‘Breaking Bad’: Science Advisor Points Out a Mistake Walter White and Jesse Pinkman Made With This Memorable Death

Breaking Bad was a show about a science teacher turned meth kingpin. But the series was also a celebration of science. For the most part, creator Vince Gilligan kept the science in the show as factual as possible, thanks to Dr. Donna Nelson‘s help. But there’s one scene where the science isn’t as accurate as it could have been. 

Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman
Aaron Paul | Lewis Jacobs/AMC

‘Breaking Bad’ consulted with a science advisor to get the science right 

“Vince loves science,” Dr. Nelson told Showbiz Cheat Sheet over the phone. She called Gilligan a “science groupie,” as he was obsessed with the subject growing up.  “That’s what made him very interested and want to have the science content accurate.”

Dr. Nelson believes Breaking Bad was a great show because of the authenticity in the science.

I had a lot of respect for [the writers],” she said. “I am smart enough about the writing for television that I know there will be a certain cadence and there will be alliteration — a certain style of writing.” Still, she did her best to provide relevant feedback without stepping on toes.

Dr. Nelson gave Gilligan and his team the most accurate notes when critiquing the script. Gilligan used most of her notes, but there were a few things Dr. Nelson pointed out that he ignored. 

Jesse Pinkman and Walter White didn’t use the best method to melt Emilio’s body 

In a post on AMC’s blog, Nelson analyzed the science Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) used to melt Emilio’s (John Koyama) body in season 1, episode 2. This is the first death Walter has to deal with — one that begins his transformation into Heisenberg. 

In the episode, Walt and Jesse kill Emilio with phosphine gas, then struggle to find a way to dispose of the body. As a science teacher, Walter had the brilliant idea of using hydrofluoric acid to “melt” Emilio’s remains in a polyethylene bin. When Jesse couldn’t find a bin big enough, he cuts a corner and melts the body in his porcelain bathtub. This creates an even bigger mess when the acid eats through the tub and Emilio’s body — er, slush — comes crashing into the living room. 

Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman and John Koyama as Emilio
Aaron Paul and John Koyama | Lewis Jacobs/AMC

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“Despite it’s impressive resume as a tough solution, [hydrofluoric acid] isn’t the best option for dissolving a body,” Dr. Nelson explained in her post. “This highly corrosive acid is found diluted (three percent HF in H20) in household rust stain removers, wheel cleaners, and stainless steel purifiers.”

In her professional opinion, Walter should have used another method altogether to dispose of Emilio’s body. 

Lye would have been the safest and most effective way to dissolve Emilio 

Dr. Nelson didn’t just critique Walter’s method — she offered a better solution, too. 

“Typically, flesh is dissolved with a base, most commonly sodium hydroxide (lye),” she explained. Lye is what is used to dispose of road kill, and would have been the better option in this instance.

“[Lye] would have been a lot safer to use to dissolve Emilio, too,” she continued. “Lye is a common clog remover in drains, so Jesse’s bathtub stunt would not have been so disastrous. It also would have been safer because sodium hydroxide fumes are not nearly so toxic.” 

In Dr. Nelson’s professional opinion, the fumes from the hydrofluoric acid would have damaged most of the house’s exposed surfaces in the time it took to eat through the tub, creating a dangerous situation for Jesse and Walter.