A lot of people watched the season premiere of Breaking Bad Sunday night. Like, a lot of people—twice as many as tuned into the episode airing in that slot the year before. That means twice as many people gasped at the episode’s big twists (SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!), as it the fallout from Hank’s (Dean Norris) realization that Walter White (Bryan Cranston) was the kingpin he’s been chasing all this time.
But before the breathtakingly tense confrontation between the two characters, which capped off the episode, there was the episode’s first gasp moment: the opening scene set during an unspecified time in the future revealing that the Whites’ house has been abandoned and apparently stripped and searched by the authorities. Walter returns to the house to retrieve the vile of ricin he hid there in the previous finale. He’s apparently been gone so long—and earned such a reputation—that when his neighbor sees him return she stands there stunned.
It was a tantalizing flash forward at what’s to come for everyone’s favorite anti-hero, expertly executed by Breaking Bad’s writers. But how does the use of the time-jumping device compare to other drama series? Here’s a look back at the most shocking flash-forward scenes from recent years.
(Dear readers, spoilers abound in this post. So, as Walter White says, "tread lightly.")
By the end of the fourth season of Desperate Housewives, it was clear that the show could use a little Botox. Series creator Marc Cherry did just that in the season’s final episode, ending with a flash forward to five years later, revealing the unexpected twists the characters’ would face in the next half decade: Bree (Marcia Cross) owns a Martha Stewart-like empire, Gabby ditches the stilettos and becomes a frumpy mother of two, Susan is happily coupled up…but not with Mike. When the primetime soap returned for season five, it became clear that by aging its characters, Desperate Housewives actually felt rejuvenated.
They got off the island. That was the epic reveal in the season three Lost finale, “Through the Looking Glass,” which spent the entire episode tricking viewers into thinking that scenes of a disheveled, substance-dependent Jack (Matthew Fox) was yet another of the show’s famous flashbacks, only for the episode to end with Jack meeting Kate (Evangeline Lily) at the airport, pleading, “We have to go back, Kate. We have to go back!” Viewers were left stunned. It was not a flashback, but the first of the show’s fast-forwards—and the first-ever suggestion that at least some of the castaways got off the island.
Six Feet Under
Six Feet Under ended its six-season run with perhaps the most elegiac, moving final scene a series has ever produced. And it was all a flash forward. Claire (Lauren Ambrose) drives east to New York and, as her mind wanders, has a premonition as to each member of her family would die. It all plays out in a flash-forward montage of each of the show’s main characters’ deaths. The sequence underlined what had been an underlying theme of Six Feet Under, that sometimes it’s just as important to ensure that they all died happily ever after.
One Tree Hill
When One Tree Hill jumped four-and-a-half years at the beginning of its fifth season, two very important creative ailments were cured—both potential and existing. First, the series fast-forwarded through the ever-problematic “college years,” thereby eliminating the decision to implausibly send all the leads to the same college Beverly Hills: 90210-style, split the narrative Gossip Girl/Glee-style, or tragically bid adieu to favorite characters Friday Night Lights-style. Second, the decision to skip college and revisit the characters as grown adults meant that, finally, the twenty- and thirty-something actors were age-appropriate for the characters they were playing.
Season six of Weeds ended with Nancy (Mary-Louise Parker) surrendering to the authorities in order to send herself to jail and protect her family. Season seven picks up three years later with Nancy’s release. Andy (Justin Kirk) and Shane (Alexander Gould) have been living in Copenhagen. Silas (Hunter Parrish) is an aspiring male model. And Nancy is now sort-of-a-lesbian and precariously teetering between a crime-free life and the lucrative lure of the drug business she left behind. Coincidentally, the series once again became interesting.