Just in case you missed it: Top 30 Episodes of Breaking Bad Ranked (30-16)
***SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE SHOW***
15. To’hajiilee (5.13)
I hope I spelled that right! “To’hajiilee” is a classic example of an episode that complete changes midway through and gets tense as f**ck!! This episode seemed like just an ordinary episode for the first 27 minutes, but once Walt receives a text message from Jesse that shows a barrel of his money, everything starts to crash down for Walter. Of course it was all a hoax as we watch Walter drive to the spot where he buried his money to find no one. Shortly after, we see Hank and his crew driving toward the spot and Walt realizes that he has finally been stopped. Hank is finally about to catch the person who he has been searching for since Season 1. When has there ever been a moment like this in television? We watch our main protagonist, who has just been defeated, getting arrested by a supporting character, and we are cheering? Hank deserved to finally put those hand cuffs on Walter. What a great moment it was when he called Marie to tell her he got him, with expressions of happiness and relief on his face, and then he ends the phone call by telling her he loves her. (As we know now that would be the last time they speak to each other, which makes the rewatchability for that moment even more affective and emotional). Dean Norris absolutely nailed that scene! However, just when everything has finally gone Hank’s way and he finally arrests Walt, we remember that Walt called the neo-nazis earlier and we see them drive up. The tables have once again turned. Breaking Bad does this brilliantly where they have you thinking one way, and then completely flipping it another way. A brilliant ending to another brilliant episode in the series.
14. Mandala (2.11)
“Mandala” is a really under-appreciated episode in the series. There are so many key scenes and moments in this episode that really influence the direction of the show and other key moments down the road. This episode opens up with possibly the most shocking and important cold open ever in a Breaking Bad episode. In the cold open, we see Jesse’s friend, Combo, get shot and killed while trying to sell their product. What’s even more shocking about this moment is that the shooter is just a young boy. Now, as we find out later in the show, this boy happens to be the younger brother of Andrea, and he was working for some higher-level drug dealers who were working for Gus Fring. This key revelation is extremely important for the end of Season 3. The death of Combo also starts a chain of events that lead to the end of Season 2, which starts with Jesse going into a deep depression and doing heavier drugs. “Mandala” is an extremely tragic episode for the character Jane. We’ve learned that she used to be a drug addict, but has been clean for quite some time and has really turned her life around. However, in this episode she begins going down that dark path again, and joins Jesse in doing heroine. There is a “blink and you will miss it” incredible, but tragic moment where we see Jane, just before she is about to go in Jesse’s room to start doing the heroine, stop for a second and realize what she is about to get into once again. This is handled perfectly by the director, writers, and actress Krysten Ritter. It’s very sad what Jesse and Jane are doing in this episode, but I can’t help but be amused at the sequence where Jesse first starts doing heroine and we see him psychedelically floating in the air. Now, with all of that going on, we still have Walt’s side of the story which is just as interesting and extremely important for the entire show. Walt decides he wants to be more safe and secure with his business and tries to get in touch with someone who also is a drug dealer who is very secretive and professional. This “someone” happens to be Gustavo Fring and he finally makes his debut for the show. I absolutely adore Giancarlo Esposito in this episode, and it’s very amusing to see him act as just an ordinary fast food manager, but completely flip the switch in a moments notice and become the Gus Fring that we will be accustomed to seeing. “Mandala” is an extremely important episode that is great from beginning to end, and most certainly deserves to be praised as one of the best episodes in the entire series.
13. Hermanos (4.08)
“Hermanos” is Gustavo Fring’s finest hour. The work Giancarlo Esposito puts into this episode is absolutely phenomenal. We see Gus Fring at all different levels of emotion. We learn so much more about this character that we actually start to sympathize with him. Yes, the same guy who killed a person with a box cutter and has been trying to kill Walter White all season. There are so many great moments like the interrogation scene at the DEA headquarters, the “Do it” scene at Los Pollos Hermanos, and of course the final 10 minutes, which shows a flashback sequence with Gus Fring’s character just starting out in the drug business. This is acted, directed, and shot brilliantly. We find out so much in these 10 minutes. Why Gus became what he is, why he uses Los Pollos Hermanos as an undercover business, why he has it against the Mexican cartel, and of course why he despises Hector Salamanca so much. There are some other great scenes as well involving Walter, but there’s no denying this is Gus’s episode to shine, and boy does he ever.
