Breaking Bad has been a series to help define modern television. It is one of the smartest series to exist to date. The writing is impeccable, bringing a myriad of literary techniques to the screen. Not only is the dialogue memorable, but so is the vast amount of symbolism. The character development is of such high caliber that it becomes obvious how the characters changing has also influenced the show changes. With that being said, we felt there were certain episodes that changed the course of the series in the most dramatic ways. Here are our Series Defining Episodes:
7. Blood Money
“Tread lightly.” The quote still sends shivers down my skin. This is the turning point of the series; Hank had just gotten the epiphany (or rather, the epoophany) that Walt had been the Heisenberg all along. Instead of quietly searching through the evidence for any proof, or telling anybody at the DEA, his pride leads him to confront Walt after Walt asks him about the LoJack he sloppily placed on the Chrysler 300. He decks Walt in the face and lets out all his anger to him. We can see the hurt and anger in Hank’s face, but Walt is still calm and in command. He advises Hank that he needs to drop the case, because he has no idea what the Heisenberg is capable of. It sets the rest of the season in motion, and truly marks the beginning of the downfall of the empire – all ironically when Walt is finally out of it. It’s also the end of Jesse and Walt’s relationship. Jesse knows that Walt killed Mike, the only true father figure to him through the series, and we realize that Walt has no power over anybody anymore. He pleads Jesse to believe that his hands are clean, because he needs him to.
Gus Fring represented a new type of “bad guy.” Unlike Krazy 8 and Tuco, Gustavo Fring didn’t have to be the villain. Gus gave Walt several opportunities to be a good asset to the business, and Walt was the one that proved to be the the sloppy, unpredictable one. It’s a theme that is consistent through The Walking Dead comics – it’s the realization that maybe our protagonist isn’t a good guy. A lot of fans were polarized by this because Gus Fring (an oddly charismatic character) didn’t have to be the villain, but Walt’s arrogance and greed put Gus in a situation with no choice in the matter. Walt poisons a little boy and throws Jesse right into the fire to save his own ass. He even literally uses Hector Salamanca to do his dirty work in killing Gus. “Face Off” marks Walt’s fall into villainy. While he does what he does out of the fear of his family’s safety, Walt proves that it’s little more than a pissing contest to him, telling Skyler “I won” after the deed was done.
5. One Minute
This episode is about much more than Hank’s parking lot stand-off with the Salamanca cousins. It marks the turning point for when Hank stopped being a jerk off and became a hero that we all rooted for. Hank Schrader was simply caught in the web that Gus Fring and Walter White had weaved for him. Hank was the sacrificial lamb Gus gave to the cartel hitmen, Marco and Leonel Salamanca, or so it seemed. The episode really showed us that Gus Fring is not simply your neighborhood “Chicken Man.” He is a manipulator, and with the botched attempt at agent Schrader’s life, he causes the death of a major cartel capo. More importantly though, this episode marks Hank’s true cross into lawlessness. The beatdown that he gives Jesse can be interpreted as his frustration that a junkie got the better of him, and not as much being about Marie. As we see later in the series, Hank hates to lose and will bend the law pretty far to make sure that he doesn’t. “One Minute” also captures the tragedy of Jesse; while Jesse undergoes even more tragedy, he never words his feelings quite as honestly as in this episode.
“Phoenix” was defining in so many ways. Walt just missed the birth of his daughter. He claims to be doing everything he does for his family for the entire series, but it is a rare occurrence when he is actually there for his family. Missing Holly’s birth continued Walt’s dead-beat daddy routine. Walt Jr. sets up a website for Walt’s cancer treatment, savewalterwhite.com. It highlights Jr.’s kind heart and what he thinks of his dad, or probably the man he used to know. But as so well stated in this episode, Walt is not the man he used to be. He mars the point of Jr.’s website and allows Saul to use it as a money laundering technique for the meth business. Walt will continue to ruin nice things for the sake of the money he makes. Most importantly, “Phoenix” defines the series because of what happens to Jane Margolis, Jesse’s girlfriend. In the duration of the episode, Jane lies to her father about using again, lies to him about seeing Jesse, blackmails Walt into giving Jesse his fair share of money, and helps Jesse shoot up a combo of meth and heroin. She shoots up the mixture herself. Walt goes to Jesse’s house while the two are both passed out due to the drugs. Walt tries to wake up Jesse, seemingly to talk about his drug abuse, and in the process of shaking him, causes Jane to roll onto her back. She begins to vomit and choke. Walt looks on at her with his hand covering his mouth. He knows he has every opportunity to roll her on to her side, but instead he chooses to let her choke and die on her own vomit. This act, or rather, lack of act, set in motion not only the pain that Jesse endures from Walt, but the fact that Walt is willing to let go of anybody as long as it benefits him.
