15. “Peekaboo” (Episode 2.06)
Breaking Bad presents its most heartbreaking episode of the series so far, by showing the dark depths of the meth world Walt and Jesse are helping create. When Jesse tries to get his drugs back from the addicts who ripped off Skinny Pete, he finds their home and the mistreated child that also lives there. Despite living in a world filled with harshness and difficulties, Jesse is a beacon of happiness and hope. He tries his best to give this child some semblance of a normal childhood in the day he spends with him. We also see the rationalization that Walt has made for his meth cooking, instead of just being about supporting his family, it’s also about deep-seeded issues, where he thinks the world owes him something. While Jesse gives hope, Walt destroys it. Walt throws away his friendship and the support of Gretchen in favor of keeping his pride and creating a new version of the truth that rewrites his own personal history to put him on top.
14. “One Minute” (Episode 3.07)
“One Minute” is one of the rare episodes that focuses mostly on Hank, and with that, we get one of the best performances in the show through Dean Norris. Hank started off as a loud mouth and can still, often, be that. But in “One Minute,” we see how tender he can be with Marie when he’s faced with the idea of losing her, and how much of a badass he can be when he faces off against the two assassin twins at the end of the episode. Hank was very much one-note at the beginning, but now we see the many layers that makes him one of the show’s most fascinating characters. “One Minute” also features phenomenal moments from Jesse, as we see the darkness and anger that has been brewing beneath the surface, come out against Walter. “One Minute” has two of Breaking Bad’s best supporting characters coming to terms with their anger and their fear, and features remarkable performances from Norris and Aaron Paul.
13. “Full Measure” (Episode 3.13)
In a season that mostly had Walt and Jesse on the outs with each other, “Full Measure” ends the third season uniting them again for the sake of self-preservation. While Season Two ended by showing us how easily Walt can kill an innocent person and rationalize it in his head, the third season ends with Jesse killing Gale, without, as we will see in the upcoming seasons, the capacity to handle it. The third season is largely about setting up for the rest of the series, the main players, the changing dynamics and the power of this gigantic world. But “Full Measure” shows exactly what Season Three has been building to, a sort of Walt and Jesse vs. the world mentality, which has been escalating until this tense, painful conclusion. “Full Measure” ends Breaking Bad’s calmest season by shocking the audience back and getting them ready for what is still to come.
12. “Say My Name” (Episode 5.07)
“Say My Name” begins like a bullet, with Walt’s pride knowing no bounds, even demanding that a new drug dealer call him Heisenberg. But eventually, Walt’s head finally pops, letting his ego get in the way of logic. In a fit of rage, fear and once again pride, Walt shoots Mike over the names of the men that Mike has. What follows is a sad realization that could almost define the entire final season and maybe the series in general: Walt tells Mike, “this whole thing could’ve been avoided.” Sure, Walt could’ve gotten the names some other way, but he allowed his power to get the best of him instead of using the brainpower that got him this far. Yet after weeks and months of people telling Walt that he should stop while he’s ahead or just go with the flow, he realizes he’s caused his own path to go this way. For once, everyone but him was right. This whole thing could’ve been avoided. All of it.
11. “To’Hajiilee” (Episode 5.13)
“To’Hajiilee” is, in many ways, the episode that Breaking Bad has been building towards since the beginning. It places Walt against Hank and Jesse, and gives us the long-anticipated moment when Walt actually gets arrested. The clicking of the handcuffs is almost a relief. ”To’Hajiilee” pits the wit of Walt and Jesse against each other, with Jesse winning. Jesse knows to play to Walt’s greed and pride, whereas Walt’s biggest flaw might just be underestimating Jesse’s intelligence. ”To’Hajiilee” is largely a big sigh of relief and excitement over Hank and Jesse finally not being outsmarted by Walt. That is, until Todd’s Nazi uncle and friends start their shootout.
10. “Felina” (Episode 5.16)
Endings are tough. But Breaking Bad’s ending was foretold right from the first episode, when Walter White explained that chemistry is “growth, then decay, then transformation.” For five seasons, we saw the growth and decay, but “Felina” gave us the transformation. We finally get a Walt without Heisenberg, a man who has learned from his mistakes and wants to fix them before the end. In that way, maybe the biggest problem with “Felina” is the convenience of it all. He finds a way to leave his family money, makes amends with Skyler and Jesse and kills all of his enemies before he [supposedly] dies. He even finally gets to use that damn ricin! Yes, we’ve seen Walt suffer quite a bit near the end of the fifth season, but “Felina” ends the series by (almost) giving Walt a clear conscience. Its only flaw might be that it wraps all its loose ends up a bit too perfectly.
