Season four of AMC’s Breaking Bad begins in 38 days. Many of you have been anxiously awaiting this moment for a full year. But for some inexplicable reason, there are many of you who have not been watching the gripping, enthralling adventures and downward moral spiral of a milquetoast chemistry teacher (Bryan Cranston’s Walter White) who gets diagnosed with cancer and then begins cooking and selling the finest grade of crystal meth to provide for his family after he’s gone. It must be exhausting for you people, having to listen to your friends wax adoringly about this show, while you remain uninitiated, convinced that too much time and too many episodes have gone by for you to get on board. But this is not true! There is just enough time to watch the bygone 33 episodes, and we have a plan to help you do it. Inspired by marathon training regimens, we have laid out a schedule that will get you started on a steady diet of meth and mortality today, and have you wrapping it up just in time to join the longtime fans on premiere night. And you won’t pull a muscle.
Episodes 1 and 2, “Pilot” and “Cat’s in the Bag”
It’s always better to watch a pilot and the following episode together, so you can get a real feel for the show and the characters and pick up some momentum. Plus, for those in the northeast, it’s going to be 100 degrees today. Would you rather be doing lawn work?
Episode 3, “…And the Bag’s In The River”
Not to spoil anything, but this is when Bryan Cranston’s teacher Walter White really breaks bad for the first time. You’re gonna want a breather after this one. Well, technically you’re going to want to watch the next 30 episodes in a row, but that’s a recipe for cramping and the eyeball equivalent of shin splints.
Episodes 4 and 5, “Cancer Man” and “Gray Matter”
Walter’s super-macho DEA-agent brother-in-law Hank really starts to come into his own here. Your TV muscles will be straining, but power through! The end of the first cycle is in sight. Depressing, depressing sight!
Episodes 6 and 7, “Crazy Handful of Nothin” and “A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal.”
Enter psychotic drug lord Tuco, a reminder that Walter’s new drug-dealing peers are not, by nature, practical businessmen. Meanwhile, the contentious relationship between Walt and his dirtbag dealer cohort, Jesse (Aaron Paul) evolves in mesmerizing ways. And ta-da! In the span of a few days, you’ve successfully watched a whole season. It was easy.
When it originally aired, season one was awkwardly cut short because of the writer’s strike — no preplanned cliffhangers, no closure, nothing. Real-time viewers had to wait a year for new episodes. Proportionally, you should take a day off to simulate impatience.
Episode 8, “Seven Thirty-Seven”
Season two is here, and it begins with a shot of a cryptic floating eyeball that will slowly be explained over the course of the season. If you’re not quite ready to throw yourself back into the show, work past your reticence: that kind of determination will be what separates you from the people who still haven’t watched Twin Peaks.
Episodes 9 and 10, “Grilled” and “Bit By A Dead Bee”
“Grilled” is an exercise in unbearable tension, courtesy of Tuco. “Bee” is like a cooldown.
June 16 and 17
Rest. You’ve earned it. And probably your friends want to see you a little.
Episodes 11 and 12, “Down” and “Breakage”
Admit it: You missed it a bit. Breaking Bad has become part of your routine, and you crave it. Two episodes is nothing to you now. You’ll need that strength as juggling home life, cancer treatment, and an active meth business becomes all the more impractical for Walter. You’ll meet Jesse’s new landlord and future love interest (Krysten Ritter), and Hank will become more complicated than just a loudmouthed foil.
Episodes 13 and 14, “Peekaboo” and “Negro y Azul”
Condition yourself to start associating Sundays with Breaking Bad. For example, “Peekaboo” is an exercise in taut discomfort, so you’ll want to get acclimated to starting your work week tense and itchy.
Episode 15, “Better Call Saul”
Revel in this one. Saul — Walter and Jesse’s slimy lawyer, played by Bob Odenkirk — is the best.
