A greatness of a show is best defined by its characters. What they experience adds to the gravity of the situations they are in. Some characters in the show grow, while some characters simply show the same nature throughout the show. While we realize we could do this for many more characters, we wanted to the severity of each defining moment to really be one that makes you identify with the series just as well as with the character. Plus, we had to keep with the theme of sevens. Also keep in mind that we were very torn with some of these, and even crossed out a few that were the top selection but appear elsewhere in our Breaking Bad Week articles. Make sure you vote for your favorite Character Defining Moments in the polls below each character. In alphabetical order, here we go:
Gustavo Fring: Poisoning himself to kill Don Eladio
Gus has always been a professional, at and away from a deep fryer. Always cold and calculating, Gus seems to have a contingency for everything that goes awry. Which is why he clashes with Walt and Jesse’s reckless actions throughout season three and four. After managing to separate the two chaotic partners, he ends up putting Jesse under the wing of Mike, his right-hand man and prepares to take Jesse to Mexico to teach the Cartel how to cook the blue; when the Cartel says that they will be keeping Jesse in Mexico, Gus does not flinch. He then negotiates with Don Eladio to ease troubled relations in the fallout of the Juan Bolsa/DEA attack. Gus seems compliant, even toasting the mended relationship with Zafireo Anejo tequila (like $8000 a bottle, yo!). As the cartel celebrates their victory, Gus quietly excuses himself to the restroom, lays out a towel in front of the toilet and then vomits. It turned at that the tequila was poisoned. As Gus returns to the party, most of the Cartel members have already succumbed to the poison. Gus gets his personal revenge on Don Eladio, but, not completely evacuated of the poison, doubles over. In almost-Shakespearean fashion, he tells the remaining people to “fill your pockets and leave in peace, or fight me and die!” What a total badass.
Honorable Mention: In “Hermanos,” Gus and his chicken partner (AKA gay lover) Max present their case to Don Eladio in Mexico to pitch the idea of cooking methamphetamine for the Cartel. When conversation turns sour and Max begins pleading for Gus’ safety, Hector Salamanca draws his gun and shoots Max in the back of the head. This callous act puts Gus on a trajectory that he might not have been on otherwise. Max was the cook and Gus was the “Chicken Man.” Now, with hatred in his heart, Gus became the heartless killer that took down the entire Cartel.
Hank Schrader: “My name is ASAC Schrader, and you can go fuck yourself”
Hank is the character that, in my opinion, experienced the most growth in the five seasons we’ve known him. From the guy who was the joke of the DEA, Hank has worked his way up the ranks to become a high-ranking officer and very capable detective. His life was his work, whether or not he was in the right of the law. Knowing that admitting to the office that his own family was the Heisenberg that had been avoiding him all this time, Hank was willing to give up his career to get the proof he needs to put Walt away for good. While he certainly avoids treading lightly, he goes out with such resolve that you actually end up hating Walt for it, even though he tried everything possible to stop it. Hank dies a hero and that’s more of an honor than any other dead person can say on this show.
Honorable Mention: When I say that Hank is ready to give up his career to catch the Heisenberg, I mean that Hank is willing to break the law in order to do so. He takes Walt, a civilian, on his ride-alongs to get evidence on Gus, not to mention the tracking devices he places (without warrant or DEA knowledge) on Gus and Walt’s car. He follows Mike around without a warrant, to the point where Saul has to intervene and remind him how illegal it is. And in the few episodes where he finally catches Walt at To’hajiilee, he: bugs Walt’s house without a warrant, lies to Huell and places an officer at his door to keep him from leaving, and stealing police evidence to work on at home.
Jesse Pinkman: Problem dog speech/NA blow-up
Quite the antithesis of Hank, Jesse has experienced the most decay throughout the series. Who was once a silly high-school burnout, Jesse has undergone so much personal tragedy. He’s been kicked out and abandoned by his family, he’s had one of his best friends killed and woke up next to his lover dead, not to mention that he’s had his ass beat several times. More damaging, though, he killed a man who was pretty innocent, in the scene of things. So going into season four, he is a fucking hot mess. His one release comes in the form of Narcotics Anonymous meetings. While he is also hustling recovering addicts to sell them meth on the side, he genuinely feels like he can talk about his pain. However, when he compares the murder of Gale to putting down a “problem dog,” the other members refuse to relieve him of responsibility, sending a hurting Jesse on the defensive and telling everybody that he is just there to sell them meth. In turn, he shuts down the one door he had towards emotional recovery and never really gets better.
Honorable Mention: More tragedy… After the start of season five, Jesse looks to be bouncing back. He has come up with some ingenious plans with magnets, and the train heist. Down to all the tiny details (including the fluid density differences), Jesse is proving himself to be a valuable commodity. And it has to be noted that he does all of this without any violence. That is, until Todd AKA Toddfuck AKA Meth Damon decides it’s a good idea to shoot little 14 year old Drew Sharp for stumbling upon them in the desert. Jesse is crushed. Like Gonzo crushed. It’s this incident that gets Jesse permanently out of cooking, but unfortunately not out of the game. It’s fun to imagine what would have been if Jesse had continued growing with Mike believing in him, and not the snowball of shit that played out.
