Yeah, this is great. The movie is exactly what it needed to be: Nothing major, nothing which retcons or ruins BREAKING BAD. Just a more definitive ending for Jesse Pinkman, masterfully executed. As noted, the end of BREAKING BAD necessarily defaulted to Walt and his story. We saw the major beats of Jesse’s time in captivity, but the effect it had on him—and what he did after his escape— were all skipped over. All we had to chew on was the catharsis of his escape, and the end of his relationship with Walter White.
The structure of the movie is clockwork-brilliant. Very deliberate pacing, numerous clever twists and little fakeouts. Lots of suspense, no spoon-feeding of the audience. In so many ways, it harkens back to those early episodes of the show, which dealt with the most mundane (the “in-between” moments you don’t see in crime shows, as Gilligan calls them) aspects of criminal operations. The flashbacks provide key exposition AND allow us a window into Jesse’s state of mind. Aaron Paul’s gives a masterful performance, and all of Jesse’s different characterizations are given their due (Stupid Jesse from early on, Vamanos Pest-era Jesse, Slave Jesse, Post-slave Jesse).
There are tons of clever little nods and Easter Eggs which are tied into the mythology of the show. Some really subtle stuff, too, like when Jesse says, “I’m taking my half” to Neil at Todd’s apartment. That’s a callback to Jesse and Walt’s partnership, because the money in Todd’s fridge is surely his share of the money that was STOLEN from Walt (money which Jesse, of course, hand a hand in earning).
The opening with Badger and Skinny Pete is a lot of fun, but, of course, the best moment is when Skinny calls Jesse his hero.
Gotta say, I’ve quickly come to love Neil and Casey. Two villainous, scum-of-the-Earth characters who really fit well into the BB universe. The misdirection of their introduction is very well-done, and Gilligan avoids too much coincidence by carefully laying out the clues as the story moves along. Neil, who’s definitely another psychopath (a la Todd), welded together Jesse’s meth-slave dog-run, and so he was able to put the pieces together regarding the Jesse, the meth, and the money after Walt killed the neo-Nazi gang and the news began covering it.
The whole flashback sequence with Todd is appropriately creepy, and is very much in the dark-humor style of the earliest episodes of BREAKING BAD. Jesse Plemons is great, here, and the more we learn about Todd, the less we want to know. Quite possibly the politest and most friendly psychopath in the history of television. Makes me want to rewatch “Felina”, because seeing Jesse strangle him and break his neck will be even more satisfying, now. I don’t upset too easily when watching TV shows, but Todd’s casual murder of Drew Sharp in “Dead Fright” unsettled me quite a bit. I was upset for the rest of that day, which speaks to the power of BREAKING BAD’s depictions of evil and morality. The show got under my skin in a way that no other show ever has.
My favorite joke (aside from the wonderful argument between Jesse and Ed at the vacuum store) has to be Todd’s creepy, homemade snowglobe, which features him wooing the standoffish Lydia. Of course, Lydia gets a shoutout in the movie (she’s not expected to survive her ricin poisoning, which we all figured), and Walt is confirmed as dead.
Robert Forster turns in a great performance, and it’s a shame that he died on the very day this movie was released. He was also fabulous and memorable in “Granite State”. Wonderful actor.
The use of the four flashbacks (Mike, Todd, Walt, Jane) to illustrate the impact each of these people (and their suggestions) had on Jesse and his decision regarding what to do with his life going forward is quite simple and lovely. It makes the whole thing less about fanservice cameos and more about summing up everything which has taken Jesse to what Vince Gilligan hopes (as do we all) will be a better place. And it seems strangely appropriate to mirror the shocking contrast of Walt going from the New Mexico desert to the snowy wilderness of New Hampshire in “Granite State” with Jesse ending up in Alaska. Both men go on the lam in snowy environments wildly different from the deserts that the show usually depicts. However, Walt goes back home to square his accounts and get his revenge, whereas Jesse makes the most of his fresh start.
...which leads me to the letter. Aaron Paul has said that Jesse’s letter to Brock really touched him, and that it was originally going to be included as voiceover during Jesse’s drive through Alaska. Gilligan decided to nix the narration and leave it ambiguous, but I do hope its contents are released, perhaps on the Blu-Ray.
The flashback with Walt was no surprise. How could they NOT sneak Cranston in, somehow? The bald cap was a bit distracting, but necessary. The scene takes place just after Walt and Jesse cooked that massive batch of meth in “Four Days Out”, and seems an absolutely appropriate place to end their relationship. The Walt/Jesse relationship is the beating heart of BREAKING BAD, and that relationship as shown in those first two seasons was so endearing to the audience that taking us back to that era provides a nice sense of symmetry. I also love how we see Walt’s fatherly encouragement of Jesse...but then he says, “You didn’t have to wait your whole life to do something special”, which hints at Walt’s ego-driven motivations and all of the horrors which would result from it. Remember, this scene takes place immediately before Walt was told that his cancer was in remission, which made him punch that hospital bathroom paper towel dispenser in a rage.
And, yes, Jesse says “bitch” at the restaurant during the flashback with Walt. They had to put it in somewhere, right? We got a few “yo”s, too, but it’s a testament to the show’s incredible character development that Jesse has become so transformed by his experiences. The only real flash of the old Jesse we get is during the argument with Ed, where Jesse turns out to be less smart than he thinks he is.
The final flashback with Jane is utterly appropriate, since her death was arguably the key moment—the pivot point —for both Walt and Jesse. Walt’s first truly, deliberately evil act, and the first major loss for Jesse. Jane’s death was a specter haunting both men throughout the series, and so it’s appropriate that her advice to Jesse is what will propel him past the horror he left behind in New Mexico.
As Vince Gilligan himself has noted, this movie was unnecessary. It began life as a gift to the fans for the show’s tenth anniversary. And that’s exactly what it is. A nice bit of frosting on the cake. One last loose end tied up. A coda. An epilogue. Proper closure. No more, no less.
Meanwhile, BETTER CALL SAUL will be back sometime around February, and I’m pumped. When all is said and done— and barring any ill-advised sequels/prequels/reboots—BREAKING BAD, EL CAMINO, and BETTER CALL SAUL will stand as one of the greatest triumphs of long-form storytelling in the history of television. Maybe even all of fiction.
And, in the back of my mind, I find myself now adding a few more pieces to my imaginary fanedit, where all of the Gilligan-verse is rearranged into chronological order to tell one massive story, from young Jimmy McGill working in his dad’s store in the 70s, up through wherever Cinnabon manager Gene Takovic’s story ends. A story spanning decades, from Gus Fring vowing revenge on Hector Salamanca and Don Elado in the 80s, to young Walt and Skyler White buying a house at 308 Negra Arroyo Ln. in the 90s, to Jimmy McGill’s transformation into Saul Goodman circa 2004, to everything in-between Walter White’s 50-52nd birthdays (2008-2010), to Jesse escaping to Alaska...and whatever comes beyond.