Every Episode of 'Breaking Bad,' Ranked
More than a decade ago now, Walter White came barreling onto our television screens in an ill-fitting pair of tighty-whities as a devoted husband and father and amateur methamphetamine cook looking to score a major payday after being diagnosed with lung cancer and not wanting to leave his family destitute. Five seasons later, Walter -- aka Heisenberg -- left us as a drug kingpin with an international reputation and impressive body count in his wake. (Whether he was still sporting those unflattering undies is unknown, but likely.)
Sadly, we're still not over Breaking Bad, and we probably won't be for a long time. While the series is regularly mentioned in the same breath as other fanatically loved "prestige" dramas like The Sopranos and Mad Men, those series had up and down runs that Breaking Bad never did. Not that there aren't some Breaking Bad episodes that stand above the rest, but we honestly wouldn't describe a single episode of Vince Gilligan's series as "bad." Still, in honor of the show's return in the form of sequel film El Camino -- as well as the still ongoing and equally entertaining prequel spinoff, Better Call Saul -- we've assessed the entire run of Breaking Bad (which, like El Camino and the first three seasons of BCS, can be streamed on Netflix) and come up with a definitive ranking of all 62 episodes. Let the arguments begin!
62. "Down"Season 2, Episode 4
In a way, "Down" plays out a bit like Martin Scorsese's After Hours, but without any of the humor. Still dealing with the fallout from their disappearance after being kidnapped by Tuco, the episode shifts from the meth lab to Walt and Jesse's personal lives… if you can call Jesse's that. He loses his house and can't find a friend who will let him crash for a few days, so eventually ends up sleeping in the chemical-filled RV -- but not before he crashes through the roof of a porta potty, which only emphasizes his shitty situation in one of the series' less subtle images. Walter, meanwhile, is barely on speaking terms with Skyler. She sees him for the liar that he is, but he just can't stop himself. While at times his wife will prove to be his most loyal partner, he's thoughtlessly sowing the seeds of discord as deep as he possibly can.
61. "Cancer Man"Season 1, Episode 4
After the violent ending of "…And the Bag's in the River," the series' fourth episode took a kinder, gentler turned and focused the storyline back on Walt's cancer diagnosis, which he has yet to tell anyone but Skyler about (and even that was begrudgingly). While it's one of the series' quieter hours, it gives us two keen insights into Walt's psyche: He is a stubbornly proud man who seems to get angry that his in-laws want to offer help and support. We also see him dive slightly deeper into the world of badass-dom when he uses his scientific know-how to quietly blow up the BMW of an obnoxious stranger he happened to see at both the bank and a gas station. (Note: This same sleaze ball, played by Kyle Bornheimer, gets conned by Jimmy McGill in Better Call Saul's second season premiere.)
60. "Thirty-Eight Snub"Season 4, Episode 2
Still reeling from murdering Gale, Jesse does anything he can to keep his mind occupied, which basically amounts to turning his house into a nonstop party pad where he can be sure to never get a moment's peace. Meanwhile, Walt's annoyed that Gus got the upper hand with that whole box cutter incident and wants to get the final word by killing the king of chicken. Whereas Walt is usually great at playing things pretty cool, his attempts to both acquire a gun and use it to kill Gus are uncharacteristically clumsy.
59. "Abiquiu"Season 3, Episode 11
After telling Marie that she and Walt will pay Hank's medical bills, Skyler decides that she'd better get more involved in Walt's finances. Which is a bad move on her part, and one she'll have a tough time coming back from. She was a bookkeeper after all, and is no stranger to the concept of money laundering. But she and Saul have different ideas about the best way to keep their cash hidden (two words: laser tag), with Walt just sort of stuck in the middle. Meanwhile, in a rather unbelievable "coincidence," Jesse finds out that his new girlfriend's little brother is the kid who murdered Combo.
58. "Kafkaesque"Season 3, Episode 9
Hank is still in the hospital and his insurance plan doesn't allow for the kind of care he needs to be sure he'll walk again. Seeing an opportunity to do something good with Walt's blood money, Skyler tells Marie that she and Walter can pay Hank's medical bills -- then launches into "a real doozy" of a tale about Walt being a gambling addict (but a winning one). The more she talks, the more impressed Walt seems. For once, he's not the one telling lies. Maybe these two are a perfect match after all.
57. "I See You"Season 3, Episode 8
Walt wants to be by his family's side while Hank is in the hospital following the attack on him by Tuco's cousins, but there's meth to be made. When he tries to buy some additional time from Gus and makes excuses, Gus -- a DEA booster -- shows up at the hospital to show his support, and make sure that Walt understands he can't be fooled. While Walt may not have won that one, he did get Gus to agree to bring Jesse back into the fold. The bulk of the episode takes place in the hospital waiting room, but Jesse injects a bit of much-needed humor as he treats their new lab like an amusement park.
56. "Green Light"Season 3, Episode 4
Skyler knew what she was doing when she told Walt that she was sleeping with her boss. The revelation sends him on a downward spiral which lands him at Skyler's workplace, where he attempts to bust into Ted Beneke's office with a potted plant. It doesn't go so well for him. Nor does his attempt to seduce Carmen, the far-too-attractive principal at his school, who ends up firing him for his creepy behavior. Though he's definitely down and on his way out, Walter still insists that he won't go back to cooking meth. Until Gus devises a simple way to coax him out of retirement: Hire Jesse instead. Walt's ego can't take it, and Gus knows it's only a matter of time.
