The 62’nd and final episode of Breaking Bad will air just hours from now. Although this finale will be compared to the best and worst series enders in TV history, it will also have to take place alongside the other 61 Breaking Bad episodes. Before that can happen, fans can feel free to compare those other 61 and where they rank in show history, if not TV history.
The last of this series lists the top 10 episodes of Breaking Bad. If all goes well, the updated final list of episode will include the last one “Felina” somewhere in the top 10, if not at the very top. If it doesn’t and the show finally stumbles at the finish line, the last 10 episodes listed here will have to be the best evidence for not writing Breaking Bad’s legacy off anyway.
Obvious spoilers follow
10. Blood Money – Season Five, Episode Nine
The first real sign of the horror ahead didn’t come in the famed final scene, but rather in the second annual flashforward opening. Even moreso than in the first flashforward to Walt’s 52’nd birthday, this one showed that Breaking Bad would not let up in the end, that nothing sacred would be spared, and that nothing short of Armageddon was coming to the White house.
The quicker than expected showdown in that final scene helped as well. For all of Hank’s opening fury, it became clear he was already a broken man by the end – while Walt shifted right from Walt to Heisenberg in the middle of his final sentence, and failed to follow his own final warning.
9. ABQ – Season Two, Episode 13
For much of Season Two, Breaking Bad teased an ending expected to be bloody, messy and filled with some kind of violent showdown. The fact that it was something far different might have disappointed some viewers at first.
But it turned out to be far deeper than a shootout, as it combined with the tragic end of “Phoenix” to lay bare Breaking Bad’s central themes of cause and effect, and how no act or choice comes without consequence – some more horrifying than others. Will a similar bait and switch cap off all of Season Five’s flashforwards and teases of mass death – M60 and ricin related or otherwise – tonight?
Consequence was already a huge part of the first 40+ minutes here, as Jesse found the result of Walt’s inaction in “Phoenix” and blamed himself, Skyler finally caught Walt in a lie she could prove, and Walt was left alone with all his near-millions – until a big bang interrupted his solitude. On a lighter note, Jane’s death paved the way for Mike to fill the void.
8. End Times – Season Four, Episode 12
The actual end times were still one season and two years off, but the end game of Season Four began to look like a series ender by now. It certainly looked like the point of no return for Walt and Jesse at one point, until Walt put on the greatest performance of his life – a week before we knew it was really a performance.
Before fans and critics endlessly analyzed how Walt actually poisoned Brock, he seemed to make the best case for why Gus did it and had to go. Yet Gus was brought down in part for the one crime he didn’t commit – just like Walt has now been exiled for the one crime he didn’t sanction, vis a vis Hank’s murder.
7. Face Off – Season Four, Episode 13
The end of Gus Fring had to be an iconic, unforgettable end for an iconic, unforgettable villain. Just as Jesse and Hank exploited Walt’s biggest weaknesses to entrap him, Walt and Hector Salamancha, of all pairings, exploited Gus’s one big weakness – his need for revenge – to finally bring him down. Yet while the king was dead, the final revelation showed the new regime to come was no cause for celebration.
Until Todd and his Nazi relatives took center stage, this would be the last time Walt was the lesser of two evils on Breaking Bad. When they showed how Walt really defeated that evil, the countdown was truly on to Walt’s real end, although no one knew it would take two years yet.
6. To’hajiilee – Season Five, Episode 13
When “Rabid Dog” became the least popular episode of Season 5B, it was the first time it was safe to question whether Breaking Bad would really stick the final landing. To fix that, director Michelle MacLaren took her final bow on the show by not letting anyone breathe for the last half hour. After that, the doubters clamed right back up.
With Hank back on track after stumbling early against Walt, and Jesse finding the key to winding Walt up, everything came full circle at the spot of the series’ very first cook. There, the inevitable end that was set up from that very first mistake finally came to pass – despite the pause midway through. But there was still more than enough misery and consequence to fit into the next episode.
5. Crawl Space – Season Four, Episode 11
There is no plot line, decision or choice that doesn’t have a big payoff on Breaking Bad – even seemingly useless ones like Skyler trying to make Ted pay off the IRS. Viewers put up with the climax to that plot, although they could at least sit through Hewell and Kuby’s visit to Ted’s in the meantime.
