In 2005, Vince Gilligan, a man who, at the time, will have been known only to the most die-hard of X-Files fans, was told by a Sony Exec. that his pitch for Breaking Bad was “the single worst idea for a TV show that I have ever heard in my whole life”.
Eight years later, Gilligan’s name would resonate around the world, and the world would never look at chemistry teachers in quite the same way again.
2018 marks the 10 year anniversary of AMC’s ground-breaking show: A series that went from “the single worst idea” to a critically acclaimed sensation that changed the face of television forever. Picking out the show’s best bits has proven to be as difficult as, say, swatting a fly.
To celebrate its special birthday, we’ve cooked up our picks for the 13 Breaking Bad moments that helped make the show the masterpiece it undoubtedly is.
SPOILERS? You’re goddam’ right…
- The Pilot – Season 1, Episode 1
An essential ingredient to any worthwhile story — TV, film, or a night out — is a captivating opening. Something to really clasp viewers in its narrative vice.
Few creations would have neither the imagination nor the balls for that matter to kick things off by having the Dad from Malcolm in the Middle parading around the New Mexico desert in his pants, frantically filming a farewell video to his family. A gripping, wonderfully “what-the-fuck” way in to the world of Walter White, from the get-go, it was quite evident that Breaking Bad was to be no ordinary television series.
2. Krazy-8 – Season 1, Episode 2-3
For most viewers, it’s the “this isn’t Meth” scene from ‘Crazy Handful of Nothin” that takes the season one proverbial biscuit. It’s the earlier interactions between Walt and small-time drug distributor Krazy-8, however, that allow such a moment to have the impact it does.
When their first meth deal goes horribly wrong and low-level drug distributor Krazy-8 is left locked-up in Jesse’s basement, the pair decide that a coin toss is the only rational means of deciding who should be responsible for disposing of the man downstairs. Walt loses.
It’s here where Gilligan sets the tone for everything that’s to come: the inauguration of a show obsessed with sending its characters down avenues from which there is no easy return.
At this point, Walt is torn by survival and morality. But it’s a futile inner turmoil that only serves to postpone the inevitable for Walt: that taking another man’s life is the only thing to save his own. Such a predicament is made all the more painful by the fact that Krazy-8, who might otherwise have been little more than a throwaway character, gets a fully fleshed-out backstory and is given sufficient time to make Walt’s decision all the more difficult.
It’s here that Walt begins embrace the life he has now chosen, and all that comes with it.
3. Better Call Saul – Season 2, Episode 8
So good he landed his own spin-off series, Saul Goodman is categorically one of Breaking Bad‘s most important, and most memorable players.
A crooked defence lawyer for the indefensible, and (often bad) advisory for both Walt and Jesse, Goodman first shows his face in season two and immediately starts stealing scenes with his blend of sleazy street-smart wisdoms and bumbling hilarity.
Nabbing a large majority of the show’s best dialogue, Goodman (and actor Bob Odenkirk) effortlessly embody the quirky, Coen-esc tone that runs throughout Gilligan’s show and injects some whimsical, off-piste comedy to the show.
But Saul is not simply there to make up the laughs, of course. He’s vital to the plot too, playing the middle man who opens the door for Walt and Jesse to a world filled with fierce, ferocious foes, and very few friends.
4. Jesse and Jane – Season 2, Episodes 5-12
In the world of Breaking Bad, rarely are characters afforded a happy ending, even when it’s a pairing as neatly nursery-rhyme alliterative as that of Jesse and Jane.
Of the show’s many strengths, Breaking Bad is notable for its often brutally honest acknowledgement of the drug world and its impact both on those at the business end, but, perhaps more poignantly, on those who use and abuse.
As Jesse looks to begin a new chapter in his life, he moves into a new flat. There he meets feisty neighbour and landlord, Jane. He’s a recovering addict. She’s a recovering addict. It’s a match made in BB heaven that, for Jesse, might just be a way out of a meth life that has chewed him up and spat him out.
The show’s deft use of doors acts as a neat thematic motif here, as the pair’s budding romance recalls the age-old tale of two lonely, damaged outcasts opening new life avenues for one another: ditching the drugs and instead injecting themselves with art, culture and museum trips. It’s one of the few times in the entire series that we see Jesse genuinely happy.
But Gilligan’s figurative doors tragically swing both ways, and we soon find ourselves watching the couple slowly slide their way back through one that they know very well. At first, the highs are euphoric (during a knowing nod to Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting, Gilligan boldly reminds us why people use drugs in the first place: because it makes them feel good). But, sadly, the ugly face of drug abuse quickly rears its head when Jane dies of an overdose while Walt watches on, leaving Jesse with a fast-track ticket to rock bottom.
It’s a shocking, heart-breaking, but absolutely necessary moment in the series, key to the evolution of both Walt and Jesse, as well as the show’s running dialogue pertaining to America’s continued drug problem.
