The 15 Best Breaking Bad Episodes, Ranked

Walt and Jesse in Breaking Bad
(Image credit: AMC)

WARNING: The following article may contain major spoilers from Breaking Bad. So, if you have not seen the show, maybe your best course would be to tread lightly.

More than a decade has passed since its brilliant final episode in 2013, but the collective consciousness has yet to shake Breaking Bad from its memory. Vince Gilligan’s bleak, yet thoroughly absorbing, and often surprisingly witty crime drama was a unique experiment in character evolution, as we witness Walter White (Bryan Cranston, who won four Emmys for the role) transform from a meek, devoted family man to a selfish, monstrous drug lord over the course of five seasons. 

The AMC series is one of the most astonishing slow burns in narrative history, earning its place among the finest TV shows of all time. To narrow down and rank the 15 best episodes from a series known for one-upping itself with practically every chapter is no easy feat, but we are going to try anyway. These are our picks of the most taut, heart-racing, exquisitely performed, and all around best episodes of Breaking Bad.

Aaron Paul in Breaking Bad

(Image credit: AMC)

15. Peekaboo - Season 2, Episode 6

Some of the bleakest Breaking Bad episodes offer an inside look at the lives of Walt and Jesse Pinkman’s (Aaron Paul) customers, such as in “Peekaboo,” which might be better known as “the one where the guy’s head gets crushed by an ATM.” The Season 2 favorite sees Jesse trying to retrieve money and product stolen from him by a junkie couple (played by David Ury and Dale Dickey), which becomes complicated when he discovers they have a young son.

The episode is also noted for being one of the first signs of Jesse’s soft spot for children, especially in the heartbreaking conclusion when he plays the titular game with the boy to distract him from the carnage before being forced to abandon him as police surround the house. Walter’s subplot, in which he angrily confronts Gretchen Schwartz (Jessica Hecht) about their previous personal and professional relationship after catching him in a lie about paying for his cancer treatment, is also riveting, but what makes this chapter is a classic is the thoroughly engrossing depiction of Jesse’s struggle to be a fearsome enforcer without losing his humanity.

Walter White and Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad.

(Image credit: AMC)

14. Cat’s In The Bag… - Season 1,  Episode 2

Even some of Breaking Bad’s biggest fans believe the premiere season is far less exciting than the seasons that come later. However, I cannot imagine why, given that a drug dealer’s decomposing body falls through a ceiling in only its second episode, “Cat’s in the Bag...”

The incident occurs after Jesse learns a valuable lesson in properly handling acidic chemicals as he and Walt race to hide evidence from the previous day’s violent aftermath, which also includes taking Krazy-8 (Max Arciniega) hostage. The second chapter continues to introduce many of the series’ refreshingly unique elements, including its darkly humorous tone and Walt and Jesse’s combative demeanor, successfully living up to the expectations set by the pilot.  

Mark Margolis and Raymond Cruz on Breaking Bad

(Image credit: AMC)

13. Grilled - Season 2, Episode 2

Before there was Gus Fring or Todd, the “big bad” of Breaking Bad was Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz), who would later make a memorable return on prequel series Better Call Saul). However, his reign as Walt and Jesse’s most sinister threat ended with an undeniable bang in Season 2’s sophomore episode, “Grilled,” which sees the duo desperately trying to escape the drug dealer who is under suspicion of the DEA.

While Walt and Jesse’s many attempts at ditching Tuco are certainly not without their tension and even humor, some of the episode’s most suspenseful moments come from Skyler’s (Anna Gunn) efforts to locate her husband, with help from Hank (Dean Norris), who unwittingly finds clues that threaten to blow his brother-in-law’s operation wide open. Stealing the show, however, is Mark Margolis in his very debut appearance as Hector Salamanca, who enhances the intensity of every moment without saying a word.

