THE BREAKING BAD WIKI tells us that Walter Hartwell White was born September 7, 1959 and died fifty-two years later on the same day in 2011. The number seems to be transparently meaningful. Taking fifty-two weeks in a year, then Walter’s years ought to correspond to the seasons of his life, making a convenient yardstick of his rise and fall.

The idea is helped by the fact that seasons two through four have thirteen episodes each, a number that goes neatly into the number of years in Walter’s life. If that explanation seems like an accident of the television business, the theory might be tested by another detail that appears in the first episode. Walter, waking in the middle of the night to brood on his cancer diagnosis, contemplates the plaque on the wall of his study:  S1E1 1985 award pan

It flashes across the screen briefly: “The Science Research Center . . . hereby recognizes Walter H. White, Crystallography Project Leader for Proton Radiography. . . Contributor to Research Awarded the Nobel Prize.” Devotees of the show know that the citation refers to actual Nobel-prize winning research (which–for devotees–gives the plaque its glow of authenticity). But the series does not return to it, and we learn no more about his specific role on the team.

BUT THE DATE OF THE AWARD, 1985, is significant, because it marks the true high mark of his career. In 1985, Walter was twenty-six, meaning that his most important scientific work was done with exactly half way through his fifty-two years. Fate, being both just and perverse, gives Walter his greatest success in what is literally his middle age, then lets him to live long enough to destroy himself. The irony is barely audible, but even at this point in his journey, it announces the beginning of the end.


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