Watching a non-anthology series out of order is a baffling idea, and yet here comes Nicolas Winding Refn with Too Old to Die Young. Episodes four and five were screened at Cannes Film Festival and provided to critics for review, affirming Refn’s claim that the show could be watched in any order. Now that the entire series is streaming on Amazon, it seems worth asking: Does the order of the episodes really make no difference?
The short answer is that you would be best off watching them in order.
The long answer is that if you start in the middle or otherwise mix things up, you could probably put things together through context clues — just as you could with pretty much any other show. It’s not recommended, but it’s not impossible.
Ultimately, Refn’s statement as to how to watch his series seems to be more about how he feels entertainment has changed than necessarily how Too Old to Die Young is structured. “It’s how my kids watch entertainment,” he explained in an interview with Indiewire. “They’ll find something and they’ll drop in. If it interests them, they’ll stay.”
He also added that streaming has fundamentally changed how audiences watch things, saying that, “You just log on [and] log off. It’s a coexistence now. Episodic television was designed when television was once a week on an analog channel. Why do we still retain the same narrative and constructions from a time that doesn’t even exist?”
Too Old to Die Young is still linear enough that watching it out of order will muddy the details, but it might be a little easier to parse together than, say, Lost, given the glacial pace at which Refn has set the series. The storylines are also fairly simple; Refn likes bold symbolism, and it’s rife enough throughout the show that the characters’ motives and desires are always well-telegraphed.
Again, that’s not a recommendation to try jumping in at the middle, or blindly click on episodes without regard to order. A few episodes can probably be switched around in that there are two major stories at play — Martin’s (Miles Teller) and Jesus’ (Augusto Aguilera) — and some of the episodes focus solely on one or the other, meaning you could watch them together rather than split up as they are in the episode order.
But there is an arc. Characters die and drop out of the narrative, which makes going all Jeremy Bearimy on the show (to borrow some terminology from The Good Place) a little less easy than Refn’s description of his show implies.
That said, the idea that non-anthology series could eventually not rely on a linear structure is a noteworthy one. There must be some sort of evolutionary step for streaming series after binge-watching. Netflix has experimented with interactive shows (Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, You vs. Wild, the upcoming Kimmy Schmidt special), and it feels like such non-sequential shows might be next. Too Old to Die Young just isn’t it.