As “Breaking Bad” reached the halfway point of its final eight episodes on Sunday (Sept. 1), one aspect of the show lingered — and not just the fact that Walt had apparently put a hit on Jesse.
In fact, it was something that wasn’t even part of the episode. It happened in the show’s first episode of 2013, and before that its first episode of 2012: The sight of Walter White (Bryan Cranston) on his 52nd birthday, with a full beard and head of hair, eating a lonely breakfast as “Mr. Lambert” before acquiring some heavy weaponry and then stopping by the shell of his former house, scaring the bejeezus out of his neighbor in the process.
Both flash-forwards were tantalizing glimpses at Walt’s approaching future. They suggest that he doesn’t get to walk away unscathed from all the wrong he’s done, although they give little indication as to how or why his meth-cooking empire crumbles.
The past few episodes have laid some groundwork for Walt’s downfall — but what they haven’t done is get us much closer to that future.
The last episode of Season 5’s first half, “Gliding Over All,” used a montage to sum up a smooth-running few months in the Heisenberg operation, collapsing some of the time between Walt’s 51st birthday — seen four episodes before that — and his 52nd. But since Hank (Dean Norris) made the connection that Walt is Heisenberg at the end of “Gliding Over All,” very little time has passed on the characters’ calendar.
This summer’s debut, “Blood Money,” started immediately after Hank’s bathroom revelation. Subsequent episodes have also picked up right where the previous one ended, and no more than a day or two passes within each episode. Thus only a week or two of time on the show has elapsed since Hank made his discovery.
That’s not exactly a reason to worry. “Breaking Bad” is a very carefully constructed show, and creator Vince Gilligan and his writers would not offer up the flash-forward scenes without at least some inkling about how to pay them off. But given the small amount of time that has elapsed within the show’s world the past four weeks, it’s worth asking the question of how the show gets there in the next four weeks.
One possible answer could lie in the title of the next-to-last episode, “Granite State.” It’s a nickname for New Hampshire, which came up previously in Season 5’s first episode, “Live Free or Die” (the state’s motto). Walt-as-Lambert has a driver’s license from there, and the car he was driving then (and in the “Blood Money” flash-forward) has New Hampshire plates. The title could signal that we catch up to the flash-forwards then.
It’s also not out of the realm of possibility that Sunday’s (Sept. 8) episode could skip ahead a little. Last week’s show ended with Walt calling Todd (Jesse Plemons) about a “job” for his uncle — who orchestrated the prison massacre of Mike’s guys in the first half of the season and the killing of Declan and his crew in “Buried” — and Jesse (Aaron Paul) telling Hank he had a “better” plan to take Walt down than wearing a wire.
Conceivably, either of those plans could take some time to put into place — not months, maybe, but another couple of weeks. Walt certainly wouldn’t want a hit on Jesse (if, in fact, that’s even the subject of his call to Todd) to be messy, and Hank would likely want to ensure that Jesse’s idea doesn’t implode.
Some fans and reviewers of “Breaking Bad” have argued that the flash-forward scenes have deflated some of the suspense surrounding the series finale. That’s not the thinking here — we’ve seen a (small) piece of what Walt’s future looks like, but the much bigger questions of how he gets there and why it is the way it is remain up in the air. In those scenes, Walt has interacted only with a waitress, a gun dealer (played by Jim Beaver) who had only one other brief appearance on the show and a previously unseen neighbor, leaving us to wonder where all the other regular characters fit into the scenario.
Gilligan and Co. have sprung several surprises on the audience in recent weeks: The confrontation between Hank and Walt happened sooner than many people would have expected. Ditto with Jesse’s realization that it was in fact Walt who poisoned Brock. So it’s not that I’m apprehensive about how and when the show arrives at the future it has laid out. It’s just that with only four episodes left, the anticipation is kind of killing me.
How do you think “Breaking Bad” will catch up to its flash-forward scenes?