Breaking Bad has always contained winks and allusions to other pop culture biggies (Scarface, Sergio Leone), but tonight’s episode featured an impressively long love letter to Star Trek, with Badger mesmerizing Skinny Pete with his brilliant idea for an episode for the original series involving transporters and a pie-eating contest. (All that’s left to do is for Badger to actually write it … and build a time machine to go back 44 years to when the show was on.) Badger’s treatment was nerdy as hell, wicked funny, and seemed steeped in Trek lore. We couldn’t help but wonder, though: Just how canonically accurate is Badger’s plot? We decided to consult with an expert: John Van Citters, the Star Trek brand’s resident fact-checker, and CBS Consumer Products VP.
Before getting to the script, we must address Skinny Pete’s issues with the show’s transporters, which inspired Badger to weave his tale. Theoretically (in Pete’s mind), when a person is beamed from one place to another, they’re basically dying and a new identical person is born (a “color Xerox”). Skinny Pete is not alone in his fear of the device. Both Trek characters (including Pete’s go-to source, Original Series Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy) and Trekkies alike have speculated that what goes into a transporter may not be what comes out. But the line of thinking is purely speculative, even in the context of the show. Van Citters says that there has never been an incident where a crew member has been “rebooted” by the beaming process, nor has any incarnation of Trek confronted the existential question. Winding up with a clone, on the other hand, is a frightening possibility.
In The Original Series episode “The Enemy Within,” a planet’s magnetic ore overloads the Enterprise’s transporter, splitting Captain Kirk (William Shatner) into a positive half and a negative half. In The Next Generation’s “Second Chances,” Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) stumbles upon an identical version of himself. An investigation reveals that, while on a routine mission eight years prior, an energy surge caused Riker’s beam to fry, prompting the transporter to activate a second beam.
The transporter wasn’t part of creator Gene Roddenberry’s original vision for Star Trek. When shuttling the Enterprise crew down to planetary surfaces on a weekly basis proved too costly, Roddenberry’s team innovated the instantaneous mode of transportation. Loose rules for how the technology functions have only worked in Trek’s favor. “Basically, the transporter seems to be able to do whatever the writers want it do on any given week,” Van Citters jokes. “Most notable in this arena is on Voyager, when B’Elanna tries a new transporter technique called a ‘skeletal lock’ where she can get a lock on the person via their combadge signal or bio-signs.” Yes, there’s a risk in skeletal locking of beaming back a pile of bones and person goop. But in the right hands, it’s the perfect canonical loophole.
The transporter’s potential for precision may validate Badger’s Star Trek scenario. In his proposed episode, Ensign Chekov (with the help of Chief Engineer Scotty) plot to take down Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the Enterprise crew in a ship-wide pie eating contest. For the Russian cadet, the face-off is like the Kobayashi Maru of baked goods. So the two crew members pull a Kirk, using the transporter to beam the pie out of his body on its way into his stomach and into outer space, therefore circumventing digestion and a full tummy. As Badger puts it, the tactic works perfectly until Scotty accidentally beams out Chekov’s guts.
But since Badger is setting his imaginary episode in the Original Series universe, the timeline is a factor. Before you even get to transporter issues, there’s the plot point that the pies are being churned out at a rapid pace thanks to the wonders of “the replicator,” Star Trek’s computerized short order cook. Unfortunately, the Enterprise crew didn’t have that luxury in 2265. “A replicator would seemingly be able to spit out pie after pie after pie, but in The Original Series they didn’t have replicators per se,” Van Citters says. “They used ‘food slots’ or ‘food synthesizers’ that took a pre-programmed card or disk inserted into a slot that had the instructions for what to create on it. The tech seems pretty much the same, but it does seem a bit more tedious and slow.”
Anachronisms aside, Van Citters believes Scotty’s pinpoint stomach beaming jives with Trek’s scientific history, though the process would require an excessive amount of work. According to the Trek fact checker, the transporter scans the subject at the quantum level, tracks the position and movement of its subatomic particles, then funnels them into the new location. To ensure that the Uncertainty Principle doesn’t wreak havoc on their composition, the transporter is used in tandem with — and this is a nice coincidence — a “Heisenberg compensator.”
“Theoretically, Scotty could compare the pre-contest Chekov pattern with the ‘new’ Chekov and remove any foreign contaminants from the transporter stream, much the way it would filter out any dangerous new micro-organisms or parasites,” Van Citters says. “However, that depends on him continuously scrambling and dematerializing all of Chekov and not just beaming the pie from his gullet into space.”
Van Citters’ final assessment of Badger’s Original Series plot? “Seems like a lot of work to cheat at a pie eating contest.”
Now see Badger’s Trek script animated by Vulture!