(SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t watched Breaking Bad, and you want to, turn back now.)
So I just finished watching Vince Gilligan’s drama Breaking Bad, and it was quite the dark trip. For the uninitiated, the series follows Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who decides to cook crystal meth to secure his family’s financial future after he is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. While it probably didn’t crack my top 5 favorite shows, it would probably be in a top 10 list if I made one. Gilligan and his writing team do a fantastic job of telling compelling stories and showing Walt’s descent from standup family man to drug kingpin. And the performances of lead actors Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, RJ Mitte, Dean Norris, and Betsy Brandt make the writing come alive. While the series is still fresh in my mind, I wanted to share five of my personal favorite moments from it.
#5: The very last scene from Season 5, Episode 15, “Granite State”
The theme music of this series has always resonated with me. Its distinct Southwestern twang and dark nature fit the series to a T. At the end of the show’s penultimate episode, Walt decides to go back to his hometown one last time to address some unfinished business after seeing his former coworkers Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz being interviewed on Charlie Rose. Gretchen sums up the entire series’ arc when she says that the sweet, kind, brilliant Walter White that they once knew is gone. Then, for the first time in the entire series, we hear the extended theme music. It is a powerful moment that perfectly sets Walt’s final confrontations in the finale.
#4: It’s all over, Season 5, Episode 14, “Ozymandias”
Many call “Ozymandias” the best episode of the series, and for high-powered, high-tension drama, it’s tough to beat. In what is probably the most powerful scene from the episode, Walt’s son Walter Jr. finally discovers the full truth behind his father’s illicit activities, and his wife Skyler finally attempts to sever ties with him literally and figuratively, confronting him with a knife. The ensuing fight is dramatic enough, but the most powerful part for me is that brief, two-second moment (at about :28 of this video) where the camera shows Walter Jr. shielding his mother. There’s just something about that image that seared itself in my brain, something no parent hopes their child ever has to do.
#3: “¡Don Eladio está muerto!” Season 4, Episode 10, “Salud”
While he is one of the show’s primary antagonists, Gus Fring still provides many memorable moments. Such as when the cartel he works for summons him to Mexico to try to get Walt’s partner Jesse Pinkman to cook for them. Gus uses this opportunity to exact revenge on Don Eladio, the cartel boss who murdered his business partner years ago. Fring poisons Eladio and his gang with tainted liquor, and Eladio stumbles into his pool, dying in the same way Gus’s partner did. But my favorite part of this scene is at the end, where Gus shouts a warning in Spanish to anyone that remains in the cartel compound, warning them to leave in peace or fight him and die. Giancarlo Esposito delivers the lines perfectly, and they cap off a great sequence.
#2: Hank’s shootout with The Cousins, Season 3, Episode 7, “One Minute”
I wasn’t able to find a YouTube video of this scene, but it is an incredible two minute roller coaster. Walt’s brother-in-law, DEA agent Hank Schrader, finds himself in a shootout with two twins in the cartel Walt and Gus work for, and come at him and shoot to kill. Hank backs his car into one of them, incapacitating him. After being hit by several bullets from the other twin, he makes a fatal error and drops a hollowpoint bullet in the confrontation, which Hank recovers just as he is about to chop off his head with an ax, and kills him. The entire scene makes for an explosive ending to the episode. Vince Gilligan said that Hank’s character was initially just a frat-boy jock type, but this episode marks a turning point in his character’s evolution into something more.
#1: RUN, Season 3, Episode 12, “Half Measures”
One thing about Breaking Bad… it really knows how to end its episodes well. This one was probably the best. In it, Jesse goes to confront Gus’s dealers who have killed his girlfriend’s nephew. Before either of them can start shooting, Walt runs into the dealers with his car, shoots one of them in the head, and utters just one word to Jesse, “Run!” This scene sets off a chain of events that reshape the entire trajectory of Jesse and Walt’s working relationship with Gus, and puts them both in danger of being disposed of. This scene’s brilliant conveyance of high drama with a minimum of dialogue puts it at the top of my list of favorite moments in the show.
While these are my favorite moments, they only scratch the surface of the titan that is Breaking Bad. If you’re interested, I highly encourage you to embark on Walter White’s journey. You won’t soon forget it.