55. "Caballo Sin Nombre"Season 3, Episode 2
After being kicked out of the house by Skyler, Walt is acting like a baby. While she's at work, he sneaks into the house to take a shower and act a little bit like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. And as was the case for little Kevin McCallister, there's a pair of bad guys casing the joint. (Tuco's creepy cousins.) Having sworn off the drug world, Walt is floundering a bit. He's trying to make amends with Skyler, but she can't be swayed… not even when he shows up with the world's largest pizza. (Which promptly ends up on the roof -- and yes, that's all Bryan Cranston.)
54. "Breakage"Season 2, Episode 5
Fearful of being put in another Tuco-like situation, Walt and Jesse decide that they don't need a distributor after all. With the help of Jesse's merry band of meth-lovers -- Skinny Pete, Badger, and Combo -- they launch their own little blue empire. For maybe the first time, Jesse realizes his value in this partnership and that Walt needs him in order to keep his growing empire going, and tells him so. Desperate to regain the upper hand, Walter sees his opportunity when Skinny Pete gets robbed by a pair of junkies, and insists that Jesse -- who's not big on confrontation -- take care of the situation.
53. "Open House"Season 4, Episode 3
For such a meticulously plotted series, there's one storyline in the series that didn't really do much to further the show's narrative or character development: Marie's kleptomania. Just when you thought they had thankfully abandoned it back in season one, Sticky Hands Marie is back. And this time she's spinning a web of lies at the same time as she hits up a series of open houses in Albuquerque, pretending to be a different person with a different life -- a recent divorcée with a 4-year-old son in one scenario, the hand model wife of a retired astronaut in another -- at each new venue. Then again, when your current home life involves changing your husband's diapers and checking his latest shipment of rocks (sorry, minerals) for damage, maybe we shouldn't judge. Meanwhile, Skyler is determined to buy the car wash from Bogdan (and his eyebrows) -- especially after he treated her so poorly -- so she brainstorms with Saul to make it happen. It ends on a more intriguing note, when Hank, still recovering from being shot, receives Gale's lab notes and is slowly lured back into the game.
52. "Bullet Points"Season 4, Episode 4
Skyler gets an A for thoroughness. As she and Walt get ready to announce they're buying the car wash, she wants to make sure they've got their stories straight and that they sound natural. So she prints up a list of bullet points and some scripted dialogue for them to drop on Hank, Marie, and Walter Jr. while continuing to perpetrate the gambling addiction story. But the real star of this episode is Gale Boetticher, who is momentarily back from the dead in a bizarre karaoke video that's part of the evidence Hank has been given on the Heisenberg case. He can't wait to show it to the Walts.
51. "I.F.T."Season 3, Episode 3
Wondering what "I.F.T." stands for? "I fucked Ted." Skyler happily admits her infidelity to Walter, who has decided to move back into the house against her wishes but much to Walt Jr.'s delight. Though she calls the police and attempts to have him removed, the fact that they're not legally separated -- and that they own the house together -- limits her options in de-Walting the house. So she makes a power grab in the only way she knows how: She screws her boss. Then, in the loudest whisper ever uttered, relishes telling him about it.
50. "Shotgun"Season 4, Episode 5
Like so many arrogant individuals before him, hubris gets the best of Walt. He couldn't just leave well enough alone and let Hank keep on thinking that Gale Boetticher was the genius chemist Heisenberg. No, no, no, no, no. After a few too many glasses of wine, Walt tells Hank that he saw Gale's lab notes and isn't convinced that he is indeed the individual Hank's been looking for. "Maybe he's still out there," Walt suggests. They're only five little words, but they stick in Hank's head enough that he decides to revisit the case.
49. "Problem Dog"Season 4, Episode 7
After being read the riot act by Skyler for buying Walt Jr. a new car, Walt is given the job of taking it back to the dealership. Instead, Walt -- acting like a petulant teenager -- takes the car into an abandoned parking lot, does some donuts, then ignites the gas tank and watches the car blow up. All told, Saul tells Walt his little joyride cost him about $52,000. He doesn't care. No one tells Walt what to do.
48. "Bug"Season 4, Episode 9
Not to be confused with "Fly," "Bug" also sees Walt and Jesse at odds (what else is new?), but this time they come to physical blows. Walt's been tracking Jesse's movements and knows that he's been spending face time with Gus but has yet to poison him with the ricin, as they had planned. Jesse, for once, feels appreciated and important and vows to never see Walter again. On the other side of the law, Hank has Walt playing chauffeur to his suspicions about Gus (whom Hank has dubbed a "chicken-slinging son of a bitch") and what kind of business Los Pollos Hermanos really is.
47. "Gray Matter"Season 1, Episode 5
Walt and Jesse's original partnership was only meant to be a temporary thing -- they'd cook together long enough for Walt to accumulate the dollars he needed to keep his family comfortable in the event of his death. But when he and Skyler spend the day at a lavish birthday party for his well-to-do former partner Elliott, Walter's resentment about the life he might have had bubbles straight to the surface. When Elliott suggests the two of them resume working together -- and even offers to pay Walter's medical bills when he learns of his illness -- Walt refuses to accept the help. Newly energized to make something more of himself, he lets Jesse know that he's ready to cook again. The timing couldn't have been better for Jesse, who recently enlisted the help of his lovable pal Badger, who seems more interested in using their beakers as comic props than drug cooking paraphernalia. (You've got to love Badger.)
