It is no secret that “Breaking Bad” is one of the greatest television shows ever made. The show is the second-highest-rated show on the fan review aggregate site IMDb and won 16 Primetime Emmys. Throughout the show’s 62-episode run, there have been some good episodes, a lot of great ones and a few that are truly special episodes of television. One of those episodes is season three, episode six, entitled “Sunset.” For me, this was the episode of “Breaking Bad” that changed its status from a good show to one of the best I have ever seen.
Despite not showing up on the lists for the top 15 “Breaking Bad” episodes according to IMDb, IndieWire’s top 10 episodes list, Ranker’s 10 best episodes list, or CinemaBlend’s top 10 “Breaking Bad” episodes, “Sunset” is one of the greatest episodes of the show and perfectly captures what makes the show as a whole so outstanding. The main plot of the episode follows Walter White, chemistry teacher turned crystal meth manufacturer, as he tries to destroy the RV he previously used to cook meth before his Drug Enforcement Administration agent brother-in-law, Hank Schrader, finds it. The episode also features a subplot following two Mexican drug cartel members, known as “the Cousins,” going after Schrader. “Sunset” embodies all of the characteristics that make “Breaking Bad” a remarkable show — it has a spellbinding teaser, meticulous pacing, meaningful cinematography, an RV-load of tension and great performances from the main and supporting cast alike.
Like every “Breaking Bad” episode, “Sunset” opens with a teaser, or a brief sequence that sets up the events of the episode. In the teaser for “Sunset,” the Cousins murder a police officer, establishing them as vicious villains who have no qualms about killing a police officer. The cinematography of the teaser is spectacular, using racking focus to change the focus from the police officer to a drawing of White inside the house. This teaser epitomizes this essential feature of “Breaking Bad.” It is tense, action-packed and establishes important information about the characters.
Continuing the Cousins storyline, they are seen at Gustavo Fring’s Los Pollos Hermanos restaurant. Fring runs the American side of the cartel and the Cousins want permission from him to murder Schrader. The scene first establishes Fring running the day-to-day business of Los Pollos Hermanos. While these scenes are not necessary for the story, they help to build up the world of the show and make it believable. One of the things that makes “Breaking Bad” so great is that scenes are often slow and deliberate, building towards a climactic event rather than just giving the audience what they want right away.
On the other side of the story, White goes to work for Fring at his laundromat super lab for the first time. As with the teaser, the cinematography of this scene is superb, as the opening shots are filmed with shaky cam, capturing White’s apprehension about starting a new job. However, as he gets more comfortable, the camera gets more steady, showing the audience how White is at home in the lab. “Breaking Bad” masterfully uses cinematography to add meaning to scenes, and “Sunset” is a great example of this.
The lab sequence also serves to introduce a new character to the audience, White’s new assistant, Gale Boetticher. Despite being a crystal meth manufacturer, Boetticher is nerdy, likable and charming in his few scenes. Boetticher and the rest of the “Breaking Bad” supporting cast are phenomenal, as the show features many recurring characters that only appear in a handful of episodes, but manage to stand out with memorable performances.
Another highlight of the lab sequence is the montage sequence of White and Boetticher cooking crystal meth. The montage features jubilant piano music over shots of them cooking and utilizes editing techniques like speeding up shots and jump cuts to denote speeding up of time. “Breaking Bad” mastered the montage with sequences like this and the famous “Crystal Blue Persuasion” montage from the season five episode “Gliding Over All.”
Through a sequence of unfortunate events, White and his partner, Jesse Pinkman, end up trapped in the RV in a junkyard with Schrader right outside, waiting for a warrant to enter the domicile. This scene is incredibly tense because Schrader knows that Pinkman is in the RV, but does not yet know about White being a meth manufacturer as well.
Many television shows have excellent tense scenes, but “Breaking Bad” stands out for how it combines humor with tension. As Schrader tries to figure out a way inside the RV, the junkyard owner, Old Joe, plays the role of lawyer as he explains the legal ramifications to Hank of breaking and entering a private domicile. Humor is also injected into the scene through Pinkman’s dialogue as he yells “Bitch” at Schrader, his trademark line. Although “Breaking Bad” is a drama, it uses humor well to break the tension and keep the audience engaged.
The RV sequence is also impressive because it demonstrates the top-tier writing of the show. Once White and Pinkman are trapped in the RV, the audience has absolutely no idea how the characters will get out of it. Fortunately, White comes up with a brilliant plan to get them out of the situation. “Breaking Bad” is such a compelling show to watch because the writers create intriguing conflicts that require equally creative solutions.
It would be impossible to talk about the greatness of “Breaking Bad” without mentioning Bryan Cranston’s performance as White. Cranston won four Primetime Emmys for his portrayal of White, and “Sunset” gave him the chance to use his acting chops to the fullest extent. One of his best scenes in “Sunset” is when he reacts to learning that Schrader knows about the RV, but he can only do it with his facial expressions since he is on the phone with Schrader. Another excellent moment is when White walks around the RV for one last time, running his hands through all the items inside and pondering all of his memories of the vehicle. Cranston’s masterful performance was critical to the success of “Breaking Bad” and is on full display in “Sunset.”
Finally, the reason this episode sticks out to me is that this is the episode when (spoiler alert!) White and Pinkman destroy the RV. While watching the show for the first time, I thought that the RV would be a constant presence, a crystal-meth-cooking safety blanket for the characters to have. However, “Sunset” subverted my expectations in the best way possible, forcing the characters to leave their safety blanket behind. “Breaking Bad” has many of these kinds of moments, where challenges arise that push the characters further in their respective arcs, and the RV destruction from “Sunset” might just be the most important one in the show for getting White and Pinkman out of their comfort zone.
“Sunset” is not only one of “Breaking Bad’s” most underrated episodes, but also epitomizes all of the things that made the show successful. From the impactful cinematography to the brilliant writing and Cranston’s superb performance, “Sunset” truly puts all of the magic from “Breaking Bad” into 47 of the best minutes of television to ever grace the small screen.
Elijah Engler is a freshman majoring in chemistry.