Fly from Breaking Bad

(Image credit: AMC)

12. Fly - Season 3, Episode 10

One of the lower-rated episodes of Breaking Bad on IMDb, is “Fly” with an average user score of 7.9., which may not sound too bad, but is quite a dip compared to the more widely acclaimed episodes. Yet, it has made this particular list because, quite frankly, I believe it is one of the most uniquely constructed and thoroughly captivating hours of television I have ever witnessed.

In the series’ sole bottle episode, and the first directed by Rian Johnson, Walter White discovers the titular insect inside the meth lab provided to him by Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito). This forces him and Jesse to spend an entire workday hunting down the “contamination,” complemented by a witty, one-sided debate on the correct spelling of “possum” (or “opossum”) and Walt’s reflection on how his criminal lifestyle rivals the value of his life. Yet, the episode’s true strengths lie in how it paints Gus as a villain threatening enough to convince a man his life depends on an issue as seemingly frivolous as a housefly.

Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad

(Image credit: AMC)

11. Crazy Handful Of Nothin’ - Season 1, Episode 6

It is debatable which point in Breaking Bad’s narrative marks the exact moment that Walter White’s transition into a ruthless criminal mastermind really kicks into gear. Some might say the switch was flipped by the third or fourth year, but I would say we get our first inkling of who he is destined to become in the premiere season’s sixth episode, “Crazy Handful of Nothin’.”

After deciding to continue his business agreement with Jesse, Walt becomes desperate for better funds and has his partner seek help with distribution from Tuco, who turns out to be a hostile negotiator, to put it lightly. After Jesse’s first meeting with the drug slinger puts him in the hospital, a freshly head-shaven Walt – referring to himself as “Heisenberg” for the first time – pays Tuco a visit to lay out his own terms of negotiation, which include “a tweak in the chemistry” that proves to be literally explosive. While this threatening turn is clearly a performance, it is one convincing enough for even viewers to shed their preconceived notions of Walter White’s true nature.

Dean Norris on Breaking Bad

(Image credit: AMC)

10. To’hajiilee - Season 5, Episode 13

Jesse’s partnership with Hank and Stephen Gomez (Stephen Michael Quezada) from the DEA comes to an ugly head in the pulse-pounding Season 5 episode, “To’hajiilee.” It begins with Walt requesting that Todd (Jesse Plemons) kill Jesse, who plans to hit his former business partner where it hurts and using his money to lure him into a trap.

The trap is successful, leading to Walt’s arrest in the titular Native American reservation where his earnings are buried, which also ends up being the site of a violent standoff between Hank and Gomez, and the Neo-Nazis, who arrive at the worst possible time. The episode fades to black just moments after the bullets begin to fly, keeping us in fierce anticipation of what comes next, despite knowing without a doubt that it cannot end well.

Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad Episode 1

(Image credit: AMC)

9. Pilot - Season 1, Episode 1

In the episode that started it all, we meet Walter White – a high school chemistry teacher (and part-time car wash attendant) with a loving family that is about to add a fourth member, who still seems somewhat unfulfilled. When he receives news that he has terminal lung cancer, he makes the decision to team up with his former student, Jesse Pinkman, to start a methamphetamine operation to be able to support his family once he succumbs to his diagnosis, but he soon discovers this new profession may be more life-threatening.

The premiere episode of Breaking Bad is one of the more expertly constructed introductions to a series. It perfectly familiarizes us with the protagonist, quickly ropes the audience in with its bewildering flash-forward cold open, and drops subtle hints to the show's overarching themes. For instance, we first see Walt in his classroom describing chemistry as "a study of change," he is unwittingly referring to the metamorphosis he is destined to undergo.

David Costabile in Breaking Bad

(Image credit: AMC)

8. Full Measure - Season 3, Episode 13

A Breaking Bad side character who deserved more love is Gale Boetticher (David Costabile), who seemed to develop a genuine bond with Walt while filling in as his partner at Gus Fring’s (Giancarlo Esposito) lab. However, that façade would be forever tarnished when Walt used Gale’s life as a pawn in his game of wits against Gus in the heart-stopping Season 3 finale, “Full Measure.”