9. “Blood Money” (Episode 5.09)
Breaking Bad could’ve easily dragged out the revelation that Hank figured out Walt was Heisenberg for the rest of the series, but by the end of “Blood Money,” Hank and Walt are fighting in Hank’s garage with the truth finally out in the open. Hank here is completely shell shocked, both saddened and infuriated by his discovery. He’s been circling the truth for months. Now with the final piece in place, it all clicks together so perfectly. But Hank solves the mystery at the worst possible time—Walt is decidedly out of the drug business and his cancer is back. This doesn’t make Walt less of a monster, but it does make the situation that much rougher. Watching Hank figure it out, and Walt knowing that Hank knows, ends one of Breaking Bad’s biggest questions. “Blood Money” does the incredible build up justice.
8. “Over” (Episode 2.10)
At the beginning of Breaking Bad, Walt began cooking meth out of necessity. It was a quick way to make plenty of money to cover his medical bills and to support his family. In “Over,” Walt makes the decision that will be his downfall: this is no longer about necessity. This is about pride, greed and most of all, power. Walt wants to have control, whether it’s over his own family (he tries to win his son’s respect back by getting Walt Jr. drunk), his home (he works on repair after repair) or over his drug business (he threatens a new duo that want to stake their claim on Heisenberg territory). In the past, Walt was a dead man that was just biding his time. With “Over,” Walt has a second chance and instead chooses to continue in his same pattern without regard for what that means.
7. “Gliding Over All” (Episode 5.08)
When is enough, enough for Walter? Is it when he has killed ten men within two minutes to protect his name? Made so much money that it can’t easily be counted? Or when he’s won his family back? When given the option to end on top once again, Walt finally takes it. In “Gliding Over All,” he’s proven his dominance in pretty much every way. Despite having no major enemies left, it’s too late. Hank finally puts the pieces together and figures out Walt is the Heisenberg he has been searching for. Yet Walt’s decision to leave the business isn’t a change of heart or a recognition of his wrong doing, it’s more due to the general malaise that has fallen over his actions. When there’s no one coming for you and you don’t have your partner, the job of meth cook becomes just that: a job, monotonous and bland as any other one.
6. “Days Out” (Episode 2.09)
By stranding Walt and Jesse in the desert, “4 Days Out” does plenty of phenomenal character work in a short amount of time. We see Walt’s frustrations over how much he’s already hurt his family. And Jesse starts to realize he should’ve followed his heart and not come along with Walt, a problem that will only expand the further we get into the series. But by putting these two alone together for the better part of a week, we also get a true sense of the bond between them, as co-workers, as student-teacher and almost as father and son. The last segment of “4 Days Out” acts as almost pure relief, as Walt’s science gets the two out of the desert and Walt learns that his cancer is in remission. What should be the happy ending to his recent struggle is actually Walt’s realization that he’s too far in. His actions, without the righteous aspect of leaving money for his family, are pure unnecessary deceit.
5. “Face Off” (Episode 4.13)
In the final lines of dialogue of Season Four, we see the duality of Walt, as well as the terrifying power he has now. When he tells Skyler near the end of “Crawl Space,” “It’s over, we’re safe,” it’s because he has blown up Gus Fring and destroyed the meth lab that Hank was so close to finding. But in his next line “I won,” it’s clear that this wasn’t just about protecting his family, it was about being the best, about being the champion. It was about remaining the man who knocks. “Crawl Space” hints that Walt poisoned a child, something that would’ve been unheard of last season. Now there’s nothing he won’t do to claim the throne. Of all of Breaking Bad’s finales, “Crawl Space” is the most remarkable. The episode showcases Walt’s genius, the power of what Jesse and Walt can do together and the relief of tension that Breaking Bad excels in.
