The 10 Best Episodes of ‘Breaking Bad’

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10 years ago tomorrow, a show with no discernible qualities of longevity aired on AMC, a network that was only a few months into its first tentpole series, Mad Men, and not yet an established ratings and awards player. Breaking Bad arrived without much fanfare; it was midseason, January, a dreary time of year for a show so propulsive and colorful. And though immediately critically acclaimed – Bryan Cranston won a Best Actor Emmy for the first season – it took years to crystalize as a full-blown hit. Now, 10 years later, Breaking Bad is one of the most beloved and valued series of all time, a behemoth that cleared the way for a slew of imitators, and redefined what Golden Age television looks and feels like.

To celebrate the show’s 10-year anniversary, we’re counting down the 10 best episodes it ever produced.

10. “Say My Name”

Mike is one of the best characters in Breaking Bad history, a legitimate badass through-and-through. He’s hard-worn, but sympathetic. Terrifying, yet tender. Thanks to Better Call Saul, we’ve learned so much more about the lovable killer. But in this memorable Breaking Bad episode, we say goodbye to the man who so challenged our tendencies. Walt’s cold-blooded offing of Mike is hardly surprising this late in the game, and the build-up was certainly there. When Mike refuses to name his men in prison, you know he’s a goner. Still, the framing of the moment – in the middle of a sun-starched patch of long grass, near a churning pond – and Mike’s final words (“let me die in peace”) give it all a melancholy beauty.

9. “Felina”

Breaking Bad is that rare series with a perfect ending. Every loose end is neatly tied, every character winds up right where they should: Skyler safe and far away, Jesse alive and free, Walt dead and gone. Creator Vince Gilligan wrote and directed “Felina,” the show’s swan song, and it’s a masterful capper to his masterpiece. We get the satisfaction of Jesse killing Todd, of Walt finally admitting to Skyler that he did everything for himself, and of  Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” closing out the series as Walt bleeds to death on the floor.

8. “Fly”

A controversial pick, but I’m sticking with it. “Fly,” Breaking Bad’s infamous bottle episode, is actually the result of a budgetary issue. Forced to slash costs, the writers got resourceful, setting an entire episode in the meth lab under Gus Fring’s laundry. Walt, on shift, spots a fly and fears it will contaminate his product, which sends him off the deep end. He ropes Jesse into helping him capture the fly, and as they go about setting traps, they talk – really talk. Walt reflects on life, death, and coincidence. He comes dangerously close to telling Jesse about the true circumstances of Jane’s death, before he’s interrupted with a fly-catching opportunity. Director Rian Johnson kicked off his lauded Breaking Bad career with “Fly,” and his craftiness is ever-present; he imbues the episode with innovative camera techniques, lingers on his actors, and keeps what might otherwise be a stale, drab episode, riveting from top to bottom.

7. “Pilot”

As perfect as the finale is, the pilot is even better. So much happens, and so boldly. That imagery of Walt in his tightie whities. The gas masks in the desert. Two men held captive in the back of a Winnebago. Breaking Bad burst onto the scene loaded with potent imagery, moments that were instantly iconic. The pilot is great the way all good pilots are: it’s a sample size of the show to come. A wacky, funny, beautiful, innovative, scrappy but defiant show that had a lot to say, and knew exactly how to say it.

6. “Crawl Space”

The final moment of this episode is seared into our brains forever. Walt, submerged in the crawl space where he’s been hiding his money, comes home to discover that Skyler has given it to her lover Ted – who, earlier in the episode, suffers a terrible fall. Walt, overwhelmed by the news, and by the walls closing in around him, starts manically laughing. It’s terrifying, monstrous, and Bryan Cranston has never been better at exemplifying Walt’s mania.

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