Breaking Bad 

Breaking Bad: The 8 Most (& 7 Least) Realistic Storylines

Breaking Bad is famous for its disturbingly realistic nature, but that's not to say that all elements of the series were true-to-life.

Now streaming on Netflix, the ever-addicting show Breaking Bad conveys a shockingly recognizable picture. Viewers resonated with Walter White’s initial burdens to support his family and manage his lung cancer. The high school chemistry teacher faced countless unfortunate incidents aside from his health, and viewers were, in turn, given relatable dark humor from the overall story.

As the five-season show has been praised for its relatability among almost all types of audiences, it should come as no surprise that the show has received multiple accolades for its creativity. Such seemingly simple moments twist into majorly significant details as each plot point unfolds. However, the series also has a couple of less realistic storylines about which fans haven’t forgotten.

Updated on September 19th, 2021 by Mark Birrell: The most realistic parts of Breaking Bad help to make the show as affecting as it is, giving viewers genuine family drama and true-to-life glimpses into the largely obfuscated world of drug dealing. Its least realistic aspects, however, don’t really take anything away from the story but, instead, provide hugely entertaining plotlines that elevate the action and drama to epic proportions. Which side to the show is best–the realistic side or the unrealistic side–is something that fans still debate. Either way, the best of these storylines from Breaking Bad deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated.

Realistic: Jane’s Sobriety

Donald and Jane Margolis with Jesse in Breaking Bad

Jane Margolis becomes a hugely important character in season 2 of the show and her sobriety a very important plot point. Jane’s struggles are both believable and relatable, with her relapse becoming one of the show’s biggest tragedies.

Jane clearly wants to maintain her sobriety and takes it very seriously, but the speed with which she backslides never seems like an exaggeration. Her strained relationship with her father, which had clearly come to revolve almost entirely around her sobriety, is heartbreakingly genuine also.

Least Realistic: Jesse’s Endless House Party

Jesse sitting in his house after a party in Breaking Bad

Following Gale’s murder, Jesse is in a very dark place, which leads to him surrounding himself with a neverending party to drown out his own traumatic memories. This part of the show is fairly realistic but the party itself defies belief.

Jesse’s raging house party soon attracts large scores of ne’er-do-wells who turn his house into a squatter’s den, with various people even openly walking out of it with things they’ve looted and telling anyone who’ll listen. Considering how quiet and respectable the neighborhood appears to be, it’s a little unrealistic that nobody called the cops on the party. Even if Gus Fring was keeping prying eyes away, his influence over law enforcement only extends so far.

Realistic: Walt’s Dealings With For-Profit Healthcare

Many fans have pointed out since the show’s earliest episodes that Breaking Bad is a story that could take place in few places other than the United States as, in other countries, Walt’s diagnosis would not spell the same kind of financial ruin for him and his family.

Walt’s dealings with the for-profit healthcare system not only add to his motivations but make up a large part of the earlier seasons, showing just how expensive cancer treatment can be and how healthcare professionals themselves struggle with the situation whilst having to accept it as reality.

Least Realistic: The Cousins’ Revenge

“The Cousins”, Leonel and Marco Salamanca, are two of Breaking Bad‘s best, and most dangerous, villains by far as well as being just all-around iconic. Their rampage to avenge the death of their cousin, Tuco, is, however, also one of the least realistic parts of the show.

The Cousins are not only practically Terminators, acting almost entirely without emotion, they’re virtually supernatural in their effectiveness too, moving and hiding in plain sight while killing and shooting up various places at will. Their deaths also, whilst very satisfying, see the thoroughly everyman-ish Hank go from struggling with realistic PTSD to being an unstoppable action hero in the blink of an eye to kill one while Mike kills the other with an improbable assassination in a hospital full of cops all watching his target.

Realistic: Hank’s Road To Recovery

Walter Jr., Hank and Marie playing cards in hospital in Breaking Bad

After Leonel and Marco Salamanca nearly kill Hank, the lovable DEA agent is left badly wounded. His road to recovery largely revolves around his physiotherapy and his efforts to regain the use of his legs so that he can walk unassisted again.

Hank’s struggles–both physical and psychological–are convincing, as is the strain that his recovery puts on his relationship with Marie, but it’s also the issues raised by Hank’s health insurance that make this storyline particularly realistic. Marie’s dealings with a for-profit healthcare system echo Walt’s and emphasize that there are few magic wands in Breaking Bad‘s world that can be waved to make complex problems go away immediately.

Least Realistic: Destroying The Evidence In Police Lock-Up

Walter Jr., Hank and Marie playing cards in hospital in Breaking Bad

Though it was easily one of the best criminal schemes seen in Breaking Bad, and even spawns one of the show’s most iconic lines, the destruction of the evidence on Gus Fring’s laptop is one of the most outlandish of the plans hatched by Walt and Jesse.

As the laptop is being held in police lock-up, Walt, Jesse, and Mike have to wipe it clean from outside by using a giant magnet. This part scientifically makes sense but the ease with which Walt and Jesse get the magnet up outside the evidence room, and then escape after their truck keels over, is harder to swallow. Despite the assertions that all of their equipment is untraceable, it’s a little unrealistic that this massive caper didn’t leave any more evidence to incriminate Walt and Jesse, especially since they left most of it behind at the crime scene.

Realistic: Jesse Starting A Family

Jesse with Andrea and Brock eating dinner in Breaking Bad

It wasn’t a huge surprise to see Jesse trying to pursue a life beyond his criminal activities, beginning with Jane when she mentioned moving away with him and starting a whole new life together, and then with Andrea and Brock in a more stable family life.

