So, a guest post I published on B2W about six months ago, 5 Reasons To Hate BREAKING BAD still gets this blog in the region of approximately 50-100 individual hits a week. As you may remember, Ian Martin’s post, though it talks of “hate” is actually admiring of the series … like just about everyone else in the known universe. Yet, typically, the Google searches that land on the post are often the likes of “I hate Breaking Bad” or “I hate Walter White”, suggesting there ARE people out there who dislike this seemingly “universally loved” series, backing up my claim that writers must realise there are always haters, no matter what. So when Scott approached B2W with his pitch to counter-answer Ian’s post, I agreed – especially as I knew how popular the series is amongst the Bang2writers and I love a good (natured!) ruck online. So, GLOVES OFF everybody, no flaming please and also, think on this question: 

Where does “suspension of disbelief” start in a story – and where does it end, ie. “it just is” … and why?

And don’t forget … PLAY NICE! Over to you Scott …



Now that everyone has sobered up from watching the hit TV series Breaking Bad, offering some critical comments might not get me stoned, so to speak. The seemingly universal praise as “the most consistently great series ever written and acted” ( gave it 99 out of 100) has resulted in a level of hype that apparently is hypnotic.

I watched the first few episodes and, unimpressed, went on to better things. I assumed most critics would feel the same, since my taste for drama included critical favorites like The Wire, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, Hill Street Blues, and Deadwood (and not everyone is convinced: Breaking Bad got lucky at 13 from the Writers Guild, below I Love Lucy).

But once the BB cult reached fever pitch, I decided to give it another chance. I went back to the beginning and watched all the episodes within a few weeks (with someone else to check my impressions). It may have been the intense exposure that made me realize that every episode had several significant character inconsistencies or unrealistic plot elements (228 I noticed on this first round or nearly four in each of the 61 episodes). Many would require more space to explain the context than we have, so let me just provide at some representative examples.

And lest anyone accuse me of being overly anal about the logic behind fiction, I enjoyed Lost (it got a pass because of the supernatural). Maybe creator Vince Gilligan was spoiled by the low demands for credibility made on his X-Files. As I became more perplexed, I began sharing thoughts with friends, whose reaction was always, “I didn’t notice,” some going back to confirm the problems. Posting on fan sites brought furious non-responses.

Confusion Ensues

Among the baffling aspects early in the story:

1) The entire series is based on the assumption that Albuquerque high school chemistry Walter White can make such an amazing meth product that neither a top drug cartel nor an international pharmaceutical conglomerate can buy someone’s expertise to figure out the formula (even when they’re shown by White’s not overly-bright assistant, Jesse).

2) For two seasons, Walter manages to disappear for long periods (cooking meth in an RV to raise money to treat his cancer and leave something for his family) without anyone becoming suspicious of his excuses that he was simply depressed and wanted to go for a walk. He also brazenly lies about things that can be checked, like visiting his mother, despite having no reason to believe he would get away with this forever.

3) Although he has been out on drug surveillance with Hank, his brother-in-law, who is an official in the DEA, Walter does not grasp that he should not talk about drug deals or murder on his cell phone. He also does not destroy the RV, even after he stops using it (Albuquerque must not have endless reruns of all flavors of “Law & Order”).

4) Jesse is incensed when lawyer Saul suggests laundering money by buying a nail salon, since he doesn’t want to pay taxes (he’s not bright, but not that dumb).

5) Walter decides his product is so superior he wants to become a regional meth kingpin with the help of Jesse and his three even more dimwitted sidekicks.

6) Walter decides to let Jesse’s girlfriend die by not turning her on her side while she and Jesse are knocked out on heroin, so she chokes on her own vomit. This despite the fact that the police will have to come into Jesse’s apartment when he is already under suspicion of being a meth dealer.


The Madness Continues

7) Walter keeps a huge bag of cash in a closet where it can be easily seen and his wife, Skyler, discovers it (he also piles cash in the garage, barely concealed by a flap of insulation). She guesses he is selling marijuana, but rather than embracing this, he decides to tell her he is a major meth maker. She forces him to move out, yet don’t come up with a cover story as to why, which only makes everyone more curious (though they finally claim Walter has a gambling problem to explain why they’re flush).

8) Skyler finally decides to buy a car wash to launder the money without bothering to find out how much is involved (she covers the millions by adding a few extra “cash purchases” to the register each day, even though there are security cameras recording her “conversations” with customers). No one notices Walter is rarely there.

