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The Entire Breaking Bad Story Finally Explained

Over the course of five seasons, Breaking Bad told a complex, character-driven story of a man whose cancer diagnosis leads him to start cooking and selling meth to provide for his family. The show introduced viewers to an entire criminal underground in a fictionalized version of Albuquerque, New Mexico, with absurdly competent "fixers," a fastidious fast food franchise owner, and an international structure for dealing drugs all over the world.

Creator Vince Gilligan and his excellent writing staff managed to build a show that consistently paid off on plot points and character motivations better than just about any other show on the air. Despite the easy high concept of the show, Breaking Bad was never simple. Now, with word of a movie sequel to the show on the horizon, we're going to explain what happened when one timid chemistry teacher decided to break bad. Here's your mandatory spoiler warning if you haven't finished the show yet.

The Breaking Bad story starts with a diagnosis

In the first episode of Breaking Bad, high school chemistry teacher Walter White is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. After finding out from Hank Schrader, his DEA agent brother-in-law, how profitable cooking meth can be, Walt teams up with Jesse Pinkman, a former student of his, to make enough money to provide for his family after he's gone.

Unfortunately, Jesse and their batch of newly cooked meth are snatched up by a pair of dealers named Krazy-8 and Emilio. The two force Jesse to show them to the RV where Walt and Jesse have been cooking, presumably to kill the two and take their materials. Walt poisons the two of them, but Krazy-8 survives long enough that Walt is forced to kill the meth dealer himself. 

Soon, Walt's family holds an intervention... but not for Walt's secret meth cooking. Instead, they want him to pursue chemotherapy rather than just accept that his cancer is terminal. Ultimately, Walt agrees to seek treatment, even though the cost would put his family even further into debt. Afterwards, while at a birthday party for a former colleague, Walt gets an easy out from the drug business. He's offered a good job, health insurance, and the promise that his cancer treatment will be entirely paid for. Unfortunately, it would require Walt to admit that he needs help and to forgive his former partners, Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz, for letting him buyout of the company they founded together. Instead, Walt turns them down and dives even deeper into the drug cooking business.

An explosive introduction to Tuco

Walt and Jesse make their partnership official with a simple division of labor: Walt will cook, while Jesse will sell. Unfortunately, Walt soon learns just how expensive chemotherapy is, causing him to push Jesse to increase their sales. Jesse reaches out to a local crime boss, Tuco Salamanca, to see if he'd be interested in buying larger quantities of the pair's high-quality meth in order to better fund Walt's cancer treatments. Instead, Tuco comes up with a better idea, which involves beating the crap out of Jesse and stealing the meth that Pinkman was planning to sell. Walt moves in to handle Tuco, using his chemistry skills to prepare an explosion to intimidate Tuco. Impressed and amused, Tuco agrees to work with Walt and Jesse.

The two make a deal with Tuco that they'll make meth for him to sell, while he pays them enough to make it worth their while (and for Walt to undergo chemotherapy to try and tackle his cancer). In order to keep his identity a secret, Walt adopts the persona of "Heisenberg," after the famed theoretical physicist who's known for the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and for a while, it seems like Walter will be able to keep his "second job" a secret from his family. Unfortunately, Tuco is about as stable as a meth kingpin can be when said kingpin also indulges in a meth habit of his own. Season one of Breaking Bad ends with Tuco brutally killing one of his own men for a perceived slight, which leaves Walt and Jesse terrified at what their now-partner might do to them.

Serious problems between partners

Walt and Jesse's issues with Tuco soon evolve into more than just personality differences. After a paranoid fit in which he believes that the DEA is closing in on him, Tuco kidnaps Walt and Jesse to force them to continue cooking meth for him. While being held hostage, Walt and Jesse nearly manage to poison Tuco with ricin, but Tuco's mute, wheelchair-bound uncle, Hector, alerts him to their plan. Luckily, they're saved when Hank, following up on a tip while looking for Jesse, stumbles onto Tuco and shoots him dead during a shootout. Having barely survived their run-in with the real criminal underworld (and narrowly escaping Hank's detection), Jesse and Walt try to take a break from the meth business. Jesse shacks up with a prostitute friend of his to provide an alibi when the cops come looking for him, while Walt feigns stress-induced amnesia to explain his extended disappearance.

Walt tries to reconnect with his family when they become worried about his health after his "fugue state," but that only brings up more underlying issues with his wife, Skyler. With a baby on the way and Walt's ongoing instability — not to mention his secretive behavior — she doesn't trust him, even when he seems to be doing okay. Meanwhile, Jesse finds himself out of a house and out of friends after the double whammy of being kidnapped and drawing the interest of the DEA. As a result, he pushes Walt to resume cooking. On the other side of the law, Hank's killing of Tuco leads to a sizable promotion for him, but it also causes a heaping amount of stress and anxiety after the shootout.

