Tonight, Sunday August 11th, the critically acclaimed series Breaking Bad will officially begin its final eight episodes. Over the past five years, millions of viewers have been completely enraptured in the journey of Walter White (Bryan Cranston) as he rises in the drug underworld. Many critics regard the series as one of the greatest TV dramas ever with even the Writers Guild of America putting it as #13 in their list of the 101 Best-Written TV Series of All Time. It has won seven Primetime Emmy awards and has been nominated for Outstanding Drama Series four times. With such an acclaimed series such as this, there are an incredible amount of episodes that many would regard as their favorites. The show is straight up exciting to watch from start to finish. In honor of Breaking Bad’s final run on cable television, here is a list of my personal favorite episodes. These are ones that have stuck with me since viewing them for one reason or another. If you have yet to watch this amazing series, please be warned that there are SPOILERS abound in this post. If you don’t care about that, then read on for my Top 5 episodes that you should absolutely watch, whether for the first time or just for fun.
5. Season 2, Episode 8: “Better Call Saul”
You won’t typically find this episode on many Top 5 lists for Breaking Bad which really is a shame since it introduces one of the best characters in the whole series: Saul “Goodman” McGill. (Bob Odenkirk). Saul didn’t appear until midway through Season 2 and he was only a guest character at the time, but his future importance to the series is undeniable. He quickly became vital to the survival of Walt and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) while also getting involved in the affairs of many other people. In no time at all, major characters turned to Saul to resolve any of their legal issues or major problems.
What makes Saul stand out is his comedic demeanor and how he is the perfect embodiment of a corrupt lawyer. He is extremely well versed in how the law operates, but would rather help criminals escape the feds than actual innocent people. He always knows “a guy” who frequently knows “another guy” who knows “another guy” who can help anyone fix major issues. He even made it so Walter White Jr.’s (RJ Mitte) website SaveWalterWhite.com was a place to launder drug money. So as you can see, Saul is very competent at what he does despite his appearance and low-budget TV commercials. There were even rumors that a spin-off series was in the works that revolves around Saul. Bottom line, Saul was the best new addition to the show and it’s difficult to imagine what Breaking Bad would be like without him after a certain point.
4. Season 3, Episode 7: “One Minute”
This Emmy nominated episode for Outstanding Directing in a Drama Series (Michelle MacLaren) contains one of the most intense scenes ever in Breaking Bad history. In the final few minutes of the episode, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) is ambushed in his car by “The Cousins,” Leonel and Marco Salamanca (Daniel and Luis Moncada). Hank is warned by an unknown caller that he has one minute until two men arrive to kill him and he immediately jumps into action once he sees The Cousins appear. Since his gun was confiscated after assaulting Jesse, Hank resorts to using his car to crush Leonel against another car. He then grabs Leonel’s gun and kills Marco, after being hit multiple times with bullets of course. Leonel and Hank survive the fight but both received unimaginable injuries, with Hank’s recovery becoming a major part of the show for many episodes.
What makes “One Minute” memorable is how much of a turning point it was for the show. In regards to Season 3 alone, The Cousins were set up as the main antagonists and they were frequently used by Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) to intimidate Walt. I knew that the Cousins had to die eventually, but I did not expect them to be taken down by Hank. He was completely unarmed and yet dispatched two extremely dangerous killers, showcasing his resourcefulness beautifully. Lastly, his recovery became a major part of the show with a lot of side stories focusing on him and it all started here.
3. Season 1, Episode 6: “Crazy Handful of Nothin’”
This episode wasn’t nominated for any Emmys, but its importance to the show is immense. “Crazy Handful of Nothin’” saw Walt stand up to his first real adversary in the craziest way possible – by using fulminated mercury. The final scene of Walt throwing the tiny crystal and completely blowing up Tuco’s hideout is permanently ingrained in my memory. This is when he truly made a name for himself. We also saw Walt adopt his shaved head look for the first time this episode which became an iconic look for the series.
However, all of this pales in comparison to the fact that this is when Walt uses his “Heisenberg” pseudonym for the first time. He took the name after Werner Heisenberg who was one of the creators of quantum mechanics and the “uncertainty principle.” Heisenberg was also a school teacher who was diagnosed with cancer, which connects him to Walt perfectly. The name Heisenberg was more or less shrugged off when Walt started using it, but once word got around of how great his blue colored meth was, the name became infamous. It wasn’t long until the DEA started to hunt down the mysterious Heisenberg to stop his rampant meth production. Heisenberg is now bigger than Walt could have ever imagined becoming an international “celebrity” and alternate personality to the formally mild mannered chemistry teacher.
2. Season 4, Episode 13: “Face Off”
Few episodes have been more monumental to the series as a whole than this Season 4 finale. Nabbing two Emmy Nominations for Outstanding Directing (Vince Gilligan) and Outstanding Guest Actor (Mark Margolis as Hector Salamanca), the critics obviously loved “Face Off” as well. After providing Walt the means to cook meth and make an immense amount of cash on a regular basis, Gus became one of the series’ primary antagonists. Gus and Walt worked together frequently but the two slowly began to absolutely loathe each other. Each viewed the other as a threat and both plotted to take action. As fate would have it, it was Walt who delivered the final blow in the form of a pipe bomb attached to the base of Hector’s wheel chair. The final image we get of the previously well-kept Gustavo Fring is him missing half his face before he falls to the floor.
This episode was the first time all series that Walt actually became the reigning Drug Kingpin. Despite the fact that his meth was the best around, there was always someone lording over him calling the shots. It was Tuco at the end of Season 1 and the beginning of Season 2, and quickly jumped to Gus until this finale. With Gus’s death, Walt no longer had anyone above him to stop him from becoming King. Plus, this episode saw the closing of the Salamanca bloodline which has been present since Tuco’s arrival in the beginning. This meant that Walt didn’t have any competition either. It officially became him on top with no one else. Lastly, it is strongly hinted that Walt is the one who poisoned Brock Cantillo (Ian Posada) as a means to manipulate Jesse against Gus. As if murdering countless amounts of people and selling meth isn’t bad enough, poisoning a 6-year-old apparently isn’t out of the question either. Yikes.
1. Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
There truly is no better episode of Breaking Bad than the one that started it all. “Pilot” was absolutely lauded by critics worldwide and quickly put Breaking Bad on the map as “Must Watch TV.” Few shots are as memorable as the opening footage of a hyperventilating Walter White standing in the middle of a desert road wearing nothing but tighty whities and a green button down shirt. He’s armed with a gun and faces the sound of sirens coming closer in the distance. We don’t know why this is happening, but we can assume some crazy shit has gone down to lead to this point. The rest of the episode is spectacular and it sets up this multi-Emmy nominated series in the best way possible.
The effects of “Pilot” can still be seen to this day. First and foremost, this episode won Bryan Cranston his first ever Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. He would then go on to win that award two more times, all in a row. This is a man who everyone recognized as Hal Wilkerson from the comedy series Malcolm in the Middle. People initially balked at the idea that a man like Cranston could do well in a drama after spending so much time in a comedic role. “Pilot” immediately turned everyone’s opinions around and made Cranston a true acting force in the process. As for AMC the network, Breaking Bad was its second original series after Man Men in 2007. The repeated praise both of these shows have received has made AMC into a network that can have premium dramas on par with those found on HBO and Showtime. “Pilot” is where all of this started, and while there is no way to start the series without watching it, there really was no better way a series as crazy as this could have begun.