To celebrate the holidays and perhaps assuage concerned fans of The Walking Dead for a crappy seventh season, AMC is bringing back one of the best shows ever made for a series marathon. Yes, we can say its name: It's a Breaking Bad marathon, beginning Monday.
The universally acclaimed drama has probably been peddled to everyone by now, since it's also available to stream on Netflix. However, with all the peak TV we're dealing with right now — 455 original scripted series in 2016, some of which are very good — it's hard to justify a full series rewatch.
But there are still several episodes of Breaking Bad that are worth revisiting for the diehard fans, be it during AMC's binge-worthy marathon or on your Netflix queue. Here's the essential 12 episodes we recommend.
Season one, episode one: "Pilot"
Season one is undoubtedly the weakest season of Breaking Bad, though thankfully it's also its shortest at seven episodes. But for all its faults — mostly, it's just unbearably slow — the pilot sets the stage for creator Vince Gilligan's "Mr. Chips to Scarface" transformation of Walter White.
We learn the basics: Walter finds out he has cancer and resorts to selling meth with his former student Jesse Pinkman to save money for his family. Piece of cake, right?
Season two, episode six: "Peekaboo"
Fast forward to season two, and Jesse gets his first glimpse at the dark, disturbing depths of the meth world he and Walter are enabling with their product. Jesse makes his way inside the house of two addicts, who robbed his pal Skinny Pete, and meets their neglected child. It's with the kid that we get one of many glimpses into Jesse's humanity, as he bonds with him (and feeds him a sandwich) before confronting the addicts when they get home.
It's heartbreaking stuff, including one of the addicts being killed by an ATM machine. In a show full of creative deaths, that one's near the top of the list.
Season two, episode 12: "Phoenix"
There's a few moments in the early seasons of Breaking Bad where one can point to Walter reaching the point of no return. But for Bryan Cranston, it's Walter watching Jesse's girlfriend Jane, played by Krysten Ritter, choke to death on her own vomit after a drug overdose in season two's "Phoenix."
Cranston has repeatedly discussed the scene with Jane as the hardest scene he ever did in the show. The reason? He imagines Jane as if she were his own daughter.
The Gus Fring cartel revenge starter kit: "Hermanos" (season 4, episode 8) and "Salud" (season 4, episode 10)
What makes Gus Fring one of television's most fascinating villains is his complexity, pragmatism and occasional touches of humanity, the latter of which comes to the foray in season four's "Hermanos." It's there we learn of Fring's tragic past: The other half of Los Pollos Hermanos is murdered by the Mexican cartel. It's also hinted that Gus and his former business partner may have been romantically involved, which is why he takes the death so strongly.
It sets the stage for Fring's Red Wedding-esque revenge scheme later in the season during "Salud." At the same pool that his former partner was murdered, Fring poisons the cartel — and himself — wiping out all of his adversaries in a stroke of twisted genius. He almost dies in the process, but Fring is meticulous enough to cover all his bases, vomiting the poisoned drink immediately after drinking it. Fring is, unquestionably, Breaking Bad's resident badass.
Season four, episode 11: "Crawl Space"
The conflict between Walter and Fring reaches a fever pitch in "Crawl Space" after Fring threatens to murder Walter's entire family, including his infant daughter (and we believe him). Walt does too, and sets about getting the cash he's saved up in the crawl space of his home to help his family make a quick escape.
The money's not there, however, having gone to Skyler's former lover. With the walls closing in on Walter, seemingly at a point of no return on account of how royally fucked he is, all he can do is maniacally laugh while rolling around in the dirt. It's one of the show's most poignant moments, at one of Walter's lowest.
Season 4, episode 13: "Face Off"
Walter triumphantly tells Skyler "I won" after Fring's death in the season four finale. But it's the ways in which he sets about exacting his revenge that effectively turns Walter from a wary protagonist in season one to a full-fledged villain.
He kills Fring by conspiring with Hector and implanting a bomb in his wheelchair, an act of terrorism at a retirement home. We also learn that Walter poisoned a child to curry favor with Jesse, so yes, if there were any doubts about Walter's conscience, he goes full Heisenberg by the end of the season.
Season five, episode five: "Dead Freight"
Gilligan called season five's "Dead Freight" the "big train episode" in a behind-the-scenes featurette, and well, he's correct. It involves Walter and company stealing chemicals for their meth from a moving train — and it was awesome. However, the episode also demonstrates to viewers that Walt's would-be mentee Todd, played by Jesse Plemons, is a terrifying psychopath.
He has no moral compass, as evidenced by him shooting a child who saw them at the scene of the crime. It's not just that he kills the kid, it's that he's not affected by it at all. In a show full of convincing villains, Todd is one of the scariest, hiding behind a doughy, expressionless face.
The Rian Johnson starter kit: "Fly" (season three, episode 10), "Fifty-One" (season 5, episode 4) and "Ozymandias" (season 5, episode 14)
Rian Johnson is probably best known for a work that won't be out for another year: He's the director of Star Wars: Episode VIII, which is set to arrive in December 2017. But for fans of Breaking Bad and Star Wars alike, you've already seen Johnson's directorial work, which includes the series' most divisive episode, "Fly," and its best, "Ozymandias." "Fifty-One" is the other episode he directed, and it's also very good.
If there's any concern with Johnson taking the reins of a Star Wars film, one simply has to look at his execution in "Ozymandias." It's the culmination of Walter's horrible decisions coming to the foray, leading to Hank's death and his son, Walt Jr., coming to terms with the monster his father's become. Johnson's direction gives a sense of claustrophobia for Walter, as his meth empire falls apart while losing everyone he cares about.
For a comprehensive breakdown of "Ozymandias" and why it's so damn effective, YouTuber Nerdwriter1 offers an excellent explainer.
Season five, episode 16: "Felina"
Breaking Bad's final episode is basically the anti-Dexter: It's almost flawless, and doesn't leave the viewer yearning for more. It gives you the satisfaction of Todd being strangled to death, while offering satisfying conclusions to the character arcs for Walter, Jesse and Skyler.
Perhaps the only issue is that it ties up the loose ends too well. However, it's rather fitting that it isn't the last we see of Breaking Bad's core cast. We don't know if you've heard, but the show has a spinoff that might be worth watching.