Lists: Top 10 Breaking Bad Episodes (Part 2)

Welcome back, “Breaking Bad” fans…or addicts, if you prefer.  As you know, I’m celebrating the show’s latest (and final) Emmy win by revealing my 10 favorite episodes.  If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the first half of my list.  Just a reminder: there are spoilers below.

5.) “Crawl Space”

Season 4, Episode 11

CrawlSpace-smaller

New Mexico has always been a character in this show.  One of my favorite moments to feature the unforgiving landscape comes in “Crawl Space.”  Gus drags Walt into the desert, where he delivers a threat against Walt’s entire family.  We cut to a wide shot as clouds roll across the sun, casting wavy shadows on the two, just blots in that open expanse of sand.  Maybe I’m not watching the right shows, but I can’t think of any that would take the time to sit on a long take like this.  Walt returns from the desert with a plan to pay a “disappearer” to whisk his family to safety.  Crawling under the house where he keeps his money, he discovers that his wife has given it to her boss, who owes the IRS, in an effort to prevent investigations into her family’s finances.  What follows is an astounding synchronization of performance, sound, and camerawork.  Out of options, Walt can’t help but marvel at how the fates have aligned against him.  He laughs maniacally.  Anna Gunn as Skyler plays the moment wide-eyed, as though she’s just stumbled into a horror movie.  She has.  Dave Porter’s score pulses like half a heartbeat.  The phone rings, a warning siren.  Walt’s laughter subsides as the camera rises toward the ceiling, peering down at him, as he lies in the dirt under his house.  Like a grave.

4.) “Crazy Handful of Nothin'”

Season 1, Episode 6

Handful of Nothin-smaller

Now’s as good a time as any to talk about the revelation that is Bryan Cranston.  “Crazy Handful of Nothin’,” we meet Walter White’s alter ego, Heisenberg.  It’s not as on-the-nose as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but by the final couple seasons, the lines of delineation between Walt and Heisenberg practically disappear.  At the end of this episode, having made an example of Tuco, Heisenberg cooly ambles out of his compound.  Once he’s reached safety, the facade falls and Walt is overcome by adrenaline.  Shaking and yelling, spit flying from his mouth, it’s a testament to Cranston’s abilities, but it also illustrates the creators’ willingness to maintain a human core.  “Breaking Bad” isn’t populated by super heroes or super villains.

“You got one part wrong, this is not meth.”

3.) “Fly”

Season 3, Episode 10

fly_red-smaller

This might be a controversial pick.  There isn’t another “Breaking Bad” episode like it.  After finding a “contaminant” (a house fly) in the meth lab, Walt is convinced that he and Jesse must go on lockdown until it’s eliminated.  It’s basically a two-man play, as we spend the entirety of this episode in one location.  Rian Johnson’s aggressive yet never intrusive camerawork keeps things from feeling too stagey.  (If that name sounds familiar, Johnson wrote and directed “Brick,” “Looper,” and he’s behind Star Wars: Episode VIII.)  I love that we have an opportunity to delve deeper into these characters and witness them learning more about each other.  During the episode, Jesse drugs Walt to calm him down.  Less than sober, Walt nearly reveals a terrible secret that could have massive ramifications.  It’s as tense as anything in the show, and it’s done without a gun, an axe, or exploding meth.

2.) “Half Measures” / “Full Measures”

Season 3, Episode 12 / 13

half_measures

I’m cheating here by lumping these two together, but I think it’s warranted.  “Half Measures” finds Jesse trying to avenge the murder of a former partner.  Walter is a wet blanket, not wanting to rock the boat with Gus.  The episode contains a series highlight:  Mike, one of Gus’ enforcers, tells Walt about his time as a beat cop, specifically when he allowed an abusive husband to return home to his wife.  It’s a stirring example of the writers’ talent with dialog and the show’s ability to breathe life into even minor characters.  Jonathan Banks nails it, delivering loaded language without a scrap of emotion.  When Heisenberg finally rears his head, it’s incredibly satisfying.  “Full Measures” deals with the fallout of the previous episode.  It’s a thrilling chess match between Walt and Gus, culminating in a stunning cliffhanger–a strategy the show rarely used.  The episode also illustrates the visual prowess of “Breaking Bad.”  A meeting between Walt and Jesse takes place at a closed arcade, where flashing lights gleam through sheets of plastic.  Who woulda thought an arcade could look grim!

1.) “Ozymandias”

Final Season, Episode 6

ozymandias

And here we are, my #1 “Breaking Bad” episode.  The primary reason – and there are many – that “Ozymandias” is so brilliant is that it delivers the show’s climax.  So many shows structure their last season so that everything builds toward a final episode.  Sorry “Lost,” gotta ding you again.  Vince Gilligan and his collaborators, Emmy-winning writer Moira Walley-Beckett and director Rian Johnson, bring swift and brutal retribution to Walter White as all his chickens come home to roost.  Over a year spent building his empire and trying to keep his family safe, and it’s all destroyed in less than a day.  Another element of this episode, indeed the last few episodes, that I appreciate is the way the writers re-incorporate elements from early in the show’s run.  Here, I’m referring to Walt’s admission to Jesse, “I watched Jane die.”  It’s truly shocking, yet shouldn’t come as a surprise.  So many hallmark moments here:  Hank’s execution, the knife fight, Walt rolling the vestiges of his wealth through the desert, his final phone call to Skyler.

“Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.

I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of “Breaking Bad” with these two posts, and I hardly sang the praises of Aaron Paul.  For a strong showcase of the actor’s talent, I’d suggest “Problem Dog” from season four. Coincidentally, that’s probably my favorite season – much as I hate picking one…feels like choosing a favorite child – yet only one of its episodes made the cut.

Once again, here’s the complete list:

1.) “Ozymandias”

2.) “Half Measures” / “Full Measures”

3.) “Fly”

4.) “Crazy Handful of Nothin'”

5.) “Crawl Space”

6.) “…And the Bag’s in the River”

7.) “Dead Freight”

8.) “Felina”

9.) “Pilot”

10.) “Grilled”

Do you agree or disagree with my list?  What are you favorite episodes of “Breaking Bad?”  Comment below!

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2 thoughts on “Lists: Top 10 Breaking Bad Episodes (Part 2)

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