After much soul searching I’ve come up with a list of my personal favourite Breaking Bad episodes, to follow up from yesterday’s post. They could be in here because I find them a technically brilliant episode, because of their role in the overall story, because they had a favourite scene, or because I just clicked with them emotionally for some intangible reason. But either way, here are the 10 Breaking Bad episodes I’d take to a desert island with me:
10. Bullet Points
This episode has some personal bias for me because it has one of my favourite Breaking Bad scenes of all time: the script within a script of Skyler giving Walt his new story, stage directions and all. I’ll be laughing at “You might look down at the floor with remorse. What? You don’t have to mean it, you just stare down at your feet, Walt, okay?” for the rest of my natural life. But this phenomenal scene aside, it really is a great episode. Jesse’s PTSD is achingly realistic, and few scenes are more heartbreaking than Walt giving him the third-degree while Jesse fends off a panic attack. The all-consuming selfishness of Walter White knows no bounds and we want him to go away more than ever in this episode. But despite that, look me in the eye and tell me you still didn’t hold your breath at: “You got me.”
9. Better Call Saul
In some ways this is the most purely humorous episode BrBa has every done with its with almost constant wise-cracking, courtesy of the newest introduction to the cast, Saul Goodman. This is one of the show’s lightest episodes but hell if it isn’t one of the most memorable. Saul is of course incomparably scene-stealing, as one of the best characters this show ever introduced. And the desert scene between him and Walt and Jesse perfectly showcased both his character’s flamboyance and competence. But as funny as he is, the ultimate comedy kudos have to go to Cranston as he rolls up to the DEA car with a panicked and delighted “HAAAAAAAANNNNNNNNKKK!!”, and proceeds to distract them from the ludicrous sideshow happening in the background. But as hilarious as this episode is, it’s not without a thoughtful interlude. And it’s Walt of all people who gives the introspective and selfless advice about fear when he reminds us to “Get out in the real world. And you kick that bastard as hard as you can right in the teeth.” Usually if Walter White says to do something we should do the opposite. But this moment deserves an exception.
At first glance there’s nothing immediately showy about this episode. Although it’s bookended by a drug deal/murder-by-kid, and a frantic attempt at a different drug deal with another kid on the way, the rest of the episode is relatively low-key. But the plot moves forward in this episode in ways that become hugely significant. This episode sees Jesse get onto heroin for one thing. And Skyler begins her own foray into the money-laundering grey. But the most significant introduction is none other than that of Gus Fring. And with the slightest of physical shifts with his “I don’t think we’re alike at all, Mr. White”, his veneer drops and we get our first real look at one of the greatest TV villains of all time.
7. 4 Days Out
This episode is such a fan-favourite and for very good reason. For such a staggeringly rich ensemble cast, at its heart Breaking Bad will always be the ‘Walt and Jesse show’. And their endlessly fascinating relationship is on note-perfect display here. The two spend the episode sniping and griping, and sometimes it’s brutal, sometimes it’s poignant, and sometimes it’s hilarious, but eventually their volatility hits a stride. This episode with its feverish, sunny, funny, madcap, meth-cooking daze is absolutely delicious and I don’t think there’s a top 10 list without it.
5. Half Measures
Oh Half Measures, you brilliant episode you. There’s the spell-binding speech that not only gave the episode its theme, but its title as well. Cowardice and guts lace this episode that asks what courage really is. Whether it’s the simple bravery of Jesse’s “No” or the loaded weakness of Walt’s silence, this episode is head-spinning in its contrasts. For all of Walt’s boldness, this episode shows that boldness does not always equal bravery, and that between Walt and Jesse? Jesse was always the one with the real courage. Although for all the beautiful subtlety of Jesse’s bravery, the scene that still sticks with the viewer is nonetheless the one with a Pontiac Aztek, a gunshot, and the simple word: “Run.” Walter White always has to have the last word, but man does he ever make them count.
4. Cat’s in the Bag
This is another one of those ‘personal bias’ episodes for me. It’s great in every technical aspect possible. But any show that can make me literally cry with laughter over a body dissolving in acid gets a spot on here regardless of whatever else happened in the episode. This episode was when I sold my soul to this show, and the scenes in Jesse’s house were twisted whimsy at its absolute best.
3. …And the Bag’s in the River
If Cat’s in the Bag was when I sold my soul, this is when I burned the receipt and watched my life as I knew it go up in smoke. I’m not sure the show has managed to top the simple, elegant richness of this one game-changing episode. Everything from the low-key basement face-off, the literal ‘pros and cons’ of taking another life, to the Hitchcockian symbolism behind a broken plate are irresistible. And Walt’s struggle for his soul, beautifully highlighted against days when our antihero was more alive are no more poignantly summed up when he asks the hair-raising question: “The soul? There’s nothing but chemistry here.”
2. Face Off
This episode is absolutely relentless in how gripping it is. There’s the great contrast of Walt sprinting around town at the demands of certain opportunistic legal secretaries (a perfect example of how brilliantly this show works humour into tense situations) while Jesse’s locked in an interrogation cell. There’s the destruction of the superlab which was both pulse-pounding and immensely satisfying. And then of course…the titular scene. How could a character like Gus go out in anything but a blast. This whole episode is done in such a frenzied glee that watching it is like being pummelled. And the concluding shot of the Lily of the Valley and everything it represents? The final knockout punch.
1. Hazard Pay
This is just a perfect jewel box of an episode. It’s not the biggest or most explosive of episodes. But it’s infused with so much of the life that makes this show so dynamic. One of BrBa’s strongest aspects is its ensemble cast, and almost all of them are put to full use here. You’ve got the group scenes of Walt, Jesse, Mike and Saul while they set up the pest control ruse. And of course the Vamonos plan is so perfectly satisfying and memorable in its buildup and simplicity. There’s Skyler’s “Shut up” scene which could be an Emmy award winning show by itself. There’s the couch conversation that’s so tentatively civil and beautifully hesitant but so loaded with ulterior motive that it feels like you’re watching it in a daze. There’s the money-distribution scene that’s packed with dread, the more that Mike takes from Walt’s pile. Not to mention the absolutely chilling last lines, set to a rolling garage door. Add in one of the best music sequences this show has ever done and this episode is a solid lock for my top pick, and is such a perfect example of everything that makes this show great.
BONUS FAVOURITES: Pilot, Granite State, Grilled, Kafkaesque, Felina, Salud, Ozymandias, Green Light, Full Measure, Crazy Handful of Nothin’, I.F.T, Dead Freight, and I’m going to stop before this really does turn into a top 62 list haha
That was. Horrifically hard haha. And I’m sure there are parts I’d change or shuffle around a week from now. And I did mean it when I said I could include just about every episode from the whole damn show haha. But there’s a gist of the episodes that resonated with me. I’m not saying these are necessarily the best this show has to offer (case in point, Ozymandias not being on here despite it being not only the most brilliant episode of BrBa, but maybe the most brilliant television episode of all time). These are just the ones I could go back to over and over as personal favourite episodes. And since I like to see other people suffer over this show I’m tagging whoever wants to do or try doing this haha, so I can see your top 10 lists. But seriously, you all should, it would be really cool to see what everyone’s top 10 picks are!