[MAJOR SPOILERS: PLEASE DO NOT READ IF YOU ARE INTENDING TO WATCH – OR HAVEN’T YET FINISHED WATCHING – BREAKING BAD]
What’s the deal with Malcolm in the Middle’s dad? And why are there cult t-shirts with his face on? Not seen Breaking Bad? I suggest taking a look at my spoiler free retrospective. If you like what you see, sign in to Netflix and prepare for one of the best dramas television has to offer… Done that? Yeah, bitch! Now check out the top 12 moments of Breaking Bad (which, I might add, doesn’t include the last 8 episodes, which are airing shortly). It was a tough call to make (it was originally a Top 10 list – but I just kept thinking of more); so, here are some obvious and some not-so-obvious highlights of the show:
No. 12) Phoenix
It’s no surprise that the scene – in which Walt finds Jesse’s girlfriend, Jane, asphyxiating on her own vomit – is considered one of the most harrowing moments of the show. While I agree with that sentiment, and am still blown away by Bryan Cranston’s performance as he struggles with his own morality, there is a subtle moment beforehand that accentuates the horror of Jane’s death. It’s when Walt wanders into a bar and finds himself talking (unbeknownst) to Jane’s father. It is the short dialogue, of family coming above all else, that makes this scene such a stand out moment in the show – and one that is revisited later on, as Walt realises the significance of walking into that particular bar at that particular moment in time. Breaking Bad is about cause and effect, and this is a prime example (think planes colliding above the Albuquerque suburbs).
No. 11) …And The Bag’s In The River
If the fantastic opening to the show, and the follow up (an acid bath collapsing in a shower of gore) aren’t enough for you, the encounter between Walt and the drug dealer, Crazy 8, is up there as one of the finest moments in Breaking Bad. Especially as we see Walt, throughout the series, cutting his sandwiches the way Crazy 8 likes them – without the crust. The decision to kill a man is unthinkable to Walt (at this point in time). His first attempt – trapping Crazy 8 and his cousin in the poison gas filled RV – being one of self defence. Walt provides his captor with food, drink, a bucket to defecate in, and even hand sanitizer. He actually shares a beer or two with him, their dialogue light hearted, chatty – normal even. Which makes the realisation – that Crazy 8 is planning to kill him (thanks to a slither of broken plate) – all the more difficult to watch. Walt’s repeated apology as the life drains out of Crazy 8 is powerful stuff, and a dark turn for his character.
No. 10) I See You
Hank is such a great character (which is also a great homage to the actor, Dean Norris), and there are several moments throughout the series that truly show this. Losing his cool in a bar fight, dealing with post traumatic stress (think ‘human head on a tortoise’), losing his cool (again) with Jesse, and even those quiet moments as a brother-in-law to Walt. Hank could have his own list of Top Moments, but a memorable point in the show (which makes you realise it’s not messing around) is the shoot out between Hank and the Salamanca brothers. Perhaps not as big an impact on second viewing, but the certainty that Hank is not going to make it out alive (when viewing for the first time) is palpable. The cartel brothers are ruthless, and it’s satisfying – to say the least – to watch Hank take them down. I wonder if this will be a shared sentiment, when the inevitable confrontation between Hank and Walt transpires.
No. 9) Face Off
This is an obvious one to note, but the death of Gus Fring – a seemingly untouchable drug lord – is a highlight of the show, not only for its shock value, but also an indicator that Walt is free now. The undertaking of Gus’ death is ingenious – a culmination of factors that work in Walt’s favour: there’s Hector Salamanca’s hilarious scene with the DEA, as his helper spells out ‘SUCK MY’ on a phonetic chart; the attention this brings to Gus, who goes to confront the old man in the nursing home; the muted ‘ding’ of Hector’s bell, as Gus realises (too late) that it’s a set up. When Gus stumbles out of the room, there is a momentary feeling of ‘how the hell did he survive that?’ and ‘this dude is invincible’ – until the camera pans round. His half gone face is just as gruesome (more so, I think) on second viewing. Breaking Bad, in a sense, could have ended here – but fans know this can’t be the true ending. ‘Look at me, Hector.’
No. 8) Problem Dog
Problem Dog is perhaps an episode one would consider ‘filler” – meaning: it’s important, plot-wise, but not particularly special. That is, except for one fantastic performance by Aaron Paul (who plays Jesse Pinkman). The guilt of murdering the mild mannered and eccentric Gale Boetticher is proving too much for Jesse. On top of this, Walt is insisting that Jesse kills Gus, by poisoning his drink/food. Jesse returns to his old rehab group, using a ‘dog’ as a metaphor for killing Gale. It’s the therapist’s reminder – that no one is judging him – which pushes Jesse over the edge, as Jesse points out how ridiculous it is to just accept what he’s done. The scene is a poignant one – visceral, heart felt and real. Jesse has had some great scenes in the show – namely with Walt (Walt finding him in a meth den after Jane’s death/Jesse pressing a gun against Walt’s forehead) – but I believe this is one of his strongest performances. Bitch.
No. 7) Over
While a Hank/Walt confrontation is bound to rear its ugly head in the last 8 episodes of the show, there is an uncomfortable scene – along those lines – which occurs as early as the second series. It’s the first time I ever thought ‘Walt’s being a real asshole here’. The family have a celebration after Walt discovers his cancer is in remission. To this day, there is still ambiguity as to the reason behind Walt’s actions here, but perhaps it boils down to the amalgamation of crap Walt has been dealt – cancer, Crazy 8, dealings with Tuco, his marriage slowly unravelling at the seams. Either way it’s a good scene, and most certainly the first time Hank confronts (unknowingly of course) Heisenberg. Walt is perhaps a little tipsy (or maybe not). After sharing a tequila with Walt Junior and Hank, Walt proceeds to pour another for his son. After the third shot of Tequila, a tense moment is shared between Hank and Walt, as he declares “My son, my bottle, my house.” Is this an early foreshadowing of what the end will bring?