The poor soul forced to pull the trigger, as Walt is basically put to death by Gus, is Jesse, who is irrevocably traumatized by the first murder he ever committed. It is remembered now as one of the most disturbing moments from Breaking Bad, which also makes for a wicked cliffhanger ending to another tension-filled chapter.

Bryan Cranston in the crawl space on Breaking Bad

(Image credit: AMC)

7. Crawl Space - Season 4, Episode 11

Everyone has a favorite season of Breaking Bad, but the majority seem to favor Season 4, particularly for the meticulously winding tension between Walt and the ruthless Gus. The tension comes to a world-shattering climax and Walt reaches the peak of his desperation in the season's eleventh episode, “Crawl Space.”

When Gus catches word that Hank has come dangerously close to uncovering his operation with Walt's reluctant help, he severs ties with the cook completely, but not without threatening to kill his wife, his son, and his infant daughter before his exit. Walt enlists Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) to help him relocate his family, which will require an immodest payment. However, when he heads home to retrieve the money from the crawl space underneath his house, he discovers Skyler took it to pay off her laundering former lover's debt to the IRS, inciting a startling bout of mania portrayed exquisitely by Bryan Cranston and resulting in one of the series' most breathtaking final shots.

Aaron Paul, Jesse Plemons, and Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad

(Image credit: AMC)

6. Dead Freight - Season 5, Episode 5

While many cite Season 4 as a favorite, Breaking Bad's final season (split into two sets of eight episodes separated by a year in between) is remembered for many of its more engrossing and, ultimately, heartbreaking moments. Despite how dark things had already been on the show up to this point, few episodes have ended with such a shocking jolt of devastation.

After their shady Methylamine supplier Lydia (Laura Fraser) nearly put their operation in jeopardy, Walt, Jesse, and their new partner, experienced veteran Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), receive a tip from her that will bless them with an enormous quantity: a train carrying gallons of the stuff. This sets off a thoroughly planned robbery of the supply that seems to go off without a hitch, and excitingly so, reminiscent of an old school western. However, upon realization that an innocent child has witnessed the job, Todd attempts to solve the problem by committing the unthinkable in a scene that Cranston praises as one of Breaking Bad’s best.

Bryan Cranston on Breaking Bad

(Image credit: AMC)

5. Granite State - Season 5, Episode 15

Breaking Bad, arguably, reaches its ultimate peak of somber sadness in its penultimate episode. We almost begin to feel sorry for Walt as he struggles to settle into his lonely existence in a secluded woodland cabin, begging Ed Galbraith (Robert Forster) to keep him company for longer during a routine visit, or when Walter Jr. (R.J. Mitte) – now officially going by Flynn – wishes he was dead when he tries to call him.

The one we absolutely feel the sorriest for, however, is Jesse, who is punished for his attempt to escape the Neo-Nazis’ captivity by being forced to watch Andrea Cantillo (Emily Rios) get murdered. “Granite State” is a brilliant follow-up to the already ingenious “Ozymandias” (more on that soon) by continuing to drop emotional bomb after emotional bomb before leading us right into “Felina,” as an appearance by his former friends and business partners on Charlie Rose drives Walt over the edge.

Bryan Cranston on Breaking Bad

(Image credit: AMC)

4. Felina - Season 5, Episode 16

As Breaking Bad was coming to a close, fans had no clue how Walter White would meet his ultimate fate. I think it is safe to say that "Felina" – not just an anagram for "finale" but a chemical formula that translates to "Blood-Meth-Tears" – thankfully met expectations.

