The Best of ‘Bad’

09.28.13

The Daily Beast Staff Picks Their Favorite ‘Breaking Bad’ Moments (VIDEO)

The hit AMC drama ends Sunday night. As they get ready to say goodbye to ‘Breaking Bad,’ members of The Daily Beast staff remember the best scenes from the show.

Walter White might not be the kindest, gentlest of souls. But boy are we going to miss him.

We’re going to miss Saul, too. And Todd. And Jesse, bitch. Heck, we’re even going to miss Skyler. Breaking Bad ends Sunday night, and the staff at The Daily Beast is positively distraught. After five years of concerning levels of obsession, what are we going to do without the brilliant AMC drama?

For now, though, we reminisce. We asked the staff what their favorite Breaking Bad moment or memory was. Here’s what they had to say.

(Come for the ode to “yeah, bitch,” stay for a senior writer’s jealousy-inducing account of his day on set for the shooting of one of the show’s best scenes.)

The Plane Crash

Remember the Season 2 finale, “Seven Thirty-Seven,” when two planes collided over Albuquerque and the scene of charred demolition that we’d been teased with all season suddenly had context? That’s my moment. I was a couple of years late to the series. I had just started dating someone. He really liked television, I was pretty sure I liked him, so binge-watching Party Down and Breaking Bad had become our dating ritual. And then came the second season’s finale, and there I was crying on his couch. We’d seen death and destruction and selfish greed at the hands of Walt before, but this was the first visual evidence we had that Walt’s desire to earn some quick cash “for his family” would leave a wake of hundreds of bodies. I don’t really need to add that the episode, as well as the series, has been consistently brilliant in so many ways. The best show in history. It will always have a place in my own personal history as the show that made my then-new relationship suddenly, awkwardly emotional.

-Lauren Streib, assistant editor

Aaron Paul’s Performance

What are we going to do without Breaking Bad? No series, in the history of series, has ever whizzed like a rabid dog on 92 percent pure meth toward its conclusion in such gripping fashion. Unlike other classic shows such as The Sopranos, which lumbered clumsily toward its series finale, every single damn episode of Breaking Bad during its final (half) season has been a barnburner. But the thing I’ll miss most about the AMC series? Aaron Paul. No one, in the history of TV shows, has ever loved their own show—or perhaps anything, for that matter—as much as Aaron Paul loves Breaking Bad. Bitch. Every single week, he treats us to emoji-fied tweets featuring everything from guns to smiles, as he gets us psyched up for the episodes. He tweets—and often talks during interviews—like Jesse Pinkman, hurling his trademark “bitch’s” and “yo’s” out with glee. For the finale, Paul organized a charity auction where a couple of lucky fans will be picked up at LAX in the show’s famed RV by Paul and Bryan Cranston, and driven to a finale party. And Paul, along with his real-life BFF, Cranston, has a penchant for going so far as dressing up as other characters from the show and making public appearance, ranging from Walter White to his dead girlfriend on the show, Jane. Also, this. Aaron Paul, we salute you. Bitch.

-Marlow Stern, senior film and music editor

That One Famous Line

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Mine is when he says something like, “I'm the one who knocks on the door.” You know which one I mean?

-Paula Szuchman, managing editor

Fo’ Real

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My favorite moment is when Gus's face falls off.

-Elena Scotti, photo editor

Walt Saves Jesse

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I'm assuming someone has done the Gus-getting-his-face-blown-off moment? That one's my favorite. But, runner up: Walt running over two rival drug dealers in his Aztek (the ugliest, funniest car ever) just as shit was about to hit the fan with Jesse. Andrea's little brother, 11-year-old Tomas, had been murdered earlier that evening, just after Jesse made Gus promise not to use children as part of his drug ring anymore. Jesse wanted to kill the two men who had made Tomas shoot and kill Jesse's friend Combo. Overemotional, Jesse watches them from the darkness of his car, then gets out and walks straight up to them, gun in hand. The dealers see Jesse, pull their own guns out, and approach him, too—and you know Jesse's going to die if those men shoot. He's never killed anyone! But then, out of nowhere, in zooms Walt and slams straight into those guys, killing one and leaving the other injured. Walt grabs a gun and shoots the surviving one through the head, turns to Jesse and says, "Run." At this point in the show, I was still mostly on Walt's side and this moment was stunning enough to make me believe Walt was being heroic (he wasn't). A "YEAH, BITCH" sort of moment.

