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The 10 Most Essential Episodes of BREAKING BAD

Breaking Bad might be returning with a movie, but no amount of big screen success will ever change the fact the show stands among television’s all-time best. For five seasons, Walter White’s descent from timid high school science teacher to murderous drug kingpin brought fans on an exciting, terrifying, often funny, frequently tragic ride. The show combined personal heartbreak and rich complex characters with explosive and thrilling action sequences. And also a whole lot of meth. So before we return to world the Cartel, Blue Sky, and breakfast, here are ten essential episodes of Breaking Bad that capture what made the show great.

“…And the Bag’s in the River”

Season one, episode three

While the pilot let viewers know how exhilarating the show would be, the third episode let them know how brutal it would become too, both in violence and in the emotional toll of its characters. On the verge of freeing Krazy-8 from Jesse’s basement, Walt realizes a knife-shaped shard of a broken plate is missing. Deciding that letting Krazy-8 go was no longer an option, Walt chokes him to death with the bike lock that held Krazy-8 hostage. It’s a gruesome moment and an important development in Walt’s descent into this world. The episode also features a great sequence of Hank scaring Walt Jr. straight, and one of the show’s best flashbacks, where a young Walt talks to Gretchen about the chemical makeups of people.

“Better Call Saul”

Season two, episode eight

A hilarious opening scene where Badger sells meth to an obvious undercover cop leads to the introduction of Walt and Jesse’s new criminal attorney, Saul Goodman. After a failed kidnapping where Saul makes them become his actual clients, he concocts a scheme to free Badger by paying a fake Heisenberg to take the fall. This episode not only shows us how good Saul is at doing terrible things, it ultimately opens up the entire show to major characters like Mike and Gus. It also features a touching scene with Walt giving PTSD-suffering Hank advice, and another where Walt distracts Hank during the arrest of the fake Heisenberg.

“4 Days Out”

Season two, episode nine

Awaiting important test results, Walt drives with Jesse deep into the desert to do a marathon two-day cook, but they become trapped when the RV runs out battery power thanks to Jesse leaving the keys in the ignition. What follows is a series of ridiculous failures and ever-worsening problems, in one of the show’s funniest episodes ever that still contains some heartbreaking moments with a dying, regretful Walt.


Season two, episode 12

Breaking Bad didn’t always address the destructiveness of drug use, but this episode perfectly encapsulates how it ruins lives and families. It also culminates in one of the most shocking, tragic moments in show history. After Jane successfully blackmailed Walt to give Jesse his money, Walt comes back to their apartment to find them both passed out with needles by their sides. He tries to wake Jesse up, and that results in Jane ending up on her back where she starts to throw up. But rather than help her, Walt lets Jane choke to death so she can’t get in his way any longer. It’s absolutely crushing.

“Half Measures”

Season three, episode 12

A great musical montage featuring Wendy, the meth-addicted sex worker, opens “Half Measures,” which gets its names from advice Mike gives Walt. It then ends with one of the most “WTF” moments on the show. Jesse is determined to get revenge on Combo’s killers, two of Gus’ men who used a kid to shoot his friend. This leads to major business problems with Gus, which Walt tries to take care of. But when those two dealers then kill the 11-year-old who killed Combo, Jesse sets out to murder them. As a tense gun battle is about to ensue, Walt shows up out of nowhere to run them over, kills them both, and turns to Jesse with one memorable word: “Run.”

“Crawl Space”

Season four, episode 11

Few episodes capture everything that made Breaking Bad great better than “Crawl Space,” which has tons of action, comedy, intrigue, and an all-time great ending. As Gus mass-murders the Cartel and Hank’s investigation of Gus gets closer, Walt’s lies and schemes begin to close in on him. It all leads to one great moment after the next: Walt gets in a car accident to stop Hank from going to the lab at the laundry mat, and Ted tries to blackmail Skyler, so she has Saul send his guys to scare Ted. It all ends with a heart-racing sequence, with Gus threatening Walt and Hank, leading Hank to rush home to gather his family and flee. When he finds Skyler gave his money hidden in the crawl space to Ted he loses his mind in a fit of laughter, one of Bryan Cranston’s best moments on the show.

“Face Off”

Season four, episode 13

Season four ends with a bang, literally, as Walt finally bests Gus. All it takes is manipulating Jesse into thinking Gus tried to poison Brock, getting Hector Salamanca to agree to set off a bomb in a nursing home, and blowing off half of Gus’ face in one of TV’s best reveals ever. It’s the culmination of one of the most exciting seasons in television history, but it has one final shocking moment even after the dust settles: Walt had poisoned Brock.

“Blood Money”

Season five, episode nine

Most shows would “tread lightly” with monster developments—like Walt finding a GPS tracker on his car, proving Hank knew he was really Heisenberg—by taking its time with the major plot. Not Breaking Bad, which ends an already tense, emotionally charged scene between Hank and Walt by having Walt lay it all out on the table. It’s a genuinely amazing moment in an episode that also includes another great flash forward and Jesse having an emotional breakdown over giving away his “blood money.”

“Ozymandias” and “Granite State”

Season five, episodes 14 and 15

The second and third to last episodes of the series might be the two best in Breaking Bad history, as all of Walt’s plots, murders, and lies come to light and everything comes crashing down on him. Even just listing a few of the big moments crushes us. From Hank’s death, to Skyler having to tell Walt Jr. what his father did, to Walt kidnapping Holly after Skyler realizes Hank is dead, to Todd murdering Andrea in front of Jesse, to Walt’s failed phone call with his son, it’s back-to-back episodes of perfection.

Hopefully the Breaking Bad movie is as good as any of these ten episodes.

What do you think? Which other essential episode should have made this list? Tell us in the comments below what you would have included.

Images: AMC

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