Breaking Bad is considered one of the greatest television shows of all time. The acting, writing, directing, and even cinematography at times are all top-notch. This show is the closest thing you can get to a great film, and is very cinematic in the way it is shot. The writing staff for this show, led by show runner Vince Gilligan, are very stringent and precise in the way they write the show. You can tell everything was planned out accordingly, and that’s how the show continued to get better season after season. Bryan Cranston’s performance as Walter White is considered one of the greatest performances by an actor ever. The character arch of Walter White is fascinating to watch behold. Even the supporting performances by Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, Jonathan Banks, and Bob Odenkirk are all great as well. There is so much more I can say, but let me get down to the nitty-gritty and go through the 30 greatest episodes of this amazing show.
Honorable Mentions: Problem Dog, Live Free or Die, Buyout, Confessions, Fifty-One, Gray Matter, Bug
***SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE SHOW***
30. Cat’s in the Bag… (1.02)
The beginning episodes of Breaking Bad mainly focused on the characters of Walt and Jesse. Cranston and Paul’s chemistry is fantastic, and they really bounced off each other very nicely. This made for some really funny and entertaining scenes, especially in the earlier seasons. “Cat’s in the Bag..” is a perfect example of this. The dark humor portrayed in this episode is fantastic. The things that Walt and Jesse are trying to accomplish in this episode are very dark and disturbing, but at the same time hilarious, because they kind of deserve what’s happening to them. The ending of this episode is one of the most memorable in the entire series as we see Jesse’s bathtub break through the ceiling as he tries to dissolve a dead body in it. Pure dark comedy gold.
29. Better Call Saul (2.08)
“Better Call Saul” is a perfect example of a Breaking Bad episode that has gotten better with age. No one would have thought how important this episode would end up being for the show, and how it would end up creating a spin-off show afterwards. The cold-open to this episode is fantastic as we see Badger get busted by an under-cover cop on a park bench. Badger is forced to get a lawyer to get him out of the jam which introduces us to one of the best characters in the entire show. Bob Odenkirk’s Saul Goodman is a brilliant character, created by Peter Gould, that ends up becoming a regular and the show’s main comic relief. Breaking Bad continues to get darker and darker as the show moves a long, and Saul Goodman becomes a vital character to the show who will give the show that necessary comedy. The show never got too overwhelmed with its drama and darkness. Bob Odenkirk was born to play the sleazy criminal lawyer, and we never got tired of watching him on-screen. Who would have thought his spin-off show would turn out as well as it has?
28. Box Cutter (4.01)
“Box Cutter” did a brilliant job of setting the tone and central plot for the entire Season 4. After this episode, we were well aware that the season was gonna be much darker than any previous season we have seen, and the cat and mouse game between Walter and Gus would be front and center for the entire season, and boy was it a doozy. Giancarlo Esposito’s Gustavo Fring is considered one of the greatest TV villains of all time, and in this episode, we find out just how dark and psychotic he can be. It is clear now that he was trying to send a message to Walt and Jesse, but at the time, most people were left with their jobs wide open and completely surprised about what had just occurred. This is easily one of the best moments in the entire show. A pretty uneventful Skyler subplot brings this episode outside of the top 20, but there’s no denying just how suspenseful and tense the scenes that occurred in the laboratory were.
27. Fly (3.10)
Ah the mysterious fly episode. Is is horrible, or is it genius? Some people consider this the worst episode in the series, and can you blame them? It really does nothing to build on to the story, and occurs so late in Season 3. The general plot is basically just Walter and Jesse trying to catch a fly. That’s it. However, there are other people who consider this one of the best in the entire show. I think a spot right at number 27 is just fine. Do I think this is one of the best episodes in the show? No, but I do think it should be considered among the better episodes of the series. “Fly” not only is a brilliantly written bottle episode, that explores Walt and Jesse’s character to great lengths, but it also might be the last time we see Walter White as a genuine human-being. For a large part of this episode, Walter White is heavily medicated and the good in him comes out. It is really refreshing to see him like this. Also Walt and Jesse are hilarious together, just like they were in the first couple seasons. Things go really downhill for both of these characters after this episode, and very rarely do we see the two of these characters in this kind of light. There are also many theories for what the fly actually symbolizes. I think it symbolizes Walt’s conscious. Walt desperately wants to tell Jesse the truth about what happened with Jane, but he knows he can’t or it will terminate their relationship. This keeps nagging him just like the fly does in the episode. “Fly” is also the first episode that Rian Johnson directs who will go on to direct two more Season 5 gems.
26. Negro Y Azul (2.07)
Sorry for bringing up that disturbing image once again…Season 2 of Breaking Bad is in my opinion the best in the entire show. It still contains what is so great about the earlier seasons, while perfectly setting the tone of what is to come for the later seasons. The last half of this season might just be the shows peak and “Negro Y Azul” is one of the highlights in the entire season. This episode is fantastic from beginning to end. It has a very amusing cold open with a Spanish group of guitarists singing about Heisenberg and everything that has happened previously that has made him a force in the drug business. We get a hysterical scene with Walt and Jesse where Walt tries to motivate Jesse using a “blowfish” as a metaphor. Another great scene where Walt is dressed in full “Heisenberg mode” as he delivers something to Jesse’s friends at a museum. We get introduced to Ted, who becomes a very important character in the next few seasons. Jesse and Jane’s relationship starts to blossom. Oh, and Hank’s sub-plot is fantastic and ends with one of the biggest WTF moments of the entire show. It is also a big turnaround for Hank’s character.