5. The Plane Crash – Season 2, Episode 13
It is little coincidence that the titles of four episodes in Breaking Bad‘s second season are as follows: ‘Seven Thirty-Seven’; ‘Down’; ‘Over’; ‘ABQ’.
The explosive season finale was the climatic ocean to which all the season’s seemingly disconnected sub-plots eventually led – and finally explained those random episode intros involving that fuckin’ burnt teddy bear.
For all the show’s unconventionality, there’s an ominous foreboding to almost everything that happens in Breaking Bad. The butterfly effect of Walt watching Jane die was perhaps the most shocking and devastating of the lot, and the plane crash was a quite literal message from above warning an unbeknownst Walter that shit was really about to hit the fan.
6. Fly – Season 3, Episode 10
Fans of the show might have been left scratching their heads when season three’s tenth episode put on hold every sub-plot in favour of a bottle episode: a 47-minute game of cat-and-mouse between Walt, Jesse and a fly buzzing around the lab, threatening contamination.
On face value, it’s an peculiar deviation from the show’s main action. But, thematically, it’s one of the best, and most important episodes across the entire show.
Directed by The Last Jedi‘s Rian Johnson, ‘Fly’ is vital dissection of the relationship between Walt and Jesse. In their increasingly audacious attempts to squat the fly, we witness Walt’s dominance and manipulative power over Jesse, as well Jesse’s subservience to his former teacher. It’s also one of the few instances in the show where the two begin to truly open up to one another about what ails them.
Interestingly, the episode also marks the first time Jesse kills something: an act that subtly foreshadows the murder of Gale Boetticher just three episodes later. But perhaps most impressively, ‘Fly’ serves as a nifty narrative roadmap for the series in its entirety. The theme of entrapment; the slow descent of a man into a life of madness and obsession; the turbulent relationship between Walt and Jesse.
And the fly itself? A metaphor for guilt? The illness Walt cannot shake? An allegory for Walt’s constant, and increasingly dangerous desire for more? Or perhaps the freedom Jesse so badly craves which Walt repeatedly swats? Take your pick.
7. Walt and Gus talk memories – Season 3, Episode 11
Gustavo “Gus” Fring is one of the greatest villains ever to grace a TV screen. By the end of Breaking Bad, so too is Walter White.
Initially business partners in a thriving drug empire, Walter’s growing thirst for power soon takes him to the point of no return. As a result, Walt and Gus eventually enter into a deadly game of kill or be killed.
But the seeds of conflict are sewn ever so subtly long before, during a quietly tense dinner scene at Gus’ home at the end of season three.
Sat at opposite ends of the table from one another (note the very deliberate framing here), Gus and Walt break bread. Conversation soon turns to that of memories and the power they hold. Gus muses poetically about their arbitrary nature: how the Chilean dish he’s prepared contains ingredients that individually hold no significance to him, but fuse together to create flavours and aromas that ignite vivid tales of yesteryear. Walt, ever the scientist, quickly rebukes this by explaining that memories are the result of a bodily process; one where information is consolidated in a small organ in the brain known as the hippocampus.
It’s a brief exchange, but one that neatly showcases how different the two men truly are, and quietly sets them on the road to conflict. A peaceful co-existence was never going to be on the cards.
8. Gus’ Backstory – Season 4, Episode 8
As well as being one of TV’s most dastardly villains, Gus Fring is, for the most part, a total enigma. An emotionless criminal from Chile, the drug lord with the iciest of ice-cold stares is given very little backstory, making his rise to the top all the more intriguing.
With exposition largely shrouded in mystery, the only snippet of Gus’s past life that Gilligan affords us is a short flashback during season four’s ‘Hermanos’ episode. It’s little more than 5-minutes in total, but it tells us everything we need to know.
Business partners Gus and Max Arciniega (and possibly romantically involved) arrive for a meeting with Don Eladio at the Mexican’s lavish home. After a suitably tense series of exchanges, Eladio’s ruthless right-hand man, Hector Salamanca, mercilessly murders Max in cold blood while a visibly distraught Gus watches on, helplessly.
It’s one of the only moments we see Gus express any thread of emotion, and serves as a pivotal moment in understanding of Gus’ motives. And, if only for the briefest time, we are invited to sympathise with a man who has no qualms ordering a hit on a child and who will remorselessly slice the throat of his own henchmen just to make a point.
9. The Great Train Robbery – Season 5, Episode 5
A cornerstone of early cinema, one of the earliest films told the 11-minute tale of a train robbery. In the twenty-teens, a train robbery of a similar nature acts as one of Breaking Bad most memorable, cinematic episodes.
Running just shy of 50-minutes this time, the bandits in question — Walt, Jesse, Mike and Todd — pull off a daring desert heist to claim 1000 gallons of Methylamine by halting a train and replacing the stolen chemical with water so as to evade detection.
