With its first episode airing across the pond tonight, anticipation is high for the final season of Breaking Bad, the Emmy award winning drama about bitter and luckless chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) who turns to a life of crime and meth production after being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer.
Billed by creator Vince Gilligan as ‘Mr Chips meets Scarface’, White’s slow transformation from well-meaning but suffering father and husband to amoral and megalomaniacal drug baron Heisenberg alongside his assistant and former pupil Jesse (Aaron Paul) has deservedly earned Breaking Bad a reputation as one of (if not the) best shows in television and the wait between seasons has led this to be one of the most anticipated finales in television history.
In preparation for Walt’s return to our screens, we count down some of our favourite moments from the last five seasons of Breaking Bad. For those of you haven’t seen the show, be cautioned as there are spoilers ahead. Then again, if you haven’t seen the show, give yourself a slap in the face, recite ‘I must be more culturally informed’ to yourself in the mirror ten times then go out and get the box set on DVD.
10. Car Problems (Season One)
In one of the series’ first indications of how much of a badass Walter will turn into, this scene sees Walter doling out justice to an annoying loudmouth yuppie in one of the purest examples of working man’s rage. We’ve all been there: stuck in line at the bank, Walter is forced to endure the phone conversation of an egocentric jerk, who moments earlier had stolen his parking space, as he boasts of his achievements at work and makes wildly inappropriate comments to the woman working on the till. Seeing him again at a petrol station, Walter takes his revenge by flipping the bonnet of his unattended convertible and introducing a wetted sponge to the car’s battery. Proving the old adage that cool guys don’t look at explosions, Walter walks away with a smirk on his face as the car erupts in a ball of flame.
9. Gale’s Home Video (Season Four)
Introduced in season three, Gale Boetticher (David Costabile) was Walter’s eccentric lab assistant whilst working under Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) before being executed by Jesse in an act of self-preservation (having been groomed as a replacement for Walter altogether). Shy, intellectual and a closeted homosexual (it is hinted that he had an attraction to Walter), Gale was a genuinely sweet and innocent character in a show filled with amorality and corruption. A small scene in which Hank (a DEA agent and Walt’s brother-in-law played by Dean Norris) shows Walt a home video recovered from the scene of his murder gives a rare insight into Gale’s private life as he is seen singing a rendition of Peter Schilling’s ‘Major Tom’ in an Asian karaoke bar. In keeping with Gus’s character, this scene is just plain adorable and retroactively makes his death even sadder (the full video can be found here).
8. ‘I am not turning down the money; I am turning down you’ (Season Three)
Though Walter White may be the most recognisable character in the show, he shares equal billing with Jesse whose transformation from drug addicted and self-destructive teen to level-headed voice of reason provides a contrast to his partner’s descent into crime. This scene in particular, in which Walt offers Jesse back his old job after severing ties at the start of the season, is indicative of the strength of Aaron Paul’s performance and the attention to his role. In hospital after receiving a beating from Hank, Jesse quietly declines Walt’s offer then berates him after he refuses to accept his decision. It is an emotional scene, one in which a tearful Jesse lays down some cold hard truths about Walter, and his admission that he has lost everything important to him after ‘hooking up with the great Heisenberg’ hits like a punch to the gut.
7. ‘I am the one who knocks’ (Season Four)
The constant nagging and browbeating of Walter’s wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) has led her to become one of the most hated characters in entertainment right now (behind only King Joffrey and Justin Bieber). Whilst I would argue that she is nowhere near as annoying as her detractors make her out to be, this scene from season four is a coup for fans who want nothing more than to see her put in her place. After berating Walter for the danger he has put himself in at the hands of Gus (specifically referencing Gale Boetticher’s death who died when he answered Jesse’s knock at his door), Walter snaps and reveals just how powerful he is before admitting to murdering Gale (‘a guy opens his door and gets shot, and you think that of me! No, I am the one who knocks!’). Cranston here plays Walt at his most intimidating and shows just how far his new persona has overtaken him.
6. The Death of Mike (Season Five)
Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathon Banks) is one of those characters who is permanently on the verge of saying ‘I’m too old for this shit’ and that is exactly why we loved him. An ageing, cynical hitman working for Gus, he approaches his tasks with the weariness of a man approaching retirement and attempts to impart his life lessons to both Jesse and Walt. It is his association with the latter that leads to his eventual downfall as Mike, in possession of a list of names who would testify against them in court, is gunned down by Walt after refusing to turn this information over. Jonathon Banks was so popular with the Breaking Bad team that cast and crew alike wore black arm bands whilst filming this scene in respect to his character. As Walt (in a rare moment of atonement) apologises for his actions, Mike uses his last words to hammer home his cynical nature: ‘shut the fuck up, and let me die in peace’.