25. Granite State (5.15)
“Granite State” had the difficult task of following Season 5 highlight “Ozymandias” while also setting up the finale of the entire show. Overall, it was actually pretty damn good. There was a fantastic Robert Forster cameo, we get clarification of how Walt ended up looking like a nerdy homeless person, and there’s an ending scene with Walter in the bar that perfectly sets up the finale. There are also two very emotional moments in this episode involving Walt and Jesse’s characters. The first of course is Jesse being forced to watch his ex-girlfriend get shot and killed right in front of him. Aaron Paul absolutely nailed that scene. The second being Walt talking to his son for the very last time on the phone at the bar. Both are very tragic moments and written and acted brilliantly by the crew. Also this was the last time we see Saul Goodman on the show.
24. Felina (5.16)
The finale of Breaking Bad is one that is not considered one of the best finales ever, but is certainly not considered a disappointment. It was not controversial like Lost or Seinfeld. The writers played it safe, and did not have Jesse kill Walt or Hal from Malcolm in the Middle wake up to find out everything was a dream. Everyone had a proper ending, and nothing was forced or unnecessary. This was like Walter White’s swan song, and he filled every last need before he eventually passed away. Many people think Walter got off to easy and had too proper of an ending after all the horrible things he has done in the past. But really did he? He never got a proper goodbye for his son, he died alone with really no one to care for him, he lost all the money he earned, and he will always be considered a horrible person. I think it would have been for the best he never decided to cook meth, but then again we wouldn’t have this amazing roller-coaster of a show…
23. …And the Bag’s in the River (1.03)
A lot of people like to debate which moment actually influenced Walter White the most into becoming “Heisenberg.” Some people say it was when he threw down the mercury fulminate and took back his money from Tuco. Some people say it was when he first decided to make meth. Others say it was even further back with his history with Gretchen and Elliott and the Gray Matter company. I like to think it was the moment in this episode where Walt murders someone for the very first time. This very well could be the moment when he first really “broke bad.” Making meth could have easily just been a phase that he could have gotten out of, but actually murdering someone in cold blood really changes someone. Walter never was the same after that. There isn’t really much to this episode besides the scenes with Walt and Crazy-8, but boy are they fantastic. This episode explores Walt’s character more than most others, and Bryan Cranston’s acting is absolutely flawless. It is always great to look back at the Walter White that actually cared, and in return we actually cared about him and the actions he decided to take.
22. End Times (4.12)
“End Times” is an episode that takes multiple views to really appreciate its brilliance. There are a handful of scenes that may not seem as necessary or important, but really they set up and foreshadow the finale perfectly. For example, the scene with Walt sitting by his pool spinning his gun on the table. (Look above) We don’t find out until after the finale just how great that scene is. What is not shown in the above photo where the gun is pointing is the lily of the valley plant that we see at the end of “Face Off.” This is incredible foreshadowing. “End Times” also delivers on the emotion and tension as we see fantastic scenes like Jesse almost finding out Walt was responsible for Brock being poisoned and almost shooting Walt at his own house. Walt has pretty gone insane and last all morals for himself. When rewatching episodes like this one, you really feel bad for Jesse because Walt is completely manipulating him.
21. 4 Days Out (2.09)
In the earlier seasons, Walt and Jesse actually made for a pretty great comedy duo. We all know how fantastic Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul’s chemistry were together, but not enough people talk about just how funny they were together at times. They really are an unlikely duo, but they make it work somehow. There isn’t one episode that showcases this better than 4 Days Out. This is a bottle episode for the most part, maybe not to the extreme as “Fly,” but about a half of the entire episode deals just with Walt and Jesse cooking meth in their RV. When they find out the engine has died, and they are basically stuck in the middle of the desert alone, it makes for some pretty great comedic moments, but also some very emotional moments. There are some scenes involving the two that make for some fantastic humor. Jesse is hilarious! When he thinks Walt is going to build a robot to get them out of their situation and when he gets wire confused with copper, those make for some of the funniest moments in the entire show. The cinematography is also stunning throughout and the music is great. In the last scene in this episode, we find out that Walt has gone into remission and the cancer is starting to go away. This is a huge moment for the show and Walt’s character. He figures out his problems aren’t gonna go away that quickly and he might be stuck in his screwed up life for longer than he hoped.
