Top 10 Episodes #6
Season 2, Episode 13: ABQ
Directed by Adam Bernstein
Written by Vince Gilligan
Breaking Bad’s first season was all about setting up the situation of two unlikely partners getting started in the criminal world. The second season was all about them getting in over their heads and ends with the major consequences of their actions, thus setting up season three.
Technically ‘ABQ’ should be higher up in this list because so many important things happen, but I chose to place the list in an order of episodes I enjoyed the most, not necessarily those that are the best. Walt’s operation is all set to go forward but under sedation, he tells Skyler something that she did not want to hear. As a result of all of his lies, Skyler finally figures it out and tells him to leave. Jesse learns the true cost of his drug habit when girlfriend Jane overdoses and her father returns to work too soon – and the result is a tragic, massive accident that just so happens to make for one of the best cliffhangers of any television show in history.
Again we open with a great juxtaposition of the beginning versus the ending. Notice two specific shots in the black-and-white flash-forward sequence that had us all scratching our heads: the snail crawling along the wall in extremely shallow focus, and the teddy bear’s POV. It was an opening that had us biting our nails anticipating the final scene, only by the end of it all , they never provided that punch. Instead we were left trying to piece it all together.
Remember the season premiere titled Seven Thirty-Seven, because Walt explains to Jesse that is the amount of money he needs to leave behind for his family when he dies, in order for them to live comfortably. And now here we have an actual 737 crashing over Walt’s world. Now think back at all the names of all the episodes, in particular the episodes that have the very strange black and white pink bear opening teaser – they spell out a hidden message: Seven Thirty-Seven Down Over ABQ. (ABQ is the airport code for Albuquerque International Airport, where Donald Margolis works.) But this wasn’t just a gimmick, Vince Gilligan the show’s creator worked very hard to give each of these episodes proper dual meanings. From the very first episode the clues were always in front of us.
Walt’s “murder” of Jane leads her father to lose his ability to perform his job and therefore leads to the death of hundreds of other innocent people. In that moment, at the end of season two, he doesn’t realize it, but Walt is responsible for the whole world figuratively coming to an end around him. The fire raining down upon his home, was his judgment and the pink bear, which we saw in Jane’s room was a symbol of karma and retribution for Jane. The gears have been turning ever since Walt chose to cook crystal meth, and the outcome was inevitable. In terms of great dialogue, characterization, juxtaposition, production values, thematic depth and more – it doesn’t get better than this. The major gain from the end of season one is agitated by the major loss from the end of season two. We couldn’t ask for a better ending.
I would like to think this is perhaps the moment we most sympathize for Jesse, whose too-soft-for-the-streets persona leaves him mourning the loss of his love. But that moment for me comes in another episode listed further down this list. If anything, this is the episodes where my heart went out for a character more so than anyone else in the entire series, but that person was Jane, not Jesse.
A quick final thought. ‘ABQ’ also introduced us to Saul’s cleaner, Mike – another bit of great casting and another great actor.
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