During the groundbreaking five-season run of Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan and his ridiculously talented writing team placed a strong focus on narrative, so the show’s multi-episode arcs were always meticulously crafted. Each episode would deliver a couple of intriguing story beats for each ongoing arc, all building toward a shocking revelation or incredibly satisfying dramatic payoff.
The story arcs in Breaking Bad ranged from personal crises to impromptu criminal activities to corporate developments in Walt’s ever-growing meth empire. Breaking Bad was never aimless; there were always a few crucial arcs at play. The best ones have stood the test of time even better than the rest of the series.
Walt, Jesse, And Mike Go Into Business Together
When Walt kills Gus, he wins the war for Albuquerque’s drug market. But as far as Walt is concerned, that’s just the beginning. Now that he’s taken Gus’ place, he can begin to reap the rewards.
So, he goes into business with Jesse and Mike. At first, things are running smoothly, but when Jesse and Mike want out, Walt goes full Corleone on them.
Uncle Jack Enslaves Jesse
This story arc was significantly expanded by the beautifully made Jesse-focused spin-off El Camino. After Hank is killed and Walt blames Jesse, he allows Uncle Jack to enslave him as a meth cook – stopping only to inform Jesse that he watched Jane die, leaving him with knowledge that will haunt him in his new life as a meth slave.
At the end of “Ozymandias,” when Walt leaves to start a new life alone, the audience is left pondering many things – particularly involving Hank’s death and the fractured White household – but arguably the worst mistake that Walt leaves behind is letting Uncle Jack enslave Jesse.
Walt And Jesse Hire Saul
This arc has been made more compelling by its connection to the Saul-centric spin-off, which more than lives up to its predecessor, but it already had the high stakes and dark humor to make it one of Breaking Bad’s best storylines.
When Badger gets pinched peddling Heisenberg’s product in season 2’s “Better Call Saul,” Jesse explains to Walt that instead of a criminal lawyer, they need a criminal lawyer. So, they hire Saul Goodman.
Walt’s history with Gray Matter provides the context for his disturbing lust for power. As soon as he starts clawing back some of the riches he lost when he parted ways with Gretchen and Elliott, he doesn’t relent until he has a storage unit full of cash and a gaping black hole in his heart.
In the series finale, Walt visits Gretchen and Elliott and uses his cunning and wit to force them to donate the remaining fraction of his fortune to Walt, Jr., just so his meth empire wasn’t for nothing.
Jesse’s Relationship With Jane
Jesse’s first serious romantic relationship in Breaking Bad’s run began brewing early in the second season when he began renting an apartment from Jane Margolis and quickly fell for her.
She got him hooked on heroin, which wasn’t great, but she also inspired him to be himself and stand up to Walt. Walt saw this as a problem and, when he saw Jane choke on her own vomit, he chose to let her die. The heartbreak from this – and the guilt that it was his fault, as far as he knew – almost broke Jesse.
Saul And Skyler Launder Walt’s Money
Around the time that Skyler discovers Walt’s on-the-side meth business, Saul recommends money laundering. These two plot points clashed magnificently as the polar-opposite personalities of Saul Goodman and Skyler White tried to influence Walt’s attempts to launder his drug money. Despite its lack of a “Danny,” Walt and Skyler end up buying the A1A Car Wash, which helped to tie the whole show together with its callback to season 1.
This arc bolstered Walt’s business arc as he started earning enough money to need to buy a business just to clean the cash, but it primarily contributed to Skyler’s arc as Walt’s ruthless pseudo-partner-in-crime and Saul’s ever-expanding role in the Heisenberg empire. And come on, the fact that the money-laundering business is a car wash is a perfect metaphor.
After a few months as Walt’s protégé, Jesse racked up quite a bank of remorseful decisions. Jesse was Walt’s go-to guy for the dirty work before he allied with true professionals like Mike Ehrmantraut. When Gus sends Mike to kill Walt and Jesse, Walt sends Jesse to kill Gale – their only worthy competition – to force Gus to keep employing them.
He pushed drugs on addicts at rehab meetings. He indulged Walt’s malice. The guilt over his involvement in Walt’s business is triggered by Walt giving Jesse a bunch of cash. The lump sum of blood money triggers Jesse to repent. He drives around town, throwing wads of cash at anyone who could put it to good use.
The Methylamine Train Robbery
Although methylamine apparently isn’t as hard to get a hold of as the show made out, Breaking Bad’s train robbery storyline was truly remarkable. It tied in beautifully with the show’s neo-western tone, while the plotting of the heist spectacularly demonstrated Walt’s genius. In the season 5 episode “Dead Freight,” the plan goes off almost without a hitch. Walt and Jesse get a huge win from a perfectly executed scheme and then, just moments into their celebration, they freeze upon spotting an innocent child who saw the whole thing.
Without a second’s hesitation, Todd shoots the kid dead. Suddenly, their big win becomes a psychological scar reminding them of one of the most horrible things they ever witnessed. The next episode opens with the team disposing of the kid’s corpse.
Jesse Dates Andrea
Every time anyone gets close to Jesse, their days are numbered. Jane’s death began a tragic tradition in the life of Walter White’s young ward. Jesse’s well-established soft spot for kids peaked when he started dating a single mother, Andrea, who he met at rehab.
He quickly falls in love with Andrea and becomes a sort of father figure to Brock, which makes it all the more heartbreaking when his connection to Walt gets Brock poisoned and Andrea killed.
Hank Discovers Walt Is Heisenberg
The final season of Breaking Bad being split into two parts allowed Vince Gilligan and co. to end the first half on one heck of a cliffhanger: Hank sitting on Walt’s toilet, finding Gale’s inscription in Leaves of Grass, and putting together that the drug lord he’s been chasing for months is his own seemingly mild-mannered brother-in-law.
Throughout the second half of the season, this led to an intense confrontation between Walt and Hank that fans had spent five years waiting for, and a diabolical plan by Walt to ensure that Hank wouldn’t bring him to justice. Hank was forced to use drastic measures, turning Jesse against Walt, and it culminated in a tragic, unjust ending for Hank to make way for an unearned happy ending for Walt. Grandiose comparisons to Greek tragedy aren’t entirely misplaced.