finale and we should get some definitive answers as to Jesse’s fate. Happy endings don’t really exist in the Breaking Bad universe, but if anyone deserves one, it’s Jesse. (Okay, and Holly White.) I know the guy made some very poor choices, but come on! Jesse Pinkman spent five seasons breaking my heart on a daily basis, I don’t think I can take anything worse befalling the guy. How about a fresh start?
But before we get to Jesse’s future, it might be wise to revisit his past. It’s been six years since one of the greatest TV shows ever created ended, and although from time to time I like to think about how complex of a character Jesse Pinkman is—a true gift!—even I was a little fuzzy on the details of what events lead up to El Camino. If you haven’t had time to rewatch the series ahead the Netflix movie, here’s a quick Jesse Pinkman refresher for your El Camino preparations.
When We First Met Him
Jesse Pinkman was a low level meth cook and drug addict in Albuquerque, New Mexico going by the name of Cap’n Cook and using chili pepper in his drugs as a signature. He also says ‘bitch’ a lot. It’s his thing.
Jesse comes from very nice parents who eventually had to kick him out of the house after years of trying to help him with his addiction, only to repeatedly get burned. He also has a little brother who seems to be the golden child of the family, but is actually a little shit who lets Jesse go down for his own stash of weed, getting Jesse permanently cut off from his parents. Not cool, little dude.
Walt comes across Jesse while doing a ride-along with his DEA agent brother-in-law Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) — while Hank and his guys bust up Jesse’s meth lab, Walt watches Jesse, who was busy hooking up with the neighbor, escape from the roof. And by escape from, I mean, fall off of. Walt immediately recognizes him as one of his former students, and when he decides that he wants to cook meth to get some money to take care of his family after he dies from his recent lung cancer diagnosis, Walt asks Jesse to team up.
Walt knows the chemistry, Jesse knows the business. Well, Jesse knows the business well enough to get them started. It’s all supposed to be a short term thing, but they start cooking the purest meth anyone has ever seen (and it’s blue!) and get greedy and get in too deep and well, it’s not so short term. Will Jesse ever regret anything more than saying yes to Walter White that day he shows up in his driveway and asks him to cook some meth? Probably not.
Some of the Worst Things Happen To This Guy
Things escalate quickly. Almost immediately, Walt has Jesse learn to dissolve human bodies with acid — you might remember his now departed associates, Krazy-8 (Maximino Arciniega) and Emilio (John Koyama), as the guys who fell through Jesse’s ceiling when the kid didn’t follow directions correctly — and then they both get kidnapped by a psychopath drug dealer named Tuco (Raymond Cruz). And guys, that’s only the beginning! Things go downhill from there!
Aside from Walt manipulating Jesse to do what he wants at every turn, there’s his girlfriend Jane dying while choking on her own vomit after an overdose while Walt watches and does nothing to help (Jesse learns of that fact later, but still, we know!); He’s almost beaten to death by Hank: Walt forces him to murder another cook, Gale Boetticher (David Costabile), which he does, by shooting him in the face; His new girlfriend Andrea’s (Emily Rios) son Brock (Ian Posada) almost dies after being poisoned and Jesse is manipulated by Walt into thinking he accidentally did it when really it was Walt; He watches in horror as new-to-the-crew psycho (another one!), Todd Alquist (Jesse Plemons) callously shoots a young boy, Drew Sharp, who is in the wrong place at the wrong time (the train heist, you guys!); I could honestly go on.
Jesse doesn’t have the most accurate moral compass, but he most definitely doesn’t want any part of what’s happened to Walt. After Drew Sharp’s death, realizing that Walt killed Mike Ehrmantraut (a fixer and father figure to Jesse, played by Jonathan Banks), and figuring out that Walt poisoned Brock, Jesse, now completely destroyed (he starts throwing his millions of dollars he’s “earned” out the window of his car), decides to help Hank bring down Walt.
Naturally, that plan fails spectacularly!
Where We Left Him
After Jesse tries to distance himself from Walt, Walt relies on Todd to help him cook — Todd was part of the exterminator company that would set up homes where Walt and Jesse could cook meth — and eventually Todd connects Walt with his Uncle Jack (Michael Bowen). Todd is a monster, which makes sense because his Uncle Jack is a nazi who Walt hires to pull off a ridiculous spree of murders in multiple prisons in order to “tie up loose ends.” Speaking of loose ends, Walt ultimately decides that he needs to kill Jesse after Jesse goes on a rampage thanks to, you know, all those aforementioned horrors he’s lived through. Walt calls up Todd and Uncle Jack to do the deed, but when Jesse and Hank attempt to trick Walt, things go bad and Uncle Jack and his men end up killing Hank (RIP, ASAC Schrader!), stealing almost all of Walt’s $80 million dollars he buried out in the desert, and then taking Jesse prisoner, which Walt stands by and lets them do.
The Nazis keep Jesse as their prisoner for months, forcing him to cook the pure blue meth he and Walt made their (now lost) fortune on. The reveal that Jesse isn’t somewhere nice making gorgeous treasures from wood, but in fact he is bruised and battered and kept chained up 24 hours a day is brutal. One day, when he tries to escape, Todd and Co. drive him out to Andrea’s house and make him watch as Todd murders Andrea on her front porch. If he disobeys them again, they’ll kill Brock. And so Jesse remains their prisoner for months until Walter White shows up, fills all of those Nazis with bullet holes and helps Jesse ride off into freedom. Or, whatever awaits him in El Camino. It’s not like Walt is some savior though, guys, for one final moment, he tries to manipulate Jesse into shooting him to put him out of his misery, but Jesse sees he’s already been shot and leaves him to bleed out on his own. He’s done doing Walt’s dirty work.
Other Characters of Note
We know from both the trailer and series creator Vince Gilligan straight-up telling us that there would be many a familiar face from the original series showing up in the movie—you know Walt is showing up in a hallucination or flashback, you Just! Know! It!—so we should make mention of a few here. The trailer confirms the return of both Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) and Badger (Matthew Lee Jones), two of Jesse’s dummy friends, sometimes drug runners, and Star Trek aficionados. The last we saw them, Walt had hired them to hold laser pointers at Gretchen (Jessica Hecht) and Elliot Schwartz (Adam Godley) as he scared them into making sure they secretly funneled any money Walt had left to Walt Jr. (R.J. Mitte) and Holly. They both believed Jesse had run off to Alaska—so they’ll be pretty surprised when Jesse shows up at their door in need of help.
The other place we can look to for clues to Jesse’s fate is the Breaking Bad spinoff, Better Call Saul. Yes, it’s a prequel about Jimmy McGill’s (Bob Odenkirk) transformation into sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman, but the series shows some flashfowards to Saul’s life after the events of Breaking Bad. In the future (or, Jesse’s present, as it were), thanks to the help of Ed (Robert Forster), vacuum repair salesman and guy who helps criminals disappear, Saul is Gene Taković, working at a Cinnabon in Omaha, Nebraska, paranoid that someone knows his true identity. Will Jesse end up with a similar fate? I hope he winds up in a gorgeous, secluded part of Alaska, but admittedly, I wouldn’t mind hearing the phrase “cinnamon rolls, bitch!” just once.
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