Episodes 16 and 17, “Four Days Out” and “Over”
This is the most intense stretch! Seven episodes in four days — you’re a machine! A TV machine! Plus a drunk, conflicted Walt is an interesting Walt.
Episodes 18 and 19, “Mandala” and “Phoenix”
You will be introduced to Giancarlo Esposito’s drug kingpin/chicken fast-food restaurant owner Gus, an unnerving mixture of calm and menace. And then … hoo boy. By the end of “Phoenix” you will really need a break. Drink plenty of fluids.
June 24 and 25
Break. Save your energy for Sunday.
Episode 20, “ABQ”
Good thing you saved that energy, right? You’ve finished season two, you’ve solved the mystery of the floating eyeball, and you’re likely catatonic after this epic, combustible finale.
Go tell all your pals that you’ve made it through two seasons of Breaking Bad and you’re hooked! Because at this point, you are.
Episode 21, “No Mas”
Si mas, actually. Season three begins, and you are welcomed by a pair of ax-wielding Mexican cousins!
Episodes 22 and 23, “Caballo Sin Nombre” and “I.F.T.”
These episodes hinge on how invested you are in Walt’s relationship with his wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn); fortunately you are very invested. Now that you know the ins and outs of the show, start thinking about recurring images: mirrors, chrome, reflections in general. Hmmm.
June 30 - July 5
Intense rest and meditation in the form of barbecues and social engagements. Tell people you’re watching Breaking Bad, but warn fans that you only just started season three: No spoilers! They will want to spoil it for you. Promise you’ll call them when you finish.
Episodes 24 and 25, “Green Light” and “Mas”
Get back in the thick of it. As all relations crack and complicate, think about more themes: suspicion, coercion, assumptions, and loyalty. How do the characters approach these ideas? No paper required, but it can’t hurt to at least draft an outline for a five-paragraph persuasive essay.
Home stretch. You’re gonna want to blaze through the rest, but it’s even more important to pace yourself! Yes, your endurance is up, but when your BB-athon is done, you’ll have to wait week-to-week for new episodes like the rest of us. You don’t want to hit the wall at full speed and then go into withdrawal, so start winding down a little.
Episodes 26 and 27, “Sunset” and “One Minute”
You will meet the nebbishy chemist Gale, and marvel at how character actor David Costabile can be as easily cast as a mousy doormat (Kristen Schaal’s husband Doug on Flight of the Conchords) as he is a murderous cop (Damages). But these IMDb nuggets will not be able to distract you for long during two wildly claustrophobic episodes, full of the show’s patented, “Oh God, how are they going to get out of this” crescendos.
Get a Slurpee! It’s 7/11, they’re free.
Episodes 28 and 29, “I See You” and “Kafkaesque”
You’re at the home stretch right now. These episodes are more about inner turmoil than hide and seek; focus your energy on Aaron Paul’s portrayal of Jesse. As sympathetic as a dirtbag can be.
Episodes 30 and 31, “Fly” and “Abiquiu”
If you’re doing the BB-athon with a buddy, now’s the time to turn to them and say “holy shit!” “Fly” is a wildly creative “bottle” episode, but not the funny, Community kind. The plot-furthering “Abiquiu” will make you want to watch the next – and final – two right away, but trust us: Save them for Saturday.
Rest. Watch an episode of Law and Order and scoff.
Episodes 32 and 33, “Half Measure” and “Full Measure”
Congratulations: You made it! Also, your mind is blown! Now you’re fully ready to watch the season premiere tomorrow night. Welcome to sanity.
And to compare and contrast your opinions with Vulture, check out our past episode recaps.
UPDATE: If you can’t get the DVDs, you have another sleep-depriving option: As a commenter pointed out, starting on Wednesday, July 6, AMC will be airing three episodes in a row every night from 2-5 a.m., starting with the pilot and running through all three seasons, right up until the July 17 premiere. Yes, you won’t sleep for a week and a half and will lose touch with family and friends, but it still may be worth it.