If you watch Breaking Bad, you’re probably very familiar with the term Chekhov’s Gun. Recappers and critics love to reference Chekhov’s Gun while discussing Breaking Bad, and I’m no exception. It makes a guy feel smart, even if it’s one of the more obvious foreshadowing devices. Basically, it’s the technique whereby an element that’s meaning is not immediately evident is introduced early in a story and its significance becomes clear later on. It’s a very popular technique in Breaking Bad, and while some of the more smug viewers like to poo-poo it as obvious, obnoxious, or irritating, I think it’s kind of awesome. It’s a nice reward for people who pay attention to the details. Plus: Literature!
There will be SPOILERS through season four.
I won’t address all of the instances of Chekhov’s Gun used in Breaking Bad mostly because I am not likely familiar with them all. Vince Gilligan is a mad genius, and he’s probably buried several throughout the series that viewers may not catch until the fourth of fifth time they watch the show all the way through. But just for the sake of “Hey! That’s cool!” let’s look at some of the most obvious ones so far.
The Bullet — Season Three, Episode 7 (“One Minute”) — Early in the episode, an arms dealer gives the Cousins a hollow-point bullet “on the house.” That bullet later falls out of one of the Cousin’s pocket and is used by Hank to kill both Cousins before they kill him.
The Box Cutter — Season Four, Episode One (“The Box Cutter”): Seen in the first act, used later by Gus to slice open Victor’s throat.
The Thirty-Eight Snub — Season Four, Episode Two (“Thirty Eight Snub”): Walt purchases a gun in the second episode, and while that gun appears several times throughout the season, it is not used until the final episode of season four (the man who he purchased the gun from also reappears in the opening episode of season five to sell Walt an M-60).
The Throw Rug — Season Four, Episode 11 (“Crawl Space”): Seen early on when Ted answers the door and nearly trips. Later, he trips over it and is nearly killed.
The Ricin Cigarette — Season Four, Episode 9 (“Bug”): This was kind of a Chekhov’s Gun fake-out. Walt gives Jesse a cigarette poisoned with Ricin to use to kill Gus. In the penultimate episode of season four, Jesse believes that Ricin was responsible for Brock’s illness (It was not). The cigarette was removed by Saul’s body guard, Huell, and it is still in play. The cigarette was reintroduced by Saul in the fifth season premiere.
Lily of the Valley — Season Four, Episode 13 (“Face Off”): This one is my favorite because you probably wouldn’t catch it until the second time through. In the previous episode (“End Times”), Walt’s spinning gun pointed to a seemingly irrelevant potted plant.
In the end of the finale, of course, it was revealed to be The Lily of the Valley, which was the plant that poisoned Brock.
It should also be noted that, in the opening episode of season five, Walt places the plant in his trunk in a trash bag, but importantly, he hasn’t disposed of it yet. Does Jesse find out about this first, or that Walt killed Jane? Will that Lily of the Valley make another appearance?
I’ve watched the fifth season premiere twice now, and I’ve yet to pick up on any possible Chekhov’s Guns. I know that Gilligan loves to play the long game, so there may be something that simply won’t become apparent until much later (However, I guarandamntee you that the $100 bill he left as a tip is revealed to be significant; perhaps it was his last $100 bill, or a $100 bill that someone significant, like Skylar, gave him).
Personally, I’m still trying to figure out the significance of Walt’s identity in the cold open: “Lambert.” The best guess I’ve arrived at so far is that it’s a reference to Frank Lambert, a chemist who is best known for his work on thermodynamic entropy.
Did anyone see anything seemingly irrelevant in the opening episode that might play out over the course of the season?