-Melissa Leon, reporter

But Can Walt Sing?

Breaking Bad? Sorry, but I only watch reality singing-competition shows. Who needs drama and violence when your DVR is filled with newly discovered talent performing Motown’s greatest hits and Whitney Houston ballads?

-Adrienne Didik, copy editor

Todd Crosses the Line

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I was a late arrival to Breaking Bad—and my roommate, Marcella, got into the show long before I did. I would hear her watching it, gasping in shock or excitement, but I hardly ever watched it with her. Until the Season 5 episode “Dead Freight,” that is. I remember clearly, we were sitting in our living room, she was on the couch and I was at my computer, filing an article for this very website and only half paying attention. When Jesse Plemons as Todd (now infamous to me) first came on screen, I looked up from my story and said, “Oh hey, that’s Landry from Friday Night Lights,” like I was so excited to see an old friend. By the actual train heist, I was riveted. But since I hadn’t really seen the show before and seemed to think Jesse Plemons was Landry forever, I was not prepared for the episode’s final, devastating scene. When the kid on bike showed up, I said, “Ooooh, what are they going to do, they’re stuck, it’s a kid!” And Marcella said, “Um, they’ve killed kids before.” I started to answer, “Yeah, but not like a little kid and not Landry.” I was too late—Todd had shot the kid point-blank, killing him, an image that still haunts me. After that, I was hooked.

-Caroline Linton, reporter

Walt and Jesse’s Moral Tango

Season 2 of Breaking Bad is my favorite. The fact that Walter’s life is no longer gut-wrenchingly depressing makes the show much more enjoyable to watch. And while he and Jesse are starting to become bigger players in the meth trade, Heisenberg Blue hasn’t quite hit empire status yet, allowing us to get the occasional glimpse into the depraved, frightening lives of meth heads before Jesse and Walt become too far removed from any of their customers. I also like this season because there is a strong focus on Jesse, my favorite character. Walt and Jesse’s overlapping yet opposing transitions from good to bad and vice versa are very apparent in this season. Jesse’s downward spiral into heroin addiction, sparked by the death of his friend Combo and compounded by the overdose of his girlfriend and using partner, Jane, reveal that this wiseass, tough-guy drug dealer is actually nothing more than a sensitive, struggling kid. I really want to believe that Walt rescuing Jesse from the crack house and checking him into rehab was motivated solely by a genuine concern for Jesse’s well-being, but you never know with that guy. After all, Jane was the one who introduced Jesse to heroin in the first place, his habit nearly costing Jesse and Walt a $1.2 million deal with Gus Fring, and look what Walt did to Jane. Maybe Walter really does think of Jesse as a son and that rescue scene was just one of those rare moments in Breaking Bad where Walt shows he might still be human. Or maybe he only saved Jesse’s life so they could get back to cooking. Time is money, after all.

-Caitlin Dickson, reporter

Spoiler Phobes

Fellow copy editor Lisa DeLisle and I, who are both fans of the show but both not caught up to the final season, would argue over who had to read the reviews that contained spoilers. (I think at one point we even made a homepage editor put in the author’s corrections.)

