Like most shows, the showrunner of Breaking Bad wasn’t often credited on the episodes themselves. Vince Gilligan, while appearing in the credits of every episode, didn’t often appear in the “written by” or “directed by” credits. Like most showrunners, he had people to do that for him while he controlled the show from behind the scenes.
That said, he was directly involved in numerous episodes, and perhaps not coincidentally, these also happened to be some of the best episodes of the series. It was always excited seeing Gilligan’s name in the credits, because it led to episodes like these.
Cancer Man – 8.3
While penned by the great Vince Gilligan (and directed by Jim McKay), ‘Cancer Man’ is widely regarded as one of the worst episodes of Breaking Bad. In fact, it’s placed third worst on the IMDb ratings, just above ‘Open House”s 8.1 and ‘Fly’s 7.8. It has some good stuff (like Walt blowing up Ken’s car), but for the most part, ‘Cancer Man’ was a relatively boring episode of the otherwise fast-paced and enthralling Breaking Bad.
No Más – 8.6
‘No Más’ opens season three, and like ‘Cancer Man’, it wasn’t one of Gilligan’s strongest efforts. He serves as the sole writer on the episode, with directing credits going to none other than Bryan Cranston. It was a decent way to open the strong third season, with the school gym scene being particularly memorable and devastating. But there were far better episodes of Breaking Bad.
Cat’s In The Bag – 8.7
Vince Gilligan certainly got the ball rolling on Breaking Bad, personally penning the first four episodes. The second, ‘Cat’s In the Bag’, was directed by longtime Breaking Bad director Adam Bernstein. It’s perhaps the funniest episode of the first three episodes (the Krazy-8 saga), culminating in one of the most grotesque, yet hilarious, images ever depicted on the show.
And The Bag’s In The River – 8.8
Serving as the immediate follow-up to ‘Cat’s In the Bag’, ‘And the Bag’s In the River’ opens and closes in spectacular fashion. It opens with a disgusted Walt and Jesse cleaning up the liquefied remains of Emilio and closes with a reluctant Walt strangling Krazy-8 to death with a bicycle lock. And with that, Vince Gilligan concluded the Krazy-8 saga, and the personal journey of Walter White began…
Madrigal – 8.9
Departing from the Krazy-8 storyline, Gilligan also penned the second episode of season five, titled ‘Madrigal’. Directed by Michelle MacLaren, ‘Madrigal’ introduces the titular conglomerate to the series, including its Head of Logistics, Lydia Rodarte-Quayle. It’s a very strong, if somewhat forgettable, entry in the Breaking Bad canon. Even the forgettable episodes of Breaking Bad are fantastic hours of television.
Peekaboo – 8.9
Arguably one of the most emotionally devastating episodes of the series, season two’s ‘Peekaboo’ served as a major character moment for Jesse Pinkman.
Co-written by Gilligan and J. Roberts and directed by Peter Medak (his only directorial contribution to the series), ‘Peekaboo’ turned many fans’ opinions about Jesse around and left them crying from the emotional turmoil of the episode. It’s a masterpiece.
Pilot – 9.1
While most shows get better over time, Breaking Bad was perfect from the very beginning. The pilot is one of the most beloved episodes of the entire series, and it all comes from the mind of Vince Gilligan (who both wrote and directed the episode). Funny, tragic, and wonderfully intriguing (how can it not be after that bizarre opening sequence?), ‘Pilot’ is a masterclass in how to introduce a show.
Box Cutter – 9.2
By season four, the show had mostly left behind the goofy whimsy of the pilot episode and veered mainly into the dark and serious. This change in tone is perfectly represented through the season premiere, ‘Box Cutter’ (written by Gilligan and directed by Adam Bernstein). The whole episode is like a pressure cooker, slowly building in tension before exploding in a particularly vicious and graphic image that is sure to linger in the mind.
Live Free Or Die – 9.3
Like the beginning of the series, the end of season four and the start of season five contained three straight episodes written by Gilligan. Like ‘Madrigal’, ‘Live Free or Die’ was also penned by Gilligan, although this one was directed by show’s cinematographer, Michael Slovis. Luckily, his command of the directorial chair proved just as sure as his eye for beauty, making ‘Live Free or Die’ another great entry in the series.
ABQ – 9.3
Serving as the season two finale, ‘ABQ’ proved another wonderful collaboration between writer Vince Gilligan and director Adam Bernstein.
These two certainly have an eye for the graphic and depraved, as ‘ABQ’ contains what is perhaps the most haunting image of the entire series – that of two planes colliding over Walt’s house and dropping a teddy bear directly into his pool. With this, Breaking Bad (and Walt) was never the same.
Full Measure – 9.7
While season three proved remarkably darker and less “fun,” the new direction to emotional maturity and expanded complexity was arguably more rewarding. Case in point – the massive difference between the season two finale (9.3) and the season three finale (9.7). Both written and directed by Gilligan, ‘Full Measure’ was an extraordinary hour of television, and it ended a dark season on a supremely dark and unpredictable note.
Face Off – 9.9
With a rather cheeky episode title with multiple meanings (one of them quite depraved and graphic), ‘Face Off’ ended the spectacular fourth season in near-perfect fashion. Sitting at an unbelievable 9.9, over 40,000 IMDb users found this to be a perfect episode of television, and it remains one of the highest-rated TV episodes on the entire site. Only Ozymandias sits higher at a perfect 10/10 – but that was written by Moira Walley-Beckett and directed by Rian Johnson.
Felina – 9.9
It’s extraordinarily rare for a TV drama to end on an agreeable note. More often that, fans are divided over the quality of an ending, resulting in a relatively low score. But that isn’t the case with ‘Felina’. The series finale was both written and directed by Gilligan, and like ‘Face Off’, IMDb users regard it as a near-perfect episode. Breaking Bad couldn’t have gone out on a better, more satisfying note.