Breaking Bad: The five best episodes
“Breaking Bad” came to an end this Sunday at 9 p.m., leaving a trail of brutal, fascinating excellence in its wake. Choosing the five most impressive of the show’s 61 episodes proved to be a task worthy of Walter White’s $80 million haul. While every episode of the show features qualities worth recommending, the five hours below represent the show at its most formally, visually, narratively, thematically and emotionally audacious.
“Peekaboo” (Season 2, Episode 6; Originally aired April 12, 2009)
This episode, co-scripted by J. Roberts and series creator Vince Gilligan, finds Jesse (Aaron Paul) held captive at the hands of two strung-out drug addicts who ripped off Jesse’s friend Skinny Pete an episode earlier. Paul delves into Jesse’s devastating ineptitude in his strongest showcase of the series’ run thus far, and the episode is also notable for a confrontation between Walt and his former lover Gretchen, culminating in a powerful, unexpected burst of profanity.
One Minute (Season 3, Episode 7; Originally aired May 2, 2010)
This installment finds the murderous Cousins closing in on oblivious DEA agent Hank (Dean Norris), climaxing in a riveting shootout that leaves Hank temporarily paralyzed and sets Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) on Walt’s path. Jesse also gets several standout moments, seething with rage while lying dormant and disfigured in the hospital.
“Fly” (Season 3, Episode 10; Originally aired May 23, 2010)
While “Fly” is perhaps the least plot-heavy in the series’ run, Rian Johnson’s wildly energetic direction and the intricate script by Moira Walley-Beckett lends weight and dynamism to what could have easily been a dull filler episode. Originally commissioned as a low-budget antidote to the show’s ballooning finances, “Fly” illuminates the marvelously complex Walt-Jesse relationship, pushing Walt right up to the edge of revealing that he didn’t stop the death of Jesse’s girlfriend Jane (Krysten Ritter) when he had the chance. Never before has the quest to squash a fly been this breathlessly exciting.
“Face Off” (Season 4, Episode 13; Originally aired October 9, 2011)
The season four finale paid off the season-long tete-a-tete between Walt and Gus Fring, offering a last glorious appearance from the bell-ringing, lip-snarling Tio Salamanca and still managed to make audiences gasp with the final revelation that Walt had indeed resorted to poisoning a child. Gilligan wrote and directed “Face/Off,” employing a delightfully literal title that summarizes one of the show’s least realistic, oddly poetic sequences. Even amid the swirling chaos, though, Gilligan’s attention to detail led to one of the most delightfully operatic moments of the entire series: Gus Fring, half decapitated, straightens his tie before falling to his death. Simply masterful.
“Ozymandias” (Season 5, Episode 14; Originally aired September 15, 2013)
The show’s third-to-last episode ratcheted the tension so high that Gilligan called it his favorite episode of the entire series. Rian Johnson (“Fly”) returned to direct his third “Breaking Bad” episode, conjuring up one gorgeous image after another as exceedingly terrible events unfold onscreen. The episode seemed to pack a laundry list of drama in one intense episode: Gomez lies dead on the desert sand, Hank follows suit, Walter Jr. sees his father as a power-hungry maniac for the first time, Skyler nearly stabs Walt during a heated knife fight in the White household, baby Holly finds herself snatched against her will and Walt exonerates Skyler in the most vicious way possible, with a snarling phone call that may have been Bryan Cranston’s most complex, brilliant performance of the series. “Ozymandias” was almost impossible to watch. Equally impossible? Looking away.
“…And the Bag’s in the River” (Season 1, Episode 3; Originally aired February 10, 2008)
“4 Days Out” (Season 2, Episode 9; Originally aired May 3, 2009)
“Full Measure” (Season 3, Episode 13; Originally aired June 13, 2010)
“Box Cutter” (Season 4, Episode 1; Originally aired July 17, 2011)
“Fifty-One” (Season 5, Episode 4; Originally aired August 5, 2012)