-Alessandra Rafferty, copy editor 

“Fly”

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My inner Abed started worrying when I realized that “Fly” was going to be a bottle episode. As always with Breaking Bad, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this episode. Despite its limited scope, “Fly” still managed to advance the plot, while reflecting on past events. This episode was one of the rare moments where we saw a vulnerable Walt, who at least felt some guilt over the things he had done. In a moment of extreme vulnerability induced by the sleeping pills Jesse slipped him, he almost confesses to being in Jesse’s apartment on the night Jane died. Thankfully, the episode also had its funny moments, for example Walt falling from the railing as he’s trying to kill the fly. All in all, one of Breaking Bad’s best moments.

-Chancellor Agard, entertainment intern

Binge-Watching Hangovers

Remember when Walt gets really angry and stomps a garbage can in the bathroom of a bar? Oh wait, that was me. The bartender was mean. I was working the night shift, so for two months I binged on the show after midnight and again when I woke up. I wore my glasses more. I had dreams of hydrofluoric acid. It was a dark, dark time, yo.

-Sujay Kumar, senior homepage editor

“Crystal Blue Persuasion”

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Three months of the empire business, condensed into four minutes, set to “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James and the Shondells. Breaking Bad has done a lot of great montages, but none better than this. After five-and-a half seasons of chaos, Heisenberg finally has a meth empire that runs like clockwork, from production to distribution, and a pile of money in a storage locker that even an A-1 car wash could never launder. By the end of the sequence, however, it’s clear that cooking meth has become for Walter like any other job: monotonous.

-Tom Flynn, books intern

Team Hank

This last run of episodes clinched Hank as my favorite Breaking Bad character. Dean Norris's solid work this season is even more impressive in contrast to the jovial jock that Hank was in the pilot, making a patronizing birthday toast to Walt: “You've got a brain the size of Wisconsin ... but we're not going to hold it against you.” Walt and Hank are painted as opposites; so if thinking man Walt's destiny was to become a man of action, alpha male Hank's was to become more cerebral. Homicidal twins, physical therapy, and an obsessive mineral collection later, that's exactly what happened. Hank completed his transformation only in his final moments, when he understood something Walt could not: that Uncle Jack “made up his mind 10 minutes ago” about killing him.

Na zdorovje, Hank.

-Alex Chancey, associate video producer

My Day on the ‘Breaking Bad’ Set

My favorite Breaking Bad scene is my favorite for one simple, selfish reason: I watched Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston, and Aaron Paul film it on set in Albuquerque back in the summer of 2011, live and in person.

It also happens to be one of the series' most dramatic, pivotal moments: that perfectly calibrated confrontation between Jesse Pinkman and Walter White in the White family's darkened home that eventually aired in the middle of "End Times," Season 4's penultimate episode. It's the one in which Jesse, who thinks Walt poisoned Brock, pulls a gun on Walt—and Walt somehow convinces Jesse that it was actually Gustavo Fring who slipped Brock the ricin.

The scene sums up so much of what makes Breaking Bad great: the skewed father-son relationship between Walt and Jesse; Walt's accelerating moral decay; the way that action—in this case, the killing of Fring, which came one episode later—always stems from character.

But as I learned that day in Albuquerque, greatness doesn't come easy, even to Gilligan & Co. Below is my original account of the shooting of that scene. Some of this material made it into the 2011 Newsweek feature I wrote about the show; much of it didn't.

***

All I can think is how lucky I am to be on set this particular day. The scene they're shooting, a seven-page, 11-minute behemoth, is perhaps the most pivotal, and emotional, of the season: a confrontation in the Whites’ shadowed home, where Walt has been hiding out, between Jesse and his former teacher, who Jesse believes has just committed an unpardonable crime.

"I don't know what you're thinking coming here," Walt snaps, pacing like a caged beast. "Christ, what does it matter. Everything ... it's all coming to an end."

Fuming, Jesse keeps a watchful eye on Walt, but he doesn't speak, or move.

"Do you even know what's happening?" Walt shouts. "The full scope of what's happening?"

