Vince Gilligan’s hit TV drama Breaking Bad has kept fans enthralled and engaged for much of the show’s epic five season run. The fifth and final season is where you’ll find some of the most memorable and gripping moments, even considering the high standards set by the dozens of thrilling episodes that preceded it.
The beginning of Season 5 sees Walter White climb to the lofty heights of criminal kingpin, setting the stage for some truly dramatic, action-packed events. The second half, however, brings us to a thrilling crescendo only to have much of Walt’s empire crashing down around him, as he tries to cope with overwhelming conditions (including the re-emergence of his cancer). These high stakes and pivotal moments are what largely makes these final 8 episodes of Breaking Bad so captivating. This whirlwind of chaos is also what leads to Jesse’s less-than-ideal circumstances in El Camino. With this list, we’ll seek to analyze this most epic conclusion of Breaking Bad and rank each episode of the last season.
“Rabid Dog” acts as a sort of brief respite in the face of a situation spiraling out of control for a great many of our lead characters. It features a pretty heartfelt, tranquil scene with Walt talking to his son about his drive to keep fighting his cancer while at a hotel pool. It’s significant as it’s one of White’s last scenes playing the role of a benign family man before things really kick off.
At the same time, there’s an aura of frustration and tension as Jesse seems determined to “get White where he really lives” after nearly burning down his and his family’s house. The “Rabid Dog” analogy obviously applies to a scorned, enraged Pinkman, who Walt and Saul try to deal with by sending their men to hunt him down. Outside of these basic beats, this is a fairly uneventful episode in an otherwise impactful and thrilling second half of Season 5.
This is a fun episode to watch, in the sense that it presents a unique dynamic we’ve yet to really see in the show – the jig is up and Hank has discovered Walter’s dirty secret, and Walt now knows that he knows. Additionally, Hank is unable to reach out to Skyler in order to get to her husband. So, what next?
Well, the Whites and Schraders attempt to negotiate in a rather funny scene at an easy-going Mexican restaurant, which clashes with the utter seriousness of what they’re discussing in an amusing way. This leads to a pretty clever, albeit underhanded, stunt by Walt, which sees him threaten to release a tape of his false “confession” if he doesn’t back off. We also see Walt talk to Jesse in a thinly veiled threat, urging him to just leave town. Beyond Walt’s calculated moves to protect himself, there aren’t a ton of significant or thrilling moments throughout this one.
“Buried” is probably the appropriate title for this episode, as it’s essentially the moment in which Walt’s aspirations and obtained wealth are about to be buried and left to die. Yet, it also sees White in a mad scramble to literally bury his remaining stash of cash – basically, the one tangible lead Hank would have to bring him down before he passes.
There’s also quite an emotional scene that involves a clash between Skyler and her once loving sister, as she attempts to take their daughter Holly from them. There are certainly more exciting events during this last batch of episodes, but there are still some pivotal moments here, too.
“Blood Money,” the premiere episode of Breaking Bad’s “Final Season,” picks up right where we left off after a thrilling cliffhanger. Just after the viewers could breathe a sigh of relief as Skyler convinces Walt to back out of the dangerous drug trade, the cat seems to be out of the bag.
There’s only a short window of respite, as Agent Schrader finally has the epiphany many of us have been waiting for. A particularly tense standoff between Hank and Walt ensues, and Jesse seeks to break free from his dark past. The episode also kicks off in a curious flash-forward that shows a grizzled Walt searching his now ruined, deserted property, prompting the audience to wonder just what has happened between Hank’s toilet revelation and now. This episode is almost more of a teaser of what’s to come than an actual event-filled viewing. Still, it’s effective in its own right, and helps sets the stage for a dramatic conclusion.
At this point in Breaking Bad, the you-know-what has hit the fan, the wheels have fallen off, the house of cards has collapsed – pick your analogy. Walt has hit the ejector seat, and, with the help of the memorable new character Ed (played by the late great Robert Forster), gets out of Dodge. Using the front of a simple vacuum repair shop, the man is well-versed in dressing those in need with a new identity and sending them off to a discrete new location, which is precisely what he does with the desperate ex-kingpin.
This is a fun episode in that it shows our typically unbreakable anti-hero in a broken, precarious spot, as his empire and his life has been reduced to merely trying to survive in the cold, desolate woodlands of New Hampshire. Though the pacing of this somber episode is rather slow, it ends on a high note, as Walt stumbles upon a scheme as to how to give his money to his family – in what will basically be his one true last shot.
This is one of the most exciting and engaging episodes not just in terms of Breaking Bad’s run, but perhaps in modern television as a whole. “To’hajiilee” feels like a constantly escalating series of events that everything during these several seasons has built up to. Walt, Jack, and company are out to kill Jesse. Jesse, Hank, and his partner Steve are out to catch White – something’s got to give here.
The episode is rife with thrilling moments – particularly the shootout between Hank, Steve, and their foes that leaves us hanging as it abruptly cuts during the action. Even the moments you’d consider the episode’s “downtime” (like Hank’s cheeky staged photo) are laced with heart-pounding intensity, as everything reaches boiling point. Relationships are compromised, plots are foiled, and lives are on the line.
While “Ozymandias” somewhat lacks the edge-of-your-seat action and pacing of the prior episode, “To’hajiilee,” it’s just as effective with its gut-wrenching emotional moments. It’s also a devastating turn of events for Walter. Not only has his brother-in-law been shot to death, but most of his money has also been stolen from Jack and the gang.
What’s worse, the only people he had been fighting for, his family, have now basically condemned him during an uncomfortable skirmish in their own kitchen. The moment of desperation as Walt grabs Holly and takes off in his newly obtained truck, ramming Skyler’s car out of the driveway and flooring it, is a powerful one. This episode also sees Jesse hit rock bottom, as he’s taken captive, tossed in a pit and forced to cook meth for their enemies.
In one of the most well-crafted and powerful TV finales in recent history, “Felina” showcases a series of highly clever and satisfying last-minute schemes by Walter as he tries to finish his goals in his rapidly deteriorating life. Just when it seems all hope is lost, we see the brilliance and drive of White re-emerge one last time, as he attempts to right all the wrongs that he’s endured.
From the clever maneuvering to channel his money through Gretchen and Elliott’s foundation, to his tear-jerking reunion with Skyler, to the thrilling action-packed scene in Jack’s clubhouse that closes out the show – this is really strong enough to be a stand-alone film. Thankfully, we did at least get a BB film in some form, as El Camino did a nice job of picking up where this memorable show left off.
P.S. This article originally appeared on SCREENRANT.
Breaking Bad is undoubtedly one of the greatest TV shows of all time. Nearly every aspect of its production was acclaimed, including the acting, writing, directing, cinematography, and authentic Albuquerque setting. That said, not all the episodes can be winners. While a large majority of the show was acclaimed, there are a few standout episodes....
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