The science of Breaking Bad: Madrigal

Breaking Bad | Season 5 | Episode 2 | “Madrigal”

It's time to get back in business.

It’s time to get back in business.

Through a series of lies and with blinkered overconfidence, Walt succeeds in getting the core of the Fring meth operation back together. Will we be back to industrial-scale cooking next week, or will it all fall apart sooner than expected?

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

Random thoughts

The Brix number is a weight percent measure of sugar content used in the food industry.

As other commenters will already have pointed out, you probably can’t kill yourself with an automated external defibrillator like we see in the cold open. AEDs are designed to be used by untrained members of the public and are therefore fairly idiot-proof. They will not work if the chest pads are incorrectly placed (as they most certainly are here), and may prompt the user with voice and visual commands to place the pads properly. They also analyse the patient’s heart rhythm and determine automatically whether a shock is required. If the heart is not in fibrillation then the unit will not be able to deliver a shock. Also, I’m not entirely sure if a shock as shown would have been lethal – the electric current would have travelled the shortest distance from the mouth to the upper left shoulder, largely missing the heart and brain.



In a call all the way back to season one, Walt is still planning to cook using the phenylacetone-methylamine method. It’s probably more sensible than the smurf-and-fry-cook pseudoephedrine route, but a chemist of Walt’s calibre should be able to come up with something less attention-calling.

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
BOb Odenkirk Oxygen
JonAthan Banks Astatine
Laura Fraser Francium
Steven MicHael Quezada Hydrogen
Michael ShAmus Wiles Americium
Norbert Weisser Nobelium
Wolf MUser Uranium
Carrington VilMont Molybdenum
Kelley Dixon Potassium
Mark FreeboRn Radon
MiChael Slovis Carbon
Dave Porter Polonium
Sharon Bialy Sulfur
Sherry Thomas Thorium
BrYan Cranston Yttrium
Diane MerCer Cerium
Moira Walley-Beckett Molybdenum
Thomas SchnAuz Gold
George Mastras Germanium
PeTer Gould Tellurium
Sam Catlin Calcium
Melissa Bernstein Beryllium
MicHelle MacLaren Helium
Mark JOhnson Oxygen
StewArt A. Lyons Argon
Michelle MacLaRen Rhenium
Vince Gilligan Vanadium

10 Responses to The science of Breaking Bad: Madrigal

  1. Vor Tex says:

    This might have been discussed earlier but do all the chemicals, and lab equipment shown in the show actually work? Not into drugs but I have heard that meth is probably the most vile of them all. It’s all fun and games with “Weeds” This show is truly dark.

    I’m curious as to how (and who) discovered this horrible concoction with total dismissal of the side effects to the individual and society as a whole.

    I had a marathon of all 4 seasons viewed in a few days so I kind of became a fan of the show with the help of a time machine I call my DVD player. The writing and acting are first rate that’s what has me now into season 5 in real time.

    Again…wonderful site.

    • Ellis D. Tripp says:

      The chemistry is fairly accurate as shown. They are careful to never show ALL of a particular process/procedure, presumably so the show doesn’t become a “how-to” guide for meth cooks.

      There are a few technical errors, such as how Walt gets a single isomer product from the phenylacetone/methylamine process, or exactly why such a highly pure product has a blue color (pure methamphetamine is colorless/white, not blue).

      Methamphetamine was first synthesized in Japan in 1893, according to Wikipedia:

    • John says:

      +1. The equipment and methods shown are more or less accurate – I remember seeing an interview way back in season one about how the writers had spent some time with police labs so that they could replicate underground labs well – but not detailed enough for someone to copy the process.

  2. Vor Tex says:

    Thanks for the response guys…and I’ll checkout wikipedia. Wow as far back as 1893 in Japan no less! I was wondering what if any beneficial medical use the drug had, never imagined narcolepsy and depression.

  3. Emilia Jordan says:

    Great post! And thanks so much for linking to me :) I’ve read your post on “A No Rough Stuff Type Deal” several times. In fact, I was with some fellow organic chemistry tutors the other day and we didn’t have any students so we were trying to write out all the mechanisms for Walt’s cook, with that post as a guide. It was purely for intellectual curiosity, for the record!

    Yeah, there is some crazy info on that wiki page. The parts about withdrawal lasting into years and being harder to treat than some mental illnesses was really stark and sad.

    Walt’s method would definitely lead to a racemic mixture, so not quite so “enantiomerically pure” as he says in season 4. Not sure if that is just error or wanting to be purposely vague. If you read the script for the pilot, it clearly talks about wanting to make sure it’s not a “how to” guide. I know they do consult with an organic chemistry professor, can’t remember her name but there’s an article about her on NPR.

  4. […] Weak Interactions: The Science of Breaking Bad […]

  5. Liz says:

    Betsy Brandt is Beryllium, the element used to power the spaceship in Galaxy Quest, a movie she was in.

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