This post contains SPOILERS for El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
Vince Gilligan reveals the alternate ending he pitched for El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie. Six years after the acclaimed TV drama signed off the air, star Aaron Paul made his long-awaited return as Jesse Pinkman, but there was always some risk mixed in with the anticipation. One of the many reasons why fans consider the Breaking Bad finale to be perfect is because Jesse, who evolved into the show's heart and moral compass, survived the trying ordeal and made a triumphant escape. The character's ending was left intentionally ambiguous, with Gilligan writing in the "Felina" script he liked to think Jesse found "something better."
Breaking Bad never pulled any punches, so there was some concern Jesse would meet his end in El Camino; after all, the original plan was for Jesse to die in season 1. Fortunately, many viewers were satisfied to see Jesse live through another Breaking Bad finale, leaving his troubled life in Albuquerque behind as he assumed a new identity in Alaska (with an assist from Ed the vacuum cleaner salesman). It was the ideal Breaking Bad coda, but originally Gilligan had something much more darker in mind.
In an interview with Vulture, Gilligan talked about the El Camino ending and shared a different conclusion he considered:
I like irony in storytelling. I love ironic twists. 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. And the thing he wanted most to do was 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. It was all this very interior, emo-type, very dramatic stuff.
Gilligan pitched this separately to his girlfriend Holly Rice and longtime collaborator Peter Gould, who both told him some variation of "Jesse needs to get away at the end." Many Breaking Bad fans surely agree with that sentiment, and fortunately Gilligan reconsidered. One can understand why he initially tried to go in a different direction; Breaking Bad was many things, but it was never predictable. Gilligan was always capable of pulling off a great twist and shocking the audience, but this time, it was better to just give the people what they wanted (Jesse finding peace). After the catharsis of his "Felina" getaway and Paul making his anticipated comeback in the role, it would have been particularly cruel if Jesse didn't get the happy ending - especially if it was to save a new character viewers had no attachment to.
This isn't to say El Camino is empty fan service; on the contrary, it's a tasteful, well-told story that serves as an essential chapter to the overarching saga. It gives Jesse the definitive ending he always deserved, and even found ways to organically flesh out elements of Breaking Bad. Even if it doesn't reach the all-time heights of the original show ("Ozymandias" is a tall bar to clear), it's still a worthwhile endeavor that adds to (rather than subtracts from) the legacy. Though Gilligan probably would have found a way to make a more somber or tragic conclusion work, El Camino may not have been as well-received had he gone down a darker path. For everyone's sake, it's best Jesse is living a tranquil life in Alaska, instead of rotting in a Montana jail cell.