9) Walter agrees to work for regional drug lord Gus in a pristine underground lab. One night after work, Jesse puts sedatives in Walter’s drink, but while he is still barely awake, Jesse has him hold a ladder to that Jesse can kill a fly, which does not seem to move after repeated vain efforts to swat.

10) When two of Gus’s distributors kill the brother of Jesse’s lover, Jesse heads out to shoot them, but Walter runs them over to keep him from getting killed. One has to ask why he values Jesse’s life more than the lives of his family.

11) Gus spares Walter and Jesse because he can’t find anyone else in the world to make good meth.

12) DEA agents go to the laundry that is the cover for Gus’s drug business and the manager lets them search without a warrant without calling the boss for approval.

13) Walter is incensed that Jesse didn’t put the ricin he was given into Gus’ drink while at dinner, even though there is no opportunity.

14) Gus is always unflappable, yet gets so mad that one of his enemies, Hector, visited the DEA office (presumably to rat him out), that he decides he must personally kill him. Never mind that the DEA should be protecting Hector. Gus inspects his room very carefully, but not the wheelchair Hector is in, which has a bomb visibly attached. Earlier, Walter had planted a bomb on Gus’s car, and Gus had a sixth sense there might be a problem, but not this time. More Danger

15) After Gus is dead and the lab destroyed, Walter assures Skyler there is no longer any danger being in the meth business.

16) He sets up a mobile lab inside houses that are being tented for fumigation. It’s a good place to hide, except they enjoy TV at night, which lights up the tent.

17) When offered $5 million to close down his lab, Walter is furious that he would be losing out on the money he would have to forego (even though he can’t even launder the $80 million he has to stash). Jesse and Mike (Gus’s enforcer) point out that he originally wanted to just make $750,000 for cancer treatment and it’s better to stay alive, but he continues.

18) Walter discovers a tracker on his car and believes Hank is on to him. To confirm, he drops by Hank’s home on a supposed social visit. Knowing that he doesn’t have the goods on Walter yet, Hank doesn’t take the bait. But on Walter’s way out, he turned back to let Hank know that he found the device. Since he can’t be sure what Hank knows, why risk immediate arrest? Hank decides candor is best, even though he hasn’t even built a good enough case to tell his DEA colleagues.

19) Walter insists that some thugs arrange the execution of 10 prisoners simultaneously in several different places, despite their protests that this is unrealistic.

20) Once Hank knows Walter is making meth, he tries to get Skyler to tape a confession, not only failing to Mirandize her, but telling her she should not consult a lawyer.

21) Before going on the run, Walter returns home to get his clothes, despite having $11 million in cash. He knows the family might not be there—they show up shortly, but was he going to wait while the clock ticked? They refuse to go, so he kidnaps the baby, even though this will trigger an Amber Alert to make the public aware.

22) Finally, why is the office of the lawyer, Saul, who seems to represent the entire regional illegal drug industry, sacrosanct? As an active participant in crime, he has no legal protection.

Some things no doubt have an explanation, but it should not be the responsibility of the audience to work too hard at figuring things out. And yes, people are often conflicted and do things out of character. But even fiction has to be credible to suspend disbelief: would we buy the story that Superman not only is working as a reporter during the day, but is a heroin dealer and polygamist? Maybe the part of the overheated enthusiasm for this undercooked series can be explained by the large percentage of Baby Boomers who no longer use drugs, but want a contact high without jail time or a hangover.


BIO:  Scott S. Smith is a  Freelance Contributor on the Investor’s Business Daily, where he has his own column, “Leaders & Success”. Connect with him on Facebook HERE or on Linkedin, HERE.

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10 Responses to 288 Mistakes In BREAKING BAD (Here’s The Ones I Can Fit In) By Scott S. Smith

  1. Ross Aitken says:

    Hi Scott,
    No doubt there’ll be a million people screaming blue murder, and part of me hates myself for falling for such obvious linkbait, but I thought I’d post a rebuttal.
    Essentially most of your issues can be explained via character and genre. This isn’t some Ken Loach style slice of life – it’s a gangster genre piece. Look at the way it’s shot – it’s heightened reality.

