Top 11 Chemistry Moments in Breaking Bad

WARNING: Video contains spoilers.

To celebrate the premiere of Breaking Bad's Fifth Season this week, my fellow trufan Miles O'Brien and I dug into the show's vaults to explore the top 10 chemistry moments in Breaking Bad, from seasons One through Four. Only, there was so much awesome science, we had to choose 11 top chemistry moments, instead.

Also, check out our excellent adventure: air-dropping in to a random Breaking Bad fan's premiere party in the show's hometown of Albuquerque, NM.

[Video Link]. More Boing Boing coverage of Breaking Bad here.

Assembled by Joe Sabia (Twitter: @joesabia, web: Check out his CDZA project on YouTube, too. Thanks, Joe!



  1. You guys this is awesome. Thank you! 

    And now, a moment of pedantry: I’m pretty sure that the whole blowing up the douchebag’s car scene wasn’t about the chemistry of windshield washer fluid, and was about using the metal in the squeegee to bridge the gap between the two poles on the guy’s battery. Which is still chemistry. But yeah. ;) 

    1. Yeah, I know! I didn’t realize that until we got into edit. Was too late to fix it. But yeah, just shorting out with metal. No chemicals.

      PS: You’re allowed to be pedantic here, you’re our frickin science editor!

        1. Totally. The interview we shot with the show’s science advisor will go up in a few days, and that one was a lot of fun, too. Digs into more hardcore science details. This one was all about the fandom!

          1. Really looking forward to that interview.  As an explosives chemist and engineer, I’d love to hear about how they maintain that delicate balance between the realism that comes with technical accuracy and the responsibility that comes with presenting hazardous chemistry to a potentially imprudent audience.  And if they’re looking for more advising expertise, it would be a dream to be part of such an amazing show =)

        2. “You’re bad and you should feel bad!”  – Doc. Zoidberg

          Seriously though, great vid.

    2. You should also point out that pure water is a poor conductor, unless it has even the slightest of impurities. So the chemicals of the washing fluid are actually responsible!

      1. And he was shorting a CHEMICAL battery.

        Was that before or after the battery in the desert?  I would add that.

        After all, this show cranks up to 12.

        Nice mention of Jump the Shark. The first moment I heard Vince Gilligan speak I realize that he wasn’t just from X-Files, he wrote The Lone Gunmen. His distinct voice is throughout the commentaries. 

        He writes the show like a villanelle… now it looks like his whole career carries callback refrains like that. Walter won’t go gently into that good night.

    3. That was pretty obvious to me too, but hey… metals are chemicals too!

      but like all the scenes in filmed entertainment, it had a flaw – all modern cars have a rubber boot over the positive battery terminal to prevent exactly that sort of mischief.

        1. Not all the science is right; ricin is so deadly that preparing it is extremely risky. Never mind putting a pile large enough to kill 50 people into a half empty cigarette. Nuts.

          1. This is even more nit-picky, but a vial with a stopper? 

            What’s he going to pull the stopper out with, his teeth?

            With something that deadly, I’d seal the end of the glass tube over a Bunsen burner. He could knob the end so it can be cracked off cleanly when the time comes.

  2. Nice video, maybe you could put some annotations to show that you are aware of the errors about the battery shorting, and that Max Arciniega was shot (not poisoned).

  3. Whoa! Holy Science Batman! I love the Top 11 List you posted Xeni! BTW, you look great.

    Blowing Up Gus:
    They used Instant Ice Packs. There were a ton of them being harvested in the kitchen for a scene near the end of Season 4, Episode 12. 
    Instant Ice Packs use an endothermic reaction between water and ammonium nitrate to achieve cool temperatures rapidly. If you remove as much of the water as you can, then you are provided with a very high concentrate of ammonium nitrate(I personally wouldn’t be creating a reduction of that on my stove).

    It makes a big explosion…

  4. This may be the wrong place to ask, given that you’re all probably fans, but is breaking bad one of those shows you have to watch from the beginning to appreciate? Or is something where if I read the wikipedia article for the first few seasons I’ll be in good enough shape?  

    I’m conflicted. On one hand, I really don’t like the past decade’s move away from episodic tv, because I lack a tivo or the attention span or the character memory to do well with those shows. On the other hand, I don’t like to think I’m missing something which might be good, or important for cultural literacy like Lost turned out to be (yeah, probably should have watched that). 

    So I guess what I’m asking, is breaking bad an approachable show for a season five newcomer  or is it a ‘high maintenance show’ where you need to watch things in sequence and can’t miss a month without getting lost?

    Actually, while were on the topic, can anyone recommend any good shows (dramatically or scientifically) which still use the “free standing episode” model?

    1. I recommend logging into Netflix and watching “Better Off TED”. It’s not scientifically accurate (at all), but it is marginally about science and it’s hilarious and you don’t have to watch it start to finish. Of course, it was a sitcom. And it’s been cancelled. 

    2. My opinion is that you should watch the whole series.  It’s a character driven show and there’s a progression in each season that’s worth paying attention to.  I don’t think you’d really be able to appreciate some of the stuff that happened in the first episode of this season without knowing how the characters got to this point.

      It’s definitely not something you can just watch a single episode of.

