Breaking Bad and its prequel series Better Call Saul have given the world some of its favorite criminal masterminds of all time. The drug empires of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, and the unscrupulous tactics of lawyer Jimmy McGill (A.K.A. Saul Goodman) and associates, have produced some of the most dastardly intelligent criminal schemes in TV history. Each one with a humorous edge and an unforgettably exciting execution.
Here are our picks for the ten best criminal schemes from both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, from the characters’ novice beginnings to their dark triumphs of supervillain level perfection.
In the final episode of the first season of Breaking Bad, Walt devises a new method of cooking crystal meth that requires the chemical methylamine (a substance that will go on to be of great significance to the series). It turns out, however, that Jesse is unable to acquire any and that their only option would be to have it stolen from a local warehouse.
The pair decides to do it themselves in a bumbling success from the mastermind crime duo's early days involving a homemade thermite charge made from old Etch A Sketch toys.
When Hector Salamanca begins to use the upholstery business of Nacho Varga’s father as a front for his cartel activities, Nacho realizes that he has to kill Hector before his straight-laced father becomes a target himself.
Knowing that he and his father will face certain death if he’s caught, Nacho has to devise a stealthy assassination that will arouse no suspicion (similar to the original plan to poison Tuco Salamanca with ricin in Breaking Bad). He decides to lift Hector’s heart medication pills and replace them with placebos in an unforgettably tense gambit.
When an amateur criminal associate of Mike and Nacho gets his baseball cards robbed by Nacho, his inexperience causes him to involve the police and it jeopardizes everybody when the police inevitably discover clues to their wider criminal enterprise.
So a younger Jimmy McGill, just beginning to exercise his powers in morally dubious legal wizardry, devises a plan to steer the cops’ interest away from the case by convincing them that the original theft was related to a lover’s tiff over videos involving a fetish where a man sits in desserts and videotapes it.
Before being forced to try and take out Hector Salamanca, Nacho Varga has a similarly big problem with Tuco Salamanca. After Tuco begins using crystal meth again, which Nacho knows makes Tuco violently unpredictable, he hires Mike to kill him. Mike, not seeing a foolproof way of killing Tuco and getting away with it, decides that there’s a better way.
He carefully constructs a performance as a careless passerby who damages Tuco’s car and, after alerting the police in advance, deliberately goads Tuco into assaulting him so that the police witness it and Tuco goes to prison.
When fan-favorite character Huell Babineaux accidentally knocks down a plainclothes police officer with a bag of sandwiches, thinking that Jimmy McGill is being threatened by him, he decides to flee charges. Knowing that this will blowback badly on Jimmy, he and Kim Wexler devise a plan to make the prosecutor drop their pursuit of a trial.
They bombard the court with fake letters of support from Huell’s hometown, painting him as a saintly pillar of the community. Going so far as to set up an elaborate system for fake phone numbers attached to the letters where Jimmy and a group of students answer a series of drop phones and pretend to be residents of the town.
Kim Wexler’s flirtation with the criminal con artistry of Jimmy McGill’s life is a big part of Better Call Saul and she finally caves into it when she enlists Jimmy to help her fool a records office so her employer can have the desired alteration to their building plans. The two create a fiction where Kim goes to check a detail in the plans at the office against a copy of her own.
Jimmy, playing Kim’s incompetent brother, accidentally destroys the originals and the clerk, taking pity on Kim, allows her to switch the plans. This allows Kim to both get the new plans approved and eliminate suspicion by creating an unwitting accomplice at the office.
After the culmination of the confrontation between kingpins Gus Fring and Walter White, the DEA begins to sift through the ruins of the former’s criminal empire. When Walt, Mike, and Jesse learn that the DEA has Fring’s laptop, containing video evidence of all of them, they are forced to find a way of destroying it despite it being in police lockup.
Jesse comes up with the idea to wipe the hard drive with a giant magnet and the trio hook up a junkyard car magnet inside a van which is then driven next to the exterior of the evidence room and turned on.
Free of Gus Fring, but without an infrastructure to enable them to cook large quantities of meth in secret, the new enterprise looks for options to continue doing business. After seeing a few dud options, Walt latches on to the idea of using a fumigating business called “Vamonos Pest” as a cover.
He theorizes that no one will look twice at a tented house, even if it has chemical smells emanating from it, and the mobile nature of their lab will keep the cook safe from the cops. The unforeseen consequence to the perfect plan being that Vamonos Pest involves the group with Todd and his uncle’s White Power gang, which ultimately undoes them.
One of Breaking Bad’s most memorable parts was Chilean criminal mastermind Gustavo Fring. The series’ main story collides with his, which runs almost adjacent to Walter White’s, and its far-reaching history and planning are more fleshed out in Better Call Saul. Fring uses Walter White to help build his own drug empire away from the cartel, but not without taking his personal revenge against them for the murder of his original chemist.
He meets with key cartel figures to show surrender from his rebellion against them but only poisons them with a bottle of tequila which he brings as a gift. Fring is forced to poison himself in order to get the other men to drink too and it demonstrates the fearless dedication that made him an iconic character.
Breaking Bad’s crowning achievement was its daring train heist sequence. After establishing a good business model with the Vamonos Pest cover, the team faces the challenge of finding more methylamine with the DEA closing in on their old source. Their solution is to steal the methylamine again but in a much larger quantity than before.
In a total turn around from their first attempt at a heist, Walt and Jesse are able to stop a freight train and extract the methylamine without anyone noticing. By, at the same time, replacing it with the equal weight of water, they pull off the nation’s greatest train heist without anyone noticing.