12. Grilled (2.02)
Season 1 of Breaking Bad ended abruptly after only seven episodes, because of the writer’s strike. It was a short season, and the finale just didn’t feel like a finale for a Season. However, if they somehow could have ended with the first two episodes of Season 2, with “Grilled” being the finale, it would have been perfect. The final climax to this episode, with Hank killing Tuco, is one of the most shocking and memorable in the entire series. But before all of that, “Grilled” is a perfect lesson in how to build tension. We find ourselves stuck a long with Walt and Jesse in some abandoned house in the middle of the desert with a crazy lunatic and some old guy in a wheelchair (this is Hector’s debut to the show). At this point, we are well aware of Tuco’s insane temperament where he will go as far to beat someone to death if he thinks someone disrespected him. This is really what the entire sequence at the house is built around. Do not piss off Tuco! The episode ends with an incredibly unexpected turn of events where Hank gets into the picture and has an intense shootout with Tuco. Hank kills Tuco, which marks the end of that amazing villain of the series, but also changes Hank’s character dramatically. After this he was never the same again. The very end where we just hear the bell from Hector’s wheelchair was the icing on the cake.
11. Gliding Over All (5.08)
Breaking Bad, in a brief summary, is about the rise and fall of a high-school chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin. In “Gliding Over All” we see Walter White at the very top. He has never been more in power and in control in the entire series than in this episode. He is finally the drug kingpin that he wanted to become. This episode has so many different snippets and easter eggs that it’s almost impossible for me to name everything in this post. It’s a reflection on everything that Walt has gone through over the past year, but also fast-forwards through months in advance as we see Walt dominating the drug business so much that he even expands to Europe. The music is also fantastic. There is an incredible sequence that shows a killing of ten inmates, who all know about Walt’s business and were working for Mike, in two minutes at three different prisons. The use of “Pick Yourself Up” by Nat “King” Cole and George Shearing was a brilliant song choice. This is Breaking Bad‘s use of dark humor at its finest. This episode also contains my favorite song choice for the show “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James and the Shondells during the meth production montage. There is a great scene with Walt and Skyler where we see a reflection of just how much money Walter has, and Skyler asking him how much is enough. This leads to Walt eventually deciding he wants to end things for good. Things go well at first until Hank has to take a sh*t and we get one of the best cliffhangers in TV history. Something only Breaking Bad can get away with. This perfectly sets up the final eight episodes of the series, and the downfall for Walter White.
10. Crazy Handful of Nothin’ (1.06)
This episode was the first one that made we realize I loved the show and it had potential to be great. It brilliantly uses the cold open as a flash forward for what is to come later in the episode. A writing method the writers would use in a few more episodes in the series. However this episode is in my top 10 mainly for how influential and important it is for the show. Walt shaves his head and uses his alias Heisenberg for the very first time. It also introduces the character Tuco for the first time. The moment where we see Walter White use the mercury fulminate to threaten Tuco and destroy a part of his property is one of the best in the entire series. This is the episode where Walt first really felt the power and control that he could gain by doing what he was doing. The final moment where we see him screaming in his car after getting the money back is an acknowledgement that this is a different Walter White. As Walter will later admit to Skyler in the finale of the series, “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And… I was really… I was alive.” “Crazy Handful of Nothin'” is when it all started.
