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time warp

How Much Time Has Passed on Breaking Bad?

Walt and Jesse haven't been cooking meth for as long as you might think.

Fans of Breaking Bad, which returns for its fourth season this Sunday, know that nothing — not even meth — is more valuable to Walter White than time. He doesn't have much of it left, what with the cancer and his wholehearted embrace of a life-threatening profession. It's fitting, then, that the show rarely leaves time unaccounted for, making us watch and savor almost every excruciating minute of Walt's life. But as a result, Breaking Bad is not running at the same speed as the real world. The show started airing three and a half years ago, back in January of 2008, but its three seasons haven't covered anywhere near three years in Walt's life. By our count, come Sunday, Walt will have been breaking bad for little more than seven months. Check out this episode-by-episode guide of how we arrived at this calculation.

"Pilot," Season 1, Episode 1 (3 weeks)
The story gets started at precisely 5:02 a.m. of everyman Walt's 50th birthday and ends three weeks later, where we catch up with the pantsless, post-first-kill Walt we ran into in the episode's cold open.

"Cat's in the Bag ... " Season 1, Episode 2 (3 weeks, 2 days)
After a glimpse of Walt and Jesse's cleanup of that first kill, we go through the next two days of Walt's life, during which we see him distractedly teaching the same class in two different shirts and dealing with Krazy 8.

" ... And the Bag's in the River," Season 1, Episode 3 (3 weeks, 3 days)
As the elliptical titles suggest, things pick up in this episode right where they were left off in the previous one — Krazy 8's last day on Earth; the next day, a substitute fills in for Walt while he contemplates what he'll tell Skyler about that night.

"Cancer Man," Season 1, Episode 4 (4 weeks)
An entire weekend passes, as do at least two school days and one visit to the oncologist.

"Gray Matter," Season 1, Episode 5 (4 weeks, 6 days)
Another weekend passes, during which Walt and Skyler go to Ramen-loving college chum Elliot's birthday party; Walt says the party occurred "the other day" toward the episode's end, just before meeting Jesse.

"Crazy Handful of Nothin'," Season 1, Episode 6 (6 weeks, 3 days)
Things are getting in full swing: medical tests, three-day time lapses, cooking, law-enforcing in-laws, Tuco, hair loss, and, finally, Walt's head-shaving transition into Heisenberg.

"The Big Deal," Season 1, Episode 7 (7 weeks, 3 days)
The season ends with a slew of events (baby shower, oncology visit, moonlit chemical thefts, junkyard meetings with Tuco) that should logically take about a week's worth of time.

"Seven Thirty-Seven," Season 2, Episode 1 (8 weeks, 3 days)
Hank watches the security footage of Walt and Jesse's meth-ingredient heist and helps us (if not his brother-in-law) out by mentioning that it occurred about ten days ago; Tuco kidnaps Walt and Jesse the next day.

"Grilled," Season 2, Episode 2 (8 weeks, 4 days)
The same sun that, uh, grilled Tuco at the episode's start is still up by the time he dies.

"Bit by a Dead Bee," Season 3, Episode 3 (9 weeks)
Hank interrogates Jesse and reveals that Tuco's death was Sunday and that it's now Tuesday — one day before the dementia-faking Walt returns home to Skyler, who asks about his second cell phone.

"Down," Season 2, Episode 4 (9 weeks, 6 days)
Thank goodness for exposition: Jesse's parents kick him out of his house while, elsewhere on the same day, Walt refers to the second-cell-phone talk as having occurred "the other night"; then, toward the end, Jesse whines to his mom about having been kicked out "the other day."

"Breakage," Season 2, Episode 5 (11 weeks, 4 days)
Time speeds up like a methhead as Walt finishes his first stage of chemo with his oncologist and a time-lapse montage zooms through four days of drug dealing, all capped by Walt giving Jesse a gun to use when taking care of business.

"Peekaboo," Season 2, Episode 6 (11 weeks, 5 days)
Jesse begins executing his interpretation of taking care of business by going after the methheads that stole from skinny Pete, giving the impression we're hot on the heels of the last episode.

