Nearly every Breaking Bad episode speaks to an indisputable fact: this show is an amazing artistic accomplishment.
The dark story arc series creator Vince Gilligan envisioned for Breaking Bad was simple, in a way: Mr. Chips becomes Scarface. Over the course of 62 episodes, the Emmy-winning drama delivered on the promise of its premise and became one of the best shows of the millennium. Viewers followed Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a genius chemistry teacher who turns to cooking meth after a cancer diagnosis forces him to take drastic measures to provide for his family. For five years, Breaking Bad unfolded as a constantly thrilling drama that built tension to almost unbearable levels.
It’s a show that presented impossible threats and fears, then worked them out in brilliant ways that felt logical and real. In a single episode, the drama could be hilarious, heartbreaking and truly terrifying. We hated the people we were watching, while also sympathizing with them. This duality, the multilayered storytelling and the eternally fascinating characters made Breaking Bad one of the greatest shows in television history.
Nearly three years after its series finale, and four years after the final and fifth season premiered (“Live Free or Die” aired July 15, 2012), we’ve ranked every fantastic episode of Breaking Bad. Join us in the comments with your top 10 (or 62), and please kids—don’t cook meth. It gets… complicated.
62. “Thirty-Eight Snub” (Episode 4.02)
Now that Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) is a full-on, neck-slicing villain, it makes sense that Walt would want to protect himself. But the way it’s handled in “Thirty-Eight Snub” feels incredibly uncharacteristic of Walt. He buys a gun, but then his attempts to take down Gus are so sloppy. He barely hides his gun at the lab, tries to walk straight to Gus’s house to shoot him and even tries to turn Mike (Jonathan Banks) over to his side. For a guy who is usually so intricate in his plans, “Thirty-Eight Snub” just doesn’t seem like the Walt we know. The episode also marks the beginnings of Jesse’s new levels of depression. The mostly-silent Jesse (Aaron Paul) will do anything to keep his mind occupied, but then looks ready to explode when he’s finally left completely alone. Jesse’s depression—which includes heavy drug use and trying to exist in a never-ending party—is handled far better in “Open House.” But hey, even Breaking Bad’s worst episode is still pretty damn good.
61. “Green Light” (Episode 3.04)
After the somber realization in “I.F.T.,” “Green Light” finds the characters making definitive moves that will push them forward for the rest of the season. Since he believes it’s the only thing he’s good at, Jesse starts cooking meth again. Hank (Dean Norris) refuses to go to El Paso because he’s trying to track down Heisenberg. Gus decides to start purchasing meth from Jesse. Surprisingly, it’s Walt who has to be pushed towards any sort of action. He’s literally thrown money for a product he didn’t create. Although the third season takes a bit longer to get going, “Green Light” sets the scene for the rest of the season and propels things forward.
60. “Caballo Sin Nombre” (Episode 3.02)
As Walt and Jesse start to put the drug life behind them, “Caballo Sin Nobre” shows us the far-reaching grasp of the drug world. Mike (Jonathan Banks) keeps tabs on Walt after Skyler (Anna Gunn) discovers who he truly is. Gus’ interest in the blue meth still exists long after Walt has turned him down. And the cartels from Mexico are seeking out Heisenberg. The first two seasons of Breaking Bad mostly focused on the White family and Jesse. But from the third season on, this world opens up quite a bit. “Caballo Sin Nombre” is a much-needed reminder of the secondary characters who will become increasingly important—and also that roof pizzas are rarely a good idea.
59. “The Cat’s in the Bag” (Episode 1.02)
“The Cat’s in the Bag” truly begins Walt’s escalation into the new life he has built for himself. Walt not only lies to Skyler, but stands up to her—even though she’s in the right for being worried about her husband. “The Cat’s in the Bag” also is the starting point for Walt’s loss of conscience. He is tasked with killing Krazy 8, which he can’t bring himself to do. (This makes the following episode, “And the Bag’s in the River,” even more compelling.) We also see how he’s not even close to being the mastermind he’ll become. He struggles to stay calm in his difficult situation. Later on, Walt will be able to assess a situation and create a solution to his problem. But in “The Cat’s in the Bag,” he’s just as confused and scared as any normal person in his circumstances would be.
