Warning: Do not read this if you have not seen this series in its entirety.
Created by Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad tells the epic story of Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher turned Methamphetamine drug kingpin. The series ran for five seasons on the AMC network from 2008-2013. There is not one episode in the entire series run that is not at least solid. In fact, nearly every episode is great.
Like any great serialized television series, Breaking Bad is about the journey. Over the course of its 62 episodes, we become truly invested in the characters and their respective arcs. In order to appreciate the epic saga of Walter White, one needs to watch the series in its entirety.
Breaking Bad is the rare television series that got better with each season and ended after its best year and perhaps, the greatest season of television ever. I realize that is a bold statement but it really is that fantastic. Most shows peak at some point during their run and then decline. Take The Simpsons as an example. That show’s first eight seasons were great but after that, the series began its slow decline. Now in its 27th season, The Simpsons is only a shell of its former self. Then there is The X-Files, which saw a sharp decline in quality in its ninth and final season. Every season of Breaking Bad, on the other hand, is strong. Breaking Bad also has the most satisfying conclusion to a series that I have ever seen. Breaking Bad never once loses its stride. Like a chemical reaction, the series builds momentum to its riveting third to last episode Ozymandias. The final two terrific episodes serve as an elegy to this epic journey. Breaking Bad is a very dark series but often balances those elements with healthy doses of humor. The series also has countless shocking moments that will leave you speechless.
Breaking Bad is fascinating on so many levels. It is a character study of a man who becomes a criminal mastermind. Walter White is the ultimate anti-hero. Despite his criminal and moral misdoings, one cannot help but hope that he eludes the police, at least at first. For me, this perspective all changed at the end of season four after Walt poisoned Brock and manipulated Jesse. At that point in the series, Walt’s actions had catastrophic consequences and it became clear that neither he nor anyone involved would emerge unscathed. Walt caused the deaths of so many innocent lives and I hoped that he got what was inevitably coming to him. Breaking Bad shows that good and evil is not so black and white. There is a whole lot of gray matter.
Like a great Film Noir, Breaking Bad is a morality play. No character is completely innocent and actions are constantly called into question. My favorite character, Jesse Pinkman was Walt’s partner, surrogate son, and at times, both friend and enemy. Despite his criminal activities, Jesse is compassionate and wants no one to be killed. Everyone praises Bryan Cranston’s performance as Walter White and he truly is fantastic but Aaron Paul is equally mesmerizing as Jesse Pinkman. In fact, all of the actors bring their A game to this series. One of Breaking Bad’s greatest strengths is the dynamic between Walt and Jesse, who have such a complex relationship. At times, their banter is hilarious.
On a visual level, Breaking Bad is beautifully shot and has a distinct look that is undeniably cinematic. It is evident that a great deal of care went into every episode. The original music composed by Dave Porter is excellent. In addition, there are many great songs featured throughout the series. Ultimately, Breaking Bad is about the bad choices people make and the consequences that those decisions create. It is a series that deserves its incredible reputation. Simply put, it is television at its absolute best.
The following are my favorite episodes of the series presented in chronological order. More than half of the show’s episodes appear on this list, a testament to the level of quality present. I have written comments for some, but not all, of the episodes on this list.
…And the Bag’s in the River
Logline: Walt must decide whether to kill Crazy 8 or let him go.
This is Breaking Bad’s first masterpiece and a pivotal turning point for Walt. His murder of Crazy 8 leads him onto a path of darkness from which he will not return.
Logline: Walt attempts to connect with Skylar while Jesse gets kicked out of his parents’ house.
This is one of Breaking Bad’s most underrated episodes. From the cold open featuring that iconic pink teddy bear, this is a quiet but beautiful episode.
4 Days Out
Logline: After cooking a new batch of crystal, Walt and Jesse become stranded out in the middle of the desert.
This is an excellent “bottle show” that showcases the beautiful New Mexican desert and includes some great Walt and Jesse moments.
Logline: After finding out Walt’s cancer has gone into remission, Skylar throws a party for the chemist but tensions rise between he and Hank.
Logline: After Combo is killed, Saul sets up a meeting for Walt and Jesse with a mysterious distributor.
This is the introduction of Giancarlo Esposito’s immortal Gus Fring. It is an unforgettable scene in which he and Walt first meet.
Logline: Walt refuses to give Jesse his money until he gets clean.
