Where This Meets That
Yesterday, no spoilers. Today, spoilers galore, so BE WARNED!
Few television series can legitimately claim to have gotten progressively better throughout their run, but Breaking Bad is one. I mentioned yesterday that by the end of season three, the show had really hit its stride, so that’s where I begin my rundown of my five favorite episodes.
Season 3, episode 12 – “Half Measures”
Young Jesse has a lot of shortcomings, but as we’ve learned throughout the series, he has a soft spot for kids. Here we see just how principled Jesse’s stance is, when he stands up to Gus at gunpoint. You can count Jesse out of any activity that endangers children, but when he puts Walt on the spot to back him up against Gus, Walt demurs. By the end of the episode, a child is dead, and Jesse stands ready to die exacting revenge, when Walt races onto the scene to save him. Walt’s ballsy and determined rescue, followed by his simple, concluding command to Jesse to, “Run” is one of the most shocking climaxes I’ve ever seen. It also draws official battle lines with Gus.
Season 4, episode 11 – “Crawl Space”
Walt and Jesse don’t like each other, but when their lives are on the line, the partnership is unquestioned. Jesse tells Gus that he won’t continue cooking if Gus kills Walt, so Gus does the next best thing: he fires Walt and angrily threatens Walt’s entire family. The threat frightens Walt enough that he decides it’s time to retire and sweep his family into hiding. Unfortunately, he returns home to find that Skyler has given away all their escape money to her own charity case, Ted Beneke. The final four minutes of this episode are some of the most profoundly, bone-chillingly masterful moments of filmmaking I’ve ever seen, with Walt cackling in the crawl space, finally realizing he’s crossed the line of no return.
Season 5, episode 13 – “To’hajiilee”
For all Jesse’s foolishness, he can be quite clever, and this time, with a little help from Hank, he outsmarts Heisenberg himself, attacking him “where he really lives”: his greed. As effective as a right cross, Jesse’s claimed assault on Walt’s millions knocks Walt completely out of his senses. Walt drops everything and rages full speed to his $80-million stash in the desert, roaring confessions into his cell phone all the way. When he arrives, he realizes he’s been duped and calls in his go-to goon-squad to defend him before seeing his brother-in-law, Hank, arrive as the arresting officer. He calls off his militia and surrenders to an ecstatic Hank and Jesse, before everything goes terribly, terribly wrong.
Season 5, episode 14 – “Ozymandias”
“Ozymandias” is the best-reviewed episode of the entire series and among the highest rated television episodes of all time, and no wonder. The writers crammed an astounding amount of material into this single, gut-wrenching episode that sees Walt’s version of Pandora’s Box finally explode his evils over everyone he loves. The opening sequence flashes back to the scene of Walt’s and Jesse’s first meth cook and Walt’s first resulting lies to Skyler, then the scene erupts back into the horrible present, in which all Walt’s fruits come to bear. He sees Hank scrapped as casually as a soda can, sends Jesse off to certain death, rages out at Skyler in a profound scene, and finally introduces his Walt, Jr. to “Heisenberg”. Truly, no words to describe the powerful punch that “Ozymandias” packs.
Season 5, episode 16 – “Felina”
Rarely does a great series serve up a worthy finale, but “Felina” is, in a word, perfect. After months of hiding in frigid solitude, Walt has decided that if he’s going to die, then he’s going to die trying to make things as right as he can, and he succeeds, perhaps, as only he can. We enter the finale with a seemingly impossible number of ends that need tying, but one by one, Walt ties them, in utterly satisfying fashion. He finally figures out a “clean” way leave his fortune to his family, finds a home for his straw of ricin, offers closure with Skyler, facing the truth of his soul’s demise, and, at long last, liberates Jesse.
The more I think about this series, the more I’m amazed by it. If you’re a fan, I’d love to hear your favorite Breaking Bad moments.