Warning: There are major spoilers ahead for El Camino, the Breaking Bad follow-up movie that premiered on Netflix October 11.
After years of speculation, one secret New Mexico production (filmed under the title Greenbrier), and actors sworn to confidentiality, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie landed on Netflix last Friday. In the two-hour film, viewers learned the ultimate fate of Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), the meth-cooking sidekick to chemistry teacher-turned-drug-kingpin Walter White (Bryan Cranston). Fleeing from captivity imposed by white supremacists forcing him to make illicit substances, Pinkman gathers enough funds to trade in blue ice for stark white Alaskan territory, driving toward a presumably happier future.
It was an ending in line with what Paul had envisioned for the character, even mentioning Alaska as a possible endpoint in a Reddit AMA back in 2016. But Breaking Bad creator and El Camino writer/director Vince Gillian originally intended on putting the screws to the beleaguered Pinkman one last time.
Speaking with Vulture, Gilligan said that his vision for Pinkman involved a scenario where he would be forced to sacrifice his freedom in order to save someone else. “Once I had set about coming up with this movie, for the longest time I had it in my mind that the thing we wanted most to see was for Jesse to escape [his old life],” he said. “And the thing he wanted most was to escape. So I was trying to concoct a plot in which, hero that he is, he saves somebody else—somebody I would have introduced as a new character into the movie. Because he’s such an innately heroic character in my mind, he saves someone at the end of the movie and he willfully gets himself caught knowing that it’ll save this other person. At the end of the movie, he’d be locked in a jail cell somewhere in Montana or someplace. And he would be at peace with it.”
Labeling his notion as “emo-type” interior storytelling intended to subvert expectations, Gilligan said he received mostly negative responses when discussing the idea with confidantes, including Better Call Saul showrunner Peter Gould. The consensus was that Pinkman deserved some kind of optimistic closure. Given that he has witnessed several homicides, committed a few murders of his own, lost his girlfriend to a drug overdose, saw his new girlfriend’s son poisoned, and was eventually locked in a hole in the ground, it might have made little sense to bring the character back from a six-year hiatus just to torture him some more.
Gilligan relented, and Pinkman now seems to have more of a fighting chance moving forward. “Sometimes,” the writer said, “you just got to give folks what they want.”