Fact-Checking Breaking Bad
As any BB-head worth his weight in crystals knows, we’re T-1 week until the final season of Breaking Bad begins. In preparation we asked an expert in the meth field, former dealer and memoirist Jim Salant, to weigh in on how true the Breaking Bad version is to, you know, the real thing.
Season 1, Episode 1: In the pilot, high school chemistry teacher Walter White cooks a batch of meth in front of one of his former students, Jesse Pinkman, now a 20-odd-year-old druggie and meth cook himself. Pinkman is blown away by the quality—just by looking at it. He says, “Yo, this is pure glass, Mr. White!”
Reality: The thing is, “pure glass,” as he calls it, isn’t all that rare; I’ve shot meth as clear as Penta water that turned out to be pretty weak. Like all hard-drug users, tweakers are about results; they don’t talk like potheads admiring pretty buds before they’ve tasted the goods. The strongest meth I ever scored happened to be tinted green.
Season 2, Episode 11: Pinkman’s girlfriend teaches him how to shoot up. Not only is the ecstatic pop of his IV cherry portrayed as tritely as possible—he floats, gaping, toward the ceiling—but amorally speaking, I’ve never seen so many mistakes in a single spoonful of drugs, the combination of meth and heroin being the first.
Reality: Yes, it’s an upper and a downer, and often those complement each other like fish and chips; a speedball—cocaine and heroin—is the classic. But swapping the coke for meth would be like swapping the fried cod for sushi: not the worst thing in the world, if you were totally used to eating raw fish, but definitely not the way most people would introduce someone to an adventurous delicacy.
Season 2, Episode 4: Pinkman smokes meth and has a paranoid hallucination: a couple of clean-cut young men on bicycles leave a “Jesus is your savior” flyer at his front door, and Pinkman mistakes the meek Mormon proselytizers for hulking barbarian swordsmen on motorcycles.
Reality: Meth does not induce hallucinations. It is not a hallucinogen. It can make you paranoid, and it will keep you awake for days, and sleep deprivation will make you hallucinate—more powerfully than any drug. Stay up for a few days straight and you’ll go completely insane: You won’t be able to distinguish the voices in your head from actual voices; you’ll be living in an Edvard Munch painting. But Pinkman hadn’t been up for a week; he’d just smoked some meth—which doesn’t make you see barbarians.