58. “Kafkaesque” (Episode 3.09)
“Kafkaesque” is one of the few times Walt realizes the lack of control he has in his own life and allows himself to embrace it. Everyone around him has incredible plans that involve him. Whether it’s Gus’ cartel, Hank shootout arrangement or Skyler’s lie to Marie about how Walt got his money, Walt takes the hands off the wheel (quite literally) and lets other people drive for a while. Jesse also has his own plans, which involve skimming off the top of their meth production to sell for himself. But, in a larger way, “Kafkaesque” hints at just how influential and brilliant Skyler can be in Walt’s drug goals and just how easily she can slide into this position.
57. “Abiquiu” (Episode 3.11)
In “Abiquiu,” one character realizes how bad she truly is, while another realizes just how bad he really isn’t. Skyler goes completely in on helping Walt launder his money and is pretty damn good at it too. Jesse tries selling meth to the people at his meetings, only to accidentally end up in a relationship with a recovering addict Andrea (Emily Rios). Unfortunately, Andrea never becomes nearly as interesting as Jane (Krysten Ritter) was. The story of her younger brother being the one that killed Combo feels like nothing more than a huge coincidence. Meanwhile, Walt is being treated as an equal by Gus, who invites him over for dinner. In many ways, “Abiquiu” sets up what will be important to these characters in the second half of the series. Skyler focuses on family and the shady business that will support them all. Jesse decides that the potential for his own family is the most important thing for him. And Walt see the power and importance he can still hold while hiding in plain sight.
56. “I See You” (Episode 3.08)
“I See You” feels like a slight step down from the preceding episode, “One Minute.” But it’s integral to understanding Gus, Breaking Bad’s greatest antagonist, and his all-seeing power. The majority of “I See You” is simply about waiting. While Walt waits to see how Hank is doing at the hospital, Jesse screws around in the new lab. Considering how much has just happened, “I See You” is quite tame. Although, Gus does orchestrate the killing of many higher-ups at the cartels and gets Mike to kill Tuco’s last remaining cousin. But watching a man with no legs crawl after Walt is pretty silly. However, as we learn more about Gus’s abilities, there’s an unease under the veil of normalcy and the power that lies beneath.
55. “Cancer Man” (Episode 1.04)
On any other show, the main character admitting to his family that he has cancer would be a huge deal. Yet, on Breaking Bad , Walt’s confession occurs in one of the quieter episodes of the show’s first season. “Cancer Man” slows down the series, but in doing so, presents some key elements of Walt and Jesse’s personalities. Walt shows how prideful he is, bucking against asking his family for any help whatsoever—especially when Hank says he’ll take care of Walt’s family in case he dies. Walt also displays his rage coming out in more aggressive ways, like when he blows up Ken’s car. (Kyle Bornheimer’s douchebag character Ken will get his comeuppance in Better Call Saul). Jesse returns home, where he is misunderstood. Despite trying to escape the world of drugs, he discovers that if he applies himself to that world, he could reach the level of success his family wants for him. Even if it’s not exactly the way they want him to succeed. After three episodes full of big decisions and huge new choices, “Cancer Man” is a much needed hour that builds these characters into more than they were before.
54. “Breakage” (Episode 2.05)
After their first big fight in “Down,” “Breakage” returns to Walt and Jesse’s division of labor: Walt cooks the meth and Jesse takes to the street and sells the drugs. In doing this, we see just how strong of a businessman Jesse can be. He hires coworkers and makes thousands of dollars a night. “You need me more than I need you,” Jesse tells Walt and, for once, Jesse is completely right. He has the upper hand over Walt. “Breakage” also shows how Walt’s Heisenberg is already impacting the larger world around him. Hank’s shootout with Tuco not only earns Hank a promotion, but also gives him a case of PTSD. But, in the end, it’s Walt who has the upper hand in his own life. He suggests that Jesse kill the people who ripped him off, and, thereby, pulls the puppet strings in his favor.
53. “A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal” (Episode 1.07)
Primarily, the first season of Breaking Bad is about Walt trying to escape the helplessness he feels in his life—whether it’s due to cancer, money problems or just feeling like a weak individual. After his first interaction with Tuco, Walt starts to gain a ridiculous amount of confidence. He fools around with Skyler during a PTA meeting, steals large amounts of chemicals needed for his meth lab and doubles his order from Tuco. But when Walt and Jesse watch Tuco almost beat one of his own men to death, Walt loses the confidence he has as “Heisenberg.” He’s more out of his element than he believed himself to be. “A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal” finds Walt getting far too comfortable in his new life. But life, once again, pulls the rug out from under him and presents him with even bigger problems going into Season Two.
