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Breaking Bad's 12 Most Brilliant Plans Hatched

You could say that "Breaking Bad" — in which high school chemistry teacher Walter White turns to a life of meth-cooking crime to provide for his family after a terminal cancer diagnosis — is a show about a bunch of evil geniuses trying to one-up each other. During his violent, legendary ascent to the top of the southwestern US meth trade, Walt runs into many other brilliant criminals while dodging his brother-in-law Hank Shrader's DEA investigation.

The show's characters cook up schemes better than Walt cooks up meth. There are so many ingenious maneuverings hatched by one character or another throughout the show that many of them — from Jesse and Saul forcing Jesse's parents to sell their home to him at a substantial discount by using his own undisclosed criminal activity in it as leverage to Skyler, Saul, and Kuby tricking Bogdan into selling her his car wash by faking a code violation issue to Skyler inventing a false gambling story to explain Walt's fortune — couldn't even fit on this list. Believe us, we tried.

But what did make the cut are the most inventive and twisted plans on the entire show. Many of the people involved are remorseless criminals, but man is it a blast watching them do their thing.

1. Luring Hank away from the RV

In Season 3, Hank's Heisenberg investigation leads him to both Jesse Pinkman and the RV Jesse and Walt used to cook meth in the early seasons. When Hank asks Walt for advice, Walt realizes Hank is closing in, and that the RV is covered in fingerprints and other incriminating clues. He drives to Old Joe's junkyard to have the thing scrapped before Hank can find it. Unfortunately, Jesse catches wind of this and rushes to stop him from destroying the vehicle. However, he didn't know Hank was surveilling him, inadvertently leading the detective straight to the RV. In one of the show's most nail-biting sequences, Hank comes perilously close to opening the RV to arrest Jesse on the spot. Of course, had he done so, he would've found his brother-in-law inside as well.

He doesn't succeed. Jesse and Old Joe delay Hank by claiming the RV is legally a domicile that can't be accessed without a warrant. However, when Hank says he'll have the warrant delivered while he waits here, Walt realizes they need another plan to lure him away. He texts Saul, who has his secretary text Hank that Marie has been in a serious car accident. Hank rushes in a panic to the hospital, only to realize it was a ruse. By the time he returns to the junkyard, the RV has been destroyed.

2. Walt framing Gus to get Jesse back on his side

In Season 4, Gus Fring finally deals with the Juarez cartel and turns his sights to Hank Schrader, whose investigation into him is becoming increasingly worrisome. However, he can't kill Hank without first dealing with the man's brother-in-law: his own meth cook, Walter White. He also can't just kill Walt without alienating Jesse Pinkman, with whom Fring hopes to replace Walter. Instead, Fring drags Walt into the desert and threatens to kill his family should he try to save Hank.

Unwilling to let Hank die and lacking funds to leave town after having Saul Goodman warn the DEA of the coming threat against Hank, Walt resolves to stay and fight. But he can't win alone. He needs Jesse — whom he's alienated throughout the season — back on his side.

Desperate, Walt throws into action one of his most evil plans yet. He uses a poisonous plant called Lily of the Valley to hospitalize Brock, the son of the girl Jesse used to date, and then convinces Jesse that Gus actually poisoned the kid using Jesse's own stolen ricin cigarette, an exceptionally lethal device they'd originally planned to use on Gus several episodes earlier. Jesse falls for it, gets back with Walt, and helps take Gus down. But this particularly wicked scheme ultimately proves to be part of Walt's undoing: once Jesse figures it out in Season 5, he becomes as dangerous to Walt as Fring ever was.

3. Destroying evidence with a magnet

After orchestrating Gus Fring's demise at the end of Season 4, Walt reaches new heights of insufferable smugness before remembering he's not out of the woods yet. Detectives would inevitably swarm everywhere the late Gus, now publicly outed as a meth kingpin, was known to be in order to collect as much evidence against him and his associates as possible and close the case. Walt and Jesse torch the superlab beneath the laundromat, but they forget about the security cameras Gus had installed there to keep an eye on them until after the laptop storing the footage has already been seized by the authorities.

