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Front Page - Friday, October 25, 2019

‘El Camino’ like cruising around with reunited friends

There once was a lunch spot in Chattanooga that served incredible pork tacos. Housed in a silver Airstream trailer, Petunia’s Silver Jalapeno would close in the winter, making those long, cold months seem like eternity as I waited for it to reopen.

When I would finally eat the tacos again in the spring, they would taste even better than usual because of how long I had gone without them.

This is what watching “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” on Netflix is like. As the film opened and familiar faces appeared on the screen, I felt like I was biting into my first pork taco in six years.

“Breaking Bad” ended in 2013. The prequel series, “Better Call Saul,” has helped fill the void as it became a phenomenal show in its own right, but I have still longed to return to the world of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. So, I was thrilled when I read series creator Vince Gilligan had secretly written and directed a follow-up.

Since “El Camino” opens with a recap of the series, I see no point in avoiding spoilers, so if you haven’t watched “Breaking Bad,” stop reading, clear your schedule for the next three weeks and begin the edge-of-your-couch experience of binge-watching one of the best television shows ever made.

“El Camino” begins precisely where I assume any fan of the show would want it to, moments after Jesse’s escape at the end of the series. The film then follows Jesse as he attempts to do what Walter never could: Break free and start fresh.

As Gilligan tells this story, he frequently dips back into the original “Breaking Bad” timeline to develop story threads. Watching these scenes is like discovering a lost episode of the series and is tremendously exciting. But Gilligan sometimes overindulges the idea.

One initially enjoyable flashback wound up testing my patience, but ultimately, the point of “El Camino” is not to get from point A to point B in the story but to enjoy being in this world again and spending time with characters you have missed.

(A friend of mine likens watching her favorite show, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” to spending time with people she loves, and that can certainly apply to “Breaking Bad.”)

Gilligan achieves several things with “El Camino.” One, he created a film that looks and feels like part of “Breaking Bad.” That’s largely due to the familiar locations and how Gilligan shoots them – the barren landscapes of New Mexico have never looked more beautiful than through his lens – the things the characters say and the way they say them.

It also has to do with the presence of Gilligan’s dark, low-key humor – I laughed a lot while watching “El Camino” – as well as his ability to slowly ramp up tension in a scene.

All that said, “El Camino” establishes itself as a worthy addition to “Breaking Bad” by telling a satisfying story. The film lacks the intense drama that made certain episodes of the series memorable and adds nothing to the show’s insightful exploration of good and evil. But in the end, I was grateful Gilligan gave closure to Jesse.

Speaking of Jesse, I do not have enough superlatives in my writer’s kit to apply to Aaron Paul’s acting in “El Camino.” He brought everything fans loved about his work in the series and delivered a knockout performance. (I’m not sure that’s the best superlative to use, but it fits.)

Although I occasionally had trouble understanding where on the “Breaking Bad” timeline certain scenes were taking place because the cast has aged six years, and I did grow impatient with one of the flashbacks, “El Camino” offers exactly what I believe fans of the show want.

I only wish there was more. Here’s hoping Gilligan makes “Another Breaking Bad Movie.”