Heisenberg rises to power

Walt and Jesse try to establish themselves in the power vacuum created by Tuco's death, operating as cooks and distributors within Tuco's former territory. Unfortunately, that increased power comes with increased scrutiny when one of their drug dealers is robbed. Walt gives Jesse a gun and tells him to "take care" of it, which Jesse does, in a sense. An accidental series of events leaves Jesse with a reputation as a cold-blooded killer, which seems to establish "Heisenberg" as a genuine power player.

On the home front, things are getting super tricky. As a cover for all his meth money, Walt has been telling Skyler than Gretchen and Elliott have been paying for his cancer treatments. But when Gretchen finds out about the lie, she tells Skyler than she won't be paying for any more therapy, leaving Walt to search for another cover story.  On top of all that, Walt and Jesse end up attracting attention from the law after Badger, one of their drug dealers, is arrested. With the help of Saul Goodman, a local criminal lawyer, they devise a plan to trick the DEA into arresting a fake "Heisenberg," freeing Badger and taking the heat off of Walt. The plan goes smoothly, although Hank — who's becoming obsessed with Heisenberg and his blue meth — remains convinced that something is wrong. 

But hey, Walt is making money, and Jesse's ongoing romance with his neighbor and landlord, Jane Margolis, continues to go well even when she realizes that he's a drug dealer, and he realizes that she's in recovery for addiction. So yeah, everything is probably going to turn out fine ... right?

Jane's death is a shocking twist to the story

After one of Jesse's drug dealer friends is killed by a rival gang, Jesse and Walt realize they aren't cut out to manage a crew of drug dealers. So with Saul's help, Walt and Jesse find a distributor for their surplus meth. The mysterious buyer, Gus Fring, is a fast food franchise owner and model citizen who uses his role as the public face of Los Pollos Hermanos to disguise his illicit activities. That level of secrecy extends to his employees, and when Jesse shows up to a meeting high, Gus doesn't think that Jesse is competent enough to handle the work. And the kingpin might have a point. When Walt gets notice that Gus needs their drugs on short notice, he finds that Jesse is completely incapacitated from his drug use and unable to make the drop.

Unfortunately, Walt is also needed at the hospital, where Skyler is in labor, delivering their daughter. Walt ultimately chooses to make the delivery, missing the birth of his child, but he nets over $1 million for him and Jesse to split. However, Walt refuses to pay Jesse his share until he gets clean, since Jesse and Jane have escalated to sharing heroin in their free time. Desperate for cash after her father nearly takes her to rehab, Jane blackmails Walt into giving them the money immediately. Walt does, but finds himself coming back to check on Jesse and try to get him help. While shaking a sleeping Jesse, Walt accidentally knocks an unconscious Jane onto her back, and when she starts to choke on her own vomit, he watches her die without interfering. Weeks later, Jane's father, an air traffic controller, lets two planes collide over the skies of Albuquerque in his grieving state, showing that Walt's actions have far-reaching and devastating consequences.

Back at it again at Los Pollos Hermanos

Breaking Bad season three features both of the perennially down-on-their-luck meth cooks more or less out of the business. Jesse's in rehab and blaming himself for Jane's death, while Skyler's taken the kids and moved out, leaving Walt to contemplate what he's still working towards. Skyler finds out the truth that Walt is a meth cook and offers him an ultimatum — agree to a divorce, or she'll tell Hank. Things get even more complicated when Gus shows up with a new offer: $3 million for three months work in a state-of-the art laboratory. Walt refuses in the moment, but trouble is arriving from Mexico in the form of bloodthirsty twins looking to enact vengeance on Heisenberg.

Walt's attempts to get out of the drug business aren't encouraged by anyone. Saul wants him to go back to cooking, while Skyler is horrified by what he's already done. Unbeknownst to Walt, Gus strikes a deal with the twins — who are Tuco Salamanca's cousins, out for revenge — to keep Walt alive for Gus' own purposes. Meanwhile, Jesse makes his own batch of meth, offering to sell it to Gus against Walt's wishes. Gus accepts the deal, knowing that Walt's pride will bring him back to the meth cooking business, a prediction that's ultimately proven right. Walt accepts Gus' offer and pushes Jesse out of the business, while Hanks finds clues that are starting to lead him to Jesse.

New laboratory, same old Walt

Walt's feeling like a new man with his own condo and a hidden laboratory for cooking meth. Even better, he's got a new, eager-to-please lab assistant, Gale Boetticher, who seems like a serious upgrade compared to Jesse. Unfortunately, Walt's brought back into Jesse's orbit when Hank accidentally warns Walt that he's closing in on their old RV. Walt and Jesse manage to distract Hank away from their old cook site with a phony phone call alleging that his wife, Marie, is in the hospital. Things get even worse for Hank when Gus, forced to bargain with the twins, offers them Hank's life instead of Heisenberg's, on the basis that Hank is the one who actually killed their cousin, Tuco.

