7. "Negro y Azul": Season 2, Episode 7
Narcocorridos, drug ballads, are a real thing, with bands detailing the latest exploits of the cartels in their songs (which some compare in terms of content to gangster rap) reaching a wide-ranging audience. Los Cuates de Sinaloa are a actual narcocorrido group who in this opening contribute a ballad about fictional but certainly storied Heisenberg, aka Walt. The concept is itself great and presented with no explanation, but the sequence also takes the form of a low-rent music video in which there are goofy wipes, glimpses of a Walt-like figure standing in the background and later appearing dead on the ground, and shots of bloody money and guns. It's both more myth-building in the legend of Heisenberg and another reminder that Walt has no idea what he's getting into, as word of his criminal persona and his product reaches the cartels -- who aren't people you want to have seeking you out.
6. "Half Measures": Season 3, Episode 12
Set to The Association's 1967 hit "Windy," this look into the life of Jesse's hooker friend Wendy (Julia Minesci) is bleak but not without a dark humor. The bubbly music matches not at all with the montage of trick-turning, waiting and meth-smoking that makes up Wendy's grim life at the Crossroads Motel, as she gets in and out of cars with johns, fights with another prostitute over a coat that ends up in the pool, cops a squat by the side of the building to pee and eats some takeout. The accelerated footage that the show likes to use as a stylistic touch (reminiscent of a world on speed) has never seemed sadder than here, as Wendy whiles the day away waiting to be free to do more drugs in her room, bending toward lap after lap after lap (after she spits out her gum), and providing one of the show's rare looks at a life that revolves around meth use.
Walt says goodbye to Skyler and, essentially, to the remnants of the life he's been living at the start of this episode, in which the Whites and the Schraders go under DEA protection while Walt, who knows he's the real target and not Hank, prepares to make a final run at Gus and either take him out or die. The normalcy of their suburban house contrasts with the urgency and barely concealed panic of Skyler's packing and response when Walt tells her he's not coming with her. Once again we see that Walt's at his best when he thinks he's going to die, that it gives him a kind of bizarre nobility -- it's living that he's been less and less good at over the seasons. He owns up to the consequences of the choices he's made, and admits that "those consequences, they're coming -- no more prolonging the inevitable." He seems less Walt the hero and more Walt the fearfully but determinedly responsible here, for once not basking in his martyrdom but instead preparing for action and the fact that he may never see his wife, son and baby girl again. Of course, he does survive -- and is the worse for it. A Walt with no obvious forces up against him is a frightening one indeed. [Watch the clip here.]
Mike Ehrmantraut's extreme but quiet competence is a key aspect of his patient, world-weary character, and seeing him in action -- the businesslike care he takes while never getting pleasure out of violence -- is one of the show's great thrills. In this open, we see smoke puff out into blackness, only to find out that it's actually Mike's breath, visible in the cold of a refrigerated Los Pollos Hermanos truck transporting batter and drugs. The cartel's been testing Gus' transportation system, and a behatted Mike listens as the truck he's in stops, there's shouting outside and then the driver is taken out. Even when the two hijackers spray the truck with bullets, Mike manages to get out barely clipped after taking down the two henchmen, but it's the shot of his face through the light of a bullet hole as he prepares for what he knows is coming, and the exasperated way with which he tries to straightened his mangled ear, that make the scene. [Watch the clip here.]