A haggered Jesse (on the left) wraps a blanket around the small red--haired boy in order to comfort him and keep him warm as he waits outside a dilapidated house. The boy is dirty and neglected.

Bad Nauseam: “Peekaboo” & “Negro y Azul”

Peekaboo (S2E6)

After Skinny Pete is robbed by addicts, Walter forces Jesse to retrieve the stolen drugs. Meanwhile, Gretchen confronts Walt for lying about how he is paying for his cancer treatment.

An important milestone for the show – the first episode that is straight up bad! The antagonists of this story are a couple who are severely addicted to crystal meth and while that is fine as a concept, the result is a portrayal of addiction which is sensationalist, harmful and ignorant.

According to the CDC, about two and a half million Americans claimed to have used methamphetamine in 2020 – of that group, a little over half met the criteria for addiction. Like with all drug use, it is important to view this in a social context. At lower doses, meth can elevate mood, increase concentration and reduce fatigue & appetite; these effects last for several hours, which is why the drug is popular with those working multiple jobs or undertaking long shifts harvesting crops, waiting tables or even homemaking. Stimulants like meth can also be used to manage the symptoms of trauma and mental illness. This is why treating drug consumption as a crime, a deviant behaviour to be eradicated, has achieved nothing but unnecessary suffering.1

Now, before anyone says that 2009 was a different time and that I can’t expect Breaking Bad to have a progressive attitude towards drug addiction, allow me to retort. The show has had multiple montages depicting Walt and Jesse’s customers and they have overwhelmingly been ordinary people from all walks of life. There was also the episode where Jesse’s younger brother was revealed to be a cannabis user and this was not treated as some horrifying affliction but just something he liked to do.

These guys on the other hand…

The addicts in this story are not totally inaccurate – long-term meth use can cause severe damage to your teeth and skin – but these characters are amoral ghouls. Neither of them has a real name and they have no qualms about murdering other people or even each other to get their next fix. Needless to say, the vast majority of addicts do not behave like this. The worst crimes linked to crystal meth usually involve psychosis or hallucinations, but the show portrays the couple as suffering from withdrawal symptoms but basically sane.

Finally, I really dislike that the addicts have a cute little kid in their dilapidated house. Child neglect is a serious problem that can be aggravated by drug use, but the writers didn’t introduce this character to highlight an important issue – they are using him as a prop to manipulate the audience’s emotions. You could replace the boy with a puppy or even a teddy bear and very little about the plot would change. The writers were too busy writing an elaborate fantasy about drug-fueled monsters threatening our protagonist to comment on a real societal issue, and they are capable of so much more than this.

Odds and Ends

  • Aaron Paul received an Emmy nomination for this episode and while I think his performance in Season 2 deserves recognition, this rancid story?!
  • The bodega clerk who was murdered by Spooge2 and his partner during the ATM robbery is the same man who helped pull the RV out of a ditch in Cat’s in the Bag… (Series 1, Episode 2).
  • Walter shares an anecdote with his class about H. Tracey Hall, a researcher for GE who found a new process for making diamonds and received a $10 saving bond in return. The implication is that Walt is another genius who didn’t get what he deserved. However, Walt left out some important details. Hall eventually received a patent for inventing a different hydraulic press and founded several successful companies – he died a wealthy and well-respected man!
  • When Gretchen confronts Walter about his lies3, he becomes extremely defensive and accuses her of “(building) your little empire on my work”. I don’t see any other way to interpret this scene except Walt making excuses for his own failures. He broke up with Gretchen because he felt emasculated by her family’s wealth; he is constantly alienating the people around him. He alone squandered his potential.
Pictured: A man who is definitely not projecting his own inadequacies onto the people around him in order to protect his own ego.
  • This episode is especially depressing because the show will have so many better portrayals of drug addiction in the future – I even think the junkies in Cornered (Series 4, Episode 6) are better characters than this!

Negro y Azul (S2E7)

Hank has been promoted to the El Paso office but struggles in his new role. Back in Albuquerque, Skyler gets a job and Jesse gets to know Jane.

