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Some smart friends talked Vince Gilligan out of a very different ending for El Camino

Matt Jones, Charles Baker
Photo: Ben Rothstein (Netflix)

[This post includes plot details from El Camino.]

Friendship! It’s a precious thing. A good friend tells you when you’re about to make a terrible decision about your hair. A good friend points out when you’re being an asshole. A good friend keeps you from texting that person you should not text. A good friend helps you conceive of a plot to throw the cops off your scent by sending another friend down to ditch a car at the Mexican border, then hands you $8,000 in cash and a beanie hat. And a good friend, when told that you’re planning to throw a beloved, broken character behind bars, says, “Are you out of your mind? You can’t have him in a jail cell at the end. You got to let him get away. People will riot.”

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That’s Vince Gilligan, paraphrasing Holly Rice, in an interview with Vulture about El Camino—and specifically, in this case, about the El Camino that might have been, had Rice and others not steered Gilligan in another direction. After Breaking Bad ended, Gilligan said that, in his mind, Jesse got away, made it to Alaska after all. But in the years between “Felina” and El Camino, he reconsidered.

“I like irony in storytelling,” he told Vulture, continuing:

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.

But when he pitched it to Rice, his longtime girlfriend, she responded with the quote mentioned above. (His response, he told Vulture, was “No, don’t you get it? It’s art. It’s artistic.”) But when he pitched the same idea to Better Call Saul showrunner Peter Gould and the rest of the show’s writers, he got a similar response: “They all looked at me in silence. They said, “Are you crazy? He’s got to get away at the end.” [Laughs.] As the saying goes, if enough people tell you you’re drunk, you need to sit down. So I dispensed with that idea... Holly and Peter and the writers saved me. They saved me from somebody at the premiere chasing me up the aisle at the end of the movie trying to kill me.”

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The interview as a whole is worth reading, if only for the section where Gilligan gushes about watching Aaron Paul and Jesse Plemons work their way through that pizza scene in the desert; there’s also a great anecdote about Plemons throwing out the honk-honk gesture as Todd sings and drives. If nothing else, it will make you yet more grateful for the power of friendship, for it kept Jesse Pinkman out of jail, both in the world of Breaking Bad and in the real one.

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About the author

Allison Shoemaker

Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves television, bourbon, and dramatically overanalyzing social interactions.