For four seasons, Breaking Bad has chronicled the journey of Walter White from "Mr Chips to Scarface," as creator Vince Gilligan puts it. The end of the last season saw White taking out his number one adversary in spectacular fashion, marking the beginning of the final phase of his transformation. Season five kicks off this Sunday, and the Denver Film Society is throwing a watching party at the Denver Film Center/Colfax.
To get you ready, we've compiled this list of a dozen of the series's best scenes so far. Most of these are key to the plot. The majority are gut-wrenchingly intense. And all of them are among the most finely crafted moments the medium of television has yet to offer. Let's hope season five offers just as many more.
(It should go without saying, but this list is nothing but spoilers, from beginning to end. If you aren't caught up with the show's first four seasons, proceed at your own risk.)
From the beginning, Breaking Bad has tempered its high-tension drama with moments of the blackest humor. One of the most memorable of those moments is season one's infamous acid bathtub scene. It also marks an early occurrence of the recurring theme of White's knucklehead partner Jesse Pinkman screwing things up royally simply by refusing to follow simple instructions. The results here are ... messy.
It doesn't take long before Walt breaks his "no violence" promise to himself -- he kills one drug dealer in the very first episode. That's in the heat of the moment, but in this scene he has to make a decision to kill, a decision that haunts him to the point he's sure he can't do it. Then a telltale piece of a plate helps him realize it's kill or be killed, and that's the end of the road for Krazy-8.
At certain points, Walt's done a damn fine job of putting the "hero" in "anti-hero," like in this classic scene. Calling himself Heisenberg, he confronts the maniacal drug lord Tuco on his home turf, intent on getting not only what he's owed, but payment for Jesse's pain and suffering at Tuco's hands. Thanks to a clever plan and a little chemistry he pulls off that seemingly impossible task, and leaves a hell of an impression on the drug kingpin in the process.
Season two saw the series settling into to a somewhat more relaxed pace, offering fewer high-octane moments but more character development and subtle drama. That's not to say it doesn't have its share of impactful scenes, though. Take this scene where Combo, one of Jesse's cadre of meth slingers, goes down at the hands of a rival gang. It's shocking in part because it thoroughly subverts expectations of what's about to happen. Watching it for the first time, is there anyone out there who didn't think the scene would end with the kid getting shot in the crossfire? That makes its actual outcome all the more shocking.
This scene from near the season's end is quiet, but in a chilling way. If Walter's decision to kill Krazy-8 marked the point where he makes a conscious decision to kill to save himself, this scene marks an even darker decision point. Here he decides to simply let someone die, for the simple fact that they were in his way. Sure, he saw her as a "threat" of sorts, both to himself and Jesse, but this was not life or death -- it's a cold blooded calculation to take the path of least resistance that cost a young woman her life.
The silent, deadly cousins were the specter of season 3, until halfway through when they ran up against Walter's badass DEA agent brother in law Hank. This wasn't necessarily Hank's first showcase moment, but it's definitely his most intense of the series (so far, anyway). One of the most intense and brutal scenes in a series that's full of them, Hank vs. the cousins is a hallmark moment in the show's history.
Before season 3 closes, Jesse finally has to do the one thing he's avoided thus far: kill. When Walter is targeted for removal by Gustavo Fring, he and Jesse cook up a desperate plan to save him, by removing the one person that can replace him. That's too bad for Gale, and for Jesse, since the man he has to kill is barely more than an innocent bystander in the whole meth-addled circus. He doesn't take it well, and the obvious impact of the act on him lends a heavy resonance to the whole scene.
It'd be foolish to start a list of season four's best scene anywhere but the very beginning: the box cutter scene. From the opening seconds of season four, this scene builds unbearable tension and releases it in shocking, bloody fashion. If there was any question that Gustavo Fring was not a man to be fucked with, he clears that right up. (This scene doesn't seem to exist online, so enjoy this behind the scenes look at it, which does have some of its best moments sprinkled throughout.)
This scene can be summed up in two words: crawl space. That's also the name of the episode, and rightly so. By this point in the season, Walter is convinced (probably correctly) that Gustavo is intent on killing him, so he decides to take the money and run. The only problem is, his wife's already taken the money and given it away... a fact he discovers as frantically searches his crawl space for the stash. Once the realization sets in, he loses it in epic fashion. It's an incredible scene, one that was worthy of the season finale. Hell, mostseries
would kill to have a finale that good. But the best was yet to come...
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With the help of an angry old man, Walter finally manages to turn the tables on Gustavo in spectacular fashion. A series of clever maneuvers convinces Gustavo that the his one time associate, the ancient Tio Salamanca, has gone to the authorities, and he heads out to silence him for good. Unfortunately for Gus, things don't go quite as planned. Walter gets to Tio first and convinces him to use his last act to get revenge, putting Gustavo out of the picture once and for all -- but not before he gives the show one of its most iconic images yet.