Season 2, Episode 12
Yet another in the saga of Walt Driving Places In a Hurry While Lying on the Phone, Walt drops off a delivery for Gus just in time to miss the birth of his daughter Holly. Seeing the look on his face through the door of the hospital room just before he walks in is a vital moment in our observations of Walter: Is his smile a genuine expression of joy at seeing Holly? Or is some part of it a performance to keep people from asking where he was? At least Ted knows to get out of the way as soon as possible.
Season 4, Episode 10
“You can do this,” says Gus to Jesse as they climb into a charter plane to fly to Mexico to teach the cartel how to cook Walt’s blue meth. This one’s a testament to the economical, transcendent nature of the show’s dialogue; for Gus, those words mean reassurance for an associate he now trusts. For Jesse, they’re a reminder that his ultimate mission is to kill Gus for Walt.
48. “Gliding Over All”
Season 5a, Episode 8
The first part of Season 5 saw Walt lean ever harder into his cold, ruthless Heisenberg-ian moral vacuum, and that’s never clearer than when he works with Todd to dispose of Mike’s body after killing him at the end of the previous episode. Not even Jesse can get through to him. “We? Who’s we?” Walt says to Jesse. “There is no we.” The reappearance of the fly on the wall is a nifty callback to the last time a fly was present for Walt’s undoing.
Season 2, Episode 5
Tuco’s shiny grill, encased in an acrylic cube after Hank gunned him down, was a potent symbol for the first half of Season 2, used as a reminder of the emptiness of the glitz contained in the criminal lifestyle. Used frequently to needle at Walt’s own role in the situation, Hank throws them away the episode prior, and we see it return right where it began: discovered by a group of migrants crossing the border into the US. It’s all that’s left of Breaking Bad’s first big villain.
46. “Gray Matter”
Season 1, Episode 5
Breaking Bad is Jesse’s story as much as Walt’s, and his first big cold open sees him trying to go straight, dressing up in a suit and bringing a resume (sorry, curriculum vitae, it’s more professional) to a bank interview. But of course, we see the real position he’s applying for: a sign-spinner wearing a goofy dollar-bill costume. Still, from that humiliation comes the introduction of one of the show’s most affectionately rendered characters, Badger, the adorable dimwit who drags Jesse right back into the muck.
45. “4 Days Out”
Season 2, Episode 9
The ticking clock of Walt’s cancer reaches its apex in this cold open, as Walt happens across an X-ray that looks like his tumor has grown exponentially, escalating his timetable. Before that, though, we get some of the best White/Schrader family interactions, as Hank and Marie play armchair oncologist (“shoulda gona to Kleinman”) in a feeble attempt to asset some sense of control over Walt’s circumstances.
44. “Box Cutter”
Season 4, Episode 1
Season 3 ended with Jesse killing stalwart meth chemist (and karaoke legend) Gale Boetticher at his doorstep; as such, Gilligan kicked off Season 4 with one last glimpse of the man, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as he begins work in Gus’ lab. In comparing the expert cook of Walt’s blue meth with his own, Gale actually convinces Gus to bring him in. “How pure can pure be?” Gus shrugs; it’s a reminder that we’ve lost, ironically enough, one of Breaking Bad’s best characters. And what’s worse, by insisting on Walt’s involvement, he unknowingly signed his own death warrant.
Season 4, Episode 8
Some of Breaking Bad’s best cold opens fill in the gaps of what some characters were doing in the periphery while we were focused on Walt and Jesse. Here, we see what Gus got up to after comforting Walt in the hospital in the wake of Hank’s attack by the cousins; he meets their father (and his future killer) Hector Salamanca to rub his defeat in his face. It’s here we learn that Gus made the call that saved Hank’s life. “This is what comes of blood for blood.”
42. “Cat’s In the Bag…”.
Season 1, Episode 2
Early Breaking Bad focused hard on selling a.) Walt and Jesse’s budding partnership, and b.) the euphoric thrill that criminality gives Walter White. In the series’ second-ever episode, we got a bit of both: Skyler surprised at Walt’s sudden sexual vitality, contrasted with Walt’s immediate command of the RV situation at the end of the pilot. One problem, though: one of their two assailants is still awake. In the world of Breaking Bad, problems can come up faster than you can solve them.
41. “Dead Freight”
Season 5a, Episode 5
Another impressively expressionist intro, “Dead Freight” begins by tracking a kid on a dirt bike across the desert, only to stop to put a tarantula in a jar. It’s simple, effective, and a haunting hint at the dark fate that this boy will experience after he comes across Walt, Jesse, and Todd during their train heist.
39-40. “Bullet Points”, “Cornered”
Season 4, Episodes 4 and 6
I love when Breaking Bad allows continuity even between its own intricately staged cold opens. In episode four and six of the fourth season, we see two similar scenarios — Fring gang guards protecting Los Pollos Hermanos trucks from hijackers — with two distinctly different outcomes. In the first, our very own Mike Ehrmantraut is in the back, somehow dodging four clips’ worth of machine gun fire to take out both hijackers, with only a nasty ear wound to show for it. In the second, though, their opponents learn from their mistakes, and kill two unsuspecting guards with carbon monoxide poisoning, suffocating them in the truck itself. It’s a harrowing glimpse into the drug war that’s happening around Walt’s meth.
38. “I See You”
Season 3, Episode 8
Jesse Pinkman just can’t catch a break sometimes. At the beginning of this episode, he’s just getting dismissed from the hospital after his brutal beatdown by Hank. But fate intervenes to provide a twisted sense of karmic justice, as he sees Hank being rushed into that same hospital after his battle with the Salamanca cousins. Perversely, this gives Jesse no small amount of glee: “I’m great.”
37.” Hazard Pay”
Season 5a, Episode 3
Sometimes it’s best to just sit back and let a professional do the work. Like we did with that Pollos Hermanos two-part open, “Hazard Pay” opens with Mike running from prison to prison to reassure all of his jailed accomplices that their arrangements will be upheld under the new, Gus-less regime. “You will be made whole.” Between the checked-out lawyer (putting in earbuds so he can’t hear anything incriminating) and Mike’s growl to the camera to “open up!”, it’s a lovely showcase for Jonathan Banks’ particular brand of curmudgeonly efficiency.
Season 5b, Episode 2
Jesse’s emotional tailspin in the wake of all the things he’s done, and all the people he’s lost is documented in many of these cold opens. But this one is particularly special and evocative, as we follow an old man picking up stacks of bills like E.T. with a trail of Reese’s Pieces, only to find Jesse staring up into the stars, spinning on a roundabout in a playground. It’s a simple, but effective image.