Breaking Bad

…A non-technical post as I prepare my nanoparticle synthesis demonstration for Notacon next week…

I can’t run a conversation about the effects of society on chemistry with out mentioning the AMC series Breaking Bad.

For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it takes place in and around Albuquerque, NM (my home town!) and follows the story of Walter White, a research chemist turned high school chemistry teacher who finds out he has lung cancer.  He doesn’t have the money to pay for treatment AND care for his family (with pregnant wife).  So he hooks up with Jessie Pinkman, a former student who became a drug dealer after high school. Oh, and his brother-in-law is the local DEA team lead.

Most of the first season deals with the bumbling tragicomedy of a clean-cut and logical scientist who tries to enter the dirty world of the local drug kingpin with alternating disastrous, terrifying, and/or triumphant results.

The second season deals with Walt’s increasing separation from his straight life as a husband, father, and teacher and the realities of becoming a part of the underworld, and how the destructive repercussions of his illegal activities affect everything and everyone around him.

The third season (just started) picks up with Walt kicked out of his house and served with divorce papers.

So, what do I think about the show?  I love it.  The production values are fantastic, I love the story line and the characters, and I have a near-constant frisson of recognizing shooting locations of the town and surroundings I grew up in.  The acting is great – even down to the extras.  The show has even won a few Emmys for acting.

Regarding the science, the producers seem to have done a lot of their homework – the science all looks relatively true (I can’t speak to the actual methamphetamine synthesis), the equipment all looks in order, and the actors actually use it properly.  Here’s an excellent episode-by-episode breakdown of the chemistry in the show for seasons one and two.  Overall, I’d say that the series gets a solid B+ for realism, at least as compared to science that gets dramatized anywhere else (don’t get me started on what passes for science on TV anywhere else).

I have noticed a steady decline in the amount of chemistry in the show – by the end of Season 2, it doesn’t have much impact on the story.  Maybe Season 3 will show off some cool stuff?

I’m a little conflicted: I love the show, but it also perpetuates the chemist-as-baddie stereotype.  I could be worried about what this show does to the public’s opinion on chemistry and science, but it’s a well-made show, and hey, at least chemistry comes off as interesting, (if dangerous and highly illegal).  I’ve heard from at least one friend that the show made them pull out an old chemistry text book, and I guess that can’t be bad.

So, what is it? Good because people are at least thinking about chemistry, or bad because of the stereotypes, yadda yadda yadda?

Photo belongs to AMC.

April 7, 2010 | Posted in: Culture | Comments Closed

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