When Aaron Paul saunters up, I'm hanging out in the video village—a bank of monitors arrayed before several rows of folding chairs—with three of Breaking Bad's key behind-the-scenes players: Michael Slovis, the director of photography; Holly Rice, Gilligan's longtime girlfriend; and Susie Fitzgerald, AMC's senior vice president of Scripted Development and Current Programming, who flew out from Los Angeles for four hours to "check in" on the show's progress. Paul, a boyish actor with elastic features and searing blue eyes, has spent the past three hours breaking down on camera, shooting the scene dozens of times from every imaginable angle. No wonder he's tired of crying.

"I'm not even going to be able to speak tomorrow," he says. "Seriously. My vocal cords are shredded."

"It's an amazing scene," Fitzgerald says.

"One of the big moments," adds Slovis.

"I know," says Paul. "This is one of the most intense scenes I've had on the show."

He seems pleased with how it's going, as well he should be. The only problem is that Bryan Cranston and Vince Gilligan are not. Back at the White household, the crew, which started work before sunrise, is lighting the set for the second half of the scene—the part where Jesse pushes Walt to the floor and accuses him of doing something very, very bad. But first the director and his star have to figure out how to play the moment, and right now, they’re not agreeing on much. Fortunately, I’m wearing a headset that lets me eavesdrop from 200 feet away.

“I'm going to get up, stand up, and be face to face with Jesse,” Cranston says. “We're going to have this conversation as men.” Earlier, Cranston told me he was feeling “all right,” but he seems a little fried, which is understandable. Yesterday, he missed his flight from Toronto, where he’s playing the lead villain in Total Recall, and wound up taking a $10,000 private jet to Las Vegas that didn’t put him back in New Mexico until four this morning, a mere two hours before he was due in makeup.

“I’m not sure,” says Gilligan. “I was thinking we’d try it with you flat on your back?”

“But that seems counterintuitive to me,” Cranston responds. “It doesn’t seem supported. It skews the text.”

Initially, their argument strikes me as somewhat academic: a technical debate about where Walt and Jesse should be positioned in relation to the camera and each other. And that’s what it starts as, even for Cranston and Gilligan. But as the dispute develops, it becomes clear that each change of position and posture triggers a change of tone, and, ultimately, a change of meaning. For the next hour, Cranston lies supine on the kitchen floor; in that pose, he's forced to absorb Jesse’s rage with whimpering passivity. For an hour or so after that, he sits erect, his chin tilted upward toward his accuser—defiant, even cunning, in his denials. The speed of the dialogue shifts. “It doesn't have to be loud, but it has to be fast, fast, fast,” says Gilligan, snapping his fingers. At one point, Cranston tries, in vain, to deliver his lines with one ear pressed to the floor. Finally, after seven hours of near-constant recalibration—and scores of full-throttle, throat-shredding takes—Gilligan, Cranston, and Paul arrive at a configuration, and a rhythm, that feels right.

Later, Gilligan will tell me that this “was the hardest day” he’s “ever had as a director.” After 14 hours on set, I’m inclined to believe him. “It was emotionally exhausting for the actors, and it was emotionally exhausting for me, too,” he says. “I thought I understood what the scene was about. Then we got halfway through and I started to get lost.” Even so, it doesn’t take long after Cranston’s breakthrough—Walt now slides up and leans on his elbows, his legs splayed out before him—for the scene to click. Earlier, he seemed either too much like the person he was at the start of the series, or too much like the person he’s supposed eventually to become. But from his new, equivocal position, Cranston is able to flicker—organically, believably—between fear, resignation, and resolve, like the person Walt is. 

As I watch the final take, I realize that the whole endless exercise was ultimately about one simple thing: ensuring that this monster Gilligan and Cranston are creating still feels as human as possible. That each moral modulation feels real. “It’s engrossing when Walt surprises us," Gilligan says. "It was engrossing to see how dark he would go in the early days, and nowadays it’s engrossing to find these moments of humanity when he’s not quite so dark after all. To see the moments of change as they happen.”

-Andrew Romano, senior writer