Feeling the weight of his mortality of living in seclusion for nearly a year, Walt sets out to seek redemption from his bloody trail by ensuring his earnings will be sent to his family, confessing to Skyler the truth of his criminal inspirations, and – despite originally attempting to murder him – rescuing Jesse from the Neo-Nazis' captivity. The remarkable curtain call ties up every loose end that, until Aaron Paul's feature-length epilogue El Camino in 2019, serves as a perfect example of completion, seeing this top-tier series go out while it was still on top.

Bryan Cranston on Breaking Bad

(Image credit: AMC)

3. ABQ - Season 2, Episode 13

A finale that absolutely surpassed expectations was the concluding episode of Breaking Bad's second season, which indulged in foreshadowing an event of sinister effect, one incomprehensible hint at a time. The unsettling truth learned in the final moments of "ABQ" is one that might have you believe series creator Vince Gilligan is one deeply disturbed individual to have conjured something like this.

After Jesse's horrifying discovery of his girlfriend Jane's (Krysten Ritter) fatal heroin overdose (unaware Walt is partially to blame), he enters rehab with help from Walt, whose trail of dishonesty has forced Skyler to leave him shortly after he returns home from a successful operation. Meanwhile, Jane's distraught father (John de Lancie) decides to return to his job as an air traffic controller, but he’s distracted by his grief, and makes a mistake that sends two commercial jets hurtling toward each other right above Walt's house. He may not realize then, but the audience is well aware that Walt has already officially become a purveyor of tragedy.

Giancarlo Esposito on Breaking Bad

(Image credit: AMC)

2. Face Off - Season 4, Episode 13

It was the final episode of Breaking Bad's most suffocatingly intense season that saw a huge weight taken off of Walt's –and the audience's – shoulders. On the other hand, the indelible conclusion of "Face Off" is not without its disturbing revelations.

Desperate to put an end to Gus Fring before the drug lord puts an end to him, Walt must turn to someone who despises him, but also shares a hatred toward Gus: Tuco Salamanca's silent, immobile uncle Hector, who agrees to help kill Gus in a blaze of glory. However, when Skyler learns about the murder, and the audience learns of the despicable way Walt initially coaxes Jesse into helping him, the turbulent transition of Walter White's character into a full-blown antagonist has been made clear. If the focus of Breaking Bad was not this character's descent, "Face Off" would be a victorious end to his story.

Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad

(Image credit: AMC Networks)

1. Ozymandias - Season 5, Episode 14

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias” paints the portrait of a once mighty king whose dominion has been reduced to mockery, represented by the little that remains of a statue bearing his resemblance that has been partially consumed by the sand underneath. That being said, it is clear why the third-to-last episode of Breaking Bad, written by Moira Walley-Beckett, is named after the famous poem. It marks the moment Walter White’s “kingdom” is reduced to bitter rubble as he witnesses the Neo-Nazis he hired to kill Jesse murder his brother-in-law instead, loses most of his loot to them, and, finally, becomes an enemy to his own family all in the same day.

Walt has always had a habit of citing his family as the driving force of his actions (despite the contradictory confession he makes in the finale) but “Ozymandias” sees that part of his world come crashing down right before his eyes. From Walt’s cold confession to Jesse about his late lover, to Skyler’s desperate breakdown as she watches her husband steal her infant daughter away, and the final phone call between the couple before Walt is forced to abandon the life he once held dear, this Rian Johnson-directed episode is one of the most perfectly acted, unforgettably climactic, and paralyzingly bleak hours of television you will ever see.

What do you think? Do you agree that, out of all 62 episodes of Breaking Bad, these prevail over all, or do you think I’m goddamn wrong?

Jason Wiese
Content Writer

Jason Wiese writes feature stories for CinemaBlend. His occupation results from years dreaming of a filmmaking career, settling on a "professional film fan" career, studying journalism at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO (where he served as Culture Editor for its student-run print and online publications), and a brief stint of reviewing movies for fun. He would later continue that side-hustle of film criticism on TikTok (@wiesewisdom), where he posts videos on a semi-weekly basis. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.