No. 6) Dead Freight
The last 10 minutes of ‘Dead Freight’ are noteworthy – a great set piece that puts an emphasis on how quickly the fifth season progresses. The train robbery is a tense moment, and brilliantly filmed. The ingenious plan (another one from Jesse, like ‘magnets’!) revolves around Jesse and Todd siphoning methylamine and water to and from a cargo tank. Walt tells them to keep going, even as the train gets dangerously close to moving again. They do it, but not without the shocking cliffhanger of the episode. A boy on a dirt bike sees them as the train departs. Todd – taking cue from Walt, that no one except them must know about the robbery – takes out a gun and kills the boy. It’s shocking- made more so by Jesse’s too little too late outburst of ‘No!’. The opening to the follow up episode is also worth noting – a montage of the dirt bike being destroyed – and the disposal of the body.
No. 5) Sunset
One of the closest calls Walt has to being discovered is in the third season, as Hank’s tenacity of the ‘Heisenberg case’ brings him tantalisingly close to uncovering his secret. How close – well, within a few feet. Hank is 99% certain he’s found the RV used for meth cooking, and tracks it down to a junk yard. Not only is this an incredibly tense moment, particularly on first viewing, but also a brilliant use of character. Walt and Jesse are trapped in the RV; they stall Hank by throwing out questions of legality (Jesse, at least, does). The owner of the junk yard, Joe, is especially great in this scene, pointing out the flaws (and questionable legality) of Hank’s intrusive search. The icing on the cake is when Hank receives a bogus call (conceived by Walt) informing him that his wife has been in an auto mobile accident. Hank’s change of emotion is masterful – first of shock, then of rage as he realises it was a lie. And we all know how things fare for Jesse after that.
No. 4) Say My Name
The last few episodes of season five (the first half of season five, just to clarify) build up momentum very quickly. So much so that it’s hard to take it all in at first – particularly how we should feel about certain characters and the situations they find themselves in. Aside from having the awesome opening – with Walt facing up to some hardened criminals and telling their leader to ‘Say my name!’, the ending comes as such a surprise that it is almost strange to witness. Walt confronts Mike, requesting the list of informants in prison (connected to Gus Fring). When Mike doesn’t give them to him (Mike, at this point, is getting the hell out of Albuquerque) Walt walks away from him… and turns around, only to shoot Mike point blank. At this point, we- as the audience – have gone through the rabbit hole. Can we even sympathise with Walt anymore? The last scene, of Mike sitting by a river bank, requesting he be left to die in peace, is a poignant one. Made all the more confusing (and a pointless waste of life) when Walt remembers that Lydia has the list of names all along. Goodbye, Mike.
No. 3) Crawl Space
The fifth season of the show portrays Walt’s transformation from a mild mannered chemistry teacher to a lethal drug kingpin. The real turning point in Walt’s psyche (in becoming ‘Heisenberg’) comes near the end of season four. Gus Fring has had enough of his employee – he is going to kill Walt’s brother-in-law, Hank – and if Walt tips off the authorities, it’s not only his own life that is forfeit, but also that of his entire family. The only way out is to up and leave (in a kind of unsolicited witness protection). One that will cost him a lot of money. So, when Walt goes to pick up his money – hidden under the house – and is then told it’s gone, he realises that everyone he loves and cares about is as good as dead: which leads to one of the most iconic scenes in the show – Walt laughing maniacally and staring up from a hole in the floor. Chilling stuff. This is the end of Walter White and the beginning of Heisenberg.
No. 2) Gliding Over All
Perhaps one of my favourite episodes of the entire series, Gliding Over All has several great scenes. The shocking prison montage, as Walt orders a hit on all of Gus Fring’s informants (it’s brutal, to say the least). Skyler showing Walt his ’empire’ – an uncountable amount of money hidden in safe storage. The excellent montage as Walt cooks meth (‘Crystal Blue Persuasion’ fittingly played in the back ground). But it’s the last scene – even before Hank realises who Walt really is (as Hank’s sat on the can) that is such a brilliant piece of filmmaking. Why? Because it’s so simple, and so effective. An uncertain amount of time has passed – Skyler and Walt have made up their differences after he quits – once and for all – the meth business. They are enjoying a relaxing afternoon by the pool – with Hank and Marie. Walt Junior is pushing baby Holly in a toy car. And it’s all filmed from afar, not focusing on any one character in particular… they’re happy now; Walt’s out – which surely means the Cartel are going to come busting through and shoot everybody. No? It’s a great scene, and perhaps the last time the family will truly be at peace.
No. 1) Salud
The Mexico scenes in season 4 are awesome – hands down. The final scene, as Gus poisons the (seemingly entire) Cartel, is a classic right there. But the best scene of the show happens across the border, back in Albuquerque. Walt has been badly beaten by Jesse – he’s cooped up in his flat, doped on painkillers and beer. It also happens to be Walt Junior’s birthday. He goes to visit his father, who is reluctant at first to answer. In what is perhaps Bryan Cranston’s best performance, he breaks down in front of his son, declaring it’s his fault. Fault for what? Well, Jesse of course – but also everything he has done in the last year of his life. When he tells his son – the next day – that he doesn’t want to be remembered like that (alluding to his own father), his son’s response is powerful, and says it all – ‘you were real’. And it’s true. It’s the rare occasion that the mild mannered, timid Walt of the very first episode creeps back (just momentarily). We know Walt’s still in there somewhere, behind the Heisenberg façade. However this show ends, I don’t suspect there’ll be a dry eye in the house. Felina.