Can you believe that its getting close to 2 years since Breaking Bad left our screens? Yeah, me neither. It seems like it was just the other day that we were first introduced to the story of high school teacher turned methamphetamine cook Walter White. Each week, Vince Gilligan would take us on a roller-coaster ride filled with riveting character development and gut-wrenching suspense. For the rest of the week we would take some time to recuperate and anxiously wait for the next instalment.
At least we’ve now got Better Call Saul gracing our screens. The cinematography, the sharp dialogue and dark humour is all too familiar, and watching Bob Odenkirk tear it up as the titular character is entertaining as hell. But let’s just say for arguments sake that Better Call Saul is like Vanilla Coke. We all love it. It’s still refreshing compared to the rest of today’s market. But at the end of the day, you still come back to Classic Coca Cola. Because let’s face it, Classic Coke is the best (can I get a ‘Yeah Bitch’?).
It goes without saying that every episode in the series is good, but there are some that just go to another level. It’s taken a lot of time and much consideration. So I present to you 5 of the greatest episodes of the series that redefined television.
NOTE: The following article quite obviously contains spoilers. But if you haven’t watched Breaking Bad yet, you should probably re-evaluate your life
5. Phoenix (Season 2, Episode 12)
Considering the frantic ending to previous episode ‘Mandala’, the penultimate episode of Season 2 begins with a more settled pace. We’re introduced to Walt’s daughter Holly, and the scenes between father and newborn are genuinely touching. The protectiveness of Walt over Jesse is mirrored here between Jane and her father, Donald. Walt and Donald meet by chance at a bar, and converse about water on Mars, and the difficulties of looking after someone you truly care about.
The biggest moment of the episode happens right in the last 2 minutes. As Walt enter’s Jesse’s house and attempts to wake Jesse up from his drug-addled state, Jane begins to choke on her own vomit. Instinctively, Walt rushes over to help but he pauses and merely watches on. It’s unclear as to why Walt lets Jane die. Maybe to remove the potential threat to his operation, the woman who blackmailed him for Jesse’s money. Perhaps it’s to reclaim his power and influence over Jesse.
Whatever the reason, this is the biggest turning point for Walter White so far. It’s arguably the point where we no longer sympathise for him, where we no longer see him as a loving, family man. It’s a moment of no return for Walt, and it’s one that is seared into the minds of Breaking Bad fans everywhere.
4. Full Measure (Season 3, Episode 13)
If there’s one thing Walter White understands (besides making Baby Blue), its leverage. He uses it to negotiate for his life against Gus and Mike, meeting them in the desert. It’s a fantastic way to demonstrate just how big Walter’s ego has gotten throughout the season. By the end of the episode Walt has completely turned the tables on his employers, leaving Mike visibly stunned, a rare feat.
With Jesse ‘on the run’, Gale returns to the superlab to assist Walt. However, as Gale begins to press Walt with questions about the cooking process, he realises Gus’ plan: Once Gale is fully confident he can complete a cook, Gus will kill Walter and Jesse as neither will be needed. Both men know what has to be done. Be prepared for a tense final 15 minutes.
As sad as I was to see Gale die, my heart goes out to Jesse. Both Gale and Jesse are just two men following orders from their superiors, thrust into a situation that could only end one way. Although for Jesse, Walt is more than a superior; he’s someone who he looks up to. The emotion on Jesse’s face at the end says it all. He knows that what he has to do will shatter him, and it makes for a hell of a cliffhanger.
3. Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1)
The one that started it all. From the very first opening scene, you already know you’re in for an absolute gem of a series. Vince Gilligan sets the foundation for his “Mr Chips turning into Scarface” premise, and we’re introduced into the initially rather boring world of chemistry teacher Walter White.
Not long after his 50th birthday, Walter finds out that he has inoperable lung cancer. With a big “Fuck You” to Bogdan and his eyebrows, Walt leaves the car wash and accompanies his DEA brother-in-law Hank on a ride-along to a meth lab. He spots one of his old students, Jesse Pinkman, fleeing the scene. Walter later propositions Jesse into cooking and selling crystal meth with him and the wheels are set into motion.
Straight away there’s a special chemistry between Walter and Jesse (excuse the pun), and the acting by everyone is strong. The writing by Gilligan is excellent. While there’s a lot that happens within the episode, it never feels rushed. There’s a healthy balance between drama and comic relief. All the main characters are introduced well, setting them up for some interesting character development as the series progresses.
Riveting and unpredictable, it as good as any pilot you’ll ever come across.
2. Crawl Space (Season 4, Episode 11)
I believe ‘speechless’ is the best way to describe my first reaction to this episode. It begins right where previous episode ‘Salud’ concluded. After successfully taking down the cartel, Gus and Mike’s lives hang in the balance in a portable Mexican hospital. With tensions still high between Walt and Jesse, Walter is taken to the desert and is fired by Gus. Gus knows that he can’t kill Walter, because Jesse is too loyal. He instead threatens to kill Hank for his investigation, and if Walter so much as interferes, he will murder Walt’s entire family.
It’s fair to say that the acting throughout the whole series is pretty excellent. But here, Bryan Cranston gives the performance of a lifetime. Walter’s breakdown in the crawl space is one of my favourite scenes from Breaking Bad. Very few actors could pull off that scene, but Cranston gives such a fine performance that you’re left with goosebumps. I still remember watching this episode for the first time. The sound of Walt’s maniacal laughter pierces the ears, as a build up of white noise makes you feel encapsulated and claustrophobic. When the screen cut to black, I just sat there frozen, trying to comprehend what I just witnessed.
It really is one of those scenes that you just have to watch in order to understand just how amazing it is.
1. Ozymandias (Season 5, Episode 14)
Director Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick) returns for his third and final directorial contribution. Having already directed ‘Fly’ from Season 3 and ‘Fifty One” from Season 5, his last effort, ‘Ozymandias’ is often described as the best hour of television ever made.
In a flashback opening, we’re taken back to where it all began with Walt and Jesse’s first cook together in the RV. We remember the main reason that Walt began cooking meth in the first place: to provide for his family when he dies, and reminded of all the things that Walt’s about to lose.
Jump forward nearly 2 years later to the same location, and things have changed dramatically. Walt watches Hank die, and he sees his empire taken away by the neo-Nazis, leaving him with one barrel full of cash. Jesse is taken and forced to cook meth by Todd AKA Meth Damon, and Walt Jr discovers the truth about his father’s activities.
This episode is just painful. It’s the bleakest, and definitely the toughest episode to watch in the series. As you watch Skyler and Walt scuffle over the kitchen knife and Walt’s kidnapping of baby Holly, you know you’re watching a man who has lost everything and is desperate to hold on to what’s left of his family.
Personally, I like to see the two remaining episodes as an epilogue, tying up all the loose ends of the saga. But Ozymandias is the true finale. It’s when shit officially hits the fan. Where secrets are finally aired out. It’s when 5 seasons of character development and captivating writing culminate in the most intense hour of television ever produced.
Thanks for the memories, Vince.