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Why The Crystal Ship From Breaking Bad Means More Than You Think

Perhaps no TV series has given us more indelible imagery than AMC's Breaking Bad. Not that the story of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), the chemistry teacher-turned meth kingpin of Albuquerque, has many weak spots: like the man's signature "Blue Sky" crystal meth, every ingredient of Breaking Bad exists in a perfect balance. But the series' creative minds displayed a unique talent for creating offbeat images that lingered in the mind's eye, from the mysterious to the symbolic to the eerily mundane (or all of those things at once). Think of the pink, one-eyed stuffed bear, one entire side of it burned nearly to a crisp, that recurred in unsettling flash-forwards throughout the series' second season, for example. Or the iconic pork pie hat that signaled Walter's transformation into the notorious "Heisenberg."

Of all these images, though, one carries a particularly strong association. We submit that if you were to see a beige 1986 Fleetwood Bounder rambling down the street, you'd immediately envision it parked in the desert, venting chemical fumes — because this is the model used by Walter and Jesse (Aaron Paul) as their mobile meth lab for a good chunk of the series. Many a tense moment took place inside that vehicle: a forced cook with some scary drug dealers, a knock-down, drag-out brawl between Walter and Jesse, and the pair's near-capture by Walter's DEA agent brother-in-law Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) which was only averted by the quick thinking and surprising legal savvy of Old Joe (Larry Hankin), the junkyard proprietor who would eventually do the honor of crushing the RV down to a cube, destroying all evidence of illegal activity. 

Such was Jesse's affection for the old junker that he even gave it a nickname — one which the show's writers just might have intended as a hilarious reference.

The Crystal Ship could refer to a previous Bryan Cranston role... or a psychedelic rock group

This nickname, "the Crystal Ship," is pretty self-explanatory. It's the kind of irreverent moniker that we would expect Jesse to come up with, but it just so happens that it might ring a bell for those who are fans of the long-running Fox sitcom Malcolm in the Middle, Cranston's most well-known credit before Breaking Bad

In the episode "Dirty Magazine," which aired during Malcolm's fifth season, Malcolm (Frankie Muniz) becomes the editor of his high school's literary magazine. He runs into a moral conundrum when he's forced to censor an amazing story submission by the school's principal, Mr. Block (Kurtwood Smith). The name of that magazine? You guessed it: The Crystal Ship, an odd title, never given any context.

As easy as it is to imagine a Breaking Bad writer intentionally slipping in the obscure Malcolm in the Middle reference, it's worth noting that the inspiration for the RV's nickname may have come from a completely different place. "The Crystal Ship" happens to be the name of a 1967 song by psychedelic rockers The Doors, the B-side of their hit single "Light My Fire." While the tune was never used on Breaking Bad, the show frequently made use of eclectic musical selections — and perhaps our hypothetical writer took inspiration from lyrics like, "The crystal ship is being filled / A thousand girls, a thousand thrills / A million ways to spend your time." 

Of course, there exists another possibility — that the Jesse-ism was pulled out of the ether, and no reference to Malcolm in the Middle or The Doors was intended. Given that we're talking about a series famous for its Easter eggs and hidden references, though, that doesn't seem likely.