Breaking Bad 

How Breaking Bad Secretly Set Up Jesse’s El Camino Ending

Jesse Pinkman's ending in El Camino: A Breaking Bad movie gives the character a definitive ending, but it was actually set up way in advance.

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie ends the story of Jesse Pinkman in conclusive and satisfying fashion, but the character’s finale was actually set up way in advance of the Breaking Bad sequel film. In the final season of Breaking Bad, Jesse was mostly a figure of tragedy. Imprisoned by the Nazi meth gang, forced to watch the death of his partner and seemingly abandoned by Walter White, Jesse found himself at a particularly low ebb. Fortunately, one final stand from Walter White ensured Jesse’s freedom, and Aaron Paul’s character ended the iconic series by riding into the sunset using Todd’s El Camino.

Understandably, the main emotional focus of Breaking Bad‘s final season was firmly placed upon Bryan Cranston’s Walter White. Since Walt died at the end of Breaking Bad‘s “Felina,” however, El Camino had the freedom to focus entirely on Jesse, giving him the full dramatic closure treatment. After working to avoid capture by the authorities, Jesse manages to organize an escape route, and the final sequence of El Camino sees a mature, wiser Jesse once again driving off into the distance, albeit this time in Alaska heading towards a brand new life with a fresh identity.

While El Camino has attracted a highly positive response from Breaking Bad fans, some have expressed a preference for Jesse’s original, more ambiguous ending, as opposed to the happier, hopeful one offered by El Camino. This is an entirely valid argument, but it’s worth noting that the stage for Jesse’s El Camino ending was set years ago, and that this was perhaps the character’s destiny all along.

Jesse’s Conversation With Saul In Breaking Bad

Saul and Jesse in Breaking Bad

In Breaking Bad‘s final season, Jesse decides he wants out of the meth business after witnessing Todd kill an innocent child in cold blood. After more wrangling with Walter White – and with Hank closing in on his brother-in-law’s meth empire – Jesse arranges to start a new life by hiring the services of Robert Forster’s mysterious vacuum cleaner salesman, who has a lucrative side business in making people on the run disappear. In this story, Jesse is using Walt’s lawyer Saul as a middle-man, and reveals to him that he’d like to relocate to Alaska after leaving New Mexico and taking on a new name.

Of course, Jesse ultimately reneges on this arrangement, storming back to confront Saul after realizing that Walt was responsible for poisoning the child of Jesse’s new lover. This decision is one Jesse would later come to regret, as it directly leads to his enslavement at the hands of Jack’s gang. Among all of the action and revelations, however, the reference to Alaska is easy to miss. Certainly, it was an innocuous choice when Jesse first mentioned the destination in Breaking Bad; viewers had no idea where Jesse’s desire to go to Alaska came from or what his intentions were, and most viewers likely assumed that Jesse just picked somewhere remote and very far from his current location.

Perhaps this was also the intention of Vince Gilligan and Breaking Bad‘s writing team back when the episode was first written. But whether by happenstance or design, Jesse’s selection of Alaska as a future home in Breaking Bad‘s final season directly sowed the seeds for El Camino, and how the Jesse character would finally be rounded off.

Vince Gilligan And Aaron Paul’s Interviews

Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad

Almost as soon as the credits rolled on Breaking Bad‘s final episode, fans were pressing forward the idea of a sequel. Although “Felina” would prove to be one of the most highly regarded TV finales of all time, and also resolved every main character’s story arc in a satisfying way, questions were still being asked. Aside from the possibility of Walter White’s survival, one of the most frequent conundrums posed to Breaking Bad‘s cast and crew concerned the fate of Jesse. Did he live happily ever after? Or did he drive outside of the Nazi compound straight into the not-so-loving embrace of Albuquerque law enforcement?

In the days before El Camino was in development, Vince Gilligan would answer this question in much the same fashion during each interview. Gilligan’s proposed continuation of Jesse’s story was a simple one: that he would move to Alaska as previously planned and live a peaceful life, changing his identity and escaping the murky world of novelty-colored drugs. These comments were made as early as 2013 and Gilligan’s openness about his ideal ending for Jesse suggests that El Camino wasn’t yet in his sights. While most writers would separate what they want to happen to a character from what the story demands, it’s interesting that Gilligan managed to work his dream for Jesse’s future into a feature-length film.

To a lesser extent, Aaron Paul also foreshadowed Jesse’s move to Alaska, by going along with Gilligan’s comments and also adding that he’d quite like Jesse to become a carpenter. Even in the interim period between Breaking Bad and El Camino, Jesse’s fate was hiding in plain sight

El Camino’s Opening Scene

There’s a clear Alaskan thread running from the ending of Breaking Bad through to Gilligan and Paul’s hopes and dreams for the character, but how does that line of thinking bleed into El Camino? Jesse’s ending is actually established in the movie’s very first scene. Here, Jesse is having a heart-to-heart with criminal associate, Mike Ehrmantraut, and asks the wizened ex-cop where he would go if he had the chance to start all over again at a young age. Mike responds by picking Alaska, but the narrative moves on before too much is made of this exchange, with Jesse neither noticeably enthused or deterred by the suggestion.

The genius of this opening scene is that it effortlessly connects Breaking Bad and El Camino, bridging the six-year gap without resorting to heavy exposition or a transparent in-dialogue recap. Mike’s advice to Jesse retroactively answers why he plumped for Alaska when planning his original escape through Saul, but also gives the audience a clear idea of where El Camino is headed by having Jesse revisit his previous escape route.

At first glance, Jesse’s happy ending might feel oversimplified and too conclusive for a character who often walked a fine moral line. But as with most things in the Breaking Bad universe, digging a little deeper proves that there was truthfully only one way Jesse’s story could end in El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, and that’s with Aaron Paul finally starting anew in the beautiful Alaskan wilderness.

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