Believing Jesse to be behind the fake phone call, Hank attacks Jesse, savagely beating him. After Jesse threatens to use the illegal beating to make Hank's life miserable, Walt tries to placate Jesse, offering him a job in the meth lab. Jesse accepts the deal, which means Walt has to fire Gale. About this time, the Salamanca twins attack Hank, but the DEA agent kills one and puts the other in the hospital, although he's wounded himself. 

Walt and Jesse resume their cooking for Gus, although Jesse begins to take some of the excess product in order to sell it on the side. With Walt making plenty of money and Hank's hospital bills stacking up, Skyler agrees to pay for his recovery, with the cover story that Walt's meth money is actually earnings from a gambling habit. But things never run smoothly for long in Breaking Bad. After getting involved with Andrea Cantillo, a woman at his Narcotics Anonymous meetings, Jesse is horrified to discover that the drug dealers who killed his friend last season are also using Andrea's 11-year-old brother to sell meth.

Escalation in the workplace

Skyler, now fully aware of Walt's criminal enterprises, hatches a plan to safely launder their money through the car wash that Walt once worked at. Meanwhile, Jesse's moving on the drug dealers, first by asking Walt to prepare ricin poison, then by threatening to kill them any way that he can, with or without Walt's help. His plan is interrupted by Gus Fring, who's known about Jesse's plan the entire time. The three of them have a meeting, where Gus tells the drug dealers to stop using children. In response, they kill Andrea's brother, and Jesse responds by driving up with a gun of his own to enact revenge. He's saved by Walt, who kills the dealers, putting his own relationship with Gus at risk.

Jesse goes into hiding, while Walt begins to suspect that Gale (who's returned to replace Jesse) is operating under orders from Gus to fully replicate Walt's meth formula, so the kingpin can get rid of Walt for good. With the help of Saul, Walt lays a trap for Gus, giving Jesse enough time to murder Gale, ensuring that the drug lord won't be able to kill them without crippling his meth operation. Their plan more or less works, but Gus responds by isolating himself entirely from Walt and Jesse. Instead, all communication will be handled by his "fixer," Mike Ehrmantraut. As a result, both Walt and Jesse begin spiraling into darkness. Walt decides to buy a gun in case he needs to kill Gus before Gus kills him, and while dealing with serious guilt over killing Gale, Jesse literally starts throwing money to the wind.

Gus Fring meets his fate

Jesse's unhinged, depressed behavior is bad news for Mike and Gus, so Mike begins taking the young chemist on some of his errand runs in an attempt to provide a bit more purpose to Jesse's life. Jesse's not the only one acting erratic, though. When Gale's body is discovered, law enforcement assumes that he's Heisenberg, and that nearly throws Hank off the trail ... until Walt's ego gets in the way, and he convinces his brother-in-law that Heisenberg is still out there. With Hank renewing his investigations into Heisenberg and Gus Fring, Walt is spending money wildly, even buying a sports car for his handicapped son, Walt Jr. But he's also still worried about Gus' vengeance, so Walt convinces Jesse to kill Gus with ricin hidden in a cigarette, but Jesse misses his opportunity.

However, Gus has other fish to fry besides Walt, as a meeting with the cartel involves completing a decades-long vendetta after Hector Salamanca killed Gus' business partner years earlier. The cartel is soon destroyed in an epic massacre, and with Jesse's usefulness proven on the trip, Gus asks him to take over the lab in Walt's stead. Gus then tells Walt two pieces of very bad news. First, Walt's out, with the understanding that the only reason he's even alive is due to Jesse's intervention. Second, Gus is going to kill Hank for investigating him, with worse consequences for Walt and his family if anyone interferes. 

Around this time, Andrea's son, Brock, ends up in the hospital with a flu-like illness, and when Jesse finds that the ricin hidden in his cigarette is gone, he blames Walt, thinking that he poisoned the child. Walt convinces him that it was Gus, and the two agree to kill the drug lord, ultimately succeeding with the help of Hector Salamanca and his explosive wheelchair.

Walter White is the new kingpin of Albuquerque

Gus is dead, the underground laboratory is destroyed, and Walt and Jesse both manage to survive. However, Gus kept a laptop with security footage of the lab, and with Gus' death, it's been confiscated by the police. Walt teams up with Jesse and a reluctant Mike, now healed from his cartel shootout, to wipe the laptop and keep them all out of jail. The plan goes smoothly, but their use of a giant magnet accidentally reveals some of Gus' hidden bank accounts, giving the police a fresh lead on Fring's secret meth empire. It's also revealed that Walt really did poison Brock in order to turn Jesse against Gus, and that Walt has no intention of stopping his criminal activities.

