Breaking Bad

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Photo: Doug Hyun

Part intricately plotted gangster epic, part satire of American materialism, Breaking Bad is an Albuquerque tall tale about a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher named Walter White (Bryan Cranston) who begins manufacturing a superpotent form of crystal meth to create a nest egg for his family and gradually transforms into a criminal monster as terrifying and remorseless as the beasts unleashed by desert bomb blasts in 1950s creature features. Series creator Vince Gilligan jauntily summed up Walter’s arc as “Mr. Chips becomes Scarface,” but there’s a lot more to it than that, starting with the implication, seeded very early in season one, that Walter feels burdened by the domestic responsibilities that he claims to hold sacred, and cheated of the fame and wealth that he believes is owed to him.

Walter White is one of TV’s greatest anti-heroes, but that might not be the case if Gilligan and his writers hadn’t devised a constellation of supporting characters as compelling as the show’s protagonist. Walt’s former student turned tragic ally Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), his suffering wife Skyler (Anna Gunn), and his macho, bullet-headed brother-in-law, DEA agent Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) each bring their own flaws and blind spots to complicate the show’s morality. And the show’s Dick Tracy–worthy gallery of drug-world schemers, including hilariously amoral criminal-emphasis-on-the-criminal lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) and cool-as-ice drug lord/chicken magnate Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), add nuance and shading to Walter’s gradual transformation into a criminal mastermind.

Airing for five seasons on AMC between 2008 and 2013, Breaking Bad is imbued with touches of 1940s film noir, spaghetti westerns, cat-and-mouse crime thrillers, and science fiction. The filmmaking is exuberantly showy, each episode containing a shot from a point of view you’ve never seen before: a whiteboard full of equations, the blade of a shovel about to dig, a Roomba prowling a floor full of zonked-out party guests. But while Breaking Bad is a consummate early-21st-century, anti-hero-driven cable drama that prizes showmanship above all else, it never assumes we’re here to uncritically root for Walter. Like The Sopranos, it keeps escalating Walter’s awfulness season by season, as if trying to see what it will take to finally alienate a fan base that might look to him as an aspirational figure. —Matt Zoller Seitz

