Box Cutter ranks as one of the most suspenseful episodes of the entire series, which is saying a lot due to its semi-slow pace. Box Cutter is extremely manipulative but in all the best ways. This episode was a giant tease and really had the audience gripping to their seats, even though we knew Walt and Jesse couldn’t die. Also worth noting is the cleanup with the body dropped in the hydrofluoric acid, and the Spaghetti Western-style intro using Alexander Ebert’s song “Truth.”
Season 4, Episode 13: Face Off
Directed by Vince Gilligan
Written by Vince Gilligan
We all knew Gus was going to have to end up dead for this show to move forward, but I don’t think anyone expected half his face to be blown off. Breaking Bad has always done a good job of foreshadowing whats to come. When Gus sat in the car prior to stepping into the old folks home, the music swelling in the background was “Goodbye” by Apparat feat. Soap&Skin. Many have complained about the shot of Gus after the explosion but those few seconds are the most memorable and gruesome moment of the entire series that will not be forgotten. Gus’s gory demise was over-the top but it is possibly my favourite moment of season four. More importantly it had everyone thinking for a brief two seconds that Gus had found a way to survive – until he slowly turned to the camera. A brilliant tease and a nice nod to John Woo’s famous American action movie, giving the episode’s title a double meaning. With Face Off, Breaking Bad presents a whole new Walt, and shows just how evil he really is.
Apart from all the violence, the episode also delivered some great dark humour, especially with the scenes involving Tuco and Walt carrying the bomb into the hospital. I don’t think I had a bigger laugh in the entire series than when Tio spelled out “NEED DEA.”
However what really makes Face Off one of the best episodes is that it reassures us that every character’s reaction, motive and action from the previous episode (which many of the fans including myself doubted), was plausible and made perfect sense. Even more, it sets up season five to focus on a Jesse and Walt showdown. Face Off features an unforgettable goodbye to one of TV’s greatest villains, a perfect blend of humour and suspense and a brilliant twist ending. What else can you ask for?
Season 4, Episode 12: End Times
Directed by Vince Gilligan
Written by Thomas Schnauz
“I have lived under the threat of death for a year now. Because of that, I’ve made choices. Listen to me. I alone should suffer the consequences of those choices. No one else. And those consequences, they’re coming. No more prolonging the inevitable.” -Walt
There are many reasons why this episode is so great, but the biggest reason is because this episode only seemed great after the season finale. Only when we had a chance to reflect back on End Times after the season finale, did we realize all the clues were right in front of our eyes. Yet somehow we found ourselves doubting if Walt could actually go ahead and poison a child. Did we all forget about all the crazy shit he did before? Well not everyone forgot. The video below was edited by YouTube user jcham979, who accurately predicted the season’s outcome days in advance of the finale’s air date. I recommend watching it.
End Times was internally tense. There wasn’t a lot of action, but it featured the best confrontation between Jesse and Walt to date, and knowing we will get more of this in season five has me very excited. Walt has been living with a death sentence of some kind since the start of the series. He’s avoided death on numerous occasions, but for how long?
Season 2, Episode 13: ABQ
Directed by Adam Bernstein
Written by Vince Gilligan
Breaking Bad’s first season was all about setting up the situation of two unlikely partners getting started in the criminal world. The second season was all about them getting in over their heads and ends with the major consequences of their actions, thus setting up season three.
Technically, ABQ should be higher up in this list because so many important things happen, but I chose to place the list in an order of episodes I enjoyed the most, not necessarily those that are the best. Walt’s operation is all set to go forward but under sedation, he tells Skyler something that she did not want to hear. As a result of all of his lies, Skyler finally figures it out and tells him to leave. Jesse learns the true cost of his drug habit when girlfriend Jane overdoses and her father returns to work too soon – and the result is a tragic, massive accident that just so happens to make for one of the best cliffhangers of any television show in history.
Again we open with a great juxtaposition of the beginning versus the ending. Notice two specific shots in the black-and-white flash-forward sequence that had us all scratching our heads: the snail crawling along the wall in extremely shallow focus, and the teddy bear’s POV. It was an opening that had us biting our nails anticipating the final scene, only by the end of it all , they never provided that punch. Instead we were left trying to piece it all together.
Remember the season premiere titled Seven Thirty-Seven, because Walt explains to Jesse that is the amount of money (in thousands) he needs to leave behind for his family when he dies, in order for them to live comfortably. And now here we have an actual 737 crashing over Walt’s world. Now think back at all the names of all the episodes, in particular the episodes that have the very strange black and white pink bear opening teaser – they spell out a hidden message: Seven Thirty-Seven Down Over ABQ. (ABQ is the airport code for Albuquerque International Airport, where Donald Margolis works.) But this wasn’t just a gimmick, Vince Gilligan the show’s creator worked very hard to give each of these episodes proper dual meanings. From the very first episode the clues were always in front of us.
Walt’s “murder” of Jane leads her father to lose his ability to perform his job and therefore leads to the death of hundreds of other innocent people. In that moment, at the end of season two, he doesn’t realize it, but Walt is responsible for the whole world figuratively coming to an end around him. The fire raining down upon his home, was his judgment and the pink bear, which we saw in Jane’s room was a symbol of karma and retribution for Jane. The gears have been turning ever since Walt chose to cook crystal meth, and the outcome was inevitable. In terms of great dialogue, characterization, juxtaposition, production values, thematic depth and more – it doesn’t get better than this. The major gain from the end of season one is shaken by the major loss from the end of season two. We couldn’t ask for a better ending.
I would like to think this is perhaps the moment we most sympathize for Jesse, whose too-soft-for-the-streets persona leaves him mourning the loss of his love. But that moment for me comes in another episode listed further down this list. If anything, this is the episodes where my heart went out for a character more so than anyone else in the entire series, but that person was Jane, not Jesse.
A quick final thought. ‘ABQ’ also introduced us to Saul’s cleaner, Mike – another bit of great casting and another great actor.
Season 2, Episode 2: ‘Grilled’
Directed by Charles Haid
Written by Vince Gilligan & George Mastras
‘Grilled’ opens with another attention-grabbing flash-forward sequence – an ’89 Monte Carlo lowrider bouncing up and down, working its hydraulics system hard, stranded in the desert. We see the trunk of the car wide open, and shotgun shell casings scattered on the ground. Having been kidnapped by a crazed Tuco, Walt and Jesse are held prisoner by him in a desert shack where he often hides out and takes care of his sick mute uncle. Mark Margolis plays Tio (uncle), an ex-con limited to a wheelchair. One would expect a man who can’t talk to have a voice synthesizer, but Tio prefers a less traditional method – a single bell, with which he uses to communicate when need be.
‘Grilled’ has a bona fide Hitchcockian touch, packed with suspense from start to finish. We spend the majority of the episode trapped inside Tuco’s hideout, waiting to see how Walt and Jesse find a way to escape. Walt poisons Tuco’s burrito, and Tio won’t stop ringing the bell. Directed by Charles Haid, who played Renko on Hill Street Blues, ‘Grilled’ is yet another prime example of why Breading Bad is must-see viewing.
Ricky D is the editor-in-chief of Sound on Sight and one of the hosts of the Sound On Sight podcast and the Sordid Cinema podcast. He is Sound On Sight's expert on Horror and contributes written reviews when time permits.
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