I’m only 5 episodes in, so am avoiding older threads on the show to avoid any spoilers. But the gist is that the main character is a chemist, whose methods of cooking meth result in a very superior product. He seems to use numerous ingredients (including the very highlighted red phosphorus) and glassware. Separately, in the first episode, his young partner mentions that his own finishing touch involves chili pepper of some kind. Are any of these concepts legitimate, or just fictional?
To be clear, I’m not looking for recipes or instructions, and also not looking for a career change.
According to Organic chemist Donna Nelson, who served as science adviser to the show, many of the scenes are fairly accurate, but they intentionally left out crucial steps or otherwise intentionally goofed the procedures so that if you follow the show’s recipes and procedures, you won’t actually make meth. The basics are there, the details are wrong.
This article from the Atlantic might interest you:
How meth used to be made starting with ephedrine (cough syrup ingredient, fairly easy to obtain), how they came up with new ways to syntethise it from other precursors as ephedrine became more regulated and difficult to hoard (Breaking Bad seems to be in this moment of the timeline) and how the effects have been, it seems, devastating for the users.
The article should not be paywalled.
ETA: Chili flavour makes no sense, and Pink is … no, I shall not spoiler. He was not he chemist in that partnership, that much I can tell.
Also there was a plot line that White’s supply of a keyingredient was cut off and he had to derive it through a different chemical process that caused the meth to have a distinct blue color, which became the Heisenberg Brand® crystal blue meth. That was all pure fiction.
To start with, the chili pepper thing is dumb and bogus. Its only purpose in the show is to contrast Jesse’s amateurism with Walt’s professionalism.
Apart from that, there’s a lot of accuracy in the chemistry setups depicted, as well as the ingredients discussed and their sourcing. Some elements were intentionally garbled so as not to make a realistic how-to. The only thing that really stood out to me is I didn’t see much (if any) analytical equipment apart from a digital scale. I wouldn’t expect to see a guy like Walt flying blind in regards to purity, especially with so much money at stake. But there, as in real life, quality control is a boring topic that many would prefer to skip.
There are some other contrivances for dramatic effect. There’s nothing about Walt’s process that would turn it any particular color, that’s just a McGuffin to serve as branding. In real life, meth often picks up an unwanted yellow tinge, and a whiter version is seen as most pure. Perhaps that’s the purpose served by “blue” in the show.
Additionally, there is frequent reference to one particular precursor being a bottleneck to production, but in real life a chemist like Walt would have no problem synthesizing it from unwatched chemicals.
The thing about smurfing ephedrine was accurate. This is one reason why certain OTC decongestants have restrictions about how much a customer can purchase.
Totally off topic, but this reminds of when I was in detox (alcohol, not meth) and learnt about “bug spray meth.” Spray household insecticide on an ordinary wire screen, then pass a DC current from a car battery through it, and it turns it into meth*.
That’s when I understood the difference between addicts and druggies… some folks depend on a substance, and some are habitually bored enough to ingest literally anything. I won’t be swinging through detox again, but it was a fascinating place to spend a week.
*not actually meth, but a crystalline product that alters consciousness, which is apparently legit enough for some folks.
I read an article that I think was written by science adviser Donna Nelson where she addressed this. They asked her if super pure meth would be blue and she said no. Poetic license won and I don’t think they were wrong to deviate from reality in this case. In the universe of the show, the blue colour is a trademark that other manufacturers couldn’t reproduce. Real or not it served a legitimate dramatic purpose.
True early on, but remember in the RV he is using equipment that he can steal from the high school storeroom. In later seasons analytical equipment (or at least a magic box that measured purity) shows up in later seasons and purity measurements drive several plot points. We are introduced to Gale when Gus takes a sample of Walt’s product to analyze and Gale says it’s better than what he can make, which pushes Gus to hire Walt against his own instincts. Walt has the magic analyzer box in the superlab and appears to use it for quality control. The magic analyzer also shows up when Gus takes Jesse to Mexico to cook for the cartel chemists, and also when Todd can’t meet Lydia’s purity standard forcing him to enslave Jesse to cook.
Related question: clearly Walt is shown to be a genius-level chemist. Would a genius-level chemist realistically know how to make meth, just from its name, reading some about it in chemistry magazines, general knowledge, general understanding of the world, etc? Is it “easy” enough that that makes sense? Or would that be very unlikely without him having deliberately sought out illegal/forbidden information?