5. Season One Finale (Season One)
One crime that many US shows commit is the end of season cliff-hanger. Whilst many shows will try to reward return investment by promising to tie up storylines at the start of a new run, Breaking Bad offered an alternate take on this at the end of its first season. Walt and Jesse begin a partnership with unhinged drug lord Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz) and the season ends with a scene in which they deliver their first shipment. After the deal is done, Tuco takes offense at an innocuous comment made by one of his associates and proceeds to beat him half to death, much to Walt and Jesse’s horror. As Tuco and his remaining crew drive away, Walt and Jesse are left to face up to the consequences of their decision. While it does tie in nicely to the start of season two, this scene can be read equally as a full stop as the two make the realisation that they are facing an uncertain future.
4. The Salamanca Brothers’ Last Stand (Season Three)
Breaking Bad is a visually arresting series. From the time lapse montages that score Walt and Jesse’s cooks to the use of surrealism (the severed head on a tortoise, anyone?), Breaking Bad is one of the more cinematic examples of recent television using cinematography and editing to affect emotional response as much as acting and dialogue. The finale of the season three episode ‘One Minute’, in which the Salamanca brothers (twin hitmen, Leonel and Marco, out to avenge their cousin Tuco) ambush Hank in a car park, is a testament to this fact. A lesson in suspense that would make Hitchcock proud, tension is built from the get go as an anonymous caller (hinted to be Gus) tips a nervous and agitated Hank off to the attack and ends with a severely wounded Hank scrabbling to reload his gun before Marco can deliver the coup de grace. If Hank had said ‘hasta la vista’ before firing the final shot then this scene would be nothing short of perfect.
3. ‘Stay out of my territory’ (Season Two)
As has been noted, Walter’s transformation from mild mannered family man to ruthless gangster underpins Breaking Bad and the scene where this metamorphosis becomes apparent is one of the shows’ most memorable. Midway through season two, Walt decides to give up the drug lifestyle and heads over to the local hardware store to buy supplies for his house. Whilst there, he comes across a meth dealer buying materials for a cook. Deciding to step in, Walt gives the dealer patronising fatherly advice on how to procure the best ingredients before radically changing tone and following him to the car park. Eyeing his boss down, Walt warns him to ‘stay out of my territory’. The man named Walter White is dead; the legend named Heisenberg is born.
2. ‘This is not meth’ (Season One)
Walter White is a very smart man; the men he deals with are not, though they are gun wielding, meth addicted maniacs who will stop at nothing to get what they want. Tuco Salamanca is one such man and, after he robs Jesse of their drugs and gives him a severe hiding, Walter goes to confront him at his place of business with what appears to be another shipment of meth. Unfazed by Tuco’s intimidations and his affectations of superiority, Walter reveals that what he is carrying is in fact mercury fulminate causing an explosion that all but destroys Tuco’s headquarters. It’s not the first time Walt has used his knowledge of chemistry to outwit his opponents nor would it be the last, but no other scene is this spectacular and no other move so ballsy. In the immortal words of Jesse, ‘yeah, science!’
1. ‘I won’ (Season Four)
Season four contains Breaking Bad’s most memorable episode arc. Locked in a war of nerves with eerily calm super dealer Gus Fring after the death of Gale Boetticher, each episode sees Walt and Jesse on the brink of certain death. It all reaches a head in the last episode. With Walt now of no use to him, Gus prepares to throw the final blow, but past affiliations make him visit Hector Salamanca, a wheelchair bound former rival and uncle to Tuco, Leonel and Marco. Little does Gus know that Hector and Walter are in cahoots letting out a scream (the character’s only admission of emotion throughout the series) as a home-made bomb under Hector’s wheelchair is detonated killing them both. As Walt emerges unscathed, it is unclear whether or not the hero or the villain has truly prevailed: talking to Skyler afterwards, a remorseless Walt glibly states ‘I won’.
Written by Chris Shackleton, a Leeds based blogger with an interest in film, music and television. Currently moonlighting as a Michael Cera lookalike. Find more of his writing on his blog: filmcraicwithchrisshack.wordpress.com.