The series finale of “Breaking Bad” airs Sunday (Sept. 29), and it’s a pretty safe bet that, given the show’s way with the big moment, fans will be talking about it for a long time.
After all, it’s been creating indelible characters and images for five-plus years. We could spend hours discussing every did-that-just-happen moment, from Tortuga’s head on a tortoise to the cousins crawling through the desert to Walt maniacally laughing in the crawl space. But, you know, that would take hours.
The Zap2it staff has winnowed that list down to eight scenes and moments — some big, some small — that have stuck with us the most over the years.
Pants on the ground
I’m pretty sure no other TV series in history has opened with a shot of a pair of khakis floating through the air. Thus even in its first 15 seconds, “Breaking Bad” creator Vince Gilligan signaled that his show was going to travel a different road than most TV series. The shot of those pants, whom we later learn belong to novice meth cooker Walter White (Bryan Cranston) are quickly followed by images of Walt, wearing nothing but tighty whiteys and a gas mask, driving a careening RV through the desert while another guy slumps in the passenger seat and bodies and chemicals slosh behind him.
Walt crashes the RV, digs his wallet out of the glove box and takes a handgun from one of the bodies in the back. He then records a frantic video telling his family how much he loves them. As the sound of police sirens grows closer, he climbs a hill, pulls the gun from the back of his undies and stares down the road. Cue opening credits.
The in medias res opening has become something of a TV cliche in recent years, but done right it can suck a viewer in completely. Gilligan and “Breaking Bad” got it very right here.
Jesse Pinkman, doomed from the start
The scene that I will never forget is from the very first episode, when the partnership of Heisenberg and Pinkman was born.
After going on a ride-along with Hank (Dean Norris) to see what a drug bust looks like, Walt gets the idea to cook meth to make money for his family. He approaches his ex-student Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) for guidance and a partnership, since he’s the famed “Cap’n Cook” and Hank had just busted his partner and seized his lab and money. Walt knows the chemistry and can get the equipment from the high school but needs Jesse’s knowledge of the business.
It’s crazy to re-watch this scene now as we approach the series finale and see how far these two have come since they first decided to partner up. Walt and Jesse have become completely different people, and they are barely recognizable in this first episode. It’s also so strange to watch Jesse thinking he’s got the upper hand in the situation with Mr. White, when in actuality Walt always had control.
We start to see the monster underneath Walt’s exterior even as far back as this scene in the first episode. After he offers Jesse the idea of being partners, he adds an ultimatum: Either Jesse agrees to be partners, or Walt turns him in to Hank and the DEA. Jesse never had a choice. As soon as Walt saw him running away from the drug bust that day, his life as he knew it was over.
— Sydney Bucksbaum
Worst cancer-remission party ever
A few seasons into the run of “Breaking Bad,” Walter White’s rather evil nature was well-established. But the seeds of that bad man were evident much earlier — one of the first times the audience saw who Walt really was came at the party celebrating his remission from cancer in the Season 2 episode “Over.”
The whole night was a celebration of Walt, but that wasn’t enough. When Walt Jr. (RJ Mitte) started paying a little too much attention to Uncle Hank, Walt Sr. retaliated in a subtle but heartbreaking way. A little tequila shared with a teen started off as a fun “man” thing. But it didn’t stay that way.
Shot followed shot with Walter getting grimmer by the drop. Hank’s efforts to slow down the drinking only made everything worse. Even when Junior ended up vomiting it all up, Walt displayed only rage. It’s that anger that made the “bad” version of Walter White. And it was there all along — it’s almost as if the drama that followed only served to expose the evil that always lay beneath that decent surface.
That one chilling, heartbreaking scene may have told us everything we ever really needed to know about the man who became Heisenberg.
Someone to fear
It’s an image that will be hard to scrub from my mind, even long after “Breaking Bad” leaves the airwaves: Walt breaks into Jesse’s house and sees Jane (Krysten Ritter) vomit in her sleep — and does nothing, allowing her to die. That moment at the end of Season 2 could quite possibly be the moment Walter White truly lost his humanity.
Sure, Jane was blackmailing Walt and, by this point, he was doing whatever necessary to save his own skin, but there was something so dark, so evil about how he stood there and just watched the poor girl choke to death.
In the seasons following, Walt would go on to do worse things to protect his burgeoning empire, but it was that moment in the bleak bedroom of Jesse’s dingy home that it became clear: Walter White was no longer someone worth rooting for. In fact, he was someone to fear.
Silence is a killer
Two of the hallmarks of the series are its love of process — think about all the scenes of Walt and Jesse going about their business in the lab — and its use of silence. Those two combined in an utterly terrifying way in the Season 4 premiere, “Box Cutter.”
Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) needs to make a point to Walt and Jesse. In a scene that goes on for a couple of minutes — and is contrasted by Walt growing more and more agitated as he pleads for his and Jesse’s lives — Gus calmly and wordlessly takes off and neatly folds his regular clothes, puts on a protective suit, walks back toward them, picks up a box cutter and slashes his underling Victor’s (Jeremiah Bitsui) throat — partly for Victor letting himself be seen at Gale’s (David Costabile) apartment but mostly to illustrate the power dynamic between himself and everyone else. He then takes the protective gear off, washes his hands and gets dressed again. When he finally speaks, it’s just five words: “Well? Get back to work.”
It’s a reminder of how deep Walt has gone into the drug game — and also one of the most tension-filled scenes I’ve ever seen.
— Rick Porter
< br />For every act a consequence
“Breaking Bad” has caused me to cry, to laugh and to gape in disbelief, but only once has it caused me to outright scream at my television set. The moment in “Dead Freight” when Todd (Jesse Plemons) shoots Drew Sharp, the innocent kid on the bicycle, has caused me more shock than any other moment on the show.
“Dead Freight” is an example of so much of what “Breaking Bad” does right. It’s tense, action-packed and filled with incredible highs and lows, and it helps prove that you never know what to expect with this series. After Walt, Jesse and Todd pull off an incredible feat of robbing a train of methylamine, episode writer and director George Mastras twists the knife by showing that no actions are ever without consequences when Todd kills Drew in the episode’s final moment.
In “Dead Freight,” Drew Sharp was the consequence. In Season 2, the passengers of Wayfarer 515 were the ones who had to pay for Walt’s bad behavior. With the finale only two days away, it’s unclear just how many people will have to die until Walt’s journey is over, but if there’s one thing that’s stayed with me since Drew’s death, it’s that this long journey of Walter White’s cannot have a happy ending.
The lowest point
Walter White’s descent into darkness has been marked by several watershed moments where he just became that much worse, that much darker. For me, the final straw happened after Hank was killed and Skyler (Anna Gunn) knew Walt was at fault. Yes, Walt did everything he could in the moment to try to save Hank, but Walt’s choices were what ultimately killed his brother-in-law. The ensuing struggle between Walt and Skyler was a white-knuckle viewing experience. I was convinced that at any moment, Skyler or Junior was going to be stabbed and that that would be Walt’s lowest point.
Until he ran for it with baby Holly. With Skyler beating on the window of the truck, Walt sped away with his infant daughter on his lap. For me, it was the lowest Walt has ever sunk, even if he wasn’t in his right mind. At the core of all of Walt’s misdeeds was this family that he was trying so hard to protect and provide for. But he just severed the last shred of good will with that scene, even if he did later try to help Skyler look innocent and left Holly safely at a fire station. It’s nice that he tried to fix what he did, but that doesn’t make up for it. And it demonstrated how truly broken everything in Walt’s life has become.
Which “Breaking Bad” moments have stuck with you?