9. Dead Freight (5.05)
Using the same writing method as “Crazy Handful of Nothin'” the Breaking Bad writers begin the episode with a flash-forward of what is to come later in the episode. However, for first-time viewers they have no idea, so the ending is extremely shocking, but makes sense why the cold open would be what it was. “Dead Freight” is one of the most unique episodes in the entire series. A train-heist episode that is extremely realistic, tense, and shocking. This is of course when the show got really popular, and their budget was much larger, so they could get away with doing episodes like this. Walter White’s ego was on full blast, and so were the writers. They proved with this episode that they could basically get away with anything, and it worked! There’s a great interrogation scene with Walt, Jesse, Mike, and Lydia. A great moment where Skyler asks Walt if he’s burying bodies as he is about to leave the house and he answers back by saying he’s robbing a train. Then of course the train heist sequence. It couldn’t have been handled any better. Another example of brilliantly building tension as the story moves a long. They even throw Bill Burr in the scene, because why not? It ends on a high note with Walt and the gang as they succeed, but things escalate quickly when the boy from the beginning of the episode shows up. If you re-watch the first scene, you can hear the sound of the train in the distance which brilliantly foreshadows the episode. That is something I did not catch the first time I watched it. When Todd shoots the boy, it is not only extremely shocking, but perfectly exposes the character for what he truly is, and becomes the final straw for Jesse. One of the best moments in the entires series in one of the best episodes in the entire series.
8. Crawl Space (4.11)
This is where the list gets really hard. All eight of these final episodes could be #1, so it was really hard to rank them accordingly. So, with how much I love the ending to this episode (it’s easily one of the best moments of the show) I had to put it at the eighth spot, because I’m judging the episodes as a whole. “Crawl Space” is kind of like the episode “Tohajiilee” where it begins just like any other episode, but quickly things begin to escalate and intensify. Let me just say Bryan Cranston is absolutely brilliant in this episode. This might be the best acting he has ever given, and I’m not just talking about the final scene. In the last 20 minutes or so, Walter White is in an incredible sense of panic, he’s frustrated, and overpowered by Gus Fring. We get an incredible scene in the desert where Gus threatens Walt by killing his entire family, even his infant daughter. Things are at an all-time low for Walt and he has no choice but to run away with his family. This leads to the incredible scene in the crawl space, where he finds out Skyler has given all the money away to the man she cheated on him with. Walt breaks down (Heath Ledger Joker style) and all the insanity, is on total display. Pure genius. This episode also has a hilarious scene with Kuby and Huell (played by Bill Burr and Lavell Crawford) threatening Ted to sign Skyler’s check. Another great use of dark humor in the show.
7. Phoenix (2.12)
This episode focuses a lot on the character Jane, and for good reason with what happens at the very end of the episode. It’s very heartbreaking to watch her character slowly crumble. I want to talk about three moments in the show that make this particular episode stand-out. The first is a small moment that could be easily looked past, but is a very important moment nevertheless. Walt actually talks about the moment later in the episode “Fly.” He is sitting in his house watching TV. He can hear Skyler singing to their baby through the baby monitor. He explains this moment as the last good moment in his life and he would be happy if he died right then and there. This happens right before the end of this episode and the events of the next one, that causes Walt to lose the respect of his family forever. The second moment is the heavily ironic bar meet-up between Walt and Jane’s father Donald. As we know now about the scene that is to come, it’s very strange to see that he actually had a conversation with the man whose daughter he will let die, which will cause him to go into a depressive state and mistakenly let two airplanes crash into one another. I love the picture above, because the red light in the bar symbolizes what bad things are in store with those two particular characters. The final moment of course is the ending, which might just be the biggest, most influential moment in the entire series. (Bryan Cranston actually describes this as the hardest scene he ever had to shoot). The turn of events that follow after this tragic moment are mind-boggling, and the moment created guilt for Walter and depression for Jesse that never went away. It also might be the worst thing Walter has ever done, but that’s a list for another day.