46. "Hazard Pay"Season 5, Episode 3
Walt, Jesse, and Mike are partnering up and need to find a place to cook. They ultimately land on Vamonos Pest, a fumigation company that will allow them to cook out of individual clients' homes and not have anyone think twice about weird smells. (Props to Saul for once again trying to sell one of his clients on laser tag.) But Walt learns the true cost of being a business owner when Mike divides up their earnings at the end of a long cook. But this episode largely belongs to Skyler, who seems to finally grasp the gravity of what she's bought into by aiding Walter, and pretty much loses her damn mind. (Though her telling Marie to "Shut up" on a loop is something we've all wanted to do at one point.)
45. "Bit by a Dead Bee"Season 2, Episode 3
Having been missing for days following their kidnapping at the hands of Tuco, Walter and Jesse have to come up with a couple of believable alibis -- especially as Jesse's car was found at the scene. While he claims to have been shacked up with everyone's favorite prostitute, Wendy, for a few days, Walter's got more tracks to cover. So he does what any quick-thinking person would do: strips down to his birthday suit and walks into a grocery store, then claims to have no memory of the incident. His doctors chalk it up to a "fugue state," even if Skyler seems slightly skeptical. Viewers, however, see it for exactly what it is: Walt's comfort with lying to those he supposedly loves without a second thought, not to mention concocting a fairly elaborate plot to save Jesse with relative ease at the same time. The moral of the story? Never underestimate your nerdy science teacher.
44. "No Más"Season 3, Episode 1
In the wake of Season 2's plane crash, all of Albuquerque seems to be mourning. But Walter and Skyler have other problems: Namely, that he's being dishonest with her. She knows that he has two cell phones, but isn't sure why. Finally, he comes clean. For Skyler, it's the last straw -- and probably worse than what she was imagining. Which leads Walt, who has still been rationalizing his crimes, to declare that he's done with the drug business. Meanwhile, Jesse's in rehab and blaming himself for Jane's death. For the most part, it's a quiet episode, except for those two creepy twins (Tuco's long-ago-promised cousins) crawling their way across the border from Mexico with the sole goal of finding and killing the seemingly mythical Heisenberg.
43. "Más"Season 3, Episode 5
While Walt is still sticking to his retirement from the drug business, Jesse is busy trying to ratchet his career back up. Which makes this episode's flashback to Season 1 -- and how the partners came to acquire their original RV, aka The Krystal Ship -- a nice change of pace, and a happy stroll down meth memory lane. (Especially as it involves a long night at a strip club and Jesse hilariously mispronouncing Dom Perignon.) But flash back to the current day and the tables quickly turn: Gus shows Walter the super lab he built specifically for him and seduces him with their mutual respect for chemistry.
42. "A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal"Season 1, Episode 7
While Walter's reputation as a king in the drug world is rising, at home he's still largely the same old would-be brilliant scientist who settled for life as a high school chemistry teacher and is now fighting an aggressive form of lung cancer. He's ready to change that, and decides to start by getting frisky with Skyler under the table in the middle of a PTA meeting. But just as Walt starts settling into his new tough-guy persona, he sees what a real drug kingpin acts like when Tuco beats one of his own guys to death for basically just opening his mouth. As the first season ends, Walter is almost back to square one -- wondering if he's really got the mettle to do this.
41. "Seven Thirty-Seven"Season 2, Episode 1
Enigmatologists found a lot to love about Breaking Bad's second season, beginning with "Seven Thirty-Seven," its first episode and the first title of several titles in the season that, once strung together, amounted to "Seven Thirty-Seven Down Over ABQ" -- a reference to the plane disaster that plays out in pieces throughout the season, beginning with that unexplained pink bunny floating in the Whites' pool. Though it will take until Season 3 for us to fully understand what happened here, this is the episode that sets it all up, ending with Jesse and Walter being taken hostage by a truly pissed off Tuco.
40. "Negro y Azul"Season 2, Episode 7
A junkie named Spooge gets his head crushed by an ATM machine, and word spreads that it was Jesse who did the deed. Except it wasn't. But that doesn't matter to Walt, who sees this as an opportunity for them to earn some street cred. Meanwhile, while the rest of ABQ thinks he's a ruthless murderer, the real Jesse is having sweet hold-handing moments with his new girlfriend Jane. But the real star of this episode is Danny Trejo -- well, Danny Trejo's decapitated head, which Hank watches crawl across the desert in El Paso atop a turtle. For once, Hank is speechless.
39. "Pilot"Season 1, Episode 1
Critics often talk about how television has become more "cinematic," and Breaking Bad's pilot is a perfect example of what those people are talking about. Much of that is due to John Toll, the two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer behind movies like The Thin Red Line, Almost Famous, Cloud Atlas, and Iron Man 3, who shot it. But the bulk of the credit goes to Vince Gilligan, who both wrote and directed the episode, which jumps back and forth in time a bit to set up the duality of Walter White in his earliest days as a meth cook: doting husband and dad at home working two jobs to keep food on the table, and startup meth cook whose knowledge of chemistry is the only thing he seems to have going for him in terms of bringing any sort of game to the drug trade. Like any good pilot, the episode gives you just enough information to understand the narrative setup -- but not so much that you don't feel compelled to watch the next episode.
38. "Cat's in the Bag…"Season 1, Episode 2
Walt and Jesse's first attempt at selling their meth goes horribly awry, and leaves them with one dead drug dealer (Emilio) and a not-quite-dead one (Krazy-8). He's a loose end that needs to be tied up, and the partners determine who is going to do the deed the way any hardened criminals would: They flip a coin, and Walter ends up with the unenviable task of taking care of Krazy-8. He knows what he has to do, but keeps coming up with excuses to avoid the inevitable. And though we're only two episodes in, we can empathize -- because this is clearly a good and moral man who simply made one bad decision that led to another one… right? Try telling that to Skyler, who, when she makes it known that she's worried about him, is icily informed by Walt that what he really needs "is for you to climb down out of my ass." Message received.
