If you’ve never seen the show Breaking Bad, we’ll give you a brief synopsis. Walter White (played by the dad from Malcolm in the Middle, Bryan Cranston) is a high school chemistry teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico who starts moonlighting as a drug dealer to make money for his family after he learns that he has inoperable lung cancer that will probably kill him in a couple of years.
From that point on, he enlists the help of a former student-turned-small-time-dealer named Jesse and jumps feet first into New Mexico’s criminal underworld (yep, there is one) and we the audience get a taste of what happens when an upstanding, ordinary citizen that could be our neighbor (or one of us if the time comes) has to do stuff like dispose of dead bodies in hydrofluoric acid.
We also learn a few things about being a drug dealer. Five commandments for noobs, if you will, according to Breaking Bad.
#1 Stay In School
The Situation: Our hero — mild-mannered, middle-aged, high school chemistry teacher Walter White — makes a desperate decision to make a lot of money before he dies to ensure his family’s future financial well being. There’s just one problem — he’s a chemistry teacher. What can he possibly do to get rich quick? Invent a newer, better type of A-bomb and sell it to the Chinese? Metaphorically speaking, yes, that’s exactly what he does. Except substitute “A-bomb” with “Crystal Meth” and “Chinese” to “people of the Southwest United States.”
He’s a chemistry teacher, you see. And what is cooking high-impact, primo-quality meth if not a matter of knowing your chemistry? So he’s not just selling meth, he’s selling the best damn meth in the entire Southwest which, as you can imagine, is saying quite a bit.
The Lesson: As we see here, you just never know when paying attention in class might come in handy in an outside-the-lines kind of way. Like how that group of MIT students became experts at card counting and were able to bilk Vegas casinos out of millions of dollars by being really, really good at math.
#2 There Is No Retiring
The Situation: Near the end of season two, Walter learns that his chemo treatment has worked, and that his cancer is in remission. He’s made some good bank, so at this point it would make sense for him to walk away. But he knows that’s not possible—to earn his bank he’s gotten in too deep with too many shady people. And besides that, the lengths he’s gone to conceal his extra income and hide his double-life have all but ruined his marriage. His only option is to full-on Nino Brown his way to the top.
The Lesson: Selling drugs ain’t like selling real estate, where if you happen to wake up one day and realize you’ll be happier tending bar you can just tender your resignation to your boss, clean out your office and throw a going away party with punch and pie at the end of the week. The point of no return comes up at you fast, like the ground comes up at a skydiver. After that, you retire by either getting shot or getting arrested.
Riding off into the sunset means becoming a liability to everybody you did business with — just another person who can tell the cops what they want to know. Sure, witness protection is an option, but going into hiding, changing your identity and leaving your friends and family in exchange for a lighter sentence isn’t as awesome a trade as it sounds. You end up having no choice but to go as hard as you can while the ride lasts.
#3 Don’t Fuck with the Mexicans
The Situation: For two episodes in season three, Danny Trejo shows up as “Tortuga,” one of the DEA’s most valuable informants regarding the Mexican cartels. When we see Danny Trejo, we automatically think “unstable Mexican badass,” so it’s assumed that even though he’s a snitch, he’ll somehow badass his way out of any sticky situation. We’re only allowed to assume this for a short time, however, when he shows up to a drug transaction that was supposed to take place minus a body.
The Lesson: There’s a reason why Mexican newspapers no longer print stories pertaining to the countries’ drug trade. The cartels down there don’t mess around when it comes to business, and people messing with their business. The world to them is a Rockstar game, except way more brutal. Bonus points are accumulated for mutilation and torture. Achievements are unlocked for beheadings. Profiles are beefed up via body counts.
#4 Get yourself a good lawyer. And by good, we mean sleazy. The sleazier, the better.
The Situation: When one of Walter’s dealers is arrested, he rightly fears that it could lead back to him. No problem though, his lawyer just arranges for another career-criminal with nothing to lose to pose as him and take the heat before his dealer could say anything to the cops.
It’s later revealed that lawyers are also good for helping to find a place to stash your piles of illicitly earned cash.
The Lesson: Lawyers are assholes, but they come in handy. We used two examples from Breaking Bad’s resident attorney just to demonstrate how handy. And we’re not just talking about landing a good plea bargain, either. Nobody lasts long in the game without the services of a good lawyer. A drug dealer without a savvy, venal lawyer on retainer is like a mob boss without a consigliere. Avon Barksdale had Maury Levy. Carlito Brigante had David Kleinfeld. Dad from Malcolm in the Middle has Saul Goodman.
#5 Get ready to kill the competition. It’s either him, or you.
The Situation: At the end of season three, the dad from Malcolm in the Middle orders his first murder. It’s a sight that’s every bit as jarring as you might imagine.
He indirectly learns that his boss is planning on replacing him as his manufacturer with his new lab assistant. Knowing that he’ll be killed once his boss has no more use for him, he orders his new lab assistant to be killed.
The Lesson: We’re not talking about killing in a metaphorical “kill-him-by-making-a-better-product-and-outselling-him-and-therby-forcing-him-out-of-business-wow-capitalism-rules” kind of way. We mean literally kill him.
Breaking Bad is about nothing if not the dad from Malcolm in the Middle and his spectacularly dark descent into moral oblivion. He’s like the frog in boiling water — the heat gradually turns up on him until he doesn’t even think twice about murder. The same thing happens to everybody.
We keep calling him the dad from Malcolm in the Middle to illustrate just how messed up that is. That’s like if Carl Winslow finally reached his breaking point and started slapping Harriet around every time she talked back, or if Urkel got caught with kiddie porn repairing his computer at Best Buy.