The 10 Best Episodes of ‘Breaking Bad’

5. “Fifty-One”

This one is probably best-remembered as the “Skyler tries to drown herself” episode. And it really is an excellent showcase for Walt’s desensitized wife, so utterly at her wits end that she attempts suicide in front of her family. It’s a character moment so potent, so hopeless, so sad that it lingers well after impact, as does Skyler’s conversation with Walt about keeping their kids out of the house, one of the best acting moments in the entire series. Skyler’s confession – that she doesn’t know what to do, that she’s a coward, that her only hope is that Walt’s cancer will come back – is harrowing stuff, and Anna Gunn proves that she’s as mighty a force as her male co-stars. Rian Johnson, back in the director’s chair, has a knack for pulling beautiful, layered performances out of his actors.

4. “Phoenix”

Jane’s death is one of Breaking Bad’s most seminal and memorable moments, when Walt’s humanity – already fragmented – fully seeps through the cracks. The imagery of her choking to death on her own vomit, and Walt simply letting her, is haunting. It’s also heartbreaking. In his inability to intervene, Walt kicks off a devastating series of events that coalesce in the following season, and proves once again how far he’ll go to keep his leash firmly tightened on Jesse. It’s foreshadowed in the earlier bits of this episode, which also gives us sad hope for Jesse, who dreams of a better life for himself, and who is so close to a happier tomorrow that he can never quite reach.

3. “4 Days Out”

Underrated television director Michelle MacLaren helmed this episode, the most visually striking of the series, and one its most thoroughly energetic and enjoyable. It’s essentially a road trip movie in episodic form. Walt and Jesse travel deep into the middle of nowhere in their Winnebago to cook meth free from worry or influence. But they accidentally drain the trailer’s battery and are essentially stranded. Hilarious banter ensues. Frankly, this episode mostly ranks so high because it has the funniest scene in the whole series. “A robot?”

2. “Face Off”

The fourth season finale gets its title from a literal moment. Gus Fring, the show’s best and most iconic villain, is blown in half by a carefully rigged bomb, but not before he gets his final moment: he struts from the burning room, adjusts his tie, then reveals the severity of his wounds. Exposed eye socket, singed skin. He drops dead.

It’s an admittedly cartoony moment, but Breaking Bad was never afraid to go big and bold from time to time, to forsake physics for moments that resonate emotionally and viscerally. Gus Fring’s exit is one of the series most instantly recognizable images, but it’s not the only memorable thing about “Face Off.” The episode is full of big moments, searing moments, capped off with one of the show’s most shocking revelations: that Walt poisoned, and almost killed, a child in order to manipulate Jesse. By this point, we know Walt is a depraved madman. But this is when we truly lose him, the depths of his depravity are exposed with a thud. How far is this man willing to go? The entire final season is an answer to that very question.

1. “Ozymandias”

Few episodes of television have ever reached the epic heights of “Ozymandias,” a true masterpiece of the episodic form. The third to last episode of the entire series starts with a bang – the death of Hank – and only gets more crazy from there. We also get Walt confessing to Jesse that he watched Jane die, Walt Jr. finally learning of his father’s treachery, and Walt kidnapping baby Holly and leaving her at a fire station before assuming a new identity. The episode is breathlessly paced, so chaotic and masochistic that you truly believe anything can happen at any moment. This is the third of Rian Johnson’s Breaking Bad episodes, both in general and on this list. It’s no surprise that the filmmaker made three of the show’s best installments. His grasp on character and tone, his ability to balance shock and awe without going overboard, the way he fine-tunes emotional beats; these are across-the-board Johnson trademarks, the work of a true directorial genius.

“Ozymandias” is television at its absolute best, a devastating, poetic piece of work that we’ll be dissecting for the rest of time.

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