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Real-life Meth Trade is Cracked by TV’s Favorite Drug Drama, ‘Breaking Bad’

The Washington Post, October 11, 2012

NEW YORK — News of drug cartels mass-producing souped-up methamphetamine — that’s the latest word as reported by The Associated Press, and it sounds pretty scary.

But haven’t we heard this story before? Like on “Breaking Bad,” the AMC network’s addictive drama series?

Take a look at the real-life drug biz. Then compare it to the saga of fictitious Walter White, the timid-chemistry-teacher-turned-masterful-drug-lord of “Breaking Bad.” Real life seems to be reflecting art. Or is it the other way around?

Just consider ...

The product:

— Today’s newly potent meth has a tell-tale bluish-white color, and it’s purer than ever: as high as 88 percent. No wonder! “Shake-and-bake” pushers are deferring to the experts. Recipes have been developed by professional chemists.

— Walter White, in his newly assumed alter ego of Heisenberg, has flooded the market with a product renowned for its distinctive blue color. And acclaimed for its high quality: 99 percent pure. No wonder! Walter is not just a chemistry teacher, but a world-class chemist who never reached his potential — until now.

The facility:

— Factory-like “superlabs” in Mexico are turning out meth with large-scale efficiency.

— Same on “Breaking Bad,” although, in keeping the story close to home, the product can proudly claim to be “Made in U.S.A.”

That is, Walter (played by series star Bryan Cranston) and his maladroit assistant, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), have followed the American dream. They started small (cooking meth in meager batches in a battered RV) then graduated to factory proportions in their hometown of Albuquerque, N.M.

For a time, the duo threw in with Gus Fring, a meth king who had hidden a state-of-the-art meth facility beneath his industrial laundry-processing plant. (This seems to echo the strategy of an underground lab discovered in Mexico equipped with an elevator and ventilation systems as well as cooking and sleeping provisions.)

But by this season (whose first half aired this summer), Fring’s lab had been destroyed and Fring eliminated savagely thanks to Walter, who was plotting to solidify his own drug empire.

Meanwhile, “Breaking Bad” has acknowledged the existence of large labs cropping up in Mexico. One, run by a major drug cartel, even attempted to impound Jesse Pinkman to apply the Heisenberg knowhow to boost its quality and volume.

The distribution:

— Large quantities of meth are turning up in American cities, where it was seldom seen in the past.

— On “Breaking Bad,” the Heisenberg brand of designer meth is being seen in Walter’s hometown of Albuquerque and throughout the Southwest, as tracked by his brother-in-law, who, inconveniently, happens to be a local DEA agent.

The future:

— The real-life prospects for drug trafficking in the U.S. typically seem to lie somewhere between unknowable and bleak.

— What happens next on “Breaking Bad” (whose final eight episodes air next summer) is as closely guarded by the show’s producers as any undercover drug ring’s trade secrets. But maybe one way to crack how the series might conclude is to follow news about the all-too-real drug wars.