    That said, here’s the other side of the argument:
    1. The character is a genius, nobel prize level chemist. There simply aren’t too many chemists at that level willing to go into the drug trade.
    2. They do become suspicious, and ask him repeatedly, assuming affairs etc. He doesn’t believe he’ll get away with it forever – he’s dying.
    3. He has a second cell phone for his deals. He does attempt to destroy the RV once it becomes a threat. Prior to that, it was Jesse’s also.
    4. What’s your point? Is this a mistake?
    5. His product IS superior! And, well, they’re the only people he knows.
    6. Jane was threatening his whole operation and withholding his money. The death was an impulsive thing.
    7. Pride. It’s all pride. He tells her it’s meth because he’s a manufacturer, not a dealer. Yeah, he’s not great at hiding the money, but it works at the time.
    8. This bothered me too. Like, how much was she expecting him to be bringing in? Saul seemed to go with it though, and he knew. I took the ‘conversations’ to be symptomatic of her guilt, rather than any genuine attempt to launder it that way.
    9. The ladder wobbles quite a bit, and he almost falls off at one point.
    10. At this point he considers Jesse effectively one of his family. Assumedly he was never planning to run them over, but just stop Jesse, but he got there too late.
    11. Yes. See point 1.
    12. He did call and gave it the go-ahead. You see Jesse & Tyrus waiting quietly while the search goes on standing by the phone.
    13. Walt doesn’t believe Jesse. We know there was no opportunity, but Walt doesn’t.
    14. They’ve quite a history those two. Tyrus inspects the room, and is visibly suspicious, like they’ve got better things to do. Who’d look under the wheelchair?
    15. Pride. He’s become a victim of his own hubris.
    16. Wouldn’t fumigators take a break? Is this so weird? And the tent outside the house would probably hide the light pretty well.
    17. At this point he’s gone beyond making enough for his family, and wants a piece of what he gave up (billion dollar company Grey Matter)
    18. Pride. Always pride. Walt knows Hank doesn’t have a case, and he wants Hank to know he knows. Hank, for his part, wanted to make sure.
    19. It’s a symptom of how far he’s willing to go that even meth Nazis balk at his plans.
    20. He doesn’t have a case. He wants anything he can. Lawyers get involved it’s over. I believe Miranda rights apply after an arrest?
    21. Not sure it’s clothes he’s after, and there’s no real clock until Jnr calls the cops. Chances are he was after his family rather than clothes per se. Kidnapping the baby was a rash, impulsive, emotionally-driven move, when all was seemingly lost.
    22. Is it? I don’t know what you mean by this.

    I loved the show, and any issues I have with it largely stem from the speed. Seasons 1-4 happen in less than a year. Incredibly quick. Also, it’s very much a show about men. Women barely get a look in except to get in the way. Even baby Holly just gets in the way. But that’s a whole other topic.

    • Lucy V Hay says:

      Haha brilliant Ross. I never imagined someone would address Scott’s article POINT BY POINT. I’ve got to be honest and admit to never having watched the show (beyond soap, me and TV don’t get on generally; I’m too busy watching movies on DVD … I never watched The Sopranos, The Wire or whatever either. It’s a timing thing). That said, even without watching it, I’m inclined to side with the team and talent behind BREAKING BAD, sorry Scott! As Ross points out, it’s a “hyper real” show and just as you gave LOST certain “get out of jail free” cards for its supernatural element, BREAKING BAD will have its own based on the genre, its conventions and characters.

    • Ian Martin says:

      Hi Ross, Walt was effectively living on borrowed time. He has stage 3A lung cancer; barely months to live if he’s lucky. This is not a show they could have dragged out over many years.

      • Lucy V Hay says:

        Time is a relative term though; each series didn’t have to be an actual year in the storyworld, like it is in “reality”. Plus people in real life have miraculous recoveries, etc. Fact is, anything can go in fiction as long as the rules of the story world are respected and there’s still some semblance of emotional truth.

    • Christian says:

      Good job Ross. On point 16, no fumigator so would not even be in the house, so wouldn’t need a break. The television does light up the whole tent and can be clearly seen as the camera retrogrades from the scene. But what Scott is missing is that this is artistic license. The TV isn’t really lighting up the tent. That would be impossible. The light from the TV is amplified for artistic reasons. I think artistic license also answers some of Scott’s other criticisms, like the highly visible, brightly flashing bomb under Hector’s wheelchair. That was artistic license to clue-in the viewer and heighten the tension. The bomb was not visible under the wheelchair as Scott asserts. And why would Tyrus even suspect a bomb? He was scanning for a bug; they were worried that the DEA may have bugged Hector or the room, not planted a bomb on the man!

      • Christian Smith says:

        * edit: Regarding point 16, the fumigator would not even be in the house, so wouldn’t need a break.