52. “Sunset” (Episode 3.06)
When Walt returns to the drug world, he’s presented with two very different partners in “Sunset.” There’s Gale, his current co-cook who is also mentally stimulating, and Jesse, who despite being frustrating, is also his first co-cook and definitely keeps Walt’s world exciting. We see that Jesse technically has the skills to cook without Walt, as he makes a batch of blue meth by himself. But he still gets in over his head. He leads Hank right to his RV/meth lab. Jesse has that desire to strike out on his own, but he’d still be stuck if it weren’t for Walt. The two escape getting arrested by Hank thanks to Walt’s quick thinking. “Sunset” is particularly rough for Hank. He loses his largest lead when the RV gets destroyed and gets tricked into thinking Marie is in the hospital. And Gus gives the okay for two silent assassins to come after Hank. Hank’s desire to catch Heisenberg has never been stronger.
51. “Bit By a Dead Bee” (Episode 2.03)
When Walt decides to start making meth, he maintains that he’s doing this to help his family long after he’s gone. Yet, as we see in “Bit By a Dead Bee,” he doesn’t realize just how much this thinking ahead will hurt his family while he’s still alive. “Bit By a Dead Bee” gives us the first gigantic lie Walt tells his family. He returns from being kidnapped by Tuco in the desert and pretends to have amnesia by appearing in a grocery store naked. Not only does this show the lengths Walt is willing to go to, but also his incredible foresight. His newfound ruthless nature gives him the ability to flat out deceive in order to keep his secrets. He’s able to manage his family, the hospital and even Jesse’s situation with the cops with lies before he even leaves the desert. But the one person he can’t deceive is Skyler, who knows him too well to fall for all of his tricks.
50. “Negro y Azul” (Episode 2.07)
“Negro y Azul” might seem like a step down in excitement from the rest of the season, but, in hindsight, it signals the beginning of the final steps of Walt actually “breaking bad.” As Jesse also gets closer to Jane, Walt pushes Jesse to be more ambitious in their attempts to take over the city. On the other side of the border and in the music video opening to the episode, we see the power that Walt and Jesse’s competitors have. Hank struggles to keep up, especially with the dangers that his new job entails. “Negro y Azul” presents characters whose barks are bigger than their bites (for now) and the ambition that could lead to their downfall.
49. “Gray Matter” (Episode 1.05)
“Gray Matters” shows what fuels Walt and Jesse: a desire to be more than just good enough, to have control and to excel rather than just squeak by. Jesse thinks he has a good job opportunity at a realtor, when really, he’s being offered a job as a sign spinner outside. He could take the easy job that his friend Badger has, but he knows he is capable of more. When Jesse and Badger decide to cook meth, it’s Jesse’s newfound desire for perfection that makes him throw away batch after batch of drugs. On Walt’s end, he’s given several lifelines by his old Gray Matter partners, first a job offer, then an offer to pay completely for his cancer treatment. But rather than allow his life to be controlled by someone more powerful than himself (someone who matters, at the title implies), Walt takes control of his own destiny. He doesn’t want to lose the opportunity to make another choice for himself.
48. “Half Measure” (Episode 3.12)
Almost always in Breaking Bad, the dynamic between Walt and Jesse involves Walt trying to convince Jesse to do his bidding and follow his lead. “Half Measures” does the exact opposite. Jesse discovers that Gus’s foot soldiers hired an 11-year-old to kill his friend Combo. While Season Three has had Jesse embracing being the bad guy, this noble stand against these men and their actions shows Jesse’s conscience still exists. And so does Walt’s, as he ends up coming over to Jesse’s side by the end of the episode in spectacular fashion. By choosing his partner over his boss, Walt knows immediately that he’s starting a war. When Walt tells Jesse to run after he kills Gus’s two drug dealers, it’s clear that this isn’t going to be a sprint, it’s going to be a marathon.
47. “Mas” (Episode 3.05)
In the first third of Season Three, Walt is adamant that he’s done with the drug life, despite promising offers and silent twins with axes coming after him. But “Mas” brings him back in with a combination that helps him rationalize his actions. Gus presents Walt’s actions as noble and offers him a giant lab made specifically for him. Walt’s intent on proving that he’s better than his former partner (and former junkie) Jesse. In “Mas,” everyone finds people that will reinforce what they need to hear. Walt is a provider. Jesse needs to push harder. Skyler is in the right. And Hank has every reason to be scared. What they don’t know is that all this advice will only make things harder for them in the long run.
