When the Emmy-winning drug drama Breaking Bad came crashing to a close in 2013, Jesse Pinkman was given something of a happy if ambiguous ending: Walter White’s long-time-but-now-estranged meth partner escaped from the white supremacist compound where he was being tortured while being forced to produce more product. (Walt’s ending, of course, was more finite: mortally wounded in a shootout, he fell over while inspecting his cherished machinery.)
Six years later, Netflix released El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, which filled in the blanks of exactly what happened to Jesse (Aaron Paul) in the moments after he drove off into the night, screaming for freedom and dear life. Jesse ultimately would elude the authorities, and with the help of that much-more-than-a-vacuum-store-owner, Ed (Robert Forster), he found safe passage to Alaska, where he rode peacefully into his new life as Mr. Driscoll.
Both Paul and Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad’s creator who wrote and directed El Camino, have hinted at this very ending for years in interviews. Back in 2013, Gilligan told EW: “Some people might think, ‘Well, he probably got two miles down the road before the cops nailed him.’ But I prefer to believe that he got away, and he’s got a long road to recovery ahead… All these terrible things he’s witnessed are going to scar him as well, but the romantic in me wants to believe that he gets away with it and moves to Alaska and has a peaceful life communing with nature.” Just last year, Paul echoed a similar sentiment, hoping that Jesse went “just straight up into Alaska, a mountain town in the middle of nowhere, and just started building things with his hands.”
One early version of El Camino did not end so victoriously for Jesse, though. In fact, the soulful, broken criminal wound in police custody. As Gilligan started to explore this certainly logical-but-definitely-not-fan-friendly idea, his girlfriend, Holly Rice, was among those in his inner circle who advised him to rethink that outcome. In the wake of the 2013 finale, “I thought it was up to the audience to figure out how Jesse got away, but that it was enough to see him driving off into the night victorious,” Gilligan tells EW. “But then as the years started to pass, I found myself wondering at idle moments, ‘How exactly did he get away? Because that’s no easy feat! And what if he didn’t get away? What if he got busted right around the next corner?’”
What exactly did Gilligan have in store in that version? “I didn’t get super far down the road, but it was probably going to be a young woman who needed some help,” he says. “He was hiding out by the Canadian border, and this woman was working at a motel as a housekeeper or something. [He] goes into the process of saving her, knowing full well that he’s going to suffer for it, he’s going to get caught for it, but he does it anyway. And the last scene would be maybe him in a jail cell but at peace for the first time since the movie began. I think there was going to be this component where he couldn’t sleep. He wouldn’t get a single night sleep for a week or so upon escaping. The police are looking for him and he’s too haunted and he’s too adrenaline-charged. And at the end of the thing, he’s in a jail cell, and ironically he can fall asleep like a baby. And I thought, ‘Ah, that’d be kind of cool.'”
That’s when he sought counsel. “I pitched some version of that to my girlfriend Holly,” he says, “and I also separately pitched that to [Breaking Bad executive producer/Better Call Saul co-creator] Peter Gould and the writers and everybody looked at me like I was absolutely insane: ‘You can’t have Jesse back in a cell at the end of the movie! People will tar and feather you!’ I’m glad I listened to them. I think there is a version of that movie that if perfectly executed would work, but I don’t know that I was the guy to pull it off. I’m glad I wound up doing it the way I did it.”
When EW asked Paul about this alternate version of the story, he turned quiet for a second before saying: “Wow…. He never said that to me. Wow. That’s so interesting.” And how would Paul have felt about telling that story instead? “I mean, I’m happy that he’s not caught, you know?” Paul says with a laugh. “I’m happy that he got away. There’s some things like as a fan — the parents of the boy [Drew Sharp] who was shot on the bike, I wish they knew what happened to their kid. There’s little things like that that I would love their family to find out. But also, it’s so perfect and that’s what really tore at Jesse. He’s an emotional creature. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and he cares about people and cares about kids and their well-being.”
That is once again in full evidence in one of El Camino‘s final moments, when Jesse, in his last act before becoming Mr. Driscoll, hands Ed a letter to mail to Brock (Ian Posada), the young son of Jesse’s ex-girlfriend Andrea (Emily Rios). You may remember that Walt (Bryan Cranston) poisoned Brock, and Todd (Jesse Plemons) shot Andrea in the head in front of Jesse to send him a chilling reminder to be a compliant meth slave. Which brings us to a different alternate ending, one that Paul says he was “really crushed to see made the cutting room floor before we started shooting.”
The audience never learns the contents of Jesse’s letter to Brock, though it’s implied that it’s an attempt at explaining/apologizing/making amends for all the evil that Jesse unwillingly brought into Brock’s life. “That letter to Brock was the very first thing that Vince wrote when writing this script,” Paul notes. “Once he completed that letter, he started the script. Originally the voiceover of that letter was how the movie ended — just driving through Alaska and you could hear what was inside of that letter…. It’s heartbreaking, it’s beautiful, just honest. But Vince just thought, ‘You know what? Maybe it’s best left unknown.’ And we don’t need it. He was right. But I love knowing what was in the letter.”
Care to share even a line from that letter, Aaron? “Dear Brock,” deadpans the actor, before explaining: “I swore to Vince that I would never share what was in that letter. But… [Jesse] just could not be more open and honest. It’s just really him saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ and that’s it.”
It’s intriguing to think whether little Brock would even want to read such a letter from Jesse after everything that’s transpired. “When, if he’s ever even able to read it,” says Paul. “I’m sure his grandmother is the one that’s going to open it up and probably take it to the police and… who knows?”
It will remain one of the mysteries of the Breaking Bad franchise, or at least until The Return of Mr. Driscoll.
To find out what else Paul revealed about filming El Camino — and whether he’ll ever play Jesse again — head over here.
(This story has been updated with an expanded quote from Gilligan.)