Breaking Bad is known as one of the most prolific TV series ever, and though it’s consistent throughout, the seasons do range in quality. The series follows Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher living a life of painful mediocrity who is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Hoping to leave his family in a better financial standing, Walter sets out to finally utilize his scientific intelligence by producing and selling top-quality methamphetamine. The series is celebrated by unanimous critical acclaim for its writing, performances, and direction, all of which exemplify the best that TV has to offer.
Running for five seasons, Breaking Bad managed to achieve mass cultural appeal, spawning both a prequel series and a sequel movie. The fictionalized world of drug crime in Albuquerque is explored through multiple facets, from the DEA to the cartel to the legal system, examining how each piece intertwines around Walter White’s descent into becoming the criminal Heisenberg. The series follows a similar model to The Sopranos, where each season sees heightened stakes and rising tensions.
6. Season 1
Season 1 primarily focuses on Walter White’s entry into the drug trade and the challenges of his new double life. The series establishes its premise and many of the characters in Walter’s life, such as his wife Skyler, son Walt Jr., DEA agent brother-in-law Hank, and sister-in-law Marie. The shortened seven-episode season features Walt and Jesse introduced to cartel kingpin Tuco Salamanca, quickly integrating them into the crime world by establishing a deal to cook meth for him. While the season was praised as a strong jump-off point for the rest of the series, it isn’t as highly regarded.
Breaking Bad season 1 establishes the effective dynamic between Walt and Jesse early on. Walter’s fish-out-of-water scholarly approach to the drug business clashes with Jesse’s impulsiveness, allowing for thrilling and often humorous chemistry to spark between them. Season 1 is a captivating introduction to the series but fails to capture the heights of later seasons, with its main highlights being the introductions to the main Breaking Bad characters and their dynamics.
5. Season 2
Breaking Bad season 2 centers on Walter and Jesse as they’re further entrenched in the violence of the drug world, leading to ramped-up danger and moral dilemmas. Jesse finds a new love interest in Jane Margolis, and his struggles with addiction are explored. Essential characters like Saul Goodman and Gustavo Fring are introduced, expanding the series’ scope. The season also slowly hints at the event of a two-plane crash, which is explained fully at the end of the season to be indirectly linked to Walter’s actions.
The plane crash is a fascinating symbolic event to see the escalating stakes and consequences of Walter’s double life. Jane and Jesse’s dynamic is a clear positive for the season that has massive implications for his arc going forward. Saul instantly becomes pivotal in the series, establishing Walt and Jesse’s growing sway. Overall, Breaking Bad season 2 doesn’t have the high intensity as the later seasons, but it works effectively as a gradual slow burn with strong character development.
4. Season 3
Breaking Bad season 3 picks up the pace, beginning the deadly cat-and-mouse game between Walter White and Gustavo Fring, who becomes a fully established character. Skyler finally discovers Walt’s secret in season 3, episode 1, causing his household conflict to escalate as their relationship is forever strained. The season continues to put Walter and Jesse in intense moral dilemmas, such as the murder of Gale Boetticher, the chemist Gus planned to be the replacement for the inflammatory Walt.
Like the death of Jane, Gale’s murder becomes a pivotal moment for the series. For Jesse, who’s forced to carry out the deed, Gale’s death is a key metaphor for the moral compromises that come with the drug business territory, an idea the series would continue to explore. Gus’ introduction as a primary antagonist continued the show’s rise to becoming a cultural phenomenon, as Giancarlo Esposito’s performance as the stolid mysterious kingpin was instantly celebrated.
3. Season 5 (Part 1)
Breaking Bad season 5 was split into two parts, each exploring a different arc in the downfall of Heisenberg. Part 1 sees Walter, Jesse, and Mike Ehrmantraut in the fallout of Gus Fring’s death. With the power vacuum left behind in the absence of Gus and the cartel, the trio establish their own drug business. Growing tensions between the three of them limit the growth of their enterprise, but they do accomplish feats like the train heist and prison assassinations before things go downhill.
Season 5, part 1 introduces Todd and Jack Welker’s gang, characters who would become the antagonists of part 2. Mike’s story is sadly concluded after his execution at the hands of Walt, capping off one of the show’s most beloved and sympathetic characters. While season 5 shows Heisenberg at his peak of power, the most intriguing part is the cliffhanger ending where Hank finally undoubtedly connects that Walt is the drug kingpin he’s been searching for, beginning the path to Walt’s long-awaited downfall.
2. Season 4
Breaking Bad season 4 is the most thrilling installment of the series, marked by high-stakes drama and masterful character development. The cat-and-mouse game between Walt and Gus from season 3 escalates, with Walt and Jesse finally deciding to fight back and seize dominance in the drug trade. Season 4 also explores Gus and his motives in greater depth, seeing him get his long-awaited revenge on the cartel that murdered his former partner.
Gus is the highlight of season 4, with his death being the memorable climax of the season. Tension builds up perfectly toward the final unforgettable moment between Gus and Hector Salamanca, one of Breaking Bad’s nearly perfect scenes. Season 4 also has the fantastic “I am the one who knocks” scene, showing how far gone Walt has become as a dangerous criminal and loose cannon.
1. Season 5 (Part 2)
Season 5, part 2 delivers an incredibly satisfying conclusion to Walter White’s story, with some of the best episodes in the entire series. While season 5 lacks the riveting antagonistic presence of Gus, his absence is essential for Walter White to become the villain. Jack Welker and his gang also serve as a threatening opposing force, with the desert shoot-out offering one of Breaking Bad’s most anxiety-inducing moments through tension and dramatic confrontation, leading to the tragic death of Hank Schrader.
Breaking Bad’s final episodes finally deliver the emotional catharsis planned from the beginning, with Walt finally coming clean on his selfish motive and Walt Jr. finally discovering his father’s secret. Part 2 sees Jesse’s emotional deterioration as he finally confronts Walter about his manipulation and reveals the extent of his anger toward him before he’s captured and imprisoned. Leading up to Walt’s death, Breaking Bad explores the complexity of redemption as he finally grapples with the consequences of his actions and tries to make amends with Jesse and his own family. His last effort decisions add depth to his character and make the conclusion more powerful.