But their attention was on Walt’s desperate attempts to get Jesse back, Gus tormenting Hector in front of Jesse – which would cost him dearly later – and Walt ultimately being forced to run away. Until he found out he couldn’t afford it. And when Walt could only cackle like a mad man while his life and everyone else’s collapsed, the stage was set for Heisenberg to all but obliterate Walter White for good – all spawned from a supposedly pointless plotline.
4. Salud – Season Four, Episode 10
A season before Walt Jr. wished his father would die already, he and Walt shared their most honest moment together, and one of Walt’s most revealing. Walt may be determined not to waste away and be remembered as an unrecognizable shell at the end, like his Huntington’s afflicted father, but the series finale may have other plans. If Walt is truly going to suffer in the final moments, this would be the way to do it.
But although this was one of Walt’s last sympathetic episodes for some time, it was also the most we ever rooted for Gus too. For one breathless sequence, Breaking Bad allowed Gus to be the avenging hero for once, at least by comparison to the Cartel. In addition, kicking Walt’s ass the previous week seemed to revitalize Jesse, as he took command at the Mexican super lab and could fire a weapon again at the ideal moment.
3. Ozymandias – Season Five, Episode 14
“My name is ASAC Schrader. And you can go f**k yourself.”
“You’re the smartest guy I ever met. And you’re too stupid to see….he made up his mind 10 minutes ago. Do what you’re gonna -“
“I watched Jane die.”
“You killed him.”
“What the hell is wrong with you?! We’re a family!!”
“You stupid bitch. How dare you.”
“Toe the line or you will wind up just like Hank.”
“I’ve still got things left to do.”
The rest of the episode required thousands more written words, and seemingly hundreds of therapy hours, to properly get through.
2. Phoenix – Season Two, Episode 12
In many dramas, a big birth is often paired with a big death in the same episode. Ironically, the birth of baby Holly took place right away after two seasons of waiting — and after Walt made his choice to miss it for the drug deal of his life. But after belatedly welcoming a little girl into the world, he would stand by and let one leave it – regardless of whether he did it for his own good or Jesse’s.
The landmark death of Jane is the most widely cited point of no return for Walt. Yet he might not have gone there to try and save Jesse if not for a talk with Jane’s father – the man who would then accidentally cause a plane crash in his subsequent grief. In a series with so many gargantuan moments, Breaking Bad still shows that even the smallest ones, and the smallest choices, can cause our own suffering and that of many more around us – family or no.
Beyond even that, the final sequence is perhaps the defining moment of Bryan Cranston’s career, if not the defining moment of Walter White’s life. For all that would happen later, Cranston’s big moments in “Ozymandias” are the only ones that came so close to matching his work here – at least before the finale.
1. One Minute – Season Three, Episode Seven
While one tragic moment puts “Phoenix” near the top of the Breaking Bad list, it only fell short of No. 1 because of the multiple highlights here. While the pulse pounding showdown between Hank and the Cousins came to define this episode, so much more happened before that to make it the greatest showcase in Breaking Bad history.
This one hour contained three of the greatest monologues the show ever produced – and two from Jesse alone. One had seething, chilling rage that Jesse has never matched since, while the next showcased his raw agony over everything he had lost. But Hank’s quieter agony as he finally shares his pain with Marie was an even greater turning point, as he would truly never be the same again after this episode.
If that wasn’t enough, the cold opening flashback showed the monstrosity of Hector Salamancha, before he was brought down by his own body. His brutal lesson to the Cousins echoed all the way to the present, as they finally carried out Hector’s message that “Family is all” in avenging Tuco at Hank’s expense. But in truth, they wouldn’t be the last characters to have a twisted understanding of that sentiment.
For 61 straight hours, Walter White convinced himself and lied to himself that family was all to him. He excused every evil deed with that belief, and arrogantly believed he could keep them away from what he unleashed. But when Hank was nearly murdered as blowback for Walt’s past actions, it was the first of many dominos to fall against his family because of him.
Now who will be the last to pay – and last to die – when Breaking Bad’s final domino falls tonight?