If Walter White has demonstrated anything, it’s how hard work, a mind for chemistry, and efficient moral ignorance are the perfect building blocks for starting a drug empire. From a meek cancer-ridden doormat to the giant fist of street justice that is Heisenberg, the man in the eye of Season 1’s shit hurricane inspired a true king’s ransom of essential moments. Any Breaking Bad viewer worth his weight in ABQ-quality crystal meth would be a flat out chump to disagree that these are absolutely, without a doubt the most defining moments of season 1.
5 Ken Loses
When: S01E04 “Cancer Man” A small moment, but significant nonetheless occurs at the end of Walt’s cancer revelation to his whole family, and reveals a new aspect to his internal rebellion. After running into his polar opposite randomly at a gas station — a bluetooth sporting, chauvinistic, litigious a-hole with an obnoxious vanity plate (“KEN WINS”), Walt causes an electrical fire in the stranger’s convertible and ends the scene walking away scot-free from an awesome explosion (and definitely not the last). Whereas initially Walter bargained away his morality in the name of survival and family, this unnecessary act of destruction shows a thrilling “Robin Hood” element to White’s transformation. In taking this societal bully down a peg, Walter spits in the face of helplessness for all mankind, and suggests that even from the get-go his designer drug of choice was simply getting to be a big shot. Maybe all he needed was his own vanity plate.
4 Basement Death
When: S01E03 “…And the Bag’s in the River” It’s one thing to let chemicals do the dirty work, but there’s nothing quite like DIY, bike-lock-neck strangulation, as Walt discovered with his ever first hands on murder. When the captive Krazy-8 appeals to White’s human side and bargains for release, it seems as though everything might be peachy keen. That is until Krazy-8 tries to slash Walter with a broken plate shard. Who’d a thunk someone that spells “crazy” with a K would be so untrustworthy? This ugly basement asphyxiation gets top five status for exposing Walter to the honor-absent world in which he’s about to enter, and gives him another chance to walk away (which he thankfully does not). Think of it as White getting the training wheels removed from his new kill-cycle, and immediately tipping into some bushes.
3 Leg Stomping Daddy
When: S01E01 “Pilot” No discussion of Albuquerque’s favorite cancer kingpin is complete without this first glimpse at the anti-hero lurking just beneath the hero’s skin. When some local jerks make fun of White’s son’s disability, Walter shocks his family by stomping the culprit’s legs in the middle of a clothing store. It’s a relatable, initially mundane interaction that escalates to a point of small-scale crazy as to question whether this dad-attack was a one-time occurrence or the beginning of a larger trend. In either case, it shows a man willing to protect his family, and though later outbursts would outshine this cathartic moment for Walter’s normally repressed self, none would be as original.
2 Melted Bath Guts
When: S01E02 “Cat’s in the Bag” A worthy second goes to what’s lovingly known in Breaking Bad lore as “the bathtub scene” — a sequence that fulfills every aspect of this show’s comedic gore-fueled mission statement. After haphazardly killing some low level competition, Walter leaves Jesse with the unpleasant task of dissolving a body in hydrofluoric acid, specifically in a plastic tub. While Jesse mutters his way through the half-remembered directions viewers are treated to a signature unique camera angle, neat science gear, and a laugh out loud monologue from Pinkman, all culminating in the first of many grisly, gooey punch lines. As soon as the ever-methodical Walt finds out that Jesse skipped over his directions, Pinkman’s house gets a multiple floor remodeling courtesy of acid and melted body chunks (definitely bringing down the property value). Viscerally satisfying and a perfect introduction to Walt and Jesse’s student-mentor dynamic, this was Breaking Bad’s lighter, gutsier side in a nutshell.
1 Enter Heisenberg
When: S01E06 “A Crazy Handful of Nothin” Clearly, the top spot belongs to the onscreen birth of White’s bad ass German physicist inspired alter ego, a transformation that ends with the series’ first premeditated “bang.” When local drug lord Tuco puts the hurt on Jesse and jacks the fruit of their meth labor, the former teacher responds by storming turf and chucking fulminate of mercury in the psycho-jerk’s workplace. Not only is it interesting from a geek perspective to see a raw candy size-compound do so much damage, but this is the first time Walter retaliated in the name of Jessie (forging the official bond), declared a new identity (plus an arguably split personality) and proved he just might be able to hack it in this dangerous world of thugs and cutthroats after all.
There it is. Disagree? Then pile into your own mental RV and just try to cook up a better list, but don’t expect to succeed. Any other roster, in any other order would decidedly fail at including more influential moments in Season 1’s humorous/emotional/gritty chemical formula. Then again, if someone told Walter White this, how would he react?