20. Peekaboo (2.06)
“Peekaboo” starts a run of 8 straight episodes to end Season 2 that I believe to be the peak of Breaking Bad. All 8 episodes are in my top 30, except one, “Over”, which happens to contain my favorite moment in the entire series. Breaking Bad never had a consistent run like this with such high-quality episodes, not even the back half of Season 4 or 5. This episode in particular feels like a short film. Jesse’s side-plot in this episode might just be his finest hour. We find out so much more about his character in this particular episode. We see the good in him. He is not like Walter. He is on the good side of morality, while Walter continued to get more and more psychotic We got a hint of how good Jesse is with kids back in Season 1 with his younger brother, but this episode really puts that front and center. Maybe Jesse just doesn’t wanna see any kids make the same mistakes he has and go down the same road he has gone. He knows the awful lifestyle that the younger kid in “Peekaboo” more than likely will lead to a life of drugs and crime, and it makes him sick to his stomach to even think about it. Once the child’s druggy parents come back home, it makes for some fantastic tension between the three of them, and leads to another WTF moment for the show involving an ATM machine.
19. Sunset (3.06)
Walt finally decides to start cooking again, and coincidentally things start to pick up in Season 3. Gus decides to give Walt a cooking partner, and we get introduced to Gale Boetticher. I always really liked Gale, and I thought David Constable did a magnificent job playing this character. On the other side of things, Hank is on the verge of catching Jesse who he finds out has the last RV that he has been searching for. “Sunset” takes a little while to build, but once it does, it doesn’t stop. The last 1/3 of this episode is as tense as the show has ever been. Walt and Jesse find themselves stuck inside their RV and Hank is in the outside trying to get in. He knows Jesse is in there, but is not aware of Walt. It’s ironic to think that at that point, he still doesn’t even know that Walt is the “Heisenberg” that he has been searching for all this time. To get out of the jam, Walt does one of the worst things he has ever done on the show and fakes a horrible accident by Marie to get Hank out of the situation and straight to the hospital. In return, Jesse is blamed for the incident and Hank takes out all his anger on Jesse in the next episode. This is a brilliant episode that really exposes how horrible Walt has become and how close he almost got to being caught by his brother-in-law. The last two sequences are fantastic where we see the RV get squished into one piece, and the final scene with Gus talking to the cousins about who was responsible for the death of Tuco. “Sunset” sets up the next episode perfectly, and I will of course get to that one later…
18. Salud (4.10)
This episode might just be ranked this high for one reason, that above photo ↑. And what a great moment it was. Gus Fring finally gets his revenge on the cartel and the leader who killed his business partner back in the day. I love how there are times when Breaking Bad has us rooting for the main villains, and even though Gus Fring is the main antagonist and trying to kill Walter White, we still root for him in this particular episode. The last 1/3 of this episode is shocking, extremely tense, and even electrifying at times. The side-plot with Walter White is pretty good as well, and we get some more fantastic acting by Bryan Cranston. We see him share scenes with his son and he explains to him more about his relationship with his own father, and how he basically never knew who he was, because he died when he was very young. It’s sad to think now, but was Walter Jr. better off never even knowing his father after finding out who he ended up becoming?
17. Pilot (1.01)
Putting everything else aside, when it all comes down to it, Breaking Bad is about a man turning from Mr. Chips to Scarface. That’s how Vince Gilligan pitched the show, and he sure delivered. The transformation of this character is like nothing we have ever seen before. It’s fascinating to watch the pilot over again after finishing the show just to see how much he has changed. In the pilot, we see a broken man who has lost all self-esteem and motivation for himself. He is extremely depressed, working a job he is extremely overqualified for. Ironically when he finds out he has lung cancer, something triggers inside of him. What if he cooks meth to leave his family money when he passes away? Well, the rest is history, and the pilot does a brilliant job breaking down the character of Walter White and illustrating why he is doing what he is doing. The pilot is heartbreaking at times, hilarious, and thrilling. It doesn’t slowly build to an epic climax. The first scene is extremely exciting and we get to see Bryan Cranston in whitey tighties once again. Any fan of Malcolm in the Middle would love that. I just can’t help but think of one thing..What if there was a bullet in that gun?
16. Say My Name (5.07)
This episode is ranked #16 for two reasons. The beginning and the end. Yes, there are still good scenes in between, but boy is the beginning and end fantastic. This episode contains one of, if not the best, cold opens in the entire series.
Walter White Heisenberg gives one of his best speeches in the entire series. His pride and ego is on full display and he shows who’s the new drug kingpin in town. But this episode is one of the best for another reason. It’s the last episode of the great Mike Ehrmantraut. Mike is easily one of the best characters in the series. It took me another viewing of the show to realize it. It wasn’t until Season 5 where the writers really got to explore the character the most, but in the previous two seasons he was still a scene stealer ripping witty one-liners, being a complete bad-ass, and giving one of the greatest speeches of all time: the half measures speech which I will get to later. Mike was a brilliant character portrayed perfectly by Jonathan Banks, and what Walter did to him at the very end of this episode is what made me finally turn against him. I was grudgingly ok with everything else horrible he did, but when he killed Mike, for basically no reason at all, I was pissed. R.I.P Mike, you will be missed…Wait, he is on Better Call Saul!! Ohh thank god.
Stay tuned for part 2 of my series of greatest Breaking Bad episodes (15-1)