37. "ABQ"Season 2, Episode 13
When Jesse wakes up to find Jane's lifeless body next to him, his first call is to Walt, who -- feigning surprise -- promises that he'll take care of it. He calls Saul, who sends over everyone's favorite cleaner, Mike Ehrmantraut (in his first appearance, which is brief but memorable). Walt gets to be the hero to Jesse, his shoulder to cry on, but the episode is much more panoramic. Titled "ABQ," it shows how Walt's regularly selfish decisions are affecting the world around him. In this case, by letting Jane die, he left her air traffic controller father so devastated that he inadvertently caused a mid-air collision that dropped bodies, fuselage, and that notorious pink bunny right onto Walt's doorstep.
36. "Over"Season 2, Episode 10
With Walter's cancer in remission, Skyler wants to party. But Walt's not in a celebratory mood, because he's at a crossroads: If he only started cooking meth as a way to ensure his family's future financial security, then this means he can stop doing it now… except he doesn't want to. While family and friends gather to toast Walt's road to recovery, the conflicted patriarch is more concerned with making sure everyone knows who's in charge. After butting heads with Hank and drinking way too much tequila, he forces an eager-to-please Walt Jr. to do the same and ends up with puke in the pool. Though he's been known to treat Skyler cruelly, Walt has never done so with his son. Though he apologizes the next day, his behavior seems to indicate that he's made a decision over whether to be the dedicated family man or king of the ABQ drug scene. (My one personal issue with this episode is: After downing tequila with dad and Uncle Hank, how did Walt Jr. make it to school the next day?)
35. "Rabid Dog"Season 5, Episode 12
While Skyler has become immune to Walter's lies, Hank is only just beginning to understand the depths of his descent into bad-breaking. But Jesse? He's watched the master manipulator in action and should really know better by now. Yet he always seems to be searching for a certain kind of acknowledgement from Walt -- a nod or a smile that lets him know that he's needed and loved -- and has been willing to overlook many of his behavioral indiscretions in pursuit of that. But when he realizes that Walter's been using him just as he has everyone else, and that he put Brock's life on the line to get what he wanted, Jesse becomes the titular "rabid dog." We finally see that, no, Jesse didn't think better of burning down Walter's house -- he was stopped by Hank, who convinces him that they can take down the great Heisenberg even more effectively by working together. Unfortunately, Hank still doesn't understand just who he's going up against.
34. "Madrigal"Season 5, Episode 2
Here's the funny thing about Breaking Bad: You can watch an opening scene unfold in Germany, where a man sits in a corporate test kitchen trying a variety of condiments, then walks into a bathroom and kills himself -- and not feel like you've gone off-track in any way. Unlike Lost's polar bear, you know there's a point. And that it will all be explained. And you're excited to understand what the hell is going on. Back in Albuquerque, Walt and Jesse are rebuilding their relationship (for the 208th time) and manage to recruit Mike to become part of their new operation.
33. "Buyout"Season 5, Episode 6
Walt and Jesse have probably used as much hydrofluoric acid throughout the series as they have methylamine, and they have to bring it out again to clean up the aftermath of Todd's itchy trigger finger following the ending of "Dead Freight." But there are even more important matters at hand: retirement. With a dead kid on their consciences, both Jesse and Mike are ready to get out of the business. And with the methylamine they just stole, they stand to make a cool $5 million for doing basically nothing. But Walter doesn't want to be on the losing end of another business deal, the way he did with Gray Matter (a mistake that clearly still irks him). The way Walt sees it, they're not getting a buyout if they sell the methylamine -- they're selling out.
32. "Sunset"Season 3, Episode 6
It's Walt's first day working at Gus's meth superlab and he's excited... so excited that he gets up early, makes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (with the crusts cut off), and arrives early. When he arrives at the lab, he meets Gale Boetticher, a fellow chemist and self-described "nerd" who is clearly smitten with Walt's work. While Gale clearly makes a better and safer partner for Walt, he's forced back into Jesse's world when he learns that Hank knows about their old RV and is staking out Jesse's house in the hopes that he'll lead him to it -- which he does, at the exact same time that Walt is trying to dispose of it. Walt and Hank are just inches apart with nothing but the wall of the Bounder between them. Walt knows how dogged Hank is when he's working and that he has just one option to get him away from the RV: Hit him where it hurts. With the help of Saul and his assistant, Hank gets a call that Marie has been in a car accident and is in the hospital. It's all a ruse, but marks yet another integral (downward) turning point in Walt's transformation.
31. "Cornered"Season 4, Episode 6
Even if you've never watched a second of Breaking Bad, you've probably seen someone do a bad imitation of Walter White proclaiming, "I am the one who knocks." This is that episode. While Skyler admits to Walt that she's scared for their lives and fears that their family is in danger, Walter's ego won't just let it go -- he needs to make it clear to her that he is the danger. For once, he's not lying.
30. "Mandala"Season 2, Episode 11
If you ever want to find out what is really, truly most important to a person, give them a choice between two things. For Walter, that means making a deal with big-time drug distributor Gus Fring (Breaking Bad's greatest villain, in his first episode) or being at Skyler's side for the birth of their daughter. He chooses the former, and in doing so makes it clear where his priorities lie. Just as things are looking up for them business-wise, Jesse starts using again -- largely as a way to forget that one of his best friends, Combo, was killed while working for him -- and Jane follows him right off the sober path. These are decisions they'll all soon regret.
