Stars: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, Anna Gunn, Betsy Brandt, Jonathan Banks, Bob Odenkirk, RJ Mitte, Jesse Plemons, Laura Fraser

Since Breaking Bad's fifth and final season won't completely end until next summer, it's a bit unfair to evaluate half of creator Vince Gilligan's swan song against others shows' full seasons.

Then again, eight episodes' worth of seeing Walter White's (Bryan Cranston, giving more Emmy-worthy performances) makeshift drug empire steadily crumble is better than most programs' entire 13-episode seasons. From the opening episode's wonderfully out-there magnet heist to the midseason finale's game-changing Hank (Dean Norris) development, Breaking Bad did a fine job of amplifying the dread.

Giving grizzled, scene-stealing co-star Jonathan Banks more screen-time was a masters' stroke executed by both Banks and Gilligan's creative team, and adding newcomer Jesse Plemons cleverly drove a seemingly unfixable wedge between Walt and Jesse (Aaron Paul). Not to mention, Plemons delivered one of Breaking Bad's most shocking, emotionally paralyzing moments—involving a handgun and a doomed little kid—at the end of the season's best hour, "Dead Freight."