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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8. “Peekaboo” (April 12, 2009)
Best Quote: Spooge: “Skank! Skank! Skank ass, skank!”
Most Emotional Moment: Jesse putting Spooge’s kid on the porch after calling the cops to rescue him from his junky parents.
One of the most memorable episodes solely because of the unforgettably disgusting meth head couple and Spooge’s child, forced to live in drug-induced squalor. Jesse had a weakness for childhood innocence, an emotional flaw (or strength) that followed him throughout the series. As we go on to meet Brock and Drew Sharp, it gets clearer and clearer that Jesse wishes he were a kid again.
7. “One Minute” (May 2, 2010)
Best Quote: Unknown caller to Hank: “Two men are coming to kill you. They’re approaching your car. You have one minute.”
Most Emotional Moment: Jesse’s morbid soliloquy on how he will haunt Hank for the rest of his life.
After his near-death encounters with Tuco and Tortuga, the bomb-ridden head in El Paso, we see how Hank has gone from indestructible to traumatized. This distress culminates in his disastrous mistake to put Jesse in a coma, resulting in his suspension and making him question whether he should continue in his line of work. The two fatal encounters become a trifecta after barely surviving the cousins’ assassination attempt. It’s been a bad week for old ASAC Schrader.
6. “Crawl Space” (September 25, 2011)
Best Quote: Gus Fring: “If you try to interfere, this becomes a much simpler matter. I will kill your wife. I will kill your son. I will kill your infant daughter.”
Most Emotional Moment: Walt collapsing in tears then breaking into maniacal laughter after hearing Skyler gave his money away.
My all-time favorite for so many glorious reasons: Jesse has officially made Walt replaceable. Gus has backed Walt into an inescapable corner. Gus intends to kill Hank and if Walt tries to stop him, his family will go straight to Belize. Walt lost all his money so he can’t even use Saul’s expensive disappearance service, the absolute last resort. Shit really hits the fan and there are no umbrellas in sight.
5. “Gliding Over All” (September 2, 2012)
Best Quote: Skyler: “Walt, I want my kids back. I want my life back. Please tell me, how much is enough? How big does this pile have to be?”
The “Oh Shit” Moment: Hank realizing Walt is Heisenberg while dropping a deuce.
The show’s signature montages are always excellent, but this episode contains arguably the best montage in the series: The Benjamins are rolling in. Blue Sky has become an international hit. With the booming success of the Vamanos Pest front, the meth manufacturing is running like clockwork and Walt is on top of the world. That is until Hank makes the devastating revelation that his own brother-in-law is the mastermind he’s been chasing. Then we viewers were left tortured with speculation for an entire year.
4. “Felina” (September 29, 2013)
Best Quote: Walt: “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was… really… I was alive.”
Most Emotional Moment: Walt and Jesse meeting eyes for the last time and nodding in appreciation before separating forever.
Gilligan once said that the trajectory of the story was to turn Mr. Chips into Scarface, and we all believed Walt would go out in the blaze of glory just as Tony Montana did. But he really didn’t. He spared the Schwartz’ for his son’s benefit, killed the shithead Nazis with a genius invention, emancipated Jesse, and died on his own terms in a lab so fitting of his resting place. The series finale was nostalgically satisfying and brought closure to every plot point. And that’s all she wrote.
3. “Face Off” (October 9, 2011)
Best Quote: Walt [to Hector]: “I know you despise me and I know how much you want to see me dead. But I’m willing to bet there’s a man you hate even more. I’m offering you an opportunity for revenge.”
The “Oh Shit” Moment: Gus walking out of Hector’s room, adjusting his tie, and seeing half his face blown straight to hell.
“Face Off” and “Felina” are interchangeable. Hell, every episode on this list is interchangeable (with the exception of #1, of course). I put “Face Off” at #3 because every damn second is filled with thrilling uncertainty: Brock is dying in a hospital, Walt is racing to take out Gus, Jesse is being interrogated by the two old hecklers from the Muppets, and no one knows where the hell Saul is. But once again, Walt comes out on top. (Even though he probably could have thought of something less fucked up than committing an act of terrorism.)
2. “Dead Freight” (August 12, 2012)
Best Quote: Jesse explaining the methylamine heist: “It’s all about the weight, yo.”
Most Emotional Moment: That Opie, dead-eyed piece of shit Todd murdering an innocent kid at the episode’s close.
Again, thrills can make great television and no other scene in the series was more thrilling than watching our drug king and his sharp team pull off an elaborate train heist. From the smallest detail like replacing the stolen methylamine with water to even out the weight, they literally thought of everything and executed it with finesse. Jesse James would roll over in his grave.
1. “Ozymandias” (September 15, 2013)
Best Quote: Hank, moments before being killed: “My name is ASAC Schrader and you can go fuck yourself.”
Most Emotional Moment: Walt’s tragic realization that he has truly lost everything after seeing Walt, Jr. jump in front of his mother to protect her.
I couldn’t sleep the night of September 15. I’m dead serious. This episode shook me on so many levels. Everything that I feared would happen happened, as scene after cruel scene hit so deep into my psyche that I didn’t know which way was up. It was unbearable, sickening, disturbing stuff. I am supremely confident when I say this was the best hour of cable entertainment ever. Screw Orson Welles, The Twilight Zone, and the ‘60s… we are currently living in the Golden Age of Television.