Walter and Jesse have just witnessed Tuco beating a man to death for disrespecting him. Frightened that they will be next, they search for a way to kill the drug lord and end their business relationship with his gang.
Breaking Bad was not a show that was meticulously planned in advance. Gilligan and his colleagues knew what their ultimate goal was – “you take Mr. Chips and turn him into Scarface” – but they gave themselves a lot of freedom on how to reach that destination. Consequently, when Raymond Cruz told them that he could not continue in the role of Tuco Salamanca as he found it too emotionally exhausting, they decided to lean into it. Season 2 starts with Walt and Jesse’s relationship with the drug lord coming to a traumatic and explosive end.
The first episode is characterised by a mounting sense of dread. Having witnessed Tuco murder one of his lackeys for basically nothing, Jesse and Walt struggle to suppress their fear. Neither of them have any moral objections to murdering Tuco or even Gonzo if they have to. I think this is noteworthy because Gonzo has shown quite a bit of humanity – he protected Walt by stopping him from intervening when No-Doze was beaten and even tried to object when Tuco decided to leave No-Doze’s body to rot rather than give him a proper burial. Our protagonists are becoming more and more willing to abandon ethics to get what they want, which leads to the most harrowing scene of the show so far.
T/W for sexual ASSAULT – skip TO ODDs AND ENDS TO AVOID
Throughout Season 1, one of the “upsides” of Walter’s criminal activities was an increased libido. Symbolic of his renewed passion for life, he initiates sex with Skyler more often and in more places – this is consistently portrayed as a good thing. In this episode though, the writers decide to reframe this behaviour. Walt comes back from the junkyard, deeply distressed by what he has just witnessed. He walks up to Skyler and put his head on her shoulder, almost on the verge of tears. However, rather than accept his fear and seek reassurance, he transforms his feelings into something he finds more comfortable – sexual aggression.
Walt allows himself a few seconds of vulnerability before he forces himself on Skyler. She asks him to wait; he forces her underwear down. She says enough; he forces her legs apart. She tells him to stop; he penetrates her so roughly her face is slammed into the fridge. Let’s not mince words – Walter just raped Skyler. When I watched this for the first time, I was deeply repulsed by what I had witnessed and stopped feeling any sympathy for Walt or his predicament. I think that is intentional – Walter White is not a good person and if you watch Breaking Bad expecting him to act decently, you are going to be disappointed.
One final point – a huge amount of credit needs to be given to Anna Gunn for her performance here. Being asked to depict sexual assault is never easy but Gunn gives Skyler a lot of agency and emotion in this scene. She gets Walt to stop and when he flees to the pool, she confronts him about what he has done. The word “rape” is not used but I think that is deliberate – Skyler is struggling to process what just happened but she refuses to be an outlet for her husband’s fear and frustration. She is not an oblivious, cheerleading housewife and she never will be, no matter how often Walt wishes that were true.
Odds and Ends
- The title is a reference to the amount of money Walter thinks he needs in order to provide for his family after he’s gone – $737,000, equivalent to sixteen years of his annual salary.
- Rewatching this episode, I had the suspicion that they re-shot the final scene from Season 1 where Tuco attacks No-Doze and it turns out I was right. The colour grading is different and some lines of dialogue have been removed, but it also means poor Raymond Cruz had to beat up a sandbag on two separate occasions!
- Marie deliberately runs over a child’s toy car – are the writers trying to make her cartoonishly unlikeable?!
- When Walt is flipping through TV channels after he gets home from the junkyard, we very briefly hear an advert telling us to “Better Call Saul!” – I’m sure that will never come up again…
- This is the first time ricin appears on Breaking Bad, but it won’t be until the very final episode of the show that someone will actually be poisoned with it.
- Afraid that Tuco will break into his house, Walt stays up all night with a knife he took from the wooden rack in the kitchen – this is the same knife that Skyler will use against him in Ozymandias (Series 5, Episode 14).
- Skyler looks at a photo of herself with Ted Beneke in the nursery, although he won’t be properly introduced until Negro y Azul (Series 2, Episode 7).
Walt and Jesse find themselves held hostage by Tuco in the New Mexico desert. Unaware of what has happened, Hank attempts to find his brother-in-law.
Breaking Bad is often compared to westerns and this episode is one of the reasons why. Hank, the experienced American lawman, is the main character of this story – we don’t even see Walt and Jesse until ten minutes have elapsed. We open with Hank investigating Tuco, the dangerous “ethnic” outlaw, and we close with an old-fashioned shoot-out in the desert. This is much more screentime than Hank has previously been given, and it is indicative of the writers’ desire to make him a much more prominent character on the show.
As for the scenes where Tuco takes Jesse and Walter hostage, I do find them engaging, although their impact is lessened a bit by my disbelief that the characters are actually in danger of being trafficked to Mexico – this show isn’t really able to accommodate such a drastic change in location. That said, I do like Tuco’s seemingly-genuine grief that Gonzo (his own brother-in-law) betrayed his trust, and the reveal that he is a carer for his disabled uncle. It makes Tuco feel like a multifaceted human being, rather than just a stereotypical violent addict.
The scene with the ricin-poisoned burrito is also suitably tense – not as tense as the confrontation with Krazy-8 in the basement but I guess the latter set the bar so high it is difficult for the show to match it. I do find it interesting that Walt and Jesse assumed that an elderly man in a wheelchair couldn’t foil their plans, even discussing their plans to kill Tuco in front of him like he was a piece of furniture. It implies a level of internalized ableism on their part, but we could also link it to the patriarchal idea that strength or physical prowess is necessary to make someone dangerous.
The episode concludes with Jesse and Walter fleeing in the desert, having permanently escaped Tuco but unable to risk Hank discovering their presence. Their ordeal is far from over…
Odds and Ends
- This is the first time Jesse shoots someone on Breaking Bad, although technically he has yet to take another person’s life as Hank was the one who fatally shot Tuco.
- I love how sweaty and anxious Jesse looks throughout the entire episode. Aaron Paul’s performance is great, although some of his anxiety might be genuine as Raymond Cruz accidentally gave him a concussion when his character threw Jesse out of the front door of the house.
- The malfunctioning lowrider in the final shoot-out mirrors Tuco’s heartbeat – very rapid at first before slowly coming to a halt after Tuco is killed by Hank.
- Tuco says that his cousins are driving up from Mexico in order to smuggle them all out of the country. We will finally meet these relatives in No Más (Series 3, Episode 1) when they come to the United States to take revenge for Tuco’s death.
- The Mexican cousins only know Walter White’s name because of the events of this episode – Tuco reads it out loud within earshot of his uncle after taking an ID card out of Walt’s wallet.
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