As we gear up for Sunday’s series finale of what might be the greatest television show ever created, it’s time to take a look back at what made Breaking Bad so incredible. From the smaller, quieter moments to the heart-stopping, panic attack-inducing instants, the AMC hit has had no shortage of iconic, now classic scenes. Suffice it to say, if you haven’t watched the whole series, what follows comes with a SPOILER ALERT.
Season 1, ‘And the Bag’s in the River’: Walt Kills Krazy-8
After the attempt to kill Krazy-8 (Max Arciniega) and his partner goes awry, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) keep the drug dealer shackled to a pole in the basement until they figure out how to kill him. Walt bonds with his prisoner, feeding him beer and sandwiches, but when Walt passes out, a dish breaks, and Krazy-8 steals a piece. While Walt is trying to find a way to get out of killing the dealer, he figures out the shard is missing and chokes Krazy-8 with the bike lock around his neck. It’s official now: Walt has “broken bad.”
Season 1, ‘Crazy Handful of Nothing’: Walt Blows Up Tuco’s Office
Mexican drug dealer Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz) never heard the maxim “Don’t get high on your own supply.” Tuco, one of the most terrifying, maniacal characters in Breaking Bad history (and that’s saying something), has already bullied Walt and Jesse by beating the latter to a pulp and stealing their meth. So what’s a meek high-school chemistry teacher got to do to get the money—and more important, the dignity and respect—he’s owed? Well, for starters, cook up a little fulminated mercury to blow the windows off the office where Tuco does business. At the end, Tuco has to admit, as he hands Walt a bagful of money, “You’ve got balls, I’ll give you that.” It is the birth of Heisenberg.
Season 2, ‘Phoenix’: Walt Watches Jane Die
There are no explosions, no melodramatic speeches, but this might be the most devastating death in the series. Many fans point to this moment as the turning point for Walt. He comes to Jesse’s house to talk some sense to his partner, who is going to take his half of their earnings thus far, a cool half-mil, and leave town with his heroin-addicted girlfriend, who’s been blackmailing Walt. Instead he finds them both passed out, high on heroin. When Jane starts to throw up while lying on her back, Walt, instead of turning her on her side to save her, does nothing, effectively killing her.
Season 3, ‘One Minute’: Hank Vs. the Cousins
Walt’s DEA brother-in-law, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), has found himself near the center of the action without stumbling on Jesse and Walt for almost two seasons. Because Hank killed Tuco and unknowingly saved Walt and Jesse, the Cousins, two sharply dressed psychopathic twin murderers (such a long line of lunatics in the Salamanca family!), come after Hank to get revenge while he’s in a parking lot. They do him the courtesy of giving him a phone call with one-minute advance notice. At that point, the shootout was among the most epic moments of Breaking Bad. (Little did we know it would only get more insane.)
Season 3, ‘Abiquiu’: Saul Meets Skyler for the First Time
A list about Breaking Bad’s best scenes would be remiss without the lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). Toward the end of Season 3, Walt brings his wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), who is an accountant, into the meth business to help with laundering the money. He takes her to meet Saul, who tries in his slick Saul way to charm her, greeting her by saying: “Clearly his taste in women is the same as his taste in lawyers—only the very best, with just the right amount of dirty.” (It doesn’t work.)
Season 3, ‘Half Measure’: Mike’s ‘No Half Measures’ Speech to Walt
It’s a crime that Jonathan Banks who plays Mike Ehrmantraut, the world-weary and wise hit man with a heart of gold, didn’t win an Emmy for this speech, which he gives during a “professional courtesy” home visit after he catches wind of another one of Walt’s cockeyed plans. He tells a story about his time as a beat cop having to arrest repeatedly but never press charges on an abusive husband. One day he is working the beat alone and has the chance to kill the abusive husband. Instead he just threatens the man within an inch of his life. A few weeks later, Mike finds out the man has killed the woman. “No more half measures, Walter,” he intones. Walt takes the advice to heart from then on out—starting with the moment he runs over the rival drug dealers to save Jesse. (That was probably not how Mike intended his advice to be used)
Season 3, ‘Full Measure’: Jesse Shoots Gale
As meth magnate Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) prepares to kill Walt, Walt catches wind of Gus’s plan to use Gale Boetticher (David Costabile) to replace him as his head chemist, which means he’ll be killed. Having just mowed down two of Gus’s drug dealers to save Jesse’s life, Walt implores Jesse to do him a really twisted solid and shoot Gale, the super sweet, Italian-singing, tea-drinking, karaoking chemist, right in the face. Jesse’s never been a total innocent, but this was the point of no return for the lovable meth maker.
Season 4, ‘Box Cutter’: Gus Kills Victor
This scene takes “I’m in trouble with the boss” to a whole new level. Gus, to show how angry he is with Walt and Jesse for outsmarting him and killing Gale, and to show how little he cares about them, dispassionately executes his trusted henchman, Victor (Jeremiah Bitsui), with a box cutter. But that’s not before the magnate meticulously puts on coveralls so he doesn’t get any of the spurting blood on his immaculate self. And you thought your boss was tough.