  1. Episode 7 A No-Rough-Stuff Type Deal
    Breaking Bad Season-Finale Recap: Because It Was Illegal Walt chases the rush, but the rush chases back.
  2. Episode 6 Crazy Handful of Nothin’
    Breaking Bad Recap: Enter Heisenberg Walter White is a gambler, which is a danger to him and those who will always dismiss him as an amateur. They will do so at their peril.
  3. Episode 5 Gray Matter
    Breaking Bad Recap: Making a Choice Walt’s family thinks he’s not acting like himself, but the real Walt is much more troubling.
  4. Episode 4 Cancer Man
    Breaking Bad Recap: Alternative Treatments Walt’s lowest moment so far isn’t the cancer diagnosis. It’s much uglier.
  5. Episode 3 … And the Bag’s in the River
    Breaking Bad Recap: What Makes Up a Human Being? Don’t worry, Walt, the killing gets easier from here.
  6. Episode 2 The Cat’s in the Bag…
    Breaking Bad Recap: Chirality Episode two shows what kind of series this will be by hitting the brakes without ever letting up the tension.
  7. Episode 1 Pilot
    Breaking Bad Series-Premiere Recap: I Am Awake Why does Walter White break bad? The real reason is there from the very beginning.
  1. Episode 13 ABQ
    Breaking Bad Season-Finale Recap: Walt’s in the Doghouse, Jesse’s in a Meth Den The second season ends on a positive note. Just kidding.
  2. Episode 11 Mandala
    Breaking Bad Recap: Back to the Lab Again People aren’t necessarily who you think they are.
  3. Episode 10 Over
    Breaking Bad Recaps: The Supermen From the Boys The further Walt drifts from the drug-dealing life, the more unhappy he gets.
  4. Episode 9 4 Days Out
    Breaking Bad Recap: Riding Through the Desert on a Horse With No Name Walt and Jesse get stuck in the desert during a meth-making marathon, and come very close to death.
  5. Episode 7 Negro Y Azul
    Breaking Bad Recap: Word Is Bond We get a little romance, as well as an exploding head atop a turtle.
  6. Episode 6 Peekaboo
    Breaking Bad Recap: Breaking the Bank Walt is morphing into a total jerk.
  7. Episode 5 Breakage
    Breaking Bad Recap: Back on the Grind Walt’s pissed! And better yet, cooking again.
  8. Episode 4 Down
    Breaking Bad Recap: Family Matters This episode focused on the unraveling of both Walt and Jesse’s personal connections, and boy, was it a depressing hour.
  9. Episode 3 Bit by a Dead Bee
    Breaking Bad Recap: Walt Goes for Broken If anything, it seems like Walt is getting off on the danger.
  1. Episode 13 Full Measure
    Breaking Bad Season-Finale Recap: Why Be Cautious? Walt throws you-know-what to the wind, and Jesse gets dragged along behind.
  2. Episode 12 Half Measures
    Breaking Bad: Groundhog Day Everybody sees their shadow.
  3. Episode 11 Abiquiu
    Breaking Bad Recap: I’ll Be the Danny Skyler gets in on the game, and Walt cooks (food, that is) with Gus.
  4. Episode 10 Fly
    Breaking Bad Recap: Bug Repellent One hour. One bug in the meth lab. Great episode.
  5. Episode 9 Kafkaesque
    Breaking Bad Recap: The Chicken Brothers Jesse makes more bad decisions, and Skyler finally gets in on the deceit.
  6. Episode 8 I See You
    Breaking Bad Recap: All Shiny Up in Here Walt, Jesse, and Gus hurry up and wait.
  7. Episode 7 One Minute
  8. Episode 6 Sunset
    Breaking Bad Recap: RV Life Isn’t Always Relaxing With Hank and the cousins closing in, Walt and Jesse reteam to get rid of the camper.
  9. Episode 5 Mas
    Breaking Bad Recap: Regression Therapy Exploding the myth of “he did it for the family.”
  10. Episode 4 Green Light
    Breaking Bad Recap: Dirty, Damp, and Deep We’re so glad to see Jesse and Walt bickering again!
  11. Episode 3 I.F.T.
    Breaking Bad Recap: Home, Alone Walt calls Skyler’s bluff on turning him in, and she finds a different way to get even.
  12. Episode 2 Caballo Sin Nombre
    Breaking Bad Recap: The Home Front Walt gets his disenfranchised white male anger on.
  13. Episode 1 No Mas
    Breaking Bad Season-Premiere Recap “I’m not a criminal — no offense to any of those that are.”
  1. Episode 13 Face Off
  2. Episode 12 End Times
    Breaking Bad Recap: Truth or Consequences, New Mexico The season’s penultimate episode.
  3. Episode 11 Crawl Space
    Breaking Bad Recap: Down in the Hole Walt ends up deep in a hell or a grave of his own making.
  4. Episode 10 Salud
    Breaking Bad Recap: Tequila! Jesse didn’t kill Gus. Jesse didn’t even let Gus die (at least not yet).
  5. Episode 9 Bug
    Breaking Bad Recap: No Holds Barred Walt and Jesse’s partnership comes to fisticuffs.
  6. Episode 8 Hermanos
    Breaking Bad Recap: Paid the Cost to Be the Boss Don Draper and Gus Fring: secret-identity hermanos?
