#teacher | Aaron Paul on Jesse Pinkman’s ‘Heartbreaking’ Reunion With Bryan Cranton’s Walter White

Months spent in a concrete cell. Beaten, tortured, and humiliated by white supremacists. Forced to watch his own girlfriend’s murder, with her little boy’s life threatened next. All because the man he once respected as a mentor—and protected, believed in, and killed for—handed him over to die. The Jesse Pinkman we meet near the start of El Camino is not well. 

Minutes have passed since Jesse ripped out of a neo-Nazi compound in a black and red El Camino, howling. Walter White is dead. The Breaking Bad finale allowed him an exit on his own terms, in a final blaze of cunning—that oscillating machine gun—with the satisfaction of knowing, in some way, he’d won: he’d killed all his enemies. Devised a way to sneak his money to his family against their wishes. He’d held onto the power and control he valued above all. And he’d played the hero to Jesse one last time, freeing him from the compound to a new life on the run.

Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan’s meditative neo-western El Camino attaches a coda to Jesse’s story, detailing the emotional (and physical) scars Walt left him to live with. Through shootouts, explosions, and slow-burn sequences of expertly-orchestrated tension, it follows Jesse’s escape from the chaos of Albuquerque to a remote corner of Alaska. Its quieter moments, meanwhile, devote themselves to a survivor’s slow, steady climb back to personhood, and to the grit and compassion that sort of journey entails. 

Jesse’s state of mind in the present is contextualized with periodic glimpses into his past, to moments spent with former lovers, enemies, and friends—including Walter. 

In their first scene together in six years, Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston slip back into a long-gone dynamic: miserable, cancer-ridden chemistry teacher and his drug-dealing former student. They’re in a diner. Jesse piles pineapple chunks onto his plate like a guy who thought he’d never taste food again. (The flashback follows the Season 2 classic “4 Days Out,” in which Jesse and Walt become stranded in the desert.) Walt glowers and lectures, chiding him to recommit to his education once these obligatory meth-cooking days are done and money for his family is secure.

It’s a snapshot of days when, in Jesse’s eyes, “Mr. White” seemed incapable of poisoning a child, letting Jane die, or leaving him to be enslaved. Red flags of narcissism go unnoticed or dismissed. (Jesse learns Walt thinks he never graduated high school, despite being onstage when he received his diploma!) But before the scene ends, Jesse senses something strange about Walter. “You’re really lucky, you know,” Walt tells him. “You didn’t have to wait your whole life to do something special.” 

He’s talking about cooking meth—not something Jesse can think of as a lifetime’s achievement. It’s a telling moment in a scene full of them, each darkened by what we know happens next. (Just see how Jesse dotes on Walter, reminding him to eat, reassuring him that his family will be taken care of, and patting him as he coughs, which only embarrasses Walt.) As Paul himself says, “It was pretty heartbreaking.”

The Emmy-winner (times three over for his work on Breaking Bad) spoke to The Daily Beast on the eve of El Camino’s release on Netflix, as boyishly hyped about it as Jesse sometimes gets about magnets. Between praise for Gilligan’s “love letter” to his character—and for Cranston, whom he counts among his “best friends”—Paul spoke to how the film changes Jesse and the character’s legacy, what it was like to share a scene with Cranston again, and more spoilers from the film. Read our conversation below.

I saw the movie yesterday—

And? What did you think?!


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