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Clandestine Chemist

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Because making meth doesn't happen in swanky labs.
A character whose passion is fiddling about with chemistry sets... has taken a dark turn. In Real Life, the term "clandestine chemistry" refers to any chemical science that's being done in secret for illegal means — usually (in fiction, almost exclusively) manufacturing drugs. Less commonly, the underground chemist may make explosives or chemical weapons. Expect the Clandestine Chemist to work out of a dingy little lab — trailers and garages seem favorites — and to broker his wares to the local crime kingpin, with all the drama and "unplanned retirements" that typically accompany a career in organized crime. However, it's not impossible for heroic types to have a need for their illicit services.

These characters are likely to overlap with Mad Scientist, especially if they've been dipping into their own supply. On a sliding scale of criminal unpleasantness, this character is usually placed slightly higher than the Playful Hacker, probably because Drugs Are Bad. (And messing around with chemicals unsupervised is usually a bad idea, for both legal and safety reasons.) See also Hillbilly Moonshiner and Military Moonshiner for clandestine alcohol makers.


Examples

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    Anime & Manga 
  • One Piece: Caesar Clown used to be a legitimate scientist for the World Government until he faked his own death. For the last four years, he's hidden inside his mostly abandoned island lab, working on chemical weapons to be sold to the "underworld" and other shady projects.

    Comic Books 
  • In a comic book story based on the 1990s Back to the Future cartoon series, one of Marty McFly's relatives was a chemist working for one of Biff Tannen's relatives back in the Roaring Twenties making illicit alcoholic products during the Prohibition period. His talents were used to help create a medicine for Doc Brown's dog Einstein who came down with an eye disease that made him see cats everywhere (Doc called them "cat-aracts"). Marty's relative decides to make a clean break from his past after he succeeds (and after Marty deals with Tannen's gang) and move to Hill Valley.
  • Post New-52, Batman learned chemistry skills from an exiled Russian professor named Sergei.
    • Professor Milo often acts as a chemist-for-hire for other members of Batman's rogues gallery.

     Film — Animation 

    Film — Live Action 
  • Boogie Nights has protagonist Eddie Adams living with lowlifes and parolees in Los Angeles. Todd Parker inveigles Eddie into coming with him to sell a bag of baking soda to Rahad, who has "more money than God." While Rahad is haywire stoked on cocaine, he has a bodyguard and chemist on hand. This fellow begins taking a sample of Todd's wares for analysis, which compels Todd to begin an armed robbery. The chemist is shot in an exchange of gunfire.
  • Zig-zags on Buffalo Soldiers with Military Moonshiner, as Ray Elwood makes heroin in a military base.
  • Michael Newman of Jacob's Ladder was a clandestine chemist making LSD before becoming a Reluctant Mad Scientist for the US Army in Saigon.
  • Technically, Adaś in Kingsajz, the Clandestine Alchemist who's devoted his life to making the titular Magic Potion available to everyone instead of tightly regulated. He's acting against the law, but his motives are noble.
  • Ozzy, in Ravers, is a biochemist who makes designer drugs on the side.
  • The Serpent and the Rainbow: Mozart makes poisons and paralyzing devices that he sells to kill people, although the "clandestine" part is downplayed since whole bars full of people in the poorest part of town observe him making deals.
  • Sherlock Holmes (2009): Luke Reordan, who's found dead in the coffin of Lord Blackwood who was hanged earlier in the film, turns out to have been a scientist working for the apparently resurrected Serial Killer. The remains of the chemical compounds Holmes discovers in his laboratory are crucial in proving that all of Blackwood's magical accomplishments are mere conjurer's tricks aided by the scientific resources Reordan provided before he was offed.
  • The 51st State: Elmo McElroy lost the possibility of legal employment because he was caught driving with marijuana right after graduating from college, so he turned his education to a carreer as a drug chemist.

