The 12 Essential ‘Breaking Bad’ Episodes

With Breaking Bad, television’s finest drama, winding up for the beginning of its final season this Sunday, Flavorwire is taking a look back at five years of America’s favorite meth-cooking cancer survivor, and preparing for the last eight episodes of his story. Click here to follow our coverage.

Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: you should just watch all of the episodes of Breaking Bad, and I’m going to presume that you have. Making the deliberate choice to forgo the experience of watching television’s best drama, and to instead pick and choose and shortcut, is a shameful activity. This isn’t The Iliad, and these aren’t Cliff Notes. No, the idea behind this guide to Breaking Bad’s essential episodes is not to suggest that these are the only ones you should watch — but merely to nominate the show’s finest hours, and the ones you might choose to revisit in preparation for the final season, since every episode to date is currently streaming on Netflix. So they’re chosen for plot progression, yes, but also for providing the series’ finest moments and its characters’ key points of evolution. And with that, may I humbly offer Breaking Bad’s dozen essential episodes. (Note: there will be spoilers. I told you that you should’ve already seen these!)

1-pilot

“Pilot” (Season 1, Episode 1)

From it first moments, Breaking Bad established itself as something special. Its scorching opening scene reveals a pair of slacks flying through the air, an RV careening through the desert, and Walter White (Bryan Cranston) inside, clad only in tighty-whities. Two men are unconscious inside; one of them has a gun. Walt’s actions, his tearful farewell to his family, and his final act of aiming that gun squarely at the approaching authorities are a textbook case of parachuting an audience into a story in progress, and letting them scramble to catch up; from frame one, creator Vince Gilligan throws us off-balance, and seldom allows us the opportunity to fully regain our bearings. The table for the series is set: it’s unpredictable and frazzled, and even at its most stoic, it packs a perverse, voyeuristic thrill.