YEAH MR. WHITE! YEAH SCIENCE! – The 10 Most Exciting Uses of Science on Breaking Bad
With the end of Breaking Bad rapidly approaching, Den of Geek looks back at the show’s use of science.
Like Walter White, the writing staff on Breaking Bad love science. Whenever Walt and Jesse (and the writers) were backed into a corner, they could usually turn to science to find a way out, even though their solutions sometimes created new problems. Be it explosions, poison, or more explosions, Walt usually has some hypothesis up his beige jacket sleeve. Here are ten of the most exciting uses of science on Breaking Bad. And sorry Hank, but Marie’s right. “Minerals” aren’t that exciting.
Early on in their career together, Walt and Jesse decided to try cooking with methylamine by stealing a barrel (yes, only one barrel; how young and innocent we once were) from a chemical warehouse. Inspired by an Etch A Sketch in Jesse’s garage, Walt decided that they could use the aluminum powder inside the toy to make thermite, a pyrotechnic that can burn through a lock. Although in real life Walt would need about two hundred Etch-A-Sketches in order to make as much thermite as he used, it was a great decision by the writers, as thermite is popular among high school teachers for classroom demonstrations.
In perhaps Walt’s most resourceful moment, he escaped zip tie handcuffs by chewing through a power cord and using it to burn the handcuffs off. After this episode aired, the Queensland Corrective Services prison in Australia noticed a large spike in televisions in cells being destroyed by cable fires (to the point where there was at least one tv destroyed a day). It turned out that there are a lot of Australian Breaking Bad fans in jail and they decided to copy Walt’s homemade torch method to light cigarettes. Yup, they decided to use Walt’s escape technique not to escape, but to smoke. There are now six month television bans in cells if prisoners destroy their tv, but frankly, the part where the jail offers prisoners cable television is the bigger news story here.
While Walt was usually the one who knocks comes up with creative plans using science, this one was all Jesse’s idea. After the destruction of Gus’s superlab, Walt and Hank both realized that there was footage of the cooks on Gus’s computer. When Walt and Mike had a grown-up fight about the use of incendiary devices in evidence lockers, Jesse chimed in with an idea so simple that a child (or Shaggy 2 Dope) could come up with it: magnets! Realizing that they didn’t have any other plans, the trio bought an electromagnet, 42 batteries and a moving truck. Jesse’s proven right as the magnet destroyed the evidence room (and tiped over the truck). However, during the clean-up, the police discovered Cayman Island bank account numbers hidden behind one of Gus’s photos, which created more problems for Gus’s associates.
The reveal at the end of season four that Walt, not Gus, had poisoned Brock with the berries from this household plant led to at least one Den of Geek writer calling his family to tell them to rip out and throw away part of their garden. While most viewers were shocked by this reveal, a week earlier an eagle-eyed internet commenter claimed that Walt was responsible because the plant was spotted in the background at the White residence, which gave that poster the nerdiest brag ever related to Breaking Bad.
Like the magnet, sometimes Jesse’s simple plans were the best option. Once again relegated to the background during a Walt/Mike argument, Jesse found inspiration for his plan by playing with the straw in his drink. When the straw was in the drink and he put his finger over the top of the straw, he could lift it out of the drink and the liquid would still be there. If he replaced the straw and drink with a large enough pump and methylamine, they could suck out a thousand gallons of organic compound from the train, (and insert around 920 gallons of water to replace it because, “It’s all about the weight, yo!“) without anyone realizing there was a robbery. But because nothing good can last on this show, a child saw the results of the robbery and Plemons reverted back to Landry-mode.
Every writer for Breaking Bad should be thoroughly checked by TSA agents whenever they board a plane, because they’re sneaky when it comes to hiding explosives. While most shows would say “Danny Trejo’s severed head riding on the back of a tortoise” is shocking enough and call it a day, Breaking Bad asks the tough questions like, “but what if his head was also a bomb?” The writers (and directors) love their hidden explosives, as they reused it again (this time with a wheelchair) at the end of season 4 in one of the show’s most memorable moments (and given how memorable Breaking Bad usually is, that’s really saying something).
While the Mythbusters and the internet debate over whether or not hydrofluoric acid (HF) can dissolve an entire body and bath tub (it can’t, at least not in the way Breaking Bad portrays it), it’s still an incredibly dangerous acid. The acid releases fluorine which bonds with the calcium in skin and bones, robbing the body of calcium and causing permanent bone and tissue damage. To make it even more dangerous, the fumes caused by HF can be deadly to breathe in. Like Jamie and Adam always say, don’t try this at home (and instead call Mike for help disposing bodies).
Walt loved blowing things up (see: every season of the show), but this was his most memorable hands-on explosion. After Tuco hospitalized Jesse, Walt donned the Heisenberg persona and visited Tuco, demanding payment for the meth and reparations for Jesse’s suffering. When Tuco refused, Heisenberg entered badass mode and reveals that "this is not meth," but fulminated mercury aka BOOM! After a glass shattering demonstration, Tuco paid Walt the 50 grand and offered to become a regular buyer. Tuco wasn’t the only person impressed by the fulminated mercury; after it appeared on Breaking Bad, Burn Notice used the explosive multiple times, including once by a character named Jesse.
Ricin first appeared in season two as a way to dispose of Tuco, but it wasn’t until the fourth season that ricin became a running joke concern. Off screen, Walt secretly concocted a new batch of ricin for Jesse to use on Gus. Jesse never used it and it was lifted off of him by Huell, leading Jesse to think Gus poisoned Brock. Walt tried to make Jesse forget about the capsule by planting a fake one in his apartment for the Roomba to find, but he was unable to make us forget about the ricin as he brought it to a meeting with Lydia and in the flash forward, visited his house solely to retrieve the poison.
Whether it’s crystal blue or contains chilly p, methamphetamine has always played an important role on the show. The complicated chemistry required to properly cook meth was what lead Walt to his new job and altered the lives of everyone around him. Entire episodes revolved around finding ways to cook, and when Walt and Jesse weren’t cooking, they were finding ways to continue to cook while not being murdered and/or arrested. In the end, everyone connected to Walt will suffer, because meth doesn’t pay...unless you worked on Breaking Bad, in which case you probably have a storage until full of money.