It’s been said over and over again since we first saw that pair of khakis ominously fall from the sky in the pilot. Breaking Bad is the greatest drama to ever grace the television screen, and I feel for you if you’ve lived in ignorance of the best Breaking Bad episodes ever.
Now that it’s all over and we have nothing to do but wallow in our post-finale existential crisis, I had to remedy my emptiness with a ranking of the best hours Vince Gilligan gave us every Sunday over the years.
Beware. Spoilers ensue.
17. "Pilot" (January 20, 2008)
Best Quote: Walt: “I am… awake.”
Most Emotional Moment: Walt’s confession to Skyler and Walter, Jr. into a video camera in the opening scene
Ah yes, the cook that started all cooks. Observing Jesse, Walt, and his family from the humorous beginnings is what made the show so profoundly sad and nostalgic by the end. Jesse was a goofball slacker, Walt was a timid family man experiencing a midlife crisis, and Hank was an arrogant jock. None of them knew how drastically they’d change a year later in the story. And we definitely had no idea what darkness was to come.
16. "Better Call Saul" (April 26, 2009)
Best Quote: Saul Goodman: “Faith and begorrah! A fellow potato eater! My real name’s McGill. The Jew thing I just do for the homeboys. They all want a pipe-hitting member of the tribe, so to speak.”
Most Emotional Moment: Badger’s heartbreaking disappointment after realizing he couldn't hang out with an undercover cop.
This episode’s triumphant introduction of perhaps the only consistently hilarious character on the show is by far one of my favorite moments in the series. Saul is always the comic counteraction to the show’s overwhelming bleakness. There’s so much to like about the guy: criminal, excessively sarcastic, and, most importantly, excellent at his job despite always looking cheap.
15. "Grilled" (March 15, 2009)
Best Quote: Jesse: “You got the C, man, alright? You’re as good as checked out already, okay? You should be all like sacrificial, jumping on a grenade, yo.”
Most Emotional Moment: Hank and Tuco’s shootout, ending with Tuco taking one right between the eyes.
Walt and Jesse encounter their first tight corner of the series when a psychopathic Tuco abducts them in the middle of the night, intending to drive them across the border to cook permanently for the cartel. This episode also marks the first time we feel claustrophobic as viewers, unsure of how our two (anti)-heroes will make it out of this deadly predicament. From this episode onward, claustrophobia becomes a relentless staple of the show’s plot that we can’t look away from.
14. "Fly" (May 23, 2010)
Best Quote: Walt: “The universe is random, it’s not inevitable, it’s simple chaos. It’s subatomic particles in endless, aimless collision. That’s what science teaches us, but what does this say? What is it telling us that the very night that this man’s daughter dies, it’s me who is having a drink with him? I mean how could that be random?”
Most Emotional Moment: When Walt apologizes for Jane’s death to Jesse even though Walt knows he could have saved her.
I’m sure some of you will hate me for putting this here. This one is slow. It takes place in one setting. It’s entirely dialogue. It’s an unpopular episode, but provides the foundation for the unbreakable bond Walt and Jesse share. Amidst all the lies that pervade the other episodes, this one is full of honest emotion, speaking volumes about randomness and moral consequence.
13. "Box Cutter" (July 17, 2011)
Best Quote: Gus Fring: “Well? Get back to work.”
Most Emotional Moment: Gus entering the superlab, neatly putting on a lab coat, and gruesomely cutting Victor’s throat, all in absolute silence.
This is about as close to an R-rated slasher movie as cable TV can go. Never has a season premiere been so shocking within its first ten minutes. The episode is a catalyst for the extreme transformation of all the major characters: Gus is the primary antagonist, Walt has become more proactively dangerous, and Jesse is now mentally fragile after killing Gale. It’s the beginning of a showdown between the cold and calculating Gus and Walt, who wants the throne.
12. "Say My Name" (August 26, 2012)
Best Quote: Mike Ehrmantraut: “Shut the fuck up and let me die in peace.”
Most Emotional Moment: Walt’s revelation that he could have talked to Lydia instead of killing Mike.
It took 53 episodes but it finally happened: Walter White does not exist anymore. Heisenberg has consumed him. We see for the first time that Walt doesn’t care about cooking premium meth or making all the money he could dream of. He only wants to be the king of an empire that will take over the world, no matter the cost or bloodshed.
11. "Hermanos" (September 4, 2011)
Best Quote: Gus Fring: “This is what comes of blood for blood, Hector. Sangre por sangre.”
Most Emotional Moment: The closing flashback when Gus is lying on the ground weeping, face-to-face with Max after he was murdered.
Gus was always a mysterious man. We knew he emigrated from Chile before coming to Albuquerque—and that’s pretty much it. This episode revealed so much to us about his mission and contempt for the cartel south of the border. The glimpse into the trauma of losing his lifelong friend Max solidified Gus as one of the most complex and absorbing villains in TV history.
10. "Salud" (September 18, 2011)
Best Quote: Mike Ehrmantraut: “I promise you this: either we’re all going home or none of us are. Now settle down.”
Most Emotional Moment: Gus silently standing in the exact spot by the pool where Max was murdered decades earlier.
Two episodes later, Gus avenges the death of his friend by killing off the entire Mexican cartel, giving him both personal closure and complete control over the Southwest’s methamphetamine market. The only enemy left: an old geezer sitting in a nursing home with a bell on his chair and shit in his pants.
9. "Half Measures" (June 6, 2010)
Best Quote: Walt [to Jesse]: “Run!”
Most Emotional Moment: Mike’s monologue on a particular domestic dispute in which he should have taken matters into his own hands.
Perhaps the worst business decision Walt could have made was saving Jesse from the two slack-jawed drug dealers who used Andrea’s brother as a mule. It was the first rupture of their partnership with Gus, and from then on, their partnership went from shitty to nuclear, especially after Gale’s murder.
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