With the release of El Camino just a few days away, now is the time to watch, or rewatch, some key Breaking Bad episodes in order to fully understand and appreciate the movie. Written and directed by Vince Gilligan, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie picks up shortly after the series finale.
With Aaron Paul returning to the role that made him famous, the Breaking Bad movie will follow Jesse Pinkman after the show ended, revealing just what came next once he went speeding away, and whether or not he can ever have a happy ending. A number of Breaking Bad characters are expected to return, quite possibly including Walter White (Bryan Cranston).
With the movie so closely linked to the events of the show, Gilligan has explained that people who haven't seen Breaking Bad won't understand El Camino. Even people who have seen it may need a refresher, since it's been six years since it ended. Breaking Bad had 62 episodes, none of them bad, but to fully understand Jesse's journey then these are the most important ones to watch.
Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1)
It makes sense to start at the very beginning, not least because Breaking Bad's pilot is one of the all-time greats. Kicking off what would eventually become a TV phenomenon, "Pilot" introduces us to both Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, setting up a partnership that would span five seasons and some jaw-dropping trials and tribulations. It all seemed so simple back in this episode, so although this is more focused on Walt, it's nonetheless worth beginning here to fully chart how much Jesse grows throughout Breaking Bad. It also introduces some key iconography and themes, such as the RV, cooking meth, and the pursuit of money, that run throughout the show. If El Camino ends Jesse's journey, then you've got to see where it started.
Cancer Man (Season 1, Episode 4)
"Pilot" was where audiences met Jesse, but it's in "Cancer Man" they truly got to know him. The episode is framed around Walt revealing his cancer diagnosis to his wife, Skyler, which is crucial to the series, but for the Breaking Bad movie it's important to know who Jesse is and where he comes from. It's here that we learn the skinny kid selling drugs actually comes from a well-off family, We see his struggle to fit in, and how he makes a sacrifice for his younger brother, who his parents want to remain on the right track. It's a touching example of how messed-up Jesse's life can be, but also just how big his heart his.
4 Days Out (Season 2, Episode 9)
"4 Days Out" is arguably worth watching just for the scene depicted above, one of the best examples of how visually stunning Breaking Bad was, and something this whole episode excels at. Beyond that. But it's also a really strong Jesse episode, and a pretty fun one too. Breaking Bad is rarely a relaxed show, but with Walt and Jesse stranded in the desert after the RV breaks down, this one comes close to it. The Breaking Bad movie will likely be rather dark, so it's worth getting to know just how funny Jesse can be.
Phoenix (Season 2, Episode 12)
The penultimate episode of Breaking Bad season 2, "Phoenix" is one of the show's most important and devastating installments. Not only is this episode one of the major turning points of Walter White's entire arc, but it's key to Jesse's life and relationship with him too. It allows us some brief moments of seeing how happy he is, and lets him talk about his dreams for the future - maybe El Camino will let him realize them yet! - while reminding or preparing you that no one is better at twisting the knife than Vince Gilligan.
One Minute (Season 3, Episode 7)
Come for the super-tense showdown between Hank and the cousins, which is the kind of action we can expect some of in the Breaking Bad movie, but stay for the verbal beatdown Jesse gives Walt. When his mentor approaches him about working as his assistant, a hospitalized Jesse reels off a list of all the terrible things Walt has done to him. It's some of Paul's finest work on the series, and even the actor himself has said it's the one scene to rewatch in order to get a taste of what El Camino is going to offer. If you want to get ready for a Jesse who is scarred physically and emotionally, and understand why viewers care so much about him, this episode is as good as any.
Fly (Season 3, Episode 10)
"Fly" is the most divisive episode of Breaking Bad, which was some nice foreshadowing for what would happen when Rian Johnson, who helmed this installment, went on to make Star Wars: The Last Jedi. A bottle episode because the series went over budget, "Fly" keeps Walt and Jesse in the superlab because of a rogue insect, but that in turn allows for a brilliant exploration of their character dynamic. It's a different kind of Breaking Bad episode, but it's vital to the Walt/Jesse relationship, which will still be hanging over the latter in the Breaking Bad movie.
Half-Measures/Full-Measure (Season 3, Episodes 12-13)
The concluding two episodes of Breaking Bad's brilliant third season represent a real turning point for Jesse Pinkman. In "Half-Measures", we see him as someone who wants to enact revenge, but doesn't go through with it, instead being saved by Walt (another twist on their relationship). But in "Full Measure", he's forced to commit his greatest crime yet. So much of Breaking Bad had Walt seeing how far he could push Jesse, and this is where his pupil goes over the line. Jesse remained a sympathetic character after this episode, but he'd never quite be the same again.
End Times/Face-Off (Season 4, Episodes 12-13)
Much like the final episodes of season 3, Breaking Bad's fourth season also ends with an example of how far Walt will push Jesse, using him to his own advantage no matter the collateral damage. Key to this is Brock, the son of Jesse's then-girlfriend Andrea, who gets caught up in the crossfire. It's unclear if Brock will return for the Breaking Bad movie, but Jesse's bond with him and Andrea will, like his relationship with Jane, be important, especially if he's haunted by the ghosts of his past. Again, this is another fascinating twist in his own development and his relationship with Walter, while it also offers some of the biggest thrills going in Breaking Bad.
Buyout (Season 5, Episode 6)
"Buyout" offers a great double-whammy when it comes to Jesse's journey. Firstly, it's the episode that best establishes just how psychotic Todd is, which would play out not only over Breaking Bad's final few episodes, but the scars of which will still be felt in El Camino. Even better is the family dinner he sits down for with Walt and Skyler, which is yet another example of the show's (and Jesse's) humor, but also the deep fracturing of his relationship with Walt. The dinner table scene is about as awkward as Breaking Bad gets, but it's mixing cringe-comedy with great character development.
Confessions (Season 5, Episode 11)
Another turn in the tumultuous relationship between Jesse and Walt, and what's really the beginning of the multi-episode ending that sees Breaking Bad off in such incredible fashion. Again, a key part of this is Brock, with Jesse discovering the truth about what happened to Brock and Walt's role in it. While all of the episodes around this run are great and worth watching if you have time, it's "Confessions" that does the best job of cementing the divide between the duo, and with the added focus on Brock will have even more pertinence on Jesse's psyche in the Breaking Bad movie.
Ozymandias/Granite State/Felina (Season 5, Episodes 14-16)
If you're really pressed for time, then these three make up the absolute must-watch trio of episodes to see before El Camino releases. Completing the epic five-season story, it's in these final episodes that everything comes to a head, and few series have managed such a strong ending. "Ozymandias" is rightly regarded as one of the all-time great TV episodes; "Granite State" pushes things towards the true endgame, and brings some big reveals; "Felina", finally, ends things with a bang, and is what will lead directly into the Breaking Bad movie, setting up everything that Jesse has gone through with the Nazis, his state of mind, his physical condition, why the police are after him, and much more.