SPOILERS ahead from El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie.
Toward the end of El Camino, we finally get a flashback cameo from Breaking Bad's Walter White, and he has a key line to Jesse Pinkman that resonated strongly with Walt actor Bryan Cranston.
Walt and Aaron Paul's Jesse Pinkman have breakfast in a diner, and it's clear the conversation is happening early in their Breaking Bad working relationship -- during one of the good times, after a successful cook, giving them both a chance to think about the future. Walt was coughing, and the assumption was still that he would die from his cancer, leaving his money to his family. But what about Jesse? Would he go to college? What would he do next after they sold the batch? Walt wanted to know.
Walt also wanted to share his envy, and it surprised Jesse when Walt gave his young drug protege a wistful look and shared these words:
You’re really lucky, you know that? That you didn’t have to wait your whole life to do something special.
I’m glad you pointed that out because that resonated with me greatly and really helped me understand the frame of mind that Walter White was in at the time. When I read that script and read that line, I went, 'Oh, wow. That’s where he is. That’s right.' He was so filled with ennui when he was teaching to a classroom full of students who didn’t care, and he lost his spark, he lost his fire, his purpose. He lost his way. That was Walter White when we first met him. And then, out of this extraordinary set of circumstances of his own impending demise, he makes this decision to do what he does and ironically finds greatness in it, finds fulfillment in it, even though he knew very well what he was doing was poisoning the world. It’s such an odd juxtaposition to imagine him reconciling that. But I do believe that every person on this planet is looking for their own personal empowerment. And that’s where Walter White found his — in the simple beauty and mathematical equation of chemistry.
Fascinating. It really was a perfect line to sum up Walter White's ethos at the time -- and actually throughout the rest of Breaking Bad from there. El Camino writer/director Vince Gilligan gave credit where it was due, saying the line came from producer Melissa Bernstein, who suggested the scene should have more meaning than just fan service:
I have Melissa Bernstein to thank for that. That was her idea to button the scene with a poignant moment like that. When I wrote the scene in the first draft of the script, it was just basically this lighthearted sitting in between these two characters. It was pretty much everything in that same now except without that ending. And when she read the script, she said, 'Well, aren’t we missing something here? What’s the point of the scene, ultimately?' I said, 'Well, to me the point of the scene is it’s a little thank-you to the fans. It’s allowing the fans to see Walt and Jesse together again.' She said, 'That’s great, and they’re going to love that, but can’t there be something more still?' And I said, 'Like what?' She said, 'Well, how does it relate back to the larger movie? What does Jesse learn from it? Because in my mind, this movie is about Jesse transforming from a boy to a man. It’s about him growing up and becoming an adult. What does he learn here in this scene that helps him along on that journey?'
I'm glad Vince Gilligan had a strong team to watch his back while he made El Camino. He almost ended the movie with Jesse Pinkman in jail until the Better Call Saul team (and his own girlfriend) convinced him that was a bad idea. I'm also glad Gilligan is willing to listen to the ideas of others, since ultimately it was his call.
Vince Gilligan continued to EW on how that line in the diner scene took shape and what it said about Walter White's mindset:
And we thought about it and finally, we came up with that line. And you’re right, it’s kind of a compliment, but it’s a twisted one at that. More than anything, it gives us this glimpse into Walter White’s mind. It’s a sad moment because if Walter White thinks this is the greatest thing he’s ever done, what kind of life has he led? And really, it allows for this wonderful reaction on Jesse’s part, and Aaron plays it beautifully. Aaron’s reaction to the line is really what buttons the scene and what makes it what it is. It gives it a point. It gives the whole thing shape. It’s his silent reaction of, 'Oh my God, you think this is greatness?' And that leads us into the final scene of him becoming a different person. He’s no longer in the next scene Jesse Pinkman; he’s someone named Mr. Driscoll. He’s a grown man, and older and wiser, and he’s going to go off and hopefully finally have the life that he deserves.
Yes, right after Walter White's line to Jesse, Jesse gives an incredulous look -- that's the screenshot above -- and then the scene cuts to Alaska, where Jesse prepares to start his new life. Maybe he will go to college and study sports medicine or business. He can start fresh.
Jesse also ends the movie by giving vacuum salesman/disappearing maestro Ed (RIP Robert Forster) a letter for young Brock. Aaron Paul said he was disappointed that the movie cut out the voiceover that was originally planned to reveal the full contents of the letter. He gave a hint to what's in there, though.