Mike, Walt, and Jesse scheme about their next move. Mike says they should get out of town because the evidence facility the laptop is now housed in is essentially a fortress. Walt argues they could commit a new crime for the sole purpose of sneaking an unspecified device into evidence that could irreparably damage the laptop. But it's Jesse who comes up with the winning idea: a giant magnet.

The trio consults disarmingly intelligent Old Joe down at the junkyard, who hooks them up with a giant truck and a magnet big enough to ruin the evidence room (and destroy the laptop's contents) from outside the building. Mike remains skeptical, but the long-shot scheme works like a charm: By the time the cops find the truck outside, the evidence is trashed and Walt and Jesse are long gone.

4. Walt taking out Lydia, and Jack's gang

In the series finale "Felina," Walt returns to Albuquerque to say goodbye to his family, ensure his money will reach them, and settle old scores before dying of his recurrent cancer. On his hit list are Lydia Rodarte-Quayle, the Madrigal Electromotive executive who played a big role in the post-Fring meth operation we saw in the first half of Season 5, and Jack Welker's gang, who murdered Hank Schrader and Steve Gomez and stole most of his money.

First, Lydia. He runs into her and Todd at her favorite cafe and slips poisonous ricin into the Stevia packet he knew she'd use in her tea. Then he pretends to be desperate for money and has Todd arrange a meeting between him and Jack, claiming he wants to teach them a new, lower-cost way to cook meth. In reality, both Walt and Jack's gang are secretly planning to use the meeting to kill the other.

Walt, of course, wins. After tackling Jesse (who he didn't know was Jack's meth-cooking hostage), he uses his key fob to activate a machine gun he'd placed in the trunk of his car parked just outside. The weapon, placed on a swiveling metal base of Walt's own design, sprays the room with gunfire and kills off everyone in the room except Todd and Jack, who are finished off in a tremendously satisfying fashion by Jesse and Walt, respectively.

5. Walt planting Hector's wheelchair bomb

Gus Fring was riding high after eliminating the Juarez cartel, but it wasn't enough to beat them; he couldn't help but rub his triumph in the face of the last living cartel rival, now-childless patriarch Hector Salamanca. As Jesse watches, Gus visits the wheelchair-bound, bell-ringing Hector in a nursing home and tells him his family has been wiped out. Now, Gus can focus on the two remaining threats: Hank Schrader, whose investigation into him was getting uncomfortably close, and Walter White, the brilliant but troublesome cook who constantly gets in his way. He can't kill Walt without alienating Jesse, so he threatens to kill Walt's family instead, should he interfere with the assassination of his brother-in-law Hank.

The board is set. Gus spends much of the cat-and-mouse game at the end of Season 4 two steps ahead of Walter, but when Walt learns about Gus's visit to Hector, he concocts a devious plan. He offers Hector a suicidal chance to avenge his family: Hector will arrange a meeting with the DEA, which will force Gus to return to the nursing home to kill him for snitching. Then, Hector will detonate a bomb of Walter's design tucked into his wheelchair, thereby taking Fring out. Fully willing to trade a few more degrading years in an old folk's home for a chance at delicious revenge, Hector agrees and sends Fring to the abyss.

6. Cooking meth in tented houses

In Season 5, the Feds seize Mike's ill-gotten money as part of the ongoing Fring investigation. To recover the lost funds, he reluctantly teams back up with hated nemesis Walter White to keep cooking and selling meth. Once the ground rules are established — Walt and Jesse cook while Mike handles the business — the trio, with Saul's help, set out to find a new place for a meth lab. Multiple potential sites are rejected for being too risky. Just when Saul is ready to give up, Walt sees a folded fumigation tent and gets the idea to cook in houses being gassed for pests.