    Literature 
  • The Anarchist Cookbook is a book containing recipes on how to make explosives. The methods described in the book are so poorly thought-out and dangerous, it's been suggested it was written as disinformation and possibly intended to make potential bombers blow themselves up!
  • Alpha in PartnerShip is a higher-class version than most, working in a medical clinic and using its synthesizers to create future drugs with various "useful" effects as well as to sell. It's also suggested that she created the various recreational drugs she brought to pass around on the ship that took her and the other Nyota 5 to the system.
  • Rogue has a couple who make meth in their house and force their sons to buy Sudafed for them, act as lookouts, and help with dangerous reactions. In the end, Kiara's dad calls CPS on them. They try to destroy the evidence by pouring it down the drain, blowing up their house, and severely maiming both of them.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On Almost Human, Rudy goes undercover as this type of character.
  • Breaking Bad is about a humble chemistry professor who turns to meth production as a way of supporting his family after he learns he has cancer. This gets more explanation when it's revealed that he used to be quite a talent in his field but sold out his share of his (now massively successful) chemical company when his girlfriend got pregnant.
  • Scorpion: In "Little Boy Lost", Happy and Cabe track down a chemist who supplies services to the underworld. His latest job involved using aqua regia to dissolve the rifling inside a sniper rifle barrel.
  • Sherlock's new protege, Bill Wiggins, is a skilled chemist who used to waste his gifts on getting high. Now he wastes his gifts as Sherlock's replacement flatmate but has proven useful by making a sedative that works rapidly without causing long-term harm to those it's used on.
  • The docuseries Hamilton's Pharmacopeia follows psychedelic enthusiast Hamilton Morris who visits many real clandestine drug labs and meets the people who used to run them, or in some cases, still do.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Leech playbook in Blades in the Dark naturally gravitates towards this archetype, between their default starting ability Alchemist (which allows them to research and mix alchemical concoctions) and their signature item being a pair of bandoliers for carrying vials with alchemical substances for every purpose. The "clandestine" part comes from the fact that player characters in Blades are members of a criminal gang working under the authorities' noses.
  • Chronicles of Darkness
    • One conspiracy in Hunter: The Vigil is the Ascending Ones, an ancient order of alchemists who fund themselves in modern times through the drug trade. They've probably got one or two of this trope on the payroll.
    • One of the Vampire: The Requiem books details an NPC called Leland Bancroft, a chemistry prodigy who used to make drugs for his gangster-vampire-dad until joining the Lancea Sanctum. One recommended storyline is having his old employer come looking to get him back.

    Video Games 
  • Far Cry 3 introduces us to Dr. Alec Earnhardt, who's been hiding out on the Rook Islands for a while, studying the local plants to develop new hallucinogens. He's also been testing them on himself to drown out the grief of a dead loved one, so he's pretty detached from reality.
  • Hitman 2: Jorge Franco, the Delgados' chemist, wants to develop a "super-cocaine" for the cartel.
  • In Mafia III, one of the crime rings you can break up or take over is the PCP lab based out of the city science center.
  • Implied to be the case with your missing/deceased friend Casey in Night in the Woods, as one of his murderers refers to him cooking up meth with a cousin.
  • PAYDAY 2: The gang end up having to improvise this role during the first day of the Rats heist. Their original plan was to protect a group of actual meth cooks but said cooks get offed by the Mendoza cartel, forcing the gang to make the meth themselves. Not properly listening to Bainís instructions can cause the meth lab to be blown to kingdom come, which will either ruin the planned trade the gang were preparing for on lower difficulties or causing a Non Standard Game Over on higher difficulties.
  • Grand Theft Auto Online: The Drug Wars DLC introduces The Fooliganz gang, who have two chemists, Labrat and Mutt. If the player gets the mobile acid lab, Mutt will be traveling in the back, making acid for sale. There is also a meth lab in the game that was introduced in the Bikers DLC, which visually references Breaking Bad but the lab staff NPC's don't have names or dialogue.

    Western Animation 
  • Batman: The Animated Series introduces a character known only as "The Chemist", who hangs out at a known criminal bar and is a walking encyclopedia on acids, poisons, and explosives.
  • Camp Lazlo gives us a kid-friendly version when Samson uses his chemistry set to make contraband candy.
  • Another kid-friendly example from Doug. For a school project, Doug has to interview the family members of another student in his class, and he gets assigned the Sleeches. Mr. Sleech is rumored to be a Mad Scientist conducting all sorts of strange experiments in his basement. And he sort of is...except that his "experimentations" consist of donut recipes. It turns out he's a baker: he works at a bakery and appears to be trying to start his own business. Since he works at night, he's rarely seen during the day. Al and Moo tried to stop Doug from conducting the interview because they're embarrassed that he's not actually a Mad Scientist.

    Real Life 
  • Moonshiners are those who unlawfully make distilled spirits, whether to escape alcohol excises or a prohibition.
  • Due to the ease of the process, several persons, both gangsters and addicts, make meth in makeshift laboratories, causing several deadly accidents.
  • Subverted by those Russian drug addicts who cook Krokodil without having the faintest idea of what happens in that process. The result is an impure and tainted concoction, which causes lesions, gangrene, and death. The sad thing is that the good stuff in it - desomorphine - could be purified with two simple operations, of which the cooks have usually no idea.
  • One of the biggest LSD manufacturers in US history was William Leonard Pickard, who had a background in bacteriology and worked officially as the deputy director of the Drug Policy Research Program at UCLA. Pickard and associates had build a large facility to produce a number of psychedelic drugs in an old nuclear missile silo. Before Pickard, the most prolific manufacturer of LSD was Owsley Stanley, who also worked as sound engineer for The Grateful Dead and even designed their logo.
  • Alexander Shulgin made a career at Dow Chemicals, and having invented a biodegradable pesticide, was left mostly to his own devices and a large budget. He then spent the rest of his life researching, synthesizing, and personally testing psychedelic compounds, and is credited with the popularization of MDMA. In an inversion of the trope, Shulgin never produced product for sale, and even worked with the DEA to help them understand new compounds, although the relationship ended after Shulgin published PiHKAL, a Chemical Love Story, a book detailing how to produce many of the compounds he had Known and Loved.

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