The 62 episodes of Breaking Bad make for one of the most satisfying and consistent viewing experiences in TV history. And with the sequel film, El Camino, set to debut October 11th on Netflix, you may feel inclined to binge the whole series, either to refresh your memory or simply put you in the mood. But 62 hours is a lot to watch a second or third time in the midst of the Peak TV flood, and all but impossible if you’ve put off said binge until now.
As someone who’s literally written a book about Breaking Bad, I’ve been asked a lot lately about what episodes might be most useful to watch before the movie comes out. Vince Gilligan has kept so much about the movie under wraps — beyond the fact that it deals with what Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) does in the immediate aftermath of the series finale — that it’s hard to say what you need to see. But this would be my suggested refresher course on all things Jesse Pinkman, in order of importance:
“Confessions” through “Felina” (Season Five, Episodes 11-16)
If you’re really hard up for time, you could probably just watch the series’ devastating trio of farewell episodes, starting with “Ozymandias,” which shows how Jesse became a prisoner of Uncle Jack, Todd, and the Nazis; then “Granite State,” which details the horrifying conditions of his new life as a meth-cooking slave; and finally “Felina,” where Walt and Jesse team up one last time to deal with the Nazis, and Jesse drives off into the adventure that will be El Camino. But starting at “Confessions” would give you more detail about how quickly things grew toxic between mentor and protege, and why events reached the point where Walt let the Nazis take Jesse. (“Dead Freight” and “Buyout” from the first half of Season Five also do good work of illustrating the schism between Walt and Jesse, and of establishing Todd as the nightmare who would eventually destroy Jesse’s life.)
“Cancer Man” (Season One, Episode Four)
It’s not quite a Jesse Pinkman origin story, but as he retreats to the home of his well-to-do parents — then gets kicked out when his kid brother Jake lets him take the fall for Jake’s own marijuana use — “Cancer Man” provides a sense of who Jesse was before he became Walt’s apprentice, and how much both he and Walt ultimately cost themselves with their drug business.
“4 Days Out” (Season Two, Episode Nine)
The Jesse we’ll be seeing in El Camino is the scarred, broken, old-beyond-his-years man the Nazis kept caged. So you may want to remind yourself of how young, carefree, and fun he was earlier in the series — including what may be the most purely entertaining BB episode of them all, in which a miscommunication between Walt and Jesse results in them being stranded in the desert with a dead RV.
“Pilot” (Season One, Episode One)
Or, you could just watch one of the great debut episodes ever made. It’s more focused on Walt than his new partner, but we do get to see Jesse in action as “Cap’n Cook.” And in his interactions with Emilio and Krazy-8, we get the first of many times Jesse stumbled into more trouble than he was ready to handle.
“Peekaboo” (Season Two, Episode 6)
It’s hard to imagine El Camino devoting any time to the matter of meth-head couple Spooge and Skank, whose home Jesse finds himself trapped in during a botched attempt to collect a debt, nor to the fate of their mute, neglected son. Nevertheless, “Peakaboo” is worth mentioning here as Jesse’s first major solo misadventure. It was the surest sign to that point that Vince Gilligan and company had really learned to trust in Aaron Paul, when they’d once intended to kill off Jesse midway through Season One.
If these episodes and/or El Camino inspire an even deeper Pinkman dive, I might also recommend: “One Minute” (Season Three, Episode Seven), which before the famous Hank/Cousins shootout has some remarkable acting by Paul, as a hospitalized Jesse lists all the things Walt has done to him; “Half Measures” and “Full Measure” (Season Three, Episodes 12 and 13), where Jesse’s empathy puts him and Walt at war with Gus Fring; “Shotgun” (Season Four, Episode Five), where Jesse begins gravitating towards Mike as a new mentor figure; “Problem Dog” (Season Four, Episode Seven), where Jesse returns to his 12-step group and tears it apart with one speech; and “End Times” and “Face Off” (Season Four, Episodes 12 and 13), where Walt goes to extremes to turn Jesse against him before using him as a pawn against Gus. Ding ding!
Or maybe all you need to see are these five words (courtesy of the Season One finale, “A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal”):