The science of Breaking Bad: Down

Breaking Bad : Season 2 : Episode 4: “Down”

Jesse reaches the end of his tether.

Jesse reaches the end of his tether.

As Walt’s attempts to regain his family fail to cut the mustard, Jesse loses all and ends up blue. In this post, I’ll be talking about chemical toilets.

You can read more about this episode at AMC, IMDb and the A.V. Club.



Jesse’s address comes out in the meeting with his parents’ lawyer, but (at least according to Google Maps) Margo Road ends in the 2400s. His father also mistakenly identifies him as a “speed” manufacturer – speed is another name for amphetamine, which is similar to the methamphetamine he has been manufacturing but different enough for his to technically deny it without lying.

Chemical toilets

Kicked out of his house, let down by his friends and relieved of all his worldly possessions, things simply cannot get any worse for Jesse. Until he manages to fall into a chemical toilet, that is. The bright blue liquid that everyone remarks upon is probably Anotec blue, a deodorising additive commonly used in portable units. It could have been worse, though – older toilets used chemicals like formaldehyde (H2CO) and glutaraldehyde (OC(CH2)3CO) to disinfect wastes, but modern ones use less-harmful nitrates to speed up the natural breakdown processes and remove faecal odours (the chemical odour is another matter – it’s there to cover up any natural odours that get slip out). One of Anotec’s mottoes is “We stick our nose in your business.”



Human (and animal) faeces contain digested and undigested food, and the distinctive smell is due to the by-products of bacterial action in the gut. The principal culprits are indole, skatole (named from the Greek skato-, meaning “dung”) and sulfur-containing compounds such as hydrogen sulfide (H2S; this is also responsible for the smell of rotten eggs). Methane, contrary to popular belief, is odourless.

Elements in the credits

Breaking Bromine
Bad Barium
Created Chromium
Bryan Cranston Bromine
AnNa Gunn Sodium
AAron Paul Argon
DeaN Norris Nitrogen
Betsy Brandt Beryllium
RJ MitTe Tellurium
TEss Harper Einsteinium
Michael BofshevEr Erbium
Dan DesMond Molybdenum
Tom KiEsche Einsteinium
KelleY Dixon Yttrium
Robb Wilson King Tungsten
MiChael Slovis No such element
Dave Porter Polonium
Sharon Bialy Sulfur
SherrY Thomas Yttrium
Sam Catlin Calcium
StewArt A. Lyons Argon
Melissa Bernstein Beryllium
John ShiBan Barium
Mark JOhnson Oxygen
Karen Moore Molybdenum
JoHn Dahl Hydrogen
Vince Gilligan Vanadium

I’m not sure why Michael Slovis wasn’t assigned iodine (I), carbon (C), hydrogen (H), sulfur (S), oxygen (O) or vanadium (V).


One Response to The science of Breaking Bad: Down

  1. Dean says:

    Awesome post.

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