Season 4, ‘Salud’: Gus Eliminates the Cartel
Gus, Mike, and Jesse go to Mexico to make a deal with the cartel that Gus has no intention of keeping, because Don Eladio (Steven Bauer) killed his chemist—and probable lover—20 years ago. Gus offers the cartel Jesse’s services as a cook and brings some fine tequila to share with Eladio and his crew. The tequila is poisoned, but Gus has swallowed an antidote. As everyone drops like flies by the pool, Gus calmly and meticulously (is there any other way Gus does things?) throws up and joins the much-diminished party, victorious.
Season 4, ‘Crawl Space’: Gus Threatens Walt in the Desert
Gus, tired of Walt’s meddling with Jesse, takes Walt out to the middle of the desert, execution-style with a black cloth over his head, and tells him to stay away from Jess. But Walt, stubborn and stupid, calls Gus’s bluff. “If you could kill me, I’d already be dead,” he taunts Gus, as the clouds in the sky ominously roll over the desert. Seething, Gus tells him coldly that he has to “take care of Hank”: “If you try to interfere, I will kill your wife. I will kill your son, I will kill your infant daughter,” he says, making perfectly clipped diction totally chilling.
Season 4, ‘Crawl Space’: Walt Freaks Out When Skyler Gives All His money to Ted
After Gus threatens him in the desert, a panicked Walt runs to get all his money to give to Saul’s disappearing “vacuum repair” guy. But when he gets to his basement’s crawl space, he finds that everything is missing. The music by David Porter is all menace, turning the drama into a psychological horror movie. As Skyler tearfully tells him she gave all her money to Ted Beneke (Christopher Cousins) to pay off the IRS, Walt responds the only way he can, laughing like a person going slowly insane. Scarier than anything in Scarface.
Season 4, ‘Face Off’: Walt Blows Up Gus
Walt must have heard that saying “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” He pairs up with his mortal enemy to destroy Gus, the only person Tio Salamanca (Mark Margolis) hates more than Walt because Gus annihilated his whole family and his empire. When Gus visits the old folks’ home, expecting to kill Tio, the former kingpin starts furiously ringing his bell, setting off a bomb made by Walt that is strapped to his wheelchair, and killing Gus. Of course, Gus is perfect to the end, fixing his tie even while he’s missing half his face.
Season 5.1, ‘Dead Freight’: The Train Heist
In normal shows, a complicated train heist involving stealing a thousand gallons of methylamine would take an entire hour. In Breaking Bad, Walt, Jesse, and Todd (Jesse Plemons)’s robbery is 20 minutes of breakneck, anxiety-ridden action, better than just about anything you’ve seen in a Bond movie. But Vince Gilligan’s brilliant writers go one step further. That jubilant energy when they’ve succeeded is immediately dashed when a little boy on a motorbike shows up, having witnessed the whole thing. Things get darker still when Todd, the world’s sweetest-faced sociopath, makes an executive decision and shoots him point blank, to Jesse’s horror.
Season 5.1, ‘Say My Name’: Mike Is Killed
Mike forgot to take his own “no half measures” advice and failed to dispatch Walt or Lydia Rodarte-Quayle (Laura Fraser). When all Mike’s men are put in the slammer after their lawyer is caught depositing the hazard pay, Walt panics. He wants Mike to give up the names so he can kill them before they spill the beans. He meets Mike with his getaway bag and car out in a beautiful park. Mike, fuming, yells at Walt: “You and your pride and your ego! If you’d done your job and known your place, we’d all be fine!” Walt, letting his pride and ego get the best of him, shoots Mike in the stomach, but then realizes Lydia also has the names. He apologizes to Mike, who is sitting there like a serene Buddha. Mike’s response: “Shut up and let me die in peace.”
Season 5.1, ‘Gliding Over All’: Ten Guys in Two Minutes
Faced with Mike’s men in prison ready to rat out the whole operation, Walt hires Todd’s uncle and a bunch evil neo-Nazis to pull a two-minute hit on the 10 men before they can testify and spill any information about him or his enterprise. The epic scene, like something out of a Scorsese flick, is set to “Pick Yourself Up” by Nat “King” Cole and George Shearing, a cheerful ditty at odds with the gruesome stabbings, burnings, and slashings on screen.
Season 5.1, ‘Gliding Over All’: Hank on the Toilet
So close so many times, it made sense that Hank finally figured out that Heisenberg was his own brother-in-law, Walt, while sitting on the crapper. Pulling the copy of Leaves of Grass given to Walt by Gale while he did his business, Hank recognizes the inscription and the handwriting from Gale’s journal and gives the camera a look of total disbelief. What followed was the longest 12 months in TV viewing history.
Season 5.2, , ‘Ozymandias’: Walt’s Phone Call With Skyler
After Walt kidnaps Holly, he realizes he can’t come home and calls Skyler. Trying to demonstrate her innocence for the police listening in, he calls her cruel names and treats her like dirt. She responds as she’s expected to—like an abused housewife. The scene is shattering because it has so many layers. On the one hand, he is trying to absolve Skyler of his sins. (“I built this! Me! Me alone!”) But he also means some of the things he says. (“You know you never believed in me.”) And of course, the whole thing is a meta-criticism of the Skyler haters, using their words to show how ugly they are. (“You’re always whining and complaining about how I make my money. Just dragging me down.”) The scene is the TV writing and acting equivalent of dropping the mic.