Mike Ehrmantraut: “No more half measures”
Mike is always the coolest cucumber in the room, but it’s not too hard to believe that he can lose his cool from time to time. In a speech to Walt about risking getting into business with Jesse, still on drugs, he tells the account of a domestic violence case. In the story, he speaks of his big man who would beat his tiny wife and every weekend, she would beg them not to arrest him and that she was afraid of him. One night, when Mike’s partner is out sick, he takes this man into the middle of nowhere and puts a gun in his mouth, threatening the man that, “So help me if you ever touch her again I will such and such and such and such and blah blah blah blah blah.” When he releases the man, he murders his wife two weeks later. The moral of the story is to take no half-measures. It’s the realization that Mike is inherently a good guy, but more so that he is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure his job is complete – which we infer that Mike had, in turn, murdered the man and broke bad.
Honorable Mention: With Walt planning to murder Gus, he thinks he can still get Mike on his side to do it. Walt invites Mike to a bar to try to manipulate Mike and it does NOT work. As soon as Mike figures out what Walt is doing, he cracks him in the face and thanks him for the drink. It’s an ode to the loyalty that Mike has, as well as his consistency as a character.
Saul Goodman: Old Yeller
Always the sneaky scumbag lawyer, it isn’t until we see him part ways with Jesse that we see him for the opportunist that he is. While Saul and Jesse have never have a friendly relationship, I would like to think that the two of them have been through some pretty dangerous situations together. Jesse has grown under Saul’s tutelage, albeit only legally, but there should still be some type of personal connection. That’s why I was so appalled during “Rabid Dog” when Saul uses an Old Yeller euphemism to suggest that Walt simply put Jesse out after Jesse goes crazy and tries to burn Walt’s house down. It’s a despicable act that reveals Saul’s true nature. He is out for him, and while he may still show some loyalty to Walt, it’s 99% money and 1% due to the fact that if Walt goes down, so does Saul. He’s a snake, plain and simple, but he’s funny and witty enough to carry his own series. I’m looking forward to see what kind of character he begins as in Better Call Saul.
Honorable Mention: In true lawyer etiquette, Saul refuses to be Walt and Jesse’s lawyer without being paid for it. In the middle of the desert with strange men pointing guns at his face, he still has the balls to ask them to play along because something tells me (as we should find out in the spin-off) this isn’t his first rodeo. He’s a criminal lawyer, but more importantly, he will always be a criminal lawyer.
Skyler White: Pretending to be crazy to save the children
Oh, Skyler. Poor Skyler; everybody seems to hate her! In truth, I’m not crazy about her either, but she had been put into such a difficult decision, as a wife and a mother. Unlike Lady Soprano, though, Skyler is weak. She buys into the naive idea that she can control her ego-driven husband, and it works for a bit, until Walt begins masturbating to the fact that he killed Gus. Skyler, feeling trapped and with nobody to turn on, her last cry for help is to fall in the pool and drown herself. Looking entirely bat-shit crazy to her children and family, the goal of having the children moved out of the house and out of danger is accomplished. She also takes a lot of shit from Jr. the entire series in trying to keep Walt from being conspicuous. It’s a tough but necessary role and I commend Anna Gunn for being ready to play it.
Honorable Mention: Enough is enough. After being forced to live in a hotel when Jesse spills gasoline all over the house, Skyler tells Walt to “handle” it, because in her mind, “What’s One More?” When that one more turns out to be her brother-in-law, Hank, Skyler can’t handle it. As Walt rushes to finish packing the family’s bags, Skyler grabs a knife and tells Walt to leave; that was the final straw. She slashes his hand when he approaches her and then violently lunges at him. Walt’s motto may have been “family first,” but Skyler had made up her mind that Walt was no longer a part of it.
Walter White: “Ozymandias”
Oh boy; this was definitely the most difficult decision. Walter White has undergone so much change; he’s gone from the loser chemistry teacher to frightening drug kingpin to frail (but no less dangerous) cancer carrier. In all those changes, though, he has always put his family first. This is not illustrated any more truly when he gives up everything in “Ozymandias.” Ignoring the fact that he offers $80 million dollars to the Aryans, he walks away from the family after he realizes he can’t be with them ever again. He tries his best to absolve Skyler of any involvement in the meth empire. He takes all the blame, something his arrogance and pride wouldn’t have let him do earlier in the show. In the ultimate sacrifice, he leaves Holly in a semi-safe place that will allow Skyler to get her back, it’s sad to see Walt, leaving alone with his money and nobody to give it to.
Honorable Mention: The great thing about Walt in Breaking Bad is that he is always responsible for bad things that happen, but he never seems to find himself responsible for events that happen. There’s no greater example of this than when Walt watches Jane die. He did not, in the strictest sense, kill her. But his inaction, Jane chokes on her own vomit and dies – a death that makes her distraught father cause the crash of Wayfarer 515 and the death of 167 people. This isn’t the only time Walt causes somebody’s death without actually killing them, as the demises of: Tomas Castillo, Gale Boetticher, Victor, Hector Salamanca, Gustavo Fring, Tyrus, the ten of Mike’s men in prison (including a lawyer), Steve Gomez and Hank Schrader are all due to Walt rocking the boat. The list isn’t complete either, as there’s sure to be plenty more rockin’ to do.
- I hope you all liked our character defining moments. Stayed tuned for tomorrow’s Top Quotes. Let us know in the comments if there are any other character defining moments for the characters we didn’t list here.
Written by Sherif Elkhatib
All photos and videos courtesy of AMC Television.