This Sunday, we’ll all tune in to the Season 5½th premiere of Breaking Bad to witness the final chapter in Walter White’s transformation from Mr. Chips to Scarface — though it’s pretty clear by now that the former has long since been out of the equation. Here, the Grantland staff recounts some of the more memorable stops on Walter White’s fall from grace.
Walter Blows Up Tuco’s Office
Jonah Keri: Breaking Bad, like most high-concept dramas for adults, has a bit of a problem. To reel in network approval and advertisers, many of these shows must punch you in the head very early on with “Holy shit!” moments, whether via giant plot twists, explosive violence, or both. The problem comes when these shows get picked up for second, third, fourth, and fifth seasons. There’s pressure to keep viewers’ attention, which often means raising the stakes with even more unlikely twists and blood-fests that can become almost cartoonish.
The most indelible moment in Breaking Bad history, the one you have in mind when you pester and annoy everyone you know until they commit to a Netflix binge is probably DINGDINGDINGDINGDINGDINGDING. That’s an all-timer, of course. But by the time Breaking Bad attempted its Walking Dead crossover, we already knew what Walt was capable of doing.
In this scene from Season 1, the image in our minds for the show’s protagonist is still Walter White the mild-mannered science teacher, not Heisenberg the empire builder. We can’t imagine how the flaccid character we’ve seen over the first few episodes of the show is going to escape a jam with an insane drug dealer in front of him and a pack of 350-pound henchmen behind him. That is, until our friend Mr. Fulminated Mercury makes an appearance.
I measure the quality of a TV moment by how long it takes me to close my jaw after the big reveal happens. Caught a week’s worth of flies after this one.
Walter Knocks (Blooper Reel)
Chris Ryan: I am a big fan of Breaking Bad bloopers because, come on, Breaking Bad bloopers. But nothing fills me with more joy than the thought of Bryan Cranston being a cutup in what might have been the series’ most chilling scene.
Walter Runs Over Some Drug Dealers
Emily Yoshida: After all, if you introduce a Pontiac Aztek in the first season, it has to go off in the fourth.
Sean Fennessey: One could make the case that unruly behavior in the face of a peace officer is an early warning shot in the coming of evil Walt — “Hellfire rained down on my house!” — but I’ll point to Mr. White cranking America’s “A Horse With No Name” as the true crime. No truly good man is in thrall to that kind of classic-rock pap.
Walter Wastes Food
Andy Greenwald: What kind of monster would waste a perfectly good pizza?
Walter Has Nine Inmates Shivved
Mark Lisanti: There was a time, early on, when Walter White was an adorable schlub in a gas mask and ill-fitting tighty-whities. We all still remember that guy, and that pair of baggy Fruit-of-the-Very-Sad-Looms has come to represent innocence lost, a last shred of skid-marked humanity abandoned in a sun-blasted desert. It’s pretty hard to forget an image like that.
By the time we arrived at “Gliding Over All,” the fifth-season half-finale, the old Walt was dead and buried, his transformation long complete. And there’s no better illustration than the prison massacre montage. The hyperefficient clockwork of a perfectly executed mass-murder is never so jauntily chilling as when it’s set to Nat King Cole’s crooning. We can’t know what kind of underthings Walter has treated himself to as his jump-suited proxies get to work wiping out Lydia’s list, but one imagines they fit a little better.
Walter Does Nothing
netw3rk: You can rationalize every death Walter has had a hand in — directly or indirectly — as being a drug-business-logical move toward self-preservation. Krazy 8, Emilio, Gus — they all meant Walter bodily harm. Jane Margolis, on the other hand, just wanted money. And Jesse. Walter could’ve simply let Jane and Jesse skip town with his money. You can see the wheels turning in Walter’s mind: resignation to being powerless to pry Jesse from Jane; panic when she begins to choke; and realization that he can simply do nothing, and benefit.