The final scene was the show’s most shocking moment at the time. Jane’s overdose is such a disturbing scene and another turning point for Walt.
Logline: Jesse blames himself for Jane’s unexpected demise, sending him down a path of self-destruction.
The series excels at season finales and this is one of its best. The pink teddy bear can be seen as a representation of Walt’s decaying humanity. Appropriately, Walt wears a pink sweater in this installment.
Caballo Sin Nombre
Logline: Walt deals with the ever increasing tension between he and Skylar as he tries to reconcile the family.
From the opening scene in which Walt gets pulled over by a cop, this episode is absolutely hilarious.
Logline: Walt learns of Skylar’s affair.
This is another surprisingly hilarious installment. Despite little plot development, it remains an excellent and underrated episode.
Logline: Gus offers Walt three million dollars and a brand new meth lab if he continues to cook for him.
Logline: Walt attempts to destroy the old RV meth lab while Hank closes in.
Logline: Jesse ends up in the hospital after being beaten up by Hank who faces a dangerous threat.
There are so many great moments in this episode, not the least of which is Hank’s encounter with “the cousins.”
Logline: Walt fears for Jesse’s life and takes drastic action to intervene.
Season three’s penultimate episode is fantastic. The cold open featuring Wendy the prostitute is classic as is Mike’s monologue to Walt about half and full measures.
Logline: With Jesse in hiding, Walt must face Gus who plans to get rid of him once and for all.
The third season finale is a relentless ride that ends with the one of the show’s best cliffhangers: Gale’s murder.
Logline: Walt and Jesse are held captive at the meth super lab for Gus who they fear will kill them.
Victor’s murder is surely, one of the show’s most shocking scenes and its bloodiest.
Logline: The cartel gain the upper hand while Skylar concocts a story to explain her and Walt’s finances.
Logline: Gus is forced to take action against his enemies south of the border.
Logline: Gus, Mike, and Jesse fly down to Mexico so Jesse can cook the blue meth for the cartel.
Logline: Gus threatens to kill Walt’s family, leading Walt to take drastic action.
This episode’s final ten minutes are riveting. The final tracking shot is beautiful.
Logline: Walt struggles to protect his family while Brock falls terribly ill.
Logline: Walt enlists Jesse’s help in a last attempt to kill Gus.
Some aspects of the series are hyper dramatized, such as Gus’s death but I would not have it any other way.
Logline: It is Walt’s 51st birthday and his decision to return to the meth business leads Skylar to fall into a deep depression.
This episode is all about Skylar who becomes a hardened shell of her former self. Anna Gunn shines.
Logline: Walt, Jesse, Mike, and Todd attempt a train heist to acquire a large supply of methylamine.
The “Great Train Robbery” episode is a nonstop ride that ends with a shocking moment. More so than any other episode in the series, Dead Freight feels like a western.
Logline: Mike and Jesse decide to leave their business with Walt.
Say My Name
Logline: Mike must deal with the consequences of Walt’s actions.
The cold open shows Walt’s Heisenberg at his height. This is Jonathan Bank’s final appearance as Mike, my favorite supporting character.
Gliding Over All
Logline: Walt’s business expands to overseas and money continues to come pouring in.
This episode features two fantastic montages: one in which Walt has all of Mike’s imprisoned men killed in a matter of two minutes. The other is my favorite cook montage featuring Tommy James and the Shondells’ classic tune “Crystal Blue Persuasion.”
Logline: Walt drives out to the desert to bury his money before Hank can get to it.
Logline: Walt makes his next move against Hank.
Logline: Jesse works with Hank to bring down Walt.
Logline: Jesse comes up with a plan to lure Walt to the desert where a fatal shootout occurs.
Logline: The family must contend with Hank’s death and Walt goes on the run.
Ozymandias is regarded by many as the show’s best episode and it is hard to argue otherwise. It is here in which everything comes to a head. Hank’s death scene, Skylar’s confrontation with Walt inside their home and Walt’s phone call are some of the most riveting moments in the series. This is the show’s most tragic installment.
Logline: Walt goes into hiding in New Hampshire while Jesse is forced to cook meth with Todd.
I love the more contemplative tone of this episode. Everything begins to come full circle.
Logline: Walt returns to Albuquerque once more in a final attempt to secure his family’s future.
Felina is satisfying on so many levels. It is a phenomenal ending to the series that brings with it a sense of closure.