29. "Buried"Season 5, Episode 10
Hank and Marie try reaching out to Skyler -- believing that they're "saving" her from the monster who has been holding her captive. But when she meets Hank at a diner, she makes it clear that she has no intention of abandoning her husband. Walter, meanwhile, is quick to tend to the one thing he loves most: his many, many dollar bills. With the help of Huell and Kuby, Walt's pile of cash is loaded into a series of barrels, which Walt spends the remainder of the day burying in the desert.
28. "End Times"Season 4, Episode 12
With his family being guarded by the DEA -- who believe that the cartel is coming back to finish off Hank -- Walt is free to attend to some personal business, including killing Gus Fring. But he can't do it alone, and in order to enlist Jesse's help, he has to take the plan one step further and poison Brock (but make poor, confused, lovable Jesse think that Gus did it). You follow? All you really need to know is that Gus Fring is not an easy man to find, let alone murder.
27. "Better Call Saul"Season 2, Episode 8
Ladies and gentlemen, it's Saul Goodman! Bob Odenkirk didn't make his first appearance until the latter half of season two, but what a debut it was. Not only do we get a glimpse of his cheesy-ass commercials and pathetic bus stop bench advertising, but we also get to see that there might just be a pretty decent lawyer lurking beneath the shnook exterior. Especially when he goes tête-à-tête with Hank and emerges victorious. Though he's initially hired to help Badger, Walt and Jesse quickly sign on as clients. It's the beginning of what Saul will later refer to as "The Three Musketeers." Only shadier.
26. "Grilled"Season 2, Episode 2
After being abducted by Tuco and stashed away in a remote hideaway in the middle of the desert, Walter and Jesse have got madness coming at them from every angle. First there's the delightfully unhinged Tuco, who punctuates the majority of his sentences with a wild yelp. Then there's his uncle, former drug kingpin Hector Salamanca, who -- despite being rendered mute by a stroke and only able to communicate with a bell -- is still pretty damn terrifying. Especially when Walt and Jesse realize that Hector's been watching their every move, and will ring the hell out of that bell to warn his nephew that the burrito he's about to eat has been poisoned with ricin. Meanwhile, the Whites have put out an APB on Walter, and Hank has taken some personal time off to work the case on his own. He shows that he's got some pretty mad investigative skills, too, when he ends up interviewing both Jesse's mom and showing up at Tuco's pad just as he's about to make Walt and Jesse go bye-bye. Instead, it's Tuco and Hank who end up in a standoff and only one of them makes it out alive. As the credits roll, we hear Hector's bell ringing -- a sort of warning sign that Walt and Jesse have just made another enemy.
25. "Crazy Handful of Nothin'"Season 1, Episode 6
While not everyone knows what the hell to do with flashbacks or flash-forwards, the Breaking Bad team is a master of the art form. Like something out of The Godfather, the episode begins with Walter giving Jesse the details of what he expects if they resume their business. Yet, like the classic gangster film's famous baptism scene, Walter's instructions are voiced over a flash-forward of a very bald Walter obviously going against the whole "Whatever happens: no bloodshed, no violence" mandate he's setting forth. We don't know when or where the scene we're watching will happen, but we know it's coming. And we can't wait. The episode is also notable for introducing two new characters: Tuco, arguably the series' most legitimately insane character, and Heisenberg, Walter's violence-prone alter ego. The times they are a-changin'.
24. "Box Cutter"Season 4, Episode 1
Yes, we get that Gus Fring is not a nice man. But he always seems to surround himself with people who are willing to help him keep his hands clean. Not so in this bloody episode, where he slices his loyal henchman Victor's neck wide open with a box cutter just to prove that he isn't afraid to inflict extreme violence -- whether it's deserved or not.
23. "Live Free or Die"Season 5, Episode 1
With Gus gone, Walt's got another problem to deal with: Mike. As Gus' longtime associate, Walter basically left the man unemployed. And when they realize that the security tapes that show all of them in the meth lab are on Gus' laptop, which is in police custody, Walt, Mike, and Jesse have to work together long enough without killing each other to get that footage. While Walt and Mike argue about it, it's Jesse who comes up with the simplest solution: Magnets. Spoiler alert: They work. Yeah, bitch. Magnets!
22. "Granite State"Season 5, Episode 15
We've heard a lot from Saul about this guy who can make a person disappear, and we finally get to see him -- wonderfully played by Robert Forster -- in action as both Walter and Saul are headed for the hills. The two of them are forced to spend some quality time together in the basement of a vacuum repair shop before they go their separate ways for good, but all Walt can think about is himself and those damn barrels of money. He wants to put a hit out on Jack, and asks for Saul's help. For the first time, Saul refuses to grant the great Heisenberg his wish. He's had enough and it's time for him to get out. In a nod to what will happen in Better Call Saul, he hopes that maybe he'll manage a Cinnabon in Nebraska. Walter heads to New Hampshire, where life is pretty boring (unless you really, really like Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium). It's only a matter of time before he gets itchy. Jesse, meanwhile, never learns: After a brazen escape attempt, Uncle Jack and the boys teach him a lesson by driving him to Andrea's house and forcing him to watch Todd murder her. They promise that Brock will be next. Will poor Jesse ever catch a break? It will take getting to the final episode to find out.