"Negro y Azul," Season 2, Episode 7 (11 weeks, 6 day)
Walt visits Jesse, who's sleeping off his morbid TCB sesh, which seems to have happened the day before. Jesse hops in bed with landlady Jane at the episode's end.

"Better Call Saul," Season 2, Episode 8 (12 weeks, 2 days)
We jump right back in to catch some of Jesse and Jane's charming pillow talk. But time waits for no man — least of all for Saul, whose mettle is established to us over a number of days.

"4 Days Out," Season 2, Episode 9 (13 weeks, 2 days)
Walt and Jesse cook through a long weekend before realizing they're trapped in a bottle episode the desert.

"Over," Season 2, Episode 10 (14 weeks, 1 day)
Walt, fresh from his escape from the desert, takes a day off from work; then, soon enough, we're at a weekend get-together; and, finally, Skyler's at work, flirting with the boss.

"Mandala," Season 2, Episode 11 (15 weeks, 3 days)
Walt and Jesse go to Los Pollos Hermanos to find Gus, whom we saw Saul recommend to them about "a week ago"; then, two days later, Walt gets an important-looking text.

"Phoenix," Season 2, Episode 12 (19 weeks, 6 days)
We pick up where we left off, in week fifteen, with Walt rushing to meet his new baby. The school week resumes shortly thereafter, and the last thing we see is Walt letting Jane die. Based on the information in the next two episodes — that the plane crashes only a month after Jane's death, but the baby is also 7 weeks old by then — we have to assume almost four weeks pass before Jane dies, but this doesn't seem true in the episode. It's likely there is some continuity problem here.

"ABQ," Season 2, Episode 13 (22 weeks, 6 days)
Skyler helpfully tells the oncologist that the baby's 7 weeks old now; finally, Walt's household is damaged by both marital separation and debris from a plane crash.

"No Mas," Season 3, Episode 1 (23 weeks, 1 days)
Newscasts surrounding the plane crash establish that Jane died about a month ago. Then we jump ahead when Skyler mentions "last week's" plane crash.

"Caballo Sin Nombre," Season 3, Episode 2 (24 weeks, 4 days)
Walt's transitional living situation makes it pretty easy to mark how many nights pass.

"I.F.T.," Season 3, Episode 3 (25 weeks)
Walt once again spends much of his time trying to find a place to sleep every night.

"Green Light," Season 3, Episode 4 (25 weeks, 5 days)
A couple of awkward days of school pass, which ends with Walt getting fired.

"Mas," Season 3, Episode 5 (26 weeks, 3 days)
Walt takes a few days before eventually accepting Gus's million-dollar job offer and parting ways with Jesse.

"Sunset," Season 3, Episode 6 (26 weeks, 5 days)
Walt spends an entire day cooking with his new BFF Gale before he and Jesse meet with Gus at, yep, sunset.

"One Minute," Season 3, Episode 7 (27 weeks)
The titular minute that ends the episode was preceded by two days' worth of Walt visiting Jesse in the hospital and working with Gale in the lab.

"I See You," Season 3, Episode 8 (27 weeks, 1 day)
A still-healing Jesse visits Walt's swanky new lab, bringing up his feeling toward that "sunset" from "a couple of days ago"; the episode ends the next night, with Hank in the hospital.

"Kafkaesque," Season 3, Episode 9 (28 weeks, 2 days)
Hank's hospital visitors kindly tell us about a week has passed.

"Fly," Season 3, Episode 10 (28 weeks, 3 days)
Walt and Jesse spend a day in the lab getting contemplative (about a fly) for another bottle episode.

"Abiquiu," Season 3, Episode 11 (29 weeks, 5 days)
Walt and Sklyer have a number of long overnight talks. Hanks hospital visits, and Gus's dinner date with Walt all happen over a number of an approximate work week.

"Half Measures," Season 3, Episode 12 (30 weeks, 5 days)
Wendy gives a string of blow jobs over a time-lapsed montage, the first of many; later, on the episode's last night, Walt starts murdering people for Jesse.

"Full Measure," Season 3, Episode 13 (31 weeks)
Walt spends what might be Gale's last days cooking with him; the cliff-hanging episode ends with Jesse's gun in Gale's face.

Photo: Ben Leuner/AMC