    • Christian says:

      Point 1: not only is he a genius chemist, but he did ground breaking work in crystallography. He is uniquely qualified to invent a new method resulting in a vastly superior product.

      Scott, the formula CAN be mimicked – the show made it clear that Gus was trying to find someone to do just that. But notes that even Jesse, when working on his own, was not able to achieve 99% purity.

  2. Pete Darby says:

    Yeah, BB has a number of “gimme’s” (like pretty much any story worth telling) that, if you don’t buy into, don’t work.

    1) Walter is a GENIUS chemist.
    2) The man is built out of an INSANE amount of pride. He’s the poster boys for hubris. Makes Coriolanus seem like a shrinking violet.

    And everything else follows from that. Yes, some of the decisions Walt makes are dumb; it’s established early on that his appreciation for mid to long term consequences are not the greatest (and even immediate consequences).

    As Lucy points out, there are also generic conventions of crime drama; though, coming from a country that currently has a national health service, the most unbelievable part is that in the richest country in the world, a teacher would have to find the money for his cancer treatment…

  3. Ian Martin says:

    Hi Scott, 288 mistakes? What you have listed is more like a series of plot points that you would find on a writers beat sheet. I have just finished watching Breaking Bad for the second time today so thought I would reply with it all still fresh in my mind. I don’t know whether you have read my original article so I will try to keep the repetition to a minimum.
    Breaking Bad is all about the study of change, just like the science of chemistry itself. The original pitch was “We’re going to take Mr Chips and turn him into Scarface”. I believe they succeeded with gusto. In the start, Walter White was a nobody;even his own family considered him a square. He was good ol’ Mr White. The kind of guy you forgot about 5 minutes after meeting. A man that never fulfilled his true potential and was eking his way through his humdrum existence.
    Pretty much all of what you listed was explained throughout the series. Your first point about Walt making the perfect meth product and why he was a valuable commodity was simply because he changed the standard formula from and managed an unheard of level of purity. I don’t think an international pharmaceutical company like Pfizer would want to dip their toe in that market. Notice the word “changed”. He changed the formula and it return, changed the game. This was probably Walts first real step in becoming Heisenberg and changing from hero to villain.
    Walt managed to disappear for long periods because he’s still, at that point, the kind of guy that no one notices. His family believe his need for privacy and his “long walks” so he gets away with it. It’s only when the second cell phone comes in to play that he comes under suspicion. It’s when he puts on the infamous pork pie hat that he becomes Heisenberg and becomes a man whose name you do not forget. Heisenberg? You’re god damned right!
    Walter is extremely naive when it comes to becoming a player in the meth business. He didn’t think that selling meth on another dealers turf would be a problem. Of course this naivety backfires spectacularly when his dealer Combo is shot by a child on a bike. This event also showed us that Jesse has a weakness and sensitive side when it comes to children.
    Jane was a threat to Walt and Jesse’s partnership so he made the horrible decision not to save her. The Albuquerque PD had no idea who Jesse was or that he was slinging crystal. The DEA did, but it is made pretty clear that the ABQ PD don’t want to give up their case when the detective gives Hank the info to help in the investigation into Gael’s murder. Basically, the ABQ PD and DEA don’t talk to each other.
    I don’t have the time to go over all the points you made but I will finish off by saying that if Breaking Bad had been 100% it would have been incredibly boring. I have spent time with friends that work in various Police constabularies around the country and they have told me that if tv police dramas were accurate then no one would watch them. Walter White was seduced by the vast amounts of cash he could make by creating and selling meth to provide for his family after he has succumbed to his cancer. Very simple idea, an extraordinary idea. He’s a chemistry genius so why wouldn’t he do it? It certainly sounds more viable than ‘a terminally ill chemistry genius decides to rob banks to provide for his family after he dies”.
    The theme of change is rife throughout the series and the writers definitely succeeded with keeping this theme running and raising the bar every way they could. Tony Soprano never had the character arc Walter White had. Tony S was a bastard from the first episode and remained a bastard till the smash cut to black Sopranos ending.

    • Christian says:

      Nice reply. His name, Heisenberg, also speaks to the theme of change as well as unpredictability. Walter is a very unpredictable character, which I think is one of the issues that can perplex those who perceive the sometimes surprising changes in behaviors and as character inconsistencies and bad writing. Actually, unpredictability is part of his character. But the changes he undergoes are not random. There is logic behind them, consistent with the psychology of a complex character. It’s really the complexity of his character that makes him seem unpredictable.

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