It’s a fantastically exciting and exhilarating watch that takes us back to the classic westerns of Hollywood’s golden age. But, whereas the perpetrators of the 1903 film get their comeuppance in the form of a bullet to the chest, in true BB fashion, it’s not the criminals here who pay the price, but an innocent child who happened to stumble across them.
With little hesitation, save for a wave that brilliantly captures his psychopathic nature, Todd guns down little Drew Sharp for just being there. To the devastation of both Pinkman and viewer alike, it is easily one of BB‘s most shocking moments, and a damning reminder that the life of crime claims even the most innocent of lives.
10. Hank discovers the truth – Season 5, Episode 8
Breaking Bad is a show where subverting audience expectations is as common as the Jesse Pinkman saying the word ‘bitch’.
Even the moment the show had spent five seasons meticulously building towards, the moment every viewer had been preparing for, came as a surprise to us all.
Hank finally discovering the truth about who Heisenberg really is didn’t come during an explosive showdown or after a nail-biting detective display. Instead, Gilligan hands us perhaps the show’s most pivotal scene via a slightly tipsy, off-duty DEA agent sitting on the toilet. Yes, it’s on the loo that Hank makes his earth-shattering discovery. Despite the porcelain backdrop, however, the scene is no less powerful. Hank’s realisation, one of shock and dumbfounded rage, is etched across his face for all to see.
11. Hank’s death – Season 5, Episode 14
If the entire premise of Breaking Bad is for the protagonist to become the antagonist, then it’s also a show about changes across the board.
In the case of Hank Schrader, he spends the majority of the first two seasons acting the arrogant alpha male: a brilliant but bumbling DEA agent and the chalk to brother-in-law Walt’s cheese.
Then, in season three, Hank is left fighting for his life after a near-fatal shootout with the cartel. With his legs out of action and his masculinity dented, our perception of him begins to change. He becomes desperate and depressed, but ultimately wiser and more appreciative of the support network around him. Come the show’s final season, Hank has firmly become the embodiment of moral righteousness while Walt the figure of narcissistic villainy.
And then we arrive at ‘Ozymandias’ and the aftermath of a desert shootout. Hank lies wounded, finally face-to-face with the man he has been chasing for five seasons. With Jack and his band of white supremacists poised with their pistols, Hank turns to Heisenberg to deliver what is perhaps the show’s most damning line. “You’re the smartest person I ever met and you’re too stupid to see he made up his mind 10 minutes ago.”
As Walt desperately pleads with Jack to spare his brother-in-law’s life, Hank’s final words are cut short by a single gunshot that rings through the surrounding canyon. And with that, not only does the show lose one of it’s most beloved characters, but any last remaining scrap of justice dies with him.
12. The final exchange between Walter and Skyler – Season 5, Episode 16
They used to say that behind every great man is an even greater woman. Does the same rule then apply to bad men?
If Breaking Bad is anything to go by, the answer is most certainly no.
Skyler White, arguably the most important character in Gilligan’s entire show, is the vital voice of reason: the rational, moral compass whose needle is pointed firmly towards doing what’s best for the safety her family, even at the expense of her own happiness.
Strong willed, determined, and loyal to a fault, Skyler remains the only obstacle in the show that Walt can never truly overcome. Their final exchange in the series five finale, where she allows Walt to say a final goodbye to his daughter, is a powerfully understated scene that cements Skyler’s place as the show’s most compassionate character. Her relationship with Walt is the show’s finest example of an immovable force meets an impenetrable fortress. Which one’s which we’ll leave up to you.
13. Jesse and Walt bid farewell – Season 5, Episode 16
And in the end, when all was said and done, there were two.
In a show packed full of paternal relationships, the one between a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher and a junkie former student is far and away its most explored. From RV road buddies, to a drug empire that ultimately comes crashing down, the relationship between Walter White and Jesse Pinkman is the pièce de résistance of Gilligan’s masterpiece.
Come the series’ final season, fate has turned them from long-time business partners to the worst of enemies. Jesse squeals to the DEA. Walt orders a hit on his life. Both have been left with nothing. All of which leads to a final showdown where uncertainty looms heavy in the air.
After spending five whole seasons ruining it, Walt ultimately saves Jesse’s life as he wipes out Jack’s entire crew with a deadly car-boot machine gun mechanism. In the bloody aftermath, Walt and Jesse are left facing each other down, Jesse poised with a gun in his hand and tears in his eyes. Despite everything he’s put him through, Jesse, the show’s most damaged soul, is unable to pull the trigger on his former mentor. He knows Walt is dying and suspects that, in many ways, he’s long been dead.
Instead of a heartfelt farewell, we get silence. Instead, we get is a single stare, a single look. The pair quietly go their separate ways for the final time. Walt to die, Jesse to a future of uncertainty with scars that may never heal.
It’s a masterfully understated goodbye that makes for an immensely powerful parting between two characters, and a show, who’ve helped change the face of television drama forever.
Thank you Walt. Thank you Jesse. Thank you Vince.
Thank you Badger for your Star Trek pitch. It’s totally bitchin’.