Time is not on Walter White’s side. That’s been Breaking Bad’s MO since its premiere, that Walter is fighting the inevitable, but the list of inevitables has intensified as the show has gone on. [Spoilers of previous seasons from here on out, and a very general but not spoilerish discussion of the first two episodes of this coming season.]
BB’s sort of final season starts Sunday, and if you thought mortality was a theme already, it becomes far more pronounced as we head into the show’s home stretch. More than just the shadow of death, though, Breaking Bad casts all of its characters in the shadow of time. Time’s flying by, or slipping away, or we have to hurry, or we have to wait, or it’s not your time yet, or you missed your time, do you have a minute, I’ll be there in an hour, we’ve been waiting for weeks. Time’s been a major theme in the series so far, and smart money says it will be in the series going forward, so here are five episodes to rewatch to refresh your memory of BB’s relationship with chronology. (They’re in order of when they aired, not how important they are to the series.)
1. “4 Days Out,” season two, episode nine
Walt’s cancer is in remission, but for a guy who just got his life back, he doesn’t seem too happy. Instead, he and Jesse head to the desert for a marathon cooking session, where one mistake after another threatens to strand them. On repeat viewing, listen for how often characters in this episode bring up time: weeks of treatment, hours away, a supply that lasts for days. Tick, tick, tick, tick.
2. “Phoenix,” season two, episode twelve
Walter White is a family man. Except family men don’t usually miss the births of their children and let their wives’ boyfriends accompany them to the hospital instead. “Phoenix” is all about now versus later. Jane’s dad wants her to go to rehab now; Skylar needs Walt now; the Whites need money now; things are a mess now. Things will be different later; we’re planning for our future; we have a teenager and now we have a baby. Who’s Walt now? Who’s he going to be later?
3. “One Minute,” season three, episode eight
Hank’s whole life changes in one minute. How long did it take for Walt’s life to change?
4. “Thirty-Eight Snub,” season four, episode two
This isn’t the most action-packed episode of the season, but it does highlight how differently Walt and Jesse experience time. Whatever countdown Walt is feeling — here, with being sure that Gus is out to get him – Jesse has no concept of. He’s often late. He thinks nothing of losing days to a bender. Jesse’s drug use certainly contributes to his disengagement with the world around him, but that’s a manifestation of a larger issue, which is that Jesse doesn’t really think about the future. (Ah, youth.)
5. “End Times,” season four, episode twelve
This episode lights the fuse for the bomb that blows up “Face Off,” and it is all about waiting: waiting to set off a car bomb, waiting for a diagnosis for Brock, waiting for a plan that makes sense, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Time becomes a measure of how closely one is paying attention: When Walt’s intently staring into his binoculars at Gus’s car, time feels like it stands still as Walt and Gus absorb every minute detail. When Jesse’s trying to think of what could be wrong with Brock, time is slipping through his fingers, because he actually doesn’t have the information that would help.