It's brilliant. Nobody — cops or otherwise — is going exploring in a tented house where noxious fumes are deadly without the kind of gas masks Walt and Jesse had. They never did their dirty business in the same place twice, further minimizing the chances of getting caught. Vamonos Pest, professional pest control experts (who secretly sold information about their clients to burglars, which is why Saul had their number) would tent the place and legitimately kill termites. Meanwhile, Walt and Jesse would head in while nobody's watching, set up a lab, cook a batch or two, take the equipment down, and be gone before the family came back.

Even when Mike and Jesse are out of the picture, Walt and Todd Alquist continue this scheme for months, making money hand over fist.

7. Walt tricking Gretchen and Elliott

"Granite State," the show's penultimate episode, ends when a despondent Walter White sees former Gray Matter associates Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz, who became wealthy while he floundered in an unchallenging, low-paying career, dismiss his contributions to their success in a TV interview. This enrages Walt, who decides to settle old scores back home before his cancer finishes him off. Only Walt's wounded pride could get him out of his stupor, it seems.

The first order of business: get as much money to his family as possible. This isn't easy, since said family now hates his guts and the Feds are just praying he'll show up at Skyler's with duffel bags of cash. So Walt has to get creative. In the series finale "Felina," he breaks into the Schwartz home, has a terrified Gretchen and Elliott help him pile cash on their table, and then tells them to donate it to Walt Jr. and Holly in the form of an irrevocable trust and explain to anyone who questions it that they pitied Walt's blameless children. If they didn't, the "two best hitmen west of the Mississippi" (in reality, Badger and Skinny Pete outside with laser pointers) would assassinate them.

We're not sure how realistic this is, since Gretchen and Elliott could've gone to the cops afterward, or someone might've rightfully suspected this random cash infusion had Walt's fingerprints all over it. But it sure made for some great TV and a satisfying conclusion to the Gray Matter subplot.

8. Gus eliminating the cartel

If we had to say one negative thing about this almost perfect show, it might be that the subplot pitting Gus Fring against the Juarez cartel could get a little boring. As great as characters like Hector and Tuco Salamanca were, and as much the feud provided a necessary backdrop for the main story (as well as strong motivations for Gus), the series was always more engaging when it directly involved Walt and Jesse.

Yet the late Season 4 arc in which Gus contacts the cartel under a false-flag truce and springs a deadly, vengeful trap was "Breaking Bad" at its finest. In a nutshell, Gus offers to send Jesse to the cartel to cook Walt's hit formula for them. Then, after Juarez cartel chief Don Eladio invites Gus and the crew back to his villa to celebrate their truce, Gus has them all drink poisoned tequila. He and Mike nearly die, but in the end, the cartel leadership is decimated and Fring — who'd waged a bloody underdog campaign against them for years — stands triumphant.

That the series' chief antagonist could be so effortlessly positioned as an underdog hero, even if only for one or two episodes, is a testament to the show's writing. Perhaps most importantly, it reminds viewers just how dangerous Fring is, and how much of an uphill battle taking him on was going to be for Walt as the season reaches its conclusion.

9. Killing Mike's guys in prison

After Gus Fring's death, his associates and the DEA race to secure anything to help the investigation. In both cases, the detectives get there first, only for our criminal protagonists to ingeniously sneak in and destroy the evidence before it leads cops to their doorstep (with the aforementioned giant magnet). 

But they have a bigger problem than the laptop: Mike's enforcers have all been arrested. Although he insists to Lydia Rodardte-Quayle and then to Walt that they're solid guys who were "paid to stand up to the heat," it turns out the Feds have seized their cash. Facing harsh sentences and now lacking the funds they'd been promised for their families, it's only a matter of time before one of them breaks under the pressure and sings like a canary.

After Walt kills Mike during an argument, he's free to deal with them how he sees fit. Seeing indefinite hush money payments as a bothersome expense, Walt contacts Todd's uncle, Jack Welker, a white supremacist criminal with ties to prison gangs. The plan: Jack's contacts will murder all of Mike's imprisoned enforcers simultaneously to prevent survivors from being rushed into untouchable protective custody.

