Warning: This story contains spoilers for Breaking Bad and El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.
For the last six years, fans have been speculating about what happened to Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) after the violent events of Breaking Bad’s series finale, “Fermina.” Last we saw, he was speeding away in an El Camino, yelling at the top of his lungs, his narrative arc left purposefully open-ended. And now we know why: Creator Vince Gilligan and Aaron Paul were planning a spinoff movie to address Jesse’s fate.
But that didn’t stop the two from planting bread crumbs along the way. "I like to think of him living in some small little mountain town in Alaska, [as] a carpenter, maybe," Paul told Bustle in 2018. "He's definitely hiding out somewhere. He's not living the life of luxury anywhere. He has no money, he's on the run, [the police are] searching for him. I mean, there's dead men all around where all his fingerprints were."
The very first scene of Netflix’s El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, appears to confirm that theory. In a flashback to a meeting between Jesse and hitman Mike Ehrmentraut (Jonathan Banks), the two discuss what they’re going to with their share of drug money.
“Where would you go if you were me?” Jesse asks.
“Alaska,” Mike answers. “If I were your age, starting fresh, Alaska. It’s the last frontier. Up there, you can be anything you want.”
That’s exactly what happens. The answer to where Jesse ends up was in front of us all along. In that sense, El Camino doesn’t so much provide resolution to some big mystery as it does closure for a character who spent the entire series being pushed in one direction or another, never once making his own choices.
In that same opening scene, Mike says: “Only you can decide what’s best for you Jesse. Not him, not me.”
Picking up immediately after Walt’s death in the series finale, El Camino traces Jesse’s journey from his mentor’s shadow towards his own seemingly bright future. In order to put the past behind him, Jesse has to tie up loose ends, both physical and psychological. We follow him as he meets up with old pals — like Badger (Matt Jones) and Skinny Pete (Charles Baker), who even gifts him his signature hat — and tracks down a fortune stored in psychopath Todd Alquist’s (Jesse Plemons) apartment. Sporadically, we delve into his traumatic memories of captivity at the hands of the white supremacist gang led by Uncle Jack (Michael Bowen).
But the real goal of El Camino is for Jesse to gather enough money to pay off Ed Galbraith (Robert Forster), the same fixer who helped Walt start over with a new identity back in season 5. Though the two don’t see eye to eye at first, Jesse eventually gathers a neat sum together, enough for Ed to relocate him to Alaska, hidden in a secret compartment in the back of his truck.
On the way, Jesse remembers a conversation with Walt early on in their relationship, when the latter told him he had the potential to be anything he wanted to be. Their love-hate banter, a trademark of the original series, echoes the theme woven into the fabric of this spinoff — Jesse has the chance to start again. What will he decide to do with that opportunity?
“You’re really lucky, you know that?” Walt says. “You didn’t have to wait your whole life to do something special.”
Ed eventually drops Jesse off at his destination, sets him up with a car, and points him towards the nearest town of Haines, 40 miles down the road. Before setting off, Jesse hands him a letter addressed to Brock Cantillo, the son of his former girlfriend murdered by the white supremacists after he tried to escape. Ed promises to mail it when he goes to Mexico City in a month’s time and asks if there’s anyone else Jesse wants to say goodbye to. There isn’t. He’s ready to cut ties with everyone in his former life.
With a new identity in hand — he picks the name Mr. Driscoll, and Ed quizzes him on every detail to make sure it sticks — Jesse drives away. In a final flashback scene, he’s seen talking to Jane (Krysten Ritter), his girlfriend murdered by Walter White (Bryan Cranston) back in season 2. Stopping on a drive through the New Mexico desert, he tells her he likes her attitude towards life.
“Going where the universe takes you,” he says. “Right on. I think it's a cool philosophy.”
“I was being metaphorical,” she replies. “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.”
With that, present Jesse looks out at the snowy mountains beyond his dashboard, and smiles. Here’s to a second chance.
Could there be a sequel? My guess is probably not, but the last part of Jesse and Mike’s exchange might suggest otherwise, especially since it foreshadowed his Alaska adventure. When Jesse asks if escaping to a new place means he can “put things right,” Mike cautions: "Sorry, kid, that's the one thing you can never do."
The past may yet catch up with Jesse Pinkman.