6. Face Off (4.13)
“Face Off” just as most of the Breaking Bad finales do is extremely memorable, has a great cliff-hanger, and perfectly sets up the next season. Walter White is officially a criminal mastermind, and all the things he does in this episode that leads to the big WTF moment for the episode is awesome. This might be my favorite episode title, as it is a double entendre for the final face off between Gus and Walt and well…I think you can guess the other meaning. Gus’s death caused a little controversy as to if it was too fictional of a death, but there’s no denying how shocking it was, and how it’s one of the most memorable and iconic moments of the series. I will never forget the first time I saw it. Walt is basically just Heisenberg at this point, and there’s a great scene where we see Jesse at the lab, and Walt kills a dude in cold blood and convinces Jesse they need to burn down the lab. Walt has won the chess match with Gus and is the new drug kingpin of Albuquerque. The final shot of the lily of the valley plant is a great cliffhanger as we find out that Walt was responsible for killing Brock and everything was just a part of Walt’s scheme to finally finish off Gus. Perfect finale to one of the best seasons in the show.
5. ABQ (2.13)
The Breaking Bad writers sure know how to write good finales. “ABQ” is filled with great moments. This episode introduces one of the best characters in the show, Mike Ehrmantraut, in a great scene where we see him help Jesse clean up his apartment of any illegal substances. This is a very tragic episode. The scenes with Jesse and Jane’s father post-Jane’s death are extremely heartbreaking, and the actors do a fantastic job portraying their sadness. One character is able to express his emotions, while the other represses his. In this one episode alone, we see the immediate impact Jane’s death has on the show. Jesse almost gives up on his life completely. In one of the most underrated scenes in the entire show, and personally one of my all-time favorite scenes, we see Jesse overdosed in a crack house with a bunch of washed-out bums, and Walt is forced to wake him up and get him out. The shot of Walt holding Jesse as he starts sobbing is extremely sad, but reminiscent of a time when Walt cared deeply for Jesse. This is something that unfortunately will slowly begin to fade away as the show goes a long. The episode ends with some game-changing moments. One of which Skyler finally figures out that Walt has been lying the entire time and eventually leaves Walt. The second of course is the big plane collision that ends the season. The four episodes that offered the black and white cold open in Season 2 foreshadowed this. “Seven Thirty-Seven” “Down” “Over” “ABQ.”
4. Half Measures (3.12)
In an episode that is remembered for its ending, and possibly the biggest WTF moment of the entire season, “Half Measures” is ranked this high for the small moments leading up to the epic climax. Whether it’s the cold-open with Wendy (her last apparent by the way) cleverly using the song “Windy,” the tense conversation with Walt and Jesse at a dimly lit restaurant, or Mike’s Half Measures speech. The writers keep you invested and don’t waste time with meaningless scenes that lead to the final showdown. This is something that The Walking Dead writers are known to do from time to time. “Half Measures” brilliantly shows the pieces slowly coming in to place and leaves you hanging on a moment that is extremely memorable, but not too predictable and actually makes logical sense. Before the final moment, we see Jesse in his car preparing to take out the two drug dealers who killed Tomas. Portrayed brilliantly by Aaron Paul, Jesse is nervous, anxious, scared and decides to take a hit of meth before he goes out. This is a big moment, because he has been clean all season long, and it’s very depressing to see him go back to his old roots and do something that can easily get him killed. At this moment we are so focused on Jesse, that we completely forget about Walt. So when Jesse finally walks up to kill the dudes, and it looks like he will die, it is extremely surprising to see Walt all of a sudden come in and run over the dudes and kill the remaining guy who is still alive. Walt, at this point, has never gone to these lengths to kill people he didn’t have to kill, so this was also shocking to see Walt do this act, and it perfectly set up the season finale.