4. “Phoenix” (Episode 2.12)
When asked about the specific moment that he believes Walt truly became unredeemable, Bryan Cranston has often mentioned the final moments of “Phoenix.” Walt has murdered people in the past, but always for his own safety. As Walt stands by, watching Jane die, it’s slightly for self-preservation and to help Jesse get away from the drugs he’s using. But it’s also just easier for Walt to let Jane die. He shows his newborn daughter the million dollars he made and asks her, “Want to see what your dad did for you?” And that’s also, really what “Phoenix” is all about: the lengths that parents will go for their children. For Jane’s father, it’s tough, judgmental love, threats of police and the insistence of rehab. In Walt’s mind, letting Jesse’s girlfriend die is what is best for Jesse, but more importantly also for himself.
3. “Crawl Space” (Episode 4.11)
From the beginning, Breaking Bad excelled at building tension to incredible extremes in seemingly inescapable situations. In “Crawl Space” however, Breaking Bad becomes less of an intense thrill and more like a horror film. It’s not as if Gus hadn’t had power over Walt before, but because he straight up tells Walt that he could kill his whole family, Walt ends “Crawl Space” in a rare moment of understanding. He cackles in his crawl space, laughing at the absurdity over what his life has become. His partner has turned on him. He’s fired from his meth job. His family is in danger. His brother-in-law has murderers coming after him and all his money is gone to his wife’s former lover. All the insanity we’ve seen over four seasons finally hits Walt all at once. More than ever before, “Crawl Space” ends with Walt in an impossible situation, clueless as to what he can do without his power, influence or money. His biggest fear has been to be helpless in his own life and now, thanks to his pride, he’s even more helpless than ever before. He’s left only to lay, and wait for death to come looking for him.
2. “Fifty-One” (Episode 5.04)
“Fifty-One” takes place exactly a year after the series premiere, where Walt learned he had cancer. A year ago, he cared desperately about his family and what they thought of him. Now, he’s done giving a shit. From every aspect, “Fifty-One” excels. The directing and cinematography are even more gorgeous than usual, especially in the scene where Skyler walks into the pool numbly, shot almost as if she’s getting ready to drown in Walt’s blue meth. The writing is spectacular, as are the performances. In one of the best scenes Breaking Bad ever created, Skyler fights with Walt over how she’ll keep the kids safe from him, only to accept her best option is to wait for his cancer to come back. Skyler’s depression shows how much she has changed in just a year, and the episode shows the effects of Walt’s decision to pick Heisenberg over his family and how he’s willing to risk everything for the power he now has.
1. “Ozymandias” (Episode 5.14)
“Ozymandias” is everything one could ask for in an episode of Breaking Bad. From the moment Hank is shot, it’s as if all the air escapes your lungs and you’re not able to breathe again until the final credits roll. Watching “Ozymandias” is bearing witness to a year full of bad decisions, lies, deception and death as they cave in on Walt, destroying his family and ending with him running away from his problems, on his way to a new life and new identity.
But the episode also takes us through all the emotions we’ve ever felt about Walt, all in the span of one hour. Starting off with a flashback to Walt and Jesse’s first cook, we see Walt once again as the naive, desperate schoolteacher whose only goal was to leave his family something once he was gone. Even after Hanks’ death, “Ozymandias” makes us feel sympathetic for the pain that Walt is feeling. But once Hank is dead and Walt’s money is mostly gone, we see Walt for the first time with truly nothing to lose. As many times as this show has made us think that we’re at this point before, this is actually, finally it.
Anyone and everyone in his way is an enemy. He allows the Nazis to take Jesse away, but not before pouring salt in the wound by telling Jesse he let Jane die. When he returns home, Walt Jr., the sole source of good in the show, finally knows the truth about his father and calls the cops on him after an intense fight over a knife with Skyler. When Walt steals Holly as he makes his escape, there’s a deadness in his eyes. His family is over. His life is over. Now there’s nothing he won’t do. As if there wasn’t any question, bad is completely, irreparably broken.
Through his camera work, Rian Johnson makes every moment of “Ozymandias” feel completely claustrophobic, as the world is closing in on itself—it legitimately feels that way throughout the episode. Everyone in the entire series is at the lowest point we will ever see them and there’s nothing left to do but accept the gravity of the situations that Walt has put them all in. “Ozymandias” is a car crash you can’t look away from, even though it’s been long in the making. “Ozymandias” is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. For Tuco, his end was getting shot by Hank. For Gus, it was getting half his face blown off. For Walt, it’s watching all of his mistakes and bad decisions crash down on him, along with the weight of losing everything he’s ever cared about.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. He’ll send you to Belize. You can follow him on Twitter.