As compelling as its other characters were, Breaking Bad was Walter White‘s show. Its title doesn’t describe the experiences of any other character, as everyone else stays about as straight-and-narrow or criminal as they began. El Camino, the Breaking Bad movie that’s now streaming on Netflix may foreground a different character, but its greatest asset is how it deepens our understanding of Walt.
Plentiful spoilers for Breaking Bad and El Camino below.
The final shot of “Felina,” the show’s masterful finale, shows Walt on his back on the floor of the white supremacist compound, dying with a smile on his face, and for good reason. NPR’s Linda Holmes put it thusly:
He got to trick his family into taking his money, he got to free Jesse and feel like a hero (despite it being his fault Jesse was there in the first place), he got to die on his own terms, he got to kill all his enemies and he never really had to surrender the power he had assumed.
But even worse than Walt escaping the consequences of his actions is that the audience never got to see what those consequences were, which means we never get a full accounting of how much damage Walt caused. For a show whose every episode poses the question “How bad has Walt become?”, this feels like a pretty big oversight.
El Camino corrects it. Its greatest virtue is that it deepens the meaning of the series that inspired it. It shows Jesse struggling to deal with a life Walt broke in the world he left behind, revealing the true depth of Walt’s evil
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that Walt does make an appearance in El Camino, a flashback scene in which we see him tell Jesse he has cancer. Each man gives the other advice that he knows won’t be followed—drink water and go to business school, respectively—in an exchange that almost feels warm until you remember how completely fucked everything is about to get.
The flashback shows the man Walt was at the apex of his descent; the rest of the movie shows just how destructive that descent ultimately was. In other words, El Camino is more than just a new chapter in the Breaking Bad story; it’s a lens that changes how everything that came before it appears.