46. “Buyout” (Episode 5.06)
“Buyout” shows Walt with nothing left to lose but his business. He desperately tries to hold on to that as its being taken out of his grasp. In a rare glimpse of his true intentions, Walt tells Jesse he’s been on the bad end of a deal before-with Gray Matter-and he’s afraid making $5 million will haunt him when he could make $300 million. It’s usually easy to criticize Walt’s decision to keep cooking. But he makes a good point in not wanting to make the same mistakes again. “Buyout” also gets a fantastically awkward Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? dynamic when Jesse stays at the White’s house for dinner. When a man has got nothing left to lose, why not invite your meth cooking partner over to dinner, escape the clutches of Mike and potentially sabotage a deal that could earn your partners millions?
45. “Rabid Dog” (Episode 5.12)
There might not be any two people more hurt by Walt’s consistent lies over the past five seasons than Jesse and Hank. They both feel like they had a real friend, but as new truths come out, it becomes obvious that Walt has been manipulating them for his own means. “Rabid Dog” has Jesse and Hank finally teaming up to take down their common enemy. And while this does seem like the dream team to destroy Walt, it also shows that Walt might still be the only person who truly cares about Jesse. Even while everyone else talks about how disposable Jesse is (Skyler, Saul and Hank all talk about letting him die), Walt maintains nothing is to happen to his apprentice. “Rabid Dog” shows Jesse’s ability to change. He has one bad idea, turns it into a better one before making a mistake and angering Hank in the process.
44. “Dead Freight” (Episode 5.05)
At this point in the series, Walt fancies himself an outlaw. What better way to further that idea of himself than to engage in a Great Train Robbery? “Dead Freight” features one of Breaking Bad’s biggest and most exciting heists, as the group successfully steals an entire train worth of methylamine without anyone ever knowing. “Dead Freight” builds and builds, giving the release of a heist gone perfectly. That is until Todd (Jesse Plemons) kills the only witness who needs to be taken care of, an innocent little kid on his bike. Todd’s cold-blooded nature becomes very important as the series finishes up. “Dead Freight” also places Jesse back in an uneasy position, after becoming too cozy so far this season.
43. “Hazard Pay” (Episode 5.03)
“Just because you shot Jesse James, it don’t make you Jesse James,” Mike tells Walt near the end of “Hazard Pay.” Walt complains about how much his business expenses are adding up. But if you’re now the king after taking down the former ruler, who better to help you at the top than the last guard’s right hand man? In “Hazard Pay,” Breaking Bad shows us just how much Mike did in the Gus regime and just how much went into Gus’s operations that Walt and Jesse didn’t expect when their pay day comes in. But it’s also setting up many of the elements for the final season: the way Walt is able to manipulate Jesse subtly, Skyler’s depression, and Hank’s reentering the police force. The episode also introduces Todd, who works at the bug-bombing business that becomes Walt and Jesse’s new front. Maybe most telling though is Walt and his son watching Scarface. Walt says, “Everyone dies in this movie, don’t they?” A proud drug kingpin who flies too close to the sun? That should hit close to home.
42. “Salud” (Episode 4.10)
This deep into Breaking Bad, it’s rare to see Walter White as genuine as he is in “Salud.” There’s not one false moment from him throughout the entire episode. He confides in his son his only memory of his father (strange how little we end up knowing about Walter’s parents throughout the series) and accidentally calls his son “Jesse.” But “Salud” is primarily about Gus’ grudge with the cartels and seeking revenge decades after the incident of “Hermanos.” Gus’ meticulous nature is present everywhere, right down to how mechanically he throws up the poisoned alcohol he’s given to the cartel. With Jesse in Mexico getting traded to the cartels and Walt on painkillers and ruining his son’s birthday, it’s clear that both Walt and Jesse have made a huge mistake. Despite how they fight, they’re better together than apart.
41. “Confessions” (Episode 5.11)
As the title implies, “Confessions” does have many moments of realization, but very few come from Walt, the person who clearly needs to be confessing the most. Walt makes a “confession” video for Hank. It’s created to frame Hank for the meth business, but also shows Hank that Walt clearly does have something to hide. Walt asks Jesse to leave town for his own good, but Jesse knows he’s once again being played. Instead of telling the truth like Jesse wants, Walt just gives him a hug, which is probably what Jesse needed more anyways. In the episode’s final moments, Jesse discovers the truth behind the ricin cigarette, then gets Saul to confess to his and Walt’s involvement. “Confessions” is actually all about realizations and the truths that come out from a lack of confession. Jesse and Hank plead for the truth, but Walt can’t give that if he’s still got a chance.