Breaking Bad fever is quickly approaching its apex, with Walter White scowling at us from subway posters, banner ads, and magazine covers all over town. But until Sunday night, all we know is that Hank is finally wise to Heisenberg's true identity, and that Walt is on the lam, quite possibly trying to pass himself off as the lead singer of the National. Lots of hectic stuff will certainly go down over the next eight Sundays -- stuff that could make the Great Prison Massacre of season 5 look as quaint as Walt and Jesse's first bumbling cooks. So let's take a moment to look back on some of the show's most lovable quirks -- the recurring details that have rewarded us for paying attention and kept us slavishly putting off our nightmare-filled bedtimes for just one more episode.
10. Tighty (Walter) Whiteys
When the world got its first look at Walter White, thirty seconds into the pilot episode, it saw a man wearing nothing but a pair of BVDs and a gas mask. Three episodes later, as Walt's brother-in-law Hank speculates with his DEA colleagues on the identity of the city's newest meth cook, we see Walter in the same outfit, sans gas mask, brushing his teeth. By the time he strips off his clothes in a supermarket, one season later, you start to wonder if Walt, or maybe the guy who plays him, just enjoys doing stuff with no clothes on. A look at the show's blooper reels indicates that, yes, Bryan Cranston is a raging exhibitionist. He says so himself, in an "Inside Breaking Bad" clip: "I have a nudity clause in my contract that insists I'm naked in every single show I do."
9. Skyler's "Mute Horror" Face
Skyler spends so much time being shocked at her husband's ever-mounting wickedness that it's almost a relief to watch her sneak a cigarette in season 2. (Sorry, Holly.) But no matter how complicit she becomes in Walt's dealings, she still finds plenty of opportunities to go goggle-eyed and speechless. Not till season 5 does she try out a different default expression: that glazed look that says, "Excuse me while I walk fully clothed into the pool." Now all she needs is her own meme, a la "Really High Guy."
8. Learning to Love Skinny Pete
In a show that's famous for blurring the line between good guys and bad guys, Jesse's foot-soldier bro Skinny Pete might just be the one who surprised me the most with his deep relatability. Sure, Hank starts out a total douchebag before winning us over with his awkward attempts at being a sensitive family guy -- the scene in "Seven Thirty-Seven" in which he tries to broker peace between Skyler and Marie is one of the funniest and most touching of the whole show. But guys, it's Skinny Pete! Despite looking like every mother's worst nightmare, he's unfailingly nice -- and he even plays piano, really well, in season 5. And while he's been known to spell the word "street" with an "a," the way he describes his bond with Tuco is pure poetry: "Two nuts in a ballsack, yo!"
7. Hank + Injury = Total Dickishness
The other reason Skinny Pete edges out Hank in the "surprisingly relatable" category is that Hank, having been gravely injured in his showdown with the Cousins, promptly becomes an insufferable asshole -- especially to Marie, who cheerfully helps her bedridden husband with his "uno" and "dos." While these scenes are hard to watch (unless you chug a beer every time Hank says "Jesus Christ, Marie"), they add considerable depth to both characters. Side note: will Hank's obsession with minerals pay off in the final episodes? We're about to find out.
6. Fuck Your Phones!
Gus and Mike have ended so many calls by snapping their flip-phones in half, they must buy them by the dozen at Costco. I imagine Mike ordering a pizza to split with his granddaughter -- "Yeah. Medium. Sausage and pineapple. Side of cheesy bread." -- and reflexively twisting the life out of his Nokia as if it were a tiny chicken. See also: Walt receiving calls at home and hissing several variations on "Do not call here, ever!" throughout the first two seasons.
5. Walt's Relaxed Attitude Toward Teaching
It's always a pleasure catching Walt in the classroom and watching his behavior get increasingly erratic -- from a rambling story about another brilliant scientist who didn't get due recognition, to the after-class meeting in which he tells a failing student, "Don't bullshit a bullshitter," to the truly bizarre scene at the top of season 3 in which Walt speaks at a school assembly (following more bullshit from the same student Walt had chewed out after class). Despite the fact that two airplanes have recently crashed in mid-air over the city, Walt tells the kids to "look on the bright side." Then a quick rant about another, more deadly mid-air collision, and he's ready for his big finish: "We survive, and...OK! [Principal takes mic away; feedback squeal] Good."
4. Fun Quotes for Everyday Use
I'm not talking about the obvious Breaking Bad quotes -- the ones that end in "yo" or "bitch." I'm talking about the ones that demonstrate the show's full, Coen Brothers-worthy range, from hardboiled cop-talk ("Somebody croaked our snitch!") to the eerily calm lines of Gus ("Well? Get back to work.") But if you remember nothing else, remember the following, which will help you any time you get in over your head: "Tuco. Tuco. Why don't we all just relax, huh?" See also: Tuco's "Tight, tight, tight, jeaaah!"
3. TRL ABQ
Breaking Bad has yielded at least three music videos -- what other non-musical series can say that? We've got Gale Boetticher singing "Major Tom" in a karaoke video that's straight out of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! We've got Twaughthammer, Jesse and Badger's garage band, whose video features a cameo from the one-eyed teddy bear that landed in Walt's pool after the plane crash. And best of all, we've got the narcocorrido "Heisenberg," which opens the episode "Negro Y Azul." Shown in its entirety, the low-budget video manages to explain Walt's increasingly sticky involvement with a Mexican drug cartel via a plucky tejano ballad. The chorus says it all: "But that homie's dead / He just doesn't know it yet."
2. Painfully Awkward Meals chez White
The pancake breakfast where a grotesquely chipper Walt tries to hip his son to Steely Dan and Boz Scaggs. At least three butt-clenching patio meals with the Schraders, the first of which ends with Walt saying, "I have cancer. Lung cancer. It's bad." There's the roof pizza. And then there's my favorite: the season 5 scene in which a meeting between Walt and Jesse turns into an impromptu dinner party, presided over by a Chardonnay-gulping Skyler. The tension is spectacular: "These are great green beans, Mrs. White ... You put lemon in there too?" "They are from the deli, at Albertson's." No wonder Walter makes his own bacon numbers on his 52nd birthday.
There was a moment, toward the end of season 1, when I wondered whether every other episode would feature a brilliant and very implausible explosion. Even when he's not foiling two thugs with a cloud of red phosphorus or winning Tuco's respect with a mercury fulminate cherry bomb, Walt still manages to lodge a squeegee into the battery of a lawyer's Beemer and walk away from the resulting explosion, John McClane-style. Moments like these taper off in the second season, after Walt makes a battery while stranded in the desert. But a recent episode has Walt using an electric cord to blow up some handcuffs -- although, tellingly, he has to watch his own flesh burn this time. Like the other save-the-day explosions, it was a little silly. But for all its moral complexity, Breaking Bad is not a show that cleaves to realism -- not when there are sports cars and meth kingpins to blow up. And anyway: the man is a chemist.