21. "Fifty-One"Season 5, Episode 4
Skyler received a lot of hate throughout the run of the series, not all of it exactly deserved. Yes, she allows herself to be brought into Walter's drug scheme, but she doesn't always feel like she had much of a choice. She's always been able to see through Walt's lies, but that's never prevented him from telling more. In "Fifty-One," Skyler finally gets honest. She tells Walt that she doesn't want the kids in the house or near him, but admits that she is overmatched by him. "I don't have your magic, Walt," she says before admitting that her only option is to wait until his cancer comes back. That's the only plan that she thinks will work; it's her only out. For once, she truly holds her own against Walter in a scene that's reminiscent of Tony and Carmela Soprano's epic row in the "Whitecaps" episode of The Sopranos.
20. "Hermanos"Season 4, Episode 8
Though he's one of Breaking Bad's most fascinating characters, there's a lot we don't know about Gus Fring. "Hermanos" gives us a little bit of insight with a late 1980s flashback to Gus and his close friend Max meeting with Hector Salamanca, Don Eladio, and other members of the Mexican cartel to try and pitch their meth. But the crew doesn't like the manipulative tactics Gus used to broker this meeting, and they express their displeasure when Hector shoots Max in the head and then forces Gus to the ground to stare him in the eyes. Gus's grudge against Hector is starting to make a lot of sense.
19. "Half Measures"Season 3, Episode 12
Season 3's penultimate episode won Emmys for both Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul -- and it's really no surprise why. After identifying the drug dealers who killed Combo, Jesse vows revenge. He decides to use his old friend Wendy to help him poison them with ricin, but Walter intervenes and Jesse ends up sitting face-to-face with his friend's killers while Gus tells them to shake hands and get past it. They all go their separate ways, but Walt understands how Jesse works -- perhaps even better than Jesse does. Later that same evening, as Jesse emerges from the shadows to follow through on killing the two dealers, Walt literally crashes onto the scene, killing the dealers and telling Jesse to "run!" Walt knows there's going to be heat from Gus over this, and he wants to have his partner's back.
18. "Blood Money"Season 5, Episode 9
Whereas other shows might be tempted to drag out the tension of Hank knowing that Walter is Heisenberg and Walter being unaware of the discovery, Breaking Bad doesn't waste any time. In the episode immediately following Hank's "WW" discovery, the two come face to face to discuss the matter. While Walt spends about a half-second pretending that Hank is crazy, he's too proud of what he has accomplished to let it go unrecognized. As Walt told Jesse in "Buyout," he's in "the empire business." But he also tells Hank that his cancer is back, and that he should just drop the whole thing. When Hank doesn't bite, Walter goes another route and suggests he "tread lightly."
17. "Peekaboo"Season 2, Episode 6
At the behest of Walt, Jesse breaks into the home of the two junkies who robbed Skinny Pete in order to get his meth and/or money back. What he doesn't expect to find is an adorable and totally filthy little kid, which slightly complicates the situation. Though we've watched Jesse grow up a lot since his Cap'n Cook days, his gentleness toward children in particular gives a deeper glimpse into the kindness that lurks beneath the bad, baggy fashion sense. It's actually one of the few episodes that takes Jesse out of one of his normal haunts and gives us a glimpse of a different side of him. (When Aaron Paul was nominated for an Emmy in 2009, this is the episode he submitted for consideration.) While Walt's got problems of his own -- his lies about Elliott and Gretchen paying his medical bills are catching up to him -- this episode belongs to Jesse, and ends with a gruesome death-by-ATM machine.
16. "…And the Bag's in the River"Season 1, Episode 3
One of Breaking Bad's greatest strengths is its ability to shift modes seamlessly -- from past to present, from calm to chaos, and from home to the meth lab -- without confusing the narrative. It's a hallmark of the series and first announces itself here, when we get a glimpse at a pre-Skyler Walter with a flashback to him and Gretchen having a discussion about science and whether the soul exists as part of the chemical makeup of a person. Walt says no, which tells us something about his character. It should also make us less surprised when, after sharing a beer and a genial chat with Krazy-8, Walt chokes him to death with a bike lock. Yet it's still a shocking scene, and one fraught with emotion; Walter has a tear in his eye as he does it, and apologizes profusely. But it's not the last time we'll see Walter turn brutal in a flash, only he'll be much less apologetic about it in the future.
15. "Say My Name"Season 5, Episode 7
It's fascinating to see the way that Walter interacts with different people and personality types throughout the series, as though he's read the work of Dale Carnegie. He regularly changes up his appearance, way of speaking, and even what he drinks to almost mirror the person he's dealing with. Here, he's forced to play the internationally renowned kingpin when he faces off against Declan, who's not happy that Mike is reneging on the deal they had to sell him methylamine. But Walt makes it clear that Declan's not doing business with Mike anymore -- he's doing business with Heisenberg. (You're goddamn right.) Speaking of Mike: Hank and the rest of the DEA are hot on his trail, which is part of why he's ready to skip town. But he needs his go bag, which Walt volunteers to fetch. He's not being nice, though; he's hoping to get the names of the men that Mike is still paying to keep quiet. When Mike won't give them up, Walter shoots him; Mike's final words to Walter are to "let me die in peace." Spoken like a true badass.