3. Dead Freight
“Dead Freight” is the episode that really changed the game. Not only was it masterfully pieced together, it influenced the rest of the series up until the tonight’s finale. With a serious lack of methylamine, Walt, Jesse and Mike devise a plan using Lydia to get what they need. According to Lydia, there is “an ocean” of the methylamine in trains that run in the northern part of New Mexico. The three men plan to rob the train, replacing it with water to make up for the weight difference when the train is weighed. With Todd, the worker from Vamanos Pest, in tow, they are able to stop the train with a road block. Todd is at the top of the train with the hose to release the water, Jesse is on the bottom of the train to release the methylamine, Mike is radioing Walt to tell him what is happening at the front of the train and Walt is counting off the gallons. The train starts moving with Todd still on the top and Jesse still on the tracks. In the end everything goes off without a hitch. Except that Walt made it clear to Todd that no one can know what they did. So after their short celebration, they turn and see a young teenage boy on his motorbike. Todd without hesitation raises his gun and shoots the boy, killing him. The episode ends there, with Jesse screaming “No!” but the effects of that one action have continued to take their toll. Jesse got out of the meth-game because of it, Todd has been revealed to be an even bigger piece of trash since, Walt killed Mike, and Hank is dead. And it all leads to Walt’s stupidity of trusting Todd at the train heist in the first place.
2. The Pilot
In a 45-minute period, we meet a normal high school chemistry teacher, Walter White, who turns into a meth cook. We saw his life quickly spiral out of control in one episode. He is diagnosed with cancer, turns 50, quits his part-time job, goes on a meth-lab bust with his DEA brother-in-law, reunites with an old student of his, and decides to cook meth with said student, Jesse Pinkman aka Cap’n Cook. Walt and Jesse cook meth together, and Jesse takes it to his friend Krazy-8, who was part of the meth bust Walt was a part of. Krazy-8 is upset with Jesse about the bust for leaving his cousin, Emilio to be caught by the cops, so he questions the high quality of the cook. Jesse is forced to take the two druggies out to the desert to the RV he and Walt bought to cook meth in. Jesse lets Walt know they are in danger, promptly trips and Krazy-8 and Emilio beat him up badly. Then they force Walt to teach them how to cook the meth he made. Instead, he uses red phosphorus to kill them. Or at least just Emilio. There are so many decisions made in this episode that could have avoided the decay of this man everything he touches. Without being on the car ride with the DEA or seeing Jesse, or decided to cook meth at all, Walt may be dead because of cancer, or he may be alive and just in debt. But for such a prideful man, we know that he couldn’t live with constantly being at the bottom of the food chain. His pride alone set in motion the consequences of the rest of Breaking Bad.
If you’re a family member of Walt’s, sorry, you don’t get any free trips to Belize. After several offers to off his brother-in-law, Walt’s twisted sense of morality keeps him from taking out his one real threat to him and his empire. Picking up at the end of the shootout that began in “To’hajiilee,” we see a very weak Walter White pleading the Uncle Jack and the Aryans to spare Hank’s life (oh, and Gomey’s dead already). This is the same man who was a hardened criminal that ordered Jack to murder ten men in prison. In a panic, Walt offers Jack and crew $80 million to turn their back. The Aryans counter Walt’s offer by killing Hank and taking all of him money for themselves. Walt’s two treasures are his family and his money – and in just one segment, they are both stripped from him. It’s not as satisfying as I thought it would be, and is instead terrifyingly tragic. In a panic to make his family disappear with the remainder of the cash that Todd convinced Jack to leave him with, Skyler deduces that Hank is dead and that it is Walt’s fault. When Skyler and Walt get in a tuft over the kitchen knife, Walter Jr. becomes the man that must protect the family from the man that protects this family (cue Inception music. Baauumm!). Not to mention Walt’s ultimate sacrifice of absolving Skyler and saying goodbye to baby Holly, who he realizes he does not even know due to his exploits of the Heisenberg. Plot aside, there is so much symbolism in this episode, most of it stemming from the first cook. The call-backs to the Pilot remind us of a simpler time, a simpler lie. Walt has been broken by Hank’s murder, and in turn, his wife and child have abandoned him. “Ozymandias” does a superb job of making a full-circle to the beginning of the series. Not too be hyperbolic, but this is one of the best episodes of any drama. Ever.
Tonight is the last episode of the Breaking Bad. How will our lives go on? There is nothing on cable as high of caliber of writing. Vince Gilligan, sir, you spoiled us. Thank you for such a rollercoaster of emotion through your writing. “Felina” an anagram for finale and the chemical symbols for Iron, Lithium and Sodium or as the internet has deemd it, Blood, Meth, Tears will surely by the final piece of the puzzle of “Growth, Decay, Transformation.” Be sure to read our recap and review later tonight.
All media credited to AMC Television unless otherwise stated.