Throughout much of Breaking Bad, Walter White becomes a criminal mastermind who had to fight his way to the top, eventually reaching the status of drug kingpin. But such a feat doesn’t occur by accident. It had taken quite a bit of plotting, wise decision making, and general wits; all of which White managed to pull off more often than not.
While he’s certainly had his reckless moments taking some ill-advised actions, most of the time he manages to climb the ladder by making smart, calculated moves that pay off in the end.
With this list, we’ll go over 10 of the more brilliant actions, decisions, and maneuvers made by Heisenberg.
Making Fulminated Mercury To Intimidate Tuco
This badass moment in season 1 makes for a significant stepping stone for Walt, who’s transforming into the hardened Heisenberg right before our eyes. After it’s become clear than Walt’s new potential distributor and partner, Tuco, is intent on jerking him around, White decides to use a little “tweak of chemistry” to show he means business.
After crafting a bag of what looks like meth, he tosses it inside his compound, blowing a hole right through the side, and startling Salamanca into working with him. It’s a series of moves that are both bold and astute, and it certainly “pays off” for White and Jesse.
Having Saul Trick Hank When Trapped In The RV
Walter’s sly, zany lawyer Saul Goodman proves to be a great asset for himself, Jesse, and their growing meth business. This is further established when Walt has Saul lend him a helping hand in diverting DEA agent Hank’s attention when it looks like he’s (literally) got them backed into a corner.
After Hank finds the RV they’ve been using to cook meth – with Walt and Jesse stuck inside it, no less – Saul has his secretary make a call posing as hospital staff, informing him his wife’s been in a car accident. Given that their entire plot seemed to be on the verge of being exposed, this last-second decision making by Walt was an impressively sly one.
Making A Homemade Battery
Walt and Jesse spend much of Breaking Bad evading and surviving the pressures of law enforcement, rival drug lords, family, and others. Yet, in the season 2 episode “4 Days Out,” they simply have to survive the often harsh conditions of nature itself – and they almost don’t make it.
What do you do after you’ve been stranded in the open desert on account of your RV breaking down, on the verge of dehydration? Assemble a homemade battery, of course! Just when all hope seems lost for this dynamic duo, Walt – with an assist from Pinkman – cobbles together a makeshift battery using little more than some wiring, plastic containers, and sponges. Lo and behold, the plan works, and they’re able to drive off and live to see another day.
Having Jesse Kill Gale
Getting into such a dangerous racket like the meth business, Walt has to watch himself at every turn, even when it comes to his own employer, who looks to replace his problematic cook. After it’s clear Jesse won’t turn on Walt, Gus finds his solution with Gale, an intelligent chemist who looks quite capable of taking over Walt’s great formula. This reaches a boiling point in the episode “Full Measure,” in which Mike’s on the verge of killing him.
So what to do? Walt improvises a plan in the nick of time to save himself. Unfortunately, it comes at the expense of Gale, as Walt instructs Jesse to take him out while Mike is listening. Gus now has no other options, as finding a cook with Walt’s skill level isn’t exactly a walk in the park.
The Broken Plate Revelation
Despite his more humble origins in season 1, White is already faced with some tough decisions and character tests quite early on. One of the more amusing examples comes in the form of a simple shattered plate, which Walt dropped in Jesse’s basement as a result of a coughing fit. How is this plate significant?
Well, Walt uses it as a lead to determine whether or not their captive, Krazy-8, has made the decision to snag a piece to stab him to death with. This move is revealed by way of Walt reassembling the plate like a makeshift puzzle, which provides all the motive he needs to finally end him. It’s a simple move and revelation, but a clever one nonetheless.
Walter’s Plan To Blackmail Hank
Walter’s schemes hit close to home in this one, as he’s forced to blackmail his own brother-in-law following Hank’s revelation that the elusive Heisenberg is his own family member. As Walt and the audience both understand, this is a precarious spot to be in, and it seems that the only options at this point are to end Hank or end up in prison.
Yet, the cornered Heisenberg devises yet another plot that at least manages to buy him time and keep everyone alive and out of jail. He indirectly threatens Hank with a tape of a false “confession” claiming that Walt was coerced into working a criminal drug enterprise with the DEA agent, who would clearly have connections.
The Gasoline Excuse
Everything starts to “hit the fan” by the midpoint of season 5. Jesse begins to discover just how despicable and malicious Walt is capable of being, as he had poisoned Brock. In a rage, Pinkman pays a visit to his house and dumps gasoline all over their carpet, with rather clear intent to ignite it.
Walt needs to think and act quick to explain this one to his family, and he achieves this by having the bulk of the gas cleared, before fabricating a story about him passing out while pumping gas. To further “sell it,” he even sprays himself with some of the smelly substance.
While Skyler doesn’t quite buy it, it’s at least enough for Flynn, who knows of Walt’s recent episodes of getting light-headed.
Conspiring To Kill Gus Using Hector
Sometimes, it can be true that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” or at least White thinks this is the case.
After an attempt to take out the astute Gus Fring in a parking garage, it seems that this kingpin is almost invincible with his power and cunning. But Heisenberg finally comes up with a plan to end Gus and his threat by catering to his only real weakness – his hatred of Hector. Basically using him as a human bomb, Walt has Hector coax a visit from Gus, before blowing him to smithereens.
It’s an epic and fun scene to be sure, but it’s also one of Heisenberg’s cleverest moments; one that solidifies him as the new kingpin of the Southwest.
Turning Jesse Against Gus
In a constant game of chess moves between these two men, Gus and Walt try to outmaneuver one another and gain the upper hand. Once again, it looks like Fring has come out on top by masterminding a plot to bring Jesse closer to him and Mike, while distancing him from Walt. Given the threat of Jesse – who’s basically his insurance policy at this point – breaking from his partner, White must do something.
The plan is to cater to Jesse’s love of children and emotionally turn him against Fring. He manages to non-lethally poison Brock and frame Gus for this slight. This brilliant scheme not only protects Walt, but it gives him another weapon to deal with Fring.
Laundering His Money Through Gretchen And Elliott
Really, the entirety of the epic season 5 finale can be considered one long brilliant scheme by Walt. He ties up loose ends and finishes his “business,” mounting his revenge and getting his money to his family. But his plan to subtly funnel his money to his kids by way of the wealthy Gretchen and Elliott is particularly sly.
Using naught but a vague threat performed by Badger and Skinny Pete, Walt is able to pressure these 2 into laundering the money to his family, which will evade the government, DEA, and any sort of rival drug lords that may crop up. It really seems to be a foolproof plot.