Part of what made Breaking Bad such a great series was how it changed the status quo in the most amazing and shocking ways. Just when audiences thought Walter White and Jesse Pinkman were safe or at least secure, Breaking Bad would upend the status quo and irrevocably change the characters and the stakes.
One moment Walter and Jesse were in over their heads, the next they were a deadly duo led by the feared drug kingpin “Heisenberg.” Breaking Bad’s ever-changing status quo made it one of the most unpredictable and exciting crime dramas of the 2000s, and it’s unlikely that it will be surpassed any time soon.
10 Walter White Becomes Heisenberg
Crazy Handful of Nothin’ (Episode 6, Season 1)
“Heisenberg” is basically Walter’s power fantasy. Besides indulging in the kinds of aggression and violence that a mild-mannered chemistry teacher could only dream of, Heisenberg was the man Walter thought he was meant to be. Heisenberg first came to life after Walter shaved his head and bombed Tuco Salamanca’s office.
Not only did Walter’s alias and iconic bald appearance debut in “Crazy Handful of Nothin’,” but this was arguably the episode where he embraced the Heisenberg persona. Walter got an insatiable rush from intimidating Tuco with nothing but science and words. Walt’s need for this high motivated him for most of Breaking Bad‘s impressive run.
9 Skyler White Leaves Walter White
ABQ (Episode 13, Season 2)
When she was first introduced, Skyler was presented to be Walter’s motivation for his crimes and Breaking Bad’s emotional core. As long as Skyler was oblivious to Walt’s actions, he (and audiences) could justify what he was doing and give the show its familial center. When Skyler learned Walter was lying, she told him to leave.
It took Skyler a few more episodes to realize that her husband was in the drug trade, but this was the moment Walt’s idyllic family facade began to erode. Not only was his family not as perfect as he wanted it to be, but doubt took root in Skyler’s mind. More importantly, Walt lost the biggest excuse he used to justify himself.
8 Saul Goodman Visited Walter White At School
Better Call Saul (Episode 8, Season 2)
The ruthless Saul Goodman basically volunteered to join Heisenberg’s fledging operation when they first met. After convincing Badger to avoid confessing and pinning “Heisenberg” on a patsy, Saul visited Walter at his school with a proposal. For a cut of the profits, Saul would serve as Heisenberg’s legal representative and advisor.
“Better Call Saul” wasn’t just Saul’sdebut, but it was also the moment that the small-time Heisenberg made it to the big leagues. As Saul confessed in his spin-off series Better Call Saul, Heisenberg’s wrath, entrance into Gus Fring’s operation, and ascent in the underworld could’ve been avoided if not for Saul’s intervention.
7 The Cousins Almost Killed Hank Schrader
One Minute (Episode 7, Season 3)
“One Minute” depicted one of the worst days in Hank’s life. After being suspended for attacking Jesse, he was nearly killed by The Cousins during their failed assassination attempt. Hank only survived because Gus tipped him off at the crucial last second. Hank barely survived, but he was never the same afterwards.
Because of Hank’s prior near-death experience and being temporarily paralyzed after the attempt on his life, the once-unwavering DEA agent was out of commission for most of Season 3 and 4. “One Minute” also revealed how calculating Gus really was, since this was the start of his revenge against the Salamancas.
6 Walter White Lets Jane Margolis Die
Phoenix (Episode 12, Season 2)
Jane irrevocably changed Breaking Bad’s status quo and Jesse’s life the moment she appeared. Unfortunately, her biggest impact on the series and characters was her accidental death. After Jane blackmailed Walter into giving her and Jesse more money, Walter let her die of an overdose when he dropped by their house.
This was one of the first truly reprehensible things Walter did, and it wasn’t the last. Meanwhile, Jesse was never the same after Jane’s death. To cope, Jesse resorted to vices and became more dependent on Walter’s emotional manipulations. This culminated with him killing Gale on Walter’s orders, which further broke him.
5 Walter White Goes Into Remission
4 Days Out (Episode 9, Season 2)
Breaking Bad kicked off when Walter resorted to making meth to make sure his family had enough money after he dies from cancer. Walter used his diagnosis to justify getting deeper into the drug trade, and his situation made him more sympathetic to audiences. Then Walter learned he was going into remission.
At first, Walter was enraged that he seemingly got his hands dirty for nothing. Shortly after, Walter used his second chance at life to remake himself into a drug lord. From this point on, Walter lost all pretenses for his atrocities. Walter was now a full-fledged monster, and audiences realized that his diagnosis was just an excuse.
4 Walter White “Wins”
Face Off (Episode 13, Season 4)
For most of Breaking Bad, Walter and Jesse were under Gus Fring’s mercy. If not for Walter’s quick thinking, Gus would’ve killed him and Jesse a long time ago. In Season 4’s finale, this status quo was upended after Walter outsmarted Gus at the last second. Specifically, Walt killed Gus and regained control of everything and everyone.
To do this, Walter convinced Hector Salamanca to commit a murder-suicide to kill Gus. Worse, Walt framed Gus for poisoning Brock Cantillo to get Jesse back on his side. Breaking Bad’s fourth season finale cemented how corrupted Walter was and how low would go to get what he wanted, and it warned how much worse he was about to get.
3 Elliot & Gretchen Schwartz Disavow Walter White On Live TV
Granite State (Episode 15, Season 5)
Breaking Bad’s fifth season presented two contradicting scenes. The first was a flashback that showed Heisenberg at the height of his power, and the second was the present where a decrepit Walter was on the run. The latter almost ended with Walter surrendering to the authorities, but then he saw his old acquaintances on TV.
In an interview, Elliot and Gretchen claimed Walter had nothing to do with Gray Matter Technologies’ founding. This angered Walter so much that he reverted to Heisenberg one last time to settle old scores and die on his own terms. If not for the Schwartzes’ interview, a beaten Heisenberg would’ve faded into obscurity.
2 Hank Schrader Finds Gale Boetticher’s Book
Gliding Over All (Episode 8, Season 5)
When Breaking Bad’s fifth season began, Walter owned the status quo. He was rich enough to leave the drug trade for good, his cancer was gone, and he even convinced Skyler to come back. This peaceful dream ended when, in Breaking Bad’s iconic fifth mid-season finale, Hank read “Leaves of Grass” in the Whites’ bathroom.
If not for the book that Gale gave to Walter, Hank would’ve never figured out that Walter and Heisenberg were one person. Hank’s discovery didn’t just trigger the collapse of Walter’s enterprise, but it also permanently ended his double life. Now, everyone knew Walter was a brutal drug lord, not a luckless teacher.
1 Everything That Happened In “Ozymandias”
Ozymandias (Episode 14, Season 5)
“Ozymandias” went down in history as one of the best episodes of television ever made. In just one episode, Hank and Steve Gomez were killed, Jesse was taken prisoner by the Neo-Nazis, Walter cut ties to his personal life, and he went on the run. Breaking Bad was now past the point of no return.
“Ozymandias” was also the episode that permanently sealed Walter’s villainy. For most of the series, Walter could be interpreted as a shady anti-hero who committed crimes for family. However, “Ozymandias” made bare just how evil and narcissistic Walter really was. Worse, Walter only realized these after he lost everything and everyone.
NEXT: 15 Easter Eggs Everyone Missed In Breaking Bad
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