On a few occasions during this season of Breaking Bad, a character has said to our (anti)hero Walter White something along the lines of, "after the year you've had, you've earned it." Those moments have been jarring reminders of a strange and easy-to-forget facet of the show: though it's been more than five years since the pilot premiered — and Walt was just a high school chemistry teacher making ends meet moonlighting at a car wash — everything (well, almost everything) that's happened so far in the show's five seasons has taken place over the course of a little more than a year. Yes, it's true: pretty much everything we've seen, minus the flash forwards we're currently piecing together, has happened in the time from Walter White's 50th birthday to just past his 51st. Yet in that short span, the characters have been through several lifetimes of terror and tragedy.
Fans have taken great pains to chronicle the show's tightly packed series of events, pointing out the compactness of the show's timeline. But with the stakes ratcheting up further and further during this final run of episodes — as of this Sunday's episode Skyler has started talking about killing people, Marie and Hank are the Whites' sworn enemies, and Jesse wants Walt dead — it may be important, instructional even, to point out just how much has happened to these people in such a small amount of time.
Gets cancer. Partners with his old student. Starts cooking meth. Kills a man. Kills many more people. Gets kidnapped. Is cured of cancer. Goes to work for a drug kingpin. Has a child. Wife leaves him. Wife has an affair. Inadvertently causes horrific plane crash. Kills the kingpin by bombing a nursing home. Starts cooking meth with new partners. Gets wife back. Is nearly killed by his former student. Gets cancer again.
Helps Walt start a meth business. Gets kidnapped. Starts dating Jane. Jane dies. Goes to rehab. Kills a guy. Turns his house into a meth den. Cleans up house. Starts dating another woman. Other woman's son is poisoned. Goes to Mexico and destroys a drug cartel. Covers up murder of a little boy. Starts talking to the DEA.
Kills a big drug dealer in a fire fight. Gets promoted to El Paso but can't go because of panic attacks and obsession over learning who "Heisenberg" is. Suspended for beating up Jesse Pinkman. Gets shot by hitmen avenging the drug dealer's death and left unable to walk. Gets really depressed about never being able to walk again. Walks again. Learns "Heisenberg" is his brother-in-law. Promoted to lead the Albuquerque bureau of the DEA.
Has a child. Learns her husband is a meth cooker. Has an affair. Runs a money laundering facility. Helps her lover avoid an audit by the IRS. Sends thugs to her lover's house to get him to settle with the IRS. Discovers her lover is bald, paralyzed after taking a fall during the thugs' visit. Destroys relationship with her sister, partly by threatening to frame her husband. Starts seeing the upside of murder.
That's a lot! So much, in fact, that the show begins to seem maybe a little silly when you think about it in the terms of its time frame. We've been watching the show for five years, so the escalation of events has felt gradual enough, nothing too drastic too soon. You might even say the whole thing feels plausible: why, yes, this is how a mild-mannered 50-year-old suburb-dweller could transform into a ruthless murderer. But in the world of the show? Good grief a lot has happened in a matter of months. And these people somehow still manage to get up and eat breakfast and make small talk on occasion? It strains credibility.
Which is tough to say about such an excellent series, but it's a pitfall worth pointing out. Breaking Bad has never gone exactly for realism, nor does it seem particularly interested in following all the strict conventions of television. But when you do take a bigger than usual step back and really consider the larger framework of the show, it's an awfully wild premise that all of this happened in such a short time span, and it relies perhaps too heavily, and unfairly even, on the fact that the show usually goes a year between seasons. Were it all aired at once, it might seem like a bit much.
Just something to keep in mind amid all the, mostly justifiable, praise carrying the show to its sure-to-be harrowing conclusion.