The episode openings of "Breaking Bad" are often the show's most striking and formally daring aspects, incorporating music videos, fake commercials, one-take encounters, flashbacks and strange images we don't understand until later in the hour or in the season.
Here's our countdown of the series' ten best -- weigh in with any favorites we left off in the comments.
10. "Better Call Saul": Season 2, Episode 8
Bouncy, good-natured Badger (Matt L. Jones) is a nice guy, but he's not the brightest bulb in the basket, as demonstrated in this sequence in which he gets busted by the cops in a kind of meta-sting operation. A stranger, played by TV and film's go-to lanky actor DJ Qualls, walks up to Badger as he's sitting on a park bench (bearing an add insisting you "Better Call Saul") and tries to buy some meth. Badger's been doing this long enough to sense that something's up -- and as he points out, the brown vans sitting nearby look awfully like surveillance vehicles (instead of vans, they "should do a garbage truck," he suggests). But after his would-be buyer gets angry and goes to walk away, Badger feels bad, and lets himself be talked (and in fact has to do the persuading) into making the sale by the urban legend that undercover policemen have to answer truthfully when asked if they're law enforcement (it is not, as Qualls claims, "in the Constitution"). And down goes Badger, with the brown vans he pointed out before pulling up to unleash a flood of Albuquerque's finest. The hilarious scene, which largely a single take, is also shot with people crossing in front of the camera as if it, too, is part of the surveillance operation, posted across the street.
9. "Pilot": Season 1, Episode 1
The in medias res opening isn't in itself so exceptional, but the first episode of "Breaking Bad" does manage to drop its main character into some incredibly deep shit before we ever get to know him. Walt, in his signature tighty-whiteys and a gas mask, is speeding along a dirt road in the middle of nowhere in a rickety RV with a passed out figure we'll later know to be Jesse at his side and two apparently dead bodies in the back. He's so panicked and the gas mask is so fogged up that he runs off the road where, resigned to getting caught, he takes out a camcorder to record a goodbye message to his family. Whatever we'll come to think of Walt as he becomes more and more of the series' villain as it proceeds, that confession is a powerful look at Walt's despair and his genuine desire to care for his family, one that will later become a warped excuse for amoral behavior. But here it's clear just how much Walt is willing (and preparing) to die -- he greets the approaching sirens with a gun raised. And those pants, fluttering through that big Land of Enchantment sky, are an early precursor for the show's love of strange little details that are introduced and then explained.
8. "Seven Thirty-Seven": Season 2, Episode 1
The opening of this episode and of the second season of "Breaking Bad" turned out to be a repeated motif -- a woozy, doom-laden, enigmatic black and white sequence focusing on that floating eyeball there like the baleful gaze of some watchful deity. It's the White family pool in which that mangled, half-singed teddy bear is floating (no coincidence that two seasons later Gus Fring would face a similar injury), sirens wailing in the background, and as we see more of this flashforward in later episodes -- in "Down," "Over," "Phoenix" and "ABQ," the titles forming a sentence warning of what's to come -- we can only piece together that some disaster is coming, something that will leave two bodies out in the front of the house. What eventually arrives isn't the violent repercussion we might have expected at first, but something weirder and, in some ways, worse. We rarely get to see the addicts using Walt's product, but in some ways the accident seemed like a stand-in for all of the lives that have been ruined for the sake of, in the use of, or by others because of the drugs he's putting out.