    3.  I think you can jump in Season 5 and be totally drawn in because of how well the show is written/put together and how good the acting is/how interesting the characters are.  BUT BUT BUT it is so worth your while to watch the whole series, and it is a show that rewards loyal viewers by referencing or playing with the entire history of series.  Also, I mean, just to see the AMAZING job Bryan Cranston does filling out the epic character arc of Walter White, that shit is for real.   (Just seeing those clips of him and Jesse in the “human goop” scene and the really subtle ways his character was different then, the mannerisms…wow.)

      And unlike Lost which is huge and unwieldly, Breaking Bad is never going to be more than a nice neat 5 season package (probably).  You’ll fly through them. Also, Season 1 is only like 6 episodes right?  Easy peasy.  

    4. I had the same question, a bit before season 4 was to begin. My girlfriend and I sat down and watched the first episode of season 1 and were hooked and ripped through all 3 seasons in a week or two. Neither of us had done that with a show before. I really tried to with Lost, but gave up on it a few episodes into season 2.

      1.  Yeah, I did the same. Someone pointed me to it about 2 years ago and I watched the first 3 seasons in less than a week. :)

  5. Great piece. Xeni – you and Miles have such great chemistry (haha!) together.  That show is awesome.  Love this piece – one of my favourite posts on Boingboing and that’s saying a lot!

  6. GREAT video! I love and share your enthusiasm for the show and for the ‘science’ contained therein. 

    I may be remembering the Season 4 premiere incorrectly, but doesn’t Walt pretty much confirm that he poisoned the kid with Lilly of the Valley when he freaks out in his kitchen and rushes outside to grab the Lilly of the Valley and put it into  the garbage bag in the truck of his car?

      1. True, true, true… 
        However, and to your point of the brilliance of the writing, there are no wasted scenes or details. If we were supposed to be in doubt about whether he did it wouldn’t the scene just not occur? By including the scene, and because it is highly unlikely that Walt would some how volunteer or be forced to talk about this detail, the storytellers are giving us the information that we need to infer the connection. 

        It will be interesting to see if it comes up again – my money is on NO and just like many things in life we will have to connect the dots without 100% proof.

        1.  Also, at the beginning of the “Lily of the Valley” episode, Walt is sitting in his yard spinning a gun on the table and on the last spin it points to the LOTV plant.  Hmm…

          1. In 5.1, Saul gives Walt the cigarette with the ricin, mentioning how dangerous it was to have his sausage-fingered henchman pickpocket it.

            It’s not Sigma-9, but powerful evidence verifying Jesse’s original suspicion, seemingly outlandish at the time, that it was at Saul’s office that the ricin got stolen.

    1. It’s not impossible that Jesse might end up at Walt’s house at some point, and Jesse is emotional and quick to judge and so if he saw the plant he would immediately turn on Walt and it would be impossible to convince him it wasn’t Walt.

      I’m not saying that’s the most plausible, but there is more than one potential motivation for Walt to throw out the plant. I’m 99% sure that Walt did the poisoning, which was the biggest “Holy SHIT” moment for me in the whole series and is an incredible set-up for season 5.

  7. Hmm, you have a lot of scenes here you attribute to chemistry that are not really that.  I love Breaking Bad and I use it in my university chemistry lectures often but you are stretching a bit here.  And I don’t know Miles but any chemist beyond 2nd year and organic chemistry knows how to pronounce methyl amine.  Hell, any cooker knows how to pronounce it these days!

  8. Great video guys! I just noticed one error. Gus’ “brother” Max is shot by Don Eladio, not poisoned. Don Eladio shoots Max because the Pollos Hermanos dared to give meth to his men. That scene sticks out so vividly to me as I remember being struck at seeing Gus wailing in pain as his “brother’s” blood drained into the pool. That’s probably the one real time we see the cool, collected drug king pin really lose it.Max also wasn’t Gus’ real brother but rather someone who Gus thought of as a brother though that’s more of a minor detail.

      1. You’re not alone in that. It is probably important to note that Gus refers to Max as his partner which is a word that can be taken in more than one way. Also, the official Breaking Bad podcast touched upon it after the episode airs. The question of whether Gus and Max are involved comes up in the podcast to which Vince Gilligan says “It’s open to interpretation. It’s whatever
        the audience wants it to be.” The actor who played Don Eladio and the episode’s editor both saw Gus as gay and Gilligan said  that it was “okay to infer that.”

        1.  Their behaviour was very muted, as you’d expect from two people asking a very powerful and dangerous man for money, I’m really going more off of Don Eladio’s statements about and treatment of them.

  9. Mercury fulminate is about 4x as dense as meth; even someone as strung-out as Tuco would have WTFed when they picked up the bag.

    That said, I love that scene and Breaking Bad in general. If a detail like that is the biggest fault I find with a show’s science, count me in! It’s certainly less insulting than, say, Bones: “We went through the sand with magnetic gloves, but we didn’t find any titanium flecks!!!111eleven”

    1.  There are other errors… In the latest episode, you can’t control a DC magnet with an AC Variac. And big magnets are nowhere near that powerful, anyway (attraction falling off as the cube (I think) of the distance).

    2. He didn’t have to fill the whole bag with the mercury fulminate, just a few pieces with the rest being meth (or something else). For all we know he only had the one piece that wasn’t actually meth, though that doesn’t seem to be the case.

  10. Whats next, a series about a troubled good guy gone bad who just happens to be a torturer in one of those rendition camps.  

  11. We can be sure that Gus did not kill Don Eladio with ricin because the Don & his henchmen all died within minutes or hours at the longest. Ricin takes a day or longer to take effect, which is part of the reason Walt wanted to use it in the first place.

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