  7. Episode 7 Problem Dog
    Breaking Bad Recap: Conference Table Theater Gus’s outlook is not good.
  8. Episode 6 Cornered
    Breaking Bad Recap: The One Who Knocks Is Walt officially a sociopath?
  9. Episode 5 Shotgun
    Breaking Bad Recap: Mojo Working Meth is not the most dangerous drug on this show. Mojo is. And Walt’s an addict.
  10. Episode 4 Bullet Points
    Breaking Bad Recap: All In Walt still hasn’t adjusted to the reality that everyone else has moved onto a whole other game.
  11. Episode 3 Open House
    Breaking Bad Recap: Ladies’ Night But no one’s feeling all right.
  12. Episode 2 Thirty-Eight Snub
    Breaking Bad Recap: Turn It Up! The first three seasons have leaned heavily on Western motifs. Will the new season become more noir?
  13. Episode 1 Box Cutter
    Breaking Bad Premiere Recap: Somebody’s Watching Me And we’re off to a very bloody start.
  1. Episode 16 Felina
    Breaking Bad Series-Finale Recap: ‘Do It Yourself’ “Felina” has a feeling of Dickensian reckoning, with closure galore, but minus any real sense of hope.
  2. Episode 15 Granite State
    Breaking Bad Recap: Nothing Personal “Why don’t you just die already?”
  3. Episode 14 Ozymandias
    Breaking Bad Recap: Father Knows Beast You could almost divide the episode’s scenes into two columns: “Property of Walter” and “Property of Heisenberg.”
  4. Episode 13 To’hajiilee
    Breaking Bad Recap: Barrels of Fun Are they trying to kill us with these cliffhangers?
  5. Episode 12 Rabid Dog
    Breaking Bad Recap: Pump Malfunction As Breaking Bad draws to a close, it seems that Walt is reverting to half-measures.
  6. Episode 11 Confessions
    Breaking Bad Recap: The Performance of a Lifetime The confession in “Confessions” wasn’t the one some of us had hoped for.
  7. Episode 10 Buried
    Breaking Bad Recap: Stop Digging “Am I under arrest? Am I under arrest? Am I under arrest?”
  8. Episode 9 Blood Money
    Breaking Bad Recap: The End Begins Hank. Walt. The garage. BE THERE.
  9. Episode 8 Gliding Over All
    Breaking Bad Recap: Walt, Anonymous? It’s Hank’s show now.
  10. Episode 7 Say My Name
    Breaking Bad Recap: Thirty Seconds Flat A lot of stuff happened tonight because it needed to happen. The “how”s were not always persuasive.
  11. Episode 6 Buyout
    Breaking Bad Recap: Everybody Wins After one of the loudest, most visually spectacular Breaking Bad episodes comes one of the quietest.
  12. Episode 5 Dead Freight
    Breaking Bad Recap: Throw Plausibility From the Train Eventually, Breaking Bad had to air a disappointing fifth season episode, and “Dead Freight” is it.
  13. Episode 4 Fifty-One
    Breaking Bad Recap: The Walking Cancer Thus far, the three most important moments in the four-plus-season run of Breaking Bad involve cancer.
  14. Episode 3 Hazard Pay
    Breaking Bad Recap: A Deal’s a Deal If Breaking Bad isn’t part of the curriculum in business schools, it should be.
  15. Episode 2 Madrigal
    Breaking Bad Recap: For the Love of Mike Jonathan Banks’s icy fixer dominates a perfect episode.
  16. Episode 1 Live Free or Die
  1. vulture lists
    Every Episode of Breaking Bad, Ranked With the release of El Camino, we revisit the show’s highs and lows.
  2. encounter
    Aaron Paul Couldn’t Be Happier to Be Jesse Pinkman Again The Breaking Bad star returns to his greatest role.
  3. tv
    Take Vulture’s Breaking Bad Superfan Quiz Ten years after Breaking Bad debuted, how well do you know Walter White’s story?
  4. influences
    Better Call Saul Influences: Godfather and More “We’ve been ripping off Edward Hopper shamelessly over the last two years, at least.”
  5. close reads
    Why Better Call Saul Is the Anti–Breaking Bad Where Vince Gilligan’s original AMC crime drama was plot-driven to a fault, the follow-up is more relaxed.
  6. last rites
    Seitz: One Last Look at the Breaking Bad Finale What our TV critic feels about the episode four days later.
  7. vulture essays
    Warren Ellis on Breaking Bad and the Horrible Glory of Heisenberg There’s a reason “Walter White lived here” isn’t scrawled on the wall of his house.
  8. best of
    See All of Vulture’s Breaking Bad Illustrations Want to see what a Pollos Hermanos value meal looks like? Okay.
  9. deep dives
    Matt Zoller Seitz on the 11 Breaking Bad Episodes He Can’t Shake Maybe it’s best to think of this as a New Hampshire cabin viewing list.
  10. vulture essays
    Damon Lindelof on Breaking Bad: How Heisenberg Is Like Batman How is Walter White like Bruce Wayne? The co-creator of Lost explains in this Vulture essay.
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