3. One Minute (3.07)
If I did a list of the best final scenes in Breaking Bad, “One Minute” would probably take the top spot. The final showdown between Hank and the Cousins is directed brilliantly by Michelle MacLaren. It’s tense without feeling impractical. It’s gritty without feeling too fictional or cartoonish. It causes you to hold your breath and not blink until the final credits role. I can’t say enough great things about the ending, but what leads up to it is great as well. “One Minute” is a great example of how fantastic the supporting characters of Breaking Bad are. To have an episode this highly ranked, where Walter White is taking a backseat and is insignificant is extremely impressive. Aaron Paul’s acting is phenomenal, and gives Jesse some of his best moments for the entire show as he is laying in a hospital bed. We get some great Saul Goodman moments that really give the episode some much-needed humor. And of course Hank has some great moments as well. Dean Norris is fantastic in this episode. “One Minute” really feels like a final send-off to Hank. Hank has a great moment with Marie where he breaks down in her arms (a relationship that I always admired). Hank knows that he really messed up and was responsible for getting fired, and it’s even more sad that he couldn’t catch Heisenberg, something that he has been desperately trying to do all series long, and came so close to doing it in the previous episode. You really feel bad for his character, and you also feel bad for Jesse’s. These are two characters that have suffered due to Walt’s actions. “One Minute” surprised you with it’s sudden turn of events in the final scene, and also surprises viewers that Hank ended up surviving.
2. Full Measure (3.13)
Season 3 of Breaking Bad was never my favorite season, but boy does it have some fantastic episodes! “Full Measure” is an episode that doesn’t have one bad scene. Not one scene is a filler, forgettable, or insignificant. Every scene is memorable, which allows this episode to flow smoothly and leaves you with a cliffhanger that will be burned in your mind. It begins with one of my favorite cold opens that shows a flashback of a younger Walt and Skyler looking to buy the house that they would end of owning. We see in this scene just how different they acted around each other, especially Walt who seems to be a lot more positive, social, and optimistic about his future. If there is one thing I wish Breaking Bad had more of, it would be flashbacks. I’ve always wondered what things in Walter’s past have influenced what he would end up becoming in the first episode. Following the flashback is a great “showdown in the desert” scene involving Walt and Gus that feels like a scene taken from an old western. Gus wants to take out Walt, but can’t because he needs him to cook. This is where Gale becomes a very important character suddenly. Gus hopes to use Gale as a replacement, so he can kill Walt for what he did in the previous episode “Half Measures.” Mike has some great scenes as we find out more about his life, something that may not pertain too much to the main narrative of the episode, but really fleshed out his character more. We see his granddaughter for the first time. This is extremely important to his character’s actions and backstory. We also see what he is capable of doing in a moments notice, as he takes out a bunch of cartel gangsters James Bond style. When Gus finally decides to make the call to kill Walter White, the episode really has you believe Walt actually might die. The twists and turns end up leading to the final scene with Jesse shooting Gale. It’s acted brilliantly by Aaron Paul and extremely heartbreaking. It also becomes a pivotal moment for Jesse’s character and the show in general. It wraps up the season perfectly while still leaving the viewers wanting more. The episode is as pure as Walt’s meth.
1. Ozymandias (5.14)
What I was most certain about while creating this list was that Season 5’s episode “Ozymandias” was the #1 episode. Pretty impressive with how many great episodes the show offered that it would have an obvious number one. Even the creator, Vince Gilligan, admitted that this was the show’s best episode. I won’t go into a huge rant of why this is great and I won’t talk about what happened in particular. Everything amazing about this episode probably has already been said. What I will do is list 10 reasons why this episode so great and memorable, and is the best in the series.
1. The amazing cold open showing a flashback that foreshadows the future events.
2. The brilliant directing by Rian Johnson.
3. The brilliant writing by Moira Walley-Beckett.
4. The acting by Cranston and the entire ensemble is superb.
5. “You’re the smartest guy I ever met… but you’re too stupid to see… He made up his mind ten minutes ago.”
6. The scene at the White house (not the residence of the president) with Walter, Skyler, and Walter Jr.
7. The awesome easter eggs including Walt’s pants that he threw in the desert in the pilot.
8. The incredible acting by Holly the baby!
9. The phone call that Walt gives to Skyler.
10. The final shot.