14. "4 Days Out"Season 2, Episode 9
While Breaking Bad does action better than just about any television series, it also excels at intimacy, particularly when it's just Walter and Jesse doing what they do best: cooking meth and sniping at each other. In this case, Walt -- convinced that his cancer is back -- gets Jesse to partake in a marathon cooking session in the RV. All goes relatively well… until they realize that Jesse left the keys in the ignition and the battery is dead. They battle the elements, a dwindling supply of food and drink, and Walter's weakened immune system, all with a stunning Southwest landscape that somehow makes it feel as if everything will be OK. It's also a hilarious episode, but the most telling moment might come at the very end, when Walt learns the very good news that his cancer is still in remission. He reacts by beating the hell out of a paper towel dispenser. It's a moment of truth for Walter, because he understands that Heisenberg is real.
13. "Phoenix"Season 2, Episode 12
With a new baby to coo at, you'd think that Walt might want to spend more time at home. But Walt is more Heisenberg than Walter White these days, and in no episode does that become more clear than this one. Jesse, having awoken from his drugged-out slumber and belief that he's been robbed, realizes that it was Walt who took their drug stash. When he comes looking for his money, Walt -- shifting back into father figure mode -- refuses, insisting that if he were to give him the near-half-million they each just cleared, it would be gone in a week. Walter's right, but Jesse's in no position to be reasonable. And when Jane finds out just how much cash Jesse's got coming to him, she steps in and threatens to expose Walter if he doesn't hand over the money. He relents, but returns to Jesse's apartment later that night -- at the exact same moment that Jane starts to overdose. Walt could intervene and save her, but chooses not to. Though she's hardly the first name on Walt's body count list, this one's different. Sure, it's about saving his own ass, but he also decides that it's what is best for Jesse. Walter's respect for anyone's life beside his own is dwindling.
12. "Confessions"Season 5, Episode 11
Walter's attempt to convince Jesse that he should hightail it out of town could be coming from a place of honesty, or could just be a simple way of tying up a potentially loose end. Either way, Jesse sees it as the latter and tells Walt so. Walt just gives him a hug. Ultimately, Jesse decides that relocation might be his best option, but he changes his mind when at the very last second he realizes he was right about Walter poisoning Brock after all. Nothing gets Jesse as pissed off as a kid done wrong, so he heads straight to Walter's house with plans to burn it to the ground… until something stops him. Walter, meanwhile, is back to telling lies -- like why the living room carpet smells like gasoline. When he tells Skyler the truth, she seems to imply that killing Jesse is their only option. He's also telling lies on videotape; after the world's most awkward "dinner" (did they ever order that guacamole?), Hank and Marie are given a recording of Walt's confession -- in which he claims that Hank made him do it all.
11. "Full Measure"Season 3, Episode 13
Gus isn't so thrilled that Walt decided to run over a couple of his drug dealers to save Jesse's ass. Walt's still working at the lab -- with Gale back to assist him -- but Gus wants to make a change and put the lab in Gale's hands so that he can get rid of Walter once and for all. But Walter's no dummy, so he calls on a very reluctant Jesse to handle the situation. Tit for tat. Though they spent much of the season at each other's throats, Walt and Jesse have put their lives back in each other's hands.
10. "Gliding Over All"Season 5, Episode 8
"Holy shit!" That's really the only reaction one can have to the final moments of this episode, when Hank, looking for some reading material while in the bathroom, stumbles across the copy of Leaves of Grass that Gale gifted to Walt, complete with a personal inscription. It takes only seconds for Hank to realize that the kingpin he has spent the past year looking for has been right under his nose, drinking his Schraderbräu, the whole time. The irony, of course, is that earlier in the episode Hank confided in Walter that he sometimes wished he had chosen a life that didn't involve "chasing monsters" -- a response to having to deal with the aftermath of a carefully orchestrated massacre in which 10 prisoners were killed across three different prisons in less than two minutes (yep, that was Walt's doing).
9. "Dead Freight"Season 5, Episode 5
Though Breaking Bad rarely lacks action, "Dead Freight" brings it to summer blockbuster movie standards -- or at least a scene out of the The Great Train Robbery. In desperate need of methylamine, Lydia tells Walt, Jesse, and Mike how they can steal an "ocean" of it. All they have to do is rob a train in the middle of a communication dead zone at exactly the right moment and with exactly enough water that no one will notice the methylamine is missing. Sounds easy enough. With the help of Todd, they pull it off -- though just barely. What they weren't anticipating is that a young kid on a bike would wave hello to them once they were done… leading Todd to shoot him in broad daylight.
8. "Fly"Season 3, Episode 10
So this one is going to piss a few people off. There are two types of Breaking Bad fans: Those who love "Fly," and those who loathe it. Clearly, I fall into the former camp and hate to think that those in the latter group are missing out on what is by far one of the most emotionally engaging episodes in the entire series. "But nothing happens in this episode," you might be thinking. "Walt and Jesse spend the entire 47 minutes trying to kill a damn housefly." That is true, strictly speaking. But it's what happens in between the fly swats that makes this episode so compelling. For as long as we've known Walter White, his greatest talent has been his ability to lie with ease. But here we see the always cool-headed Walt let his guard down (thanks to some sleeping pills Jesse dropped into his coffee) and, for once, be deeply honest. He comes this close to telling Jesse that he was there the night Jane died, that he saw it happen and could have stepped in to help, but falls asleep just ahead of full disclosure. The episode plays out more like a stage play, and its pacing is certainly slower than your typical Breaking Bad episode, but a little break here and there isn't a bad thing. The episode also marks Rian Johnson's first jump behind the camera, and what a debut it was.