Another episode that tries to comment on the violence of the drug trade and while it still has problems, it’s much better than the preceeding one. The show starts with a narcocorrido4, a sub-culture of music that is popular in Northern Mexico and celebrates the exploits of the drug cartels. Gilligan learned of the genre’s existence while doing research for the show and decided to commission his own version for Breaking Bad. The final product is performed by Los Cuates de Sinaloa, a real band that is named after the Sinaloa cartel, one of the most powerful crime syndicates in Mexico. It’s a great little song and I highly recommend taking a few minutes out of your day to listen to it.

But that homie’s already dead ♪ He just doesn’t know it yet... ♪

There is a lot to like about this sequence. It highlights the role of Mexican cartels in producing and distributing methamphetamine, a role that only became more prominent after CMEA was passed in 2005, making it harder to produce the drug inside the United States.5 It also foreshadows the violence that is going to occur as Walt pressures Jesse to expand their operations – you can’t compete with other criminals for an extremely lucrative market and not expect resistance.

That said, I’m not sure I approve of the final verse, which claims that New Mexico now lives up to its name because of “all the drugs it’s hiding” and how Walter is the “gringo” equivalent of a cartel boss. There is a long and ugly history of the US border being treated as a barrier protecting pure Americans from the vice and contamination of Mexico and its inhabitants. Gilligan wrote the lyrics to this song and while I don’t think he is racist, the show has a bad habit of portraying Walt as a white patriarch menaced by non-white deviants. If the show wants to discuss race, it needs to do it more delicately than this.


After the opening teaser, the episode becomes quite unfocused, bouncing between various subplots. Jesse bonds with next-door neighbour Jane over their shared love of art – a cute scene that reminds the audience of Jesse’s more wholesome talents and what he has lost by becoming a drug dealer. However, I think Hank’s time in El Paso is the most interesting segment.

Jesse looks at Jane’s tattoo design

I appreciate that the writers decided to put Hank in a situation where his machismo and casual racism is seen as a weakness, not a strength. He is also mocked behind-his-back for not being able to speak Spanish. The writers seem to be suggesting that even though we have seen Hank perform some good detective work, he isn’t a particularly experienced or important cop. Perhaps by portraying Hank in this way, they are trying to recontextualise the insecurity Walter sometimes feels about his more successful brother-in-law? It remains to be seen whether the writers will explore this theme more in the future.

Unfortunately, I do think that the scenes in El Paso are rather underdeveloped. Hank is made to feel incompetent but none of his new colleagues give him an induction or brief him before the Tortuga interrogation. The El Paso agents were also stupid enough to pick up a decapitated head delivered to them by a Mexican cartel without considering that it might be a trap. Meanwhile, Hank (despite suffering from a PTSD flashback) manages to save a colleague from bleeding out by applying a tourniquet to their leg. The messaging seems confused.

It says “Hola DEA” on it! Why would you pick it up!?

Still, this isn’t a bad episode. The performances are good, the special effects are great, and it effectively introduces Mexican cartels as potential antagonists.6 It is another step on the road to Walter building a drug empire.

Odds and Ends

  • In the last episode, Gretchen told Skyler that she and her husband couldn’t “pay” for Walter’s treatment anymore. This is clearly one reason why Skyler contacted Ted Beneke and resumed her old job of bookkeeper, but it also gives her an independent source of income at a time when Walt is becoming increasingly abusive.
  • It was absolutely infuriating trying to find any background information on Danny Trejo’s guest appearance. The first season of Breaking Bad was critically acclaimed but its viewing figures were quite modest, so this isn’t like Ed Sheeran turning up in Game of Thrones. The best source I could find was an interview on the Rich Eisen Show, where Trejo says that the writers contacted him – apparently he was won over by the idea of his severed head placed on top of a tortoise.
  • I think this is the first episode where cinematographer Michael Slovis has matched the camera work of Season 1. The narcocorrido sequence is obviously excellent, but I was also impressed by the lighting in Jesse’s apartment when he is hiding away from the outside world – reminiscent of the bars of a cage, it really adds to the atmosphere of the scene.
See what I mean?
  • I appreciate that the writers established bookkeeping as one of Skyler’s talents. It lays the groundwork for her decision to help launder Walt’s earnings – a desperate attempt to protect the family when it becomes clear that her husband will not stop selling drugs.

Please use spoiler tags in the comments, as some Avocadians are watching Breaking Bad for the first time