One second, Hank is confident the case will be blown wide open. The next, everyone he hoped to flip is dead in prison.

10. Hank, Jesse, and Steve catching Walt with a ruse

Hank discovers his brother-in-law Walt is the Heisenberg he's been searching for, but he needs proof before arresting him. Luckily, Jesse Pinkman, remorseful for his crimes and motivated to take down Walt for poisoning Brock, is willing to help.

Hank and Steve suggest Jesse wear a wire and have a chat with Walt, who wants to smooth things over and doesn't know he's working with the DEA. Jesse, skeptical that meeting ruthless Mr. White — even in a public place — would be safe, has a better idea: go after Walt's money.

Thing is, they have no idea where Walt put it. But they know how to find out. After Huell Babineaux tells them he and Patrick Kuby had helped Walt stuff cash into 55-gallon drum barrels, Jesse texts Walt a picture of cash burning in exactly such a container. He then calls Walt and says he found his money and will burn $10,000 a minute until Walt arrives to confront him and answer for what he did to Brock.

Panicking, Walt flies out into the desert, where he's buried the cash. It's not until he gets there — and sees nobody around — that he realizes he's been tricked: Hank, Jesse, and Steve had tracked his phone and followed him there. Busted. Jack Welker's arrival sadly thwarts the arrest (and sets up the series endgame), but it was a brilliant plan nonetheless.

11. Walt and Jesse buying time by killing Gale

Meth kingpin Gus Fring is extremely careful about his suspicion-minimizing public image as a humble restaurateur who frequents DEA wine-and-cheese events, but there's a dark side to appearing clean. It's not just about having your story straight and avoiding discussing criminal activity where people could overhear you; you also need to, ahem, deal with loose ends. Especially ticking time bombs like Walt and Jesse, who are proving to be as reckless as they are talented meth chefs. 

In Season 3, Jesse learns that his pal Combo had been gunned down by a kid working for some of Fring's enforcers. We won't get into all the details here, but this feud gets out of hand. Walt kills the enforcers before they can kill Jesse. Jesse goes into hiding while Gus quietly plans to kill Walt once he's sure that Jesse's replacement, Gale Boetticher, can handle the cook by himself.

Walt figures out how little time he has when Gale spends a cooking session asking a suspicious number of questions. He then tells Jesse they have to kill Gale to force Fring, who's unwilling to fall behind schedule with the meth cooking, to keep them on the payroll just a little while longer instead of killing them. Jesse shooting Gale is a tragic moment in the show, but it does buy them precious time, which Walt ultimately uses to get the drop on Fring one season later.

12. Pulling a train heist

While working for Gus, Walt and Jesse never have to worry about supplies. After starting their own meth-cooking operation following Fring's downfall, crucial methylamine is in short supply. In exchange for her life after trying to kill Mike and his guys, Madrigal Electromotive executive Lydia Rodarte-Quayle gives the trio some precious information: enormous amounts of methylamine are transported across the desert by train. On one small stretch of the route, there's no reception the train crew can use to call the police. It's all these geniuses need to pull off what they describe as one of the most lucrative train heists in history.

The plan calls for Saul Goodman's conman/enforcer Patrick Kuby to have car issues on a specific part of the tracks that'll position the target train car right over a small bridge. While the conductors help Kuby fix the vehicle so they can get back on schedule, and while Mike serves as a lookout, Walt, Jesse, and Todd Alquist rush to hook hoses up to the train car to drain the methylamine into an underground tank beneath the bridge. Then they replace the stuff with an equal weight's worth of water, so nobody will realize the methylamine was lifted in the first place until it's too late.

Despite some close calls, the plan goes off without a hitch (until Todd tragically shoots and kills a kid who'd seen them afterward). It's easily the most brilliant scheme on a show filled with brilliant schemes.