7. "One Minute"Season 3, Episode 7
After the whole "your wife's in the hospital" prank phone call bit, Hank is ready to kill someone: specifically, Jesse. He nearly does and has his gun and badge taken away as a result of it. The timing isn't great, because Tuco's creepy cousins have reset their sights on Hank and are waiting for him in the parking lot. Hank gets a phone call warning him that he's about to be killed and has just one minute to get out of there. Moments like this are the kind of scenarios that Breaking Bad was made for. Hank watches as the twins approach his vehicle, then all hell breaks loose. Cars, guns, and shiny silver axes are among the weapons wielded. It's bloody and violent and beautiful.
6. "Felina"Season 5, Episode 16
You knew it was only a matter of time before Walter made made the trek back to New Mexico to right some wrongs and wrong some rights. This is where he does that. Among the items on his to-do list: Get back at Elliott and Gretchen by making them promise to give his earnings to Walt Jr. (props to Vince Gilligan for getting Badger and Skinny Pete involved in that situation and giving them a final few moments of screen time); finally put that ricin to use by poisoning the ever-annoying Lydia; say a final farewell to Skyler; then put his own life on the line to emancipate his former partner/protégé from a life of meth servitude at the hands of Uncle Jack. In true Heisenberg style, there's some science and cool gadgetry involved in that latter task. When everyone but Walt and Jesse is finally dead, a wounded Walt asks Jesse to kill him. In a final fuck you and declaration of his freedom from this life, Jesse tells him to do it himself. Then grabs Todd's El Camino and drives off into the sunset (albeit a lot worse for the wear). Walt is dying, but that's exactly what he's come here to do. With no loose ends remaining, he's able to spend his last few moments on this Earth surrounded by the high-quality equipment he finds in Uncle Jack's meth lab (the things he loves most) and die a mostly happy man. For some critics, the resolution was too neat. But the series' final images -- which show Walter's body, lifeless but with a slightly satisfied smirk -- make it feel as if this was the only way it could have ended.
5. "Salud"Season 4, Episode 10
If there's one thing Gus Fring does better than make chicken, it's run an under-the-radar meth ring. And if there's one thing he does even better than that, it's hold a grudge. Fortunately, the man knows how to get even -- even if it takes him years to do it. Gus, Mike, and Jesse take a trip down to Mexico so that Jesse can teach Don Eladio's crew how to replicate their blue meth. But it's all just a setup to orchestrate one of the most series' most beautifully choreographed massacres, where Gus poisons Don Eladio and his crew (as well as himself) with tequila in order to declare the cartel dead. It may have taken him 20 years to exact this revenge, but damn, it was worth it!
4. "Face Off"Season 4, Episode 13
In what might be the most literal title ever used, the Season 4 finale is where the tensions between Gus and Walter finally come to a head (no pun intended) with the help of an unlikely accomplice. Knowing that hate can often trump love, Walt plays on Hector's long-simmering feud with Gus to lure him to the nursing home where he lives and, well, blow his face off. (Kudos to The Walking Dead effects crew, who helped them pull the scene off.) When the incident makes the news, Skyler asks Walt if the explosion they're hearing about had anything to do with him. His response? "I won." Walt really is the danger.
3. "To'hajiilee"Season 5, Episode 13
The moment has arrived. With Jesse looking on, Walter White is placed under arrest by a pissed off Hank, who gleefully slaps the handcuffs on his once-beloved brother-in-law. But don't start pulling together the bail money just yet. Just when you think the great Heisenberg has at long last been outsmarted -- by the dynamic duo of Hank and Jesse, no less (with a little help from Gomez, of course) -- here comes Todd's crazy Uncle Jack, ready to kill everyone in sight, even if it's only Jesse he's been hired to take out. A gunfight erupts and the screen fades to black. To be continued…
2. "Crawl Space"Season 4, Episode 11
If you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to fly to Mexico to take out an entire drug cartel, Gus Fring is the guy you want there with you. Not only is he willing to poison himself to exact revenge, but he'll set up a makeshift hospital to make sure you get out of there safely as well (complete with your appropriate blood type, whether or not you even know what that is). When he arrives back home, he makes it clear to Walt that the two of them are done conducting business together. And that if he doesn't just walk away, Gus will kill Walt and his entire family. The threats send Walter into a tailspin, and he asks Saul to set him up with a fixer who can help his family disappear. Saul obliges, but it's going to cost Walter about $500,000 -- which is fine with Walt, until he realizes that Skyler has given the bulk of his cash to Ted Beneke. With no escape plan, Walt lies on the floor of their crawl space and alternates between pained primal screams and hysterical laughter, while Skyler looks on -- terrified.
1. "Ozymandias"Season 5, Episode 14
Lots of people have named "Ozymandias" not only the best-ever episode of Breaking Bad, but one of the greatest television episodes of all time. They're not wrong. The Rian Johnson-directed episode builds the perfect runway for the lead-up to the series' final two installments as Walt/Heisenberg goes on the run -- but not before he shows the world, including those he "loves," the duality of his nature. One second he's helping Jesse escape, the next he's kidnapping his own daughter. He's a cornered animal, and it's fascinating to watch. Especially as it forces viewers to confront their own feelings about why they've been cheering this guy on for five years. Even more so once Jesse, the true hero/victim of the series, is taken hostage by Uncle Jack's crew and turned into a meth-making slave. It's sad, it's funny, it's terrifying, it's anxiety-inducing. The title is a reference to the Percy Shelley poem, which details the demise of a great king, the title of which is often used as a stand-in for the ephemeral nature of power. That's exactly what's happening here, while at the same time dismantling everything we've come to know and trust about the series and its characters. Just when the show should be wrapping things up, it manages to change the game once again by providing us with one of the finest near-hours of television ever produced. Even if it does require a Xanax to get you through it.