Watching Jesse fall in love and want to start a new life with someone was relatable for most viewers. A family doesn’t always need to involve a child, but, since Andrea had Brock, it was, as he puts it, an “instant family” situation and seemed like it could give him what he’d been missing in his life before things all fell apart.

Least Realistic: Walt and Gus Fight For Jesse’s Allegiance

Jesse points a gun at Walt's head in Breaking Bad

As the series develops, it becomes increasingly apparent that Jesse is far more than the habitual screw-up that he first appears to be. By the end of season 4, in fact, Jesse’s allegiance is the most crucial part of a bloody war between Walter White and Gus Fring.

The struggle to keep Jesse’s loyalty, however, involves games of deception that rely a little too heavily on pure chance and assumption to be fully believable. Gus gains Jesse’s trust by placing him into a staged robbery, to which he has to hope Jesse will react in the right way, and, further still, Walt’s plan to win Jesse back relies on an incredibly risky gambit involving Brock’s poisoning. For such meticulous and careful characters, both of the plans could have too easily gone off the rails in multiple directions, yet they went off just as each mastermind planned.

Realistic: Using Businesses To Cover Up Drug Money

Walt outside Los Pollos Hermanos in Breaking Bad

Money laundering through legitimate businesses that are used as fronts for illegal activities is a fairly well-known criminal enterprise, one that Saul famously explains–at least partially–in detail.

Walt and Skyler faced the facts when they decided to purchase the local car wash in order to use it as a legitimate reason for earning money. Similarly, when Gus did this with Pollos Hermanos, many fans later understood that this was a common action of the smartest real-life kingpins.

Realistic: Walt’s Envy Over His Former Company’s Massive Success

Walt teaching in front of the blackboard in Breaking Bad

One of the most relatable aspects of Walter White’s overall character is his lack of fulfillment. His sense of dissatisfaction with his life stems from numerous sources for various reasons but the crux of it seems to be his feelings towards his former business partners, Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz, who transformed the small business that the trio once founded into a multi-billion dollar success story after Walt cashed out and left.

Many people, even outside of academic or scientific fields, can relate to the feeling of being shorted by seemingly minor decisions in their past, or to even being ripped off by more powerful entities. Walt specifically uses the story of Tracy Hall, who was credited for his breakthrough in the creation of a sustainable process for making synthetic diamonds yet was given a minor financial reward for his work, as a clear comparison to his own experiences. The fact that Walt’s own story heavily involves decisions made for personal reasons, having been a former romantic partner of Gretchen, only strengthens the realism of the storyline.

Least Realistic: Marie Gets Away With All Her Shoplifting

Marie trying on shoes in Breaking Bad

Marie had a serious problem when it came to kleptomania. The scene in which she effortlessly stole a pair of new shoes as the careless employee talked on her phone will always be priceless—figuratively and literally—especially when Marie replaces the store’s shoe display with her old shoes.

It took Marie getting sloppy with her seemingly improvised stories of imaginary lives that she would tell at various open houses for her to finally get into an altercation that got law enforcement involved. The get-out-jail-free card of knowing Hank isn’t used by just Marie, so it’s not so unreasonable when she gets out of it that time. But Marie is no career criminal, she should have been caught multiple times. What about store video surveillance, for example? Even the tiara incident, which Skyler took the blame for, was dropped quite easily.

Realistic: A Frustrated Marriage Leads To An Affair At Work

Ted and Skyler in Breaking Bad

It’s unfortunate to see a happy relationship suffer the consequences of secrets and lies, but it’s common enough for numerous viewers to recognize. Many marriages, in reality, struggle to overcome domestic issues, and, therefore, some turn to others for the support that they believe is lacking in their marriage.

Seeing Skyler give in to her attraction to Ted, while also dealing a little revenge to her husband for lying to her about his criminal activity, wasn’t that shocking to viewers. This storyline in the show was all-too-realistic in the sense that any marriage can face problems that get worse and worse due to a lack of proper communication. Some spouses who feel neglected tend to seek a relationship with somebody else they know, such as a coworker, and Skyler’s exploration of a new life with Ted realistically incorporates both of their families and their own senses of guilt.

Least Realistic: Donald Margolis Causes An Aviation Disaster All By Himself

Donald Margolis at his air traffic control station in Breaking Bad

It’s true that something like the disaster that happens at the end of season 2 of Breaking Bad has happened in the past, but it’s not that realistic in a 21st-century show. In reality, there are multiple safeguards in place to prevent the negligence of one distracted employee from causing a catastrophe.

Jane’s dad, Donald Margolis, would have had a colleague see his mistake, and they would have had time to prevent the impending doom. The idea of one sole air traffic employee being responsible for one of the biggest aviation disasters in modern history is just not very realistic.

Realistic: Working In A Superlab

Walt standing in Gus Fring's superlab in Breaking Bad

Believe it or not, the superlabs actually aren’t far off from realism. According to The Washington Post, authentic drug lords have–and may continue to–manage their own concealed meth superlabs, so Gus’s superlab wasn’t such a ridiculous part of the show.

It’s rather realistic of the show to depict how the superlabs normally look, hidden either underground or in some other room that is out of plain sight, with many instruments and machines housed within Gus’s iconic superlab being real parts of a professional meth-cooking operation.

Least Realistic: The Gambling Cover Story

Walt and Marie react to Skyler's gambling story in Breaking Bad

While it made sense for Skyler to use the gambling story to cover up Walt’s erratic behavior and to provide an explanation for them laundering money, the cover story wouldn’t have been the most believable selling point in reality.

How can one person make as much money from gambling as Walt did from cooking meth? It’s not that plausible of a story because of how gambling actually works in reality. Who earns a six-figure batch of money gambling every week? While hypothetically possible, Walt’s card counting story still doesn’t really come close to explaining his success.

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