With Gus out of the way, Walt sees the potential for a replacement in the criminal underworld. Gus ran a massive organization with multi-state distribution, and Walt believes that he, Jesse, and Mike are just the men who can fill his shoes. Mike initially refuses, but with the police seizing Gus' secret accounts, his own savings are compromised, which forces him to work with Walt and Jesse. With the help of Lydia Rodarte-Quayle, an executive at Madrigal — an international conglomerate with ties to Gus' old organization — the three men plan to take over the distribution of Gus' empire.

Getting a new operation up and running

With Lydia, Mike, and Saul's help, Walt and Jesse start a new operation, moving their meth lab from house to house under the guise of a pest removal company. However, heavy is the head that wears the crown, and even though Walt is now the boss of a huge business, that comes with assorted costs, like payouts to the pest removal company, to his partners, and to Gus' former men serving prison sentences in order to keep their silence. Walt bristles against these payouts, but Jesse ultimately convinces him to let it lie. Still, Walt's success in business comes with a failure in his personal life. Skyler is becoming increasingly depressed and horrified by Walt, and Walt's own separation between his "Heisenberg" identity and his day-to-day life are becoming blurred.

When the DEA begins tracking one of the key ingredients for their meth business at Madrigal, Lydia offers them an alternative — a daring train robbery that, if executed properly, will mean enough methylamine for plenty of cooks. In order to make the operation go smoothly, Walt and Jesse bring in Todd Alquist, one of the pest removal employees. The robbery seems to go smoothly, but it ends in tragedy when the trio notice a young boy watching them as they celebrate the desert heist. Todd immediately shoots the kid, which forces Walt, Jesse, and Todd to dispose of the body in a barrel full of hydrochloric acid.

Everything starts falling apart in Breaking Bad

Although the team managed to get away with all the methylamine they could need, the boy's death weighs heavily on Jesse. When Mike tries to buyout of the business on the basis that the increased DEA surveillance is too much for him, Jesse tries to leave, too. However, Mike's buyer for his share of the methylamine will only accept all or none of it, since the offer is contingent on getting rid of the blue meth that Walt makes. Walt refuses to give up on his criminal empire since, with Skyler becoming increasingly horrified by him, he has nothing left but his money and his criminal reputation. Walt eventually manages to convince the buyer to take over as distributor for his meth, while buying out Mike's share of methylamine. Mike agrees to continue paying for Gus' imprisoned men out of his own share, but his plan is stymied when the DEA catch his lawyer making the money drops.

Mike's forced to flee town, but Walt refuses to let him leave unless he gives up the names of Gus' men so that Walt can silence them before they have the chance to talk. The two men argue, and Walt shoots Mike to death before remembering that Lydia also has access to that information. With the help of Todd's uncle, who runs a crew of neo-Nazis, Walt has Gus' men killed before Hank can get them to give up any information on Heisenberg. With his business safe, and Todd proving to be an adept lab assistant, Walt rakes in the cash for months before finally retiring. That is, until Hank finds a book given to Walt by Gale on the toilet, and finally connects all the pieces.

The Breaking Bad story comes to a bloody end

Even though Walt is retired with plenty of money, Hank is on his trail. In response, Skyler and Walt concoct an elaborate cover story, alleging that Hank was actually Heisenberg all along, using the fact that Hank's medical bills were paid for with meth money as proof. But just before leaving town to start a new life, Jesse realizes that Walt was actually behind Brock's poisoning, which sends him on a crusade against his former partner.

Hank picks Jesse up before he can burn down the White household, and the two join forces to gather evidence to take out Walt. Together, they trick Walt into revealing where he stashed his drug money, and, desperate, Walt calls his former neo-Nazi partners for help. The neo-Nazis arrive, kill Hank, and kidnap Jesse, intending to use him to cook the blue meth for their own criminal organization. 

Walt goes into the criminal equivalent of a witness protection program, but after seeing Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz on TV denying his involvement in the company he co-founded, he comes back to wrap up his loose ends. He forces Elliott and Gretchen to launder the rest of his drug money for his family, and he admits to Skyler that everything he did was for himself, instead of for his family, as he so often claimed. He then heads to the neo-Nazi compound, kills the skinheads, and ultimately saves Jesse's life in the process. Dying of blood loss from a stray bullet (and his own inevitable death from cancer), Walt collapses in the neo-Nazis' meth lab, surrounded by chemical equipment as the police arrive. And really, for a man who loved cooking meth so much, it's the perfect way to end the Breaking Bad story.