This has to be one of the most dramatic and sit-on-edge-of-seat-biting-nails episode of Breaking Bad, although there is hot competition for that category. There’s just such high drama here. Walt and Jesse have been kidnapped by the crazy enigmatic Tuco.
And the writers make us wait. Walt and Jesse and Tuco don’t even appear until more than ten minutes into the episode. How genius is that? We’re dying to know what happens, and they just draw it out, slow, a little like torture, but in a beautiful way.
Even the scenes that do involve our dynamic duo are drawn out at the start. In the teaser, where all we really get to see is Jesse’s bouncing Monte Carlo and some blood and bullet casings, the scene opens on a wide view of the landscape with its low greenery, then moves onto other odd things, including that creepy smiley face, before focusing on the car. This is another teaser that plays with time, a flash-forward to the end of the episode, but this time there’s no lingering mystery.
Then later, when we finally get back to our boys in the desert, the opening shot is the sky. Finally we see Tuco, and then realize that Walt and Jesse are in the trunk. Even in the movement when they transition from car to inside Tuco’s place, there are a lot of wide shots, then the TV, then Hector Salamanca’s face before it gets to Walt and Jesse sitting on the couch. This lingering, building the tension slowly, making us wait? It’s very effective. Tension: Threat Level Midnight.
But before all that, Hank is at work rallying the troops at the DEA. This serves a few purposes in terms of the plot. For starters, this scene restates what happened to Gonzo, and allows for Hank to establish the dangerousness of Tuco–his cartel connections, for one–and emphasize the danger that Walt and Jesse might be in. This could be especially effective if someone was just tuning in to this episode without seeing anything else, because it re-sets the scene our antiheroes are stuck in. And by putting up the picture of Tuco, it’s clear that Hank could easily recognize him, which of course, will be important later. Hank also talks about the fact that the DEA raided Tuco’s headquarters and took in a bunch of his guys, giving an indirect explanation for why Tuco might have captured Jesse and Walt. He wants to escape but not without access to the blue meth. He may have kidnapped Jesse only as a way to get to Walt. It was established in the last episode that Tuco probably doesn’t know where Walt lives, but since he has closer ties to Jesse like Skinny Pete, he probably wasn’t too hard to find. This is even further suggested when Tuco reveals that he clearly know anything about Walt’s real name or family until Walt has to empty his pockets. He wasn’t staking them out in the previous episode; this kidnapping was more of a whim.
But back to Hank for a second. It’s clear that the man really loves his job, but he does stop in the middle of a manhunt–probably something he sorta lives for, job-wise–to try to find Walt instead. On my most recent viewing of these episodes, I’ve been thinking a lot about how these people really are family to each other. They all really love each other. Even if Walt’s, “Adjusting for inflation…” reaction to Tuco’s beating No-Doze to death seems a bit off, he’s literally calculating what his family needs, accounting for college education for both of his kids, including the one that’s not born yet, living expenses, healthcare, etc. I really believe at this point, Walt’s main purpose is to help his family (though there is of course, also some darkness in how he chooses to do this and the lengths he will go to in order to provide for his family by being a meth cook). All in all, I think these characters really love each other. And Hank taking time off work to look for Walt, and how concerned everyone is about where Walt is, including Tim, the APD dude who’s there on his day off, just brought this point home.
Skyler, of course, is really worried about Walt. It’s interesting how systematic she is about looking for him. It’s like she has lists she can check off–the bank and credit card company to see if he’s used his card, the local ERs, etc. Her ability to cross i’s and dot t’s may come in handy in future.
Tuco asks Walt and Jesse if he can trust them, which brings back Jesse’s words from the previous episode, when he said that Tuco was considering whether or not he can trust them, and then asks Walt, “What happens when he decides no?” Uh oh. Also, notice that Jesse follows Walt’s lead. When Walt stands, Jesse stands. When Walt sits, Jesse sits. And it’s clear that Tuco only really needs Walt.
“So you’re gonna ice Gonzo, future tense?” Jesse asks when Tuco implies he thinks Gonzo ratted on him. It’s kinda funny that Jesse, for all his seeming stupidity at times, knows his grammar (there is a point, I think in earlyish Season Three, where he yells “Plural bitch!”) and yet that strikes me as somehow real. Jesse grew up in a middle-class family that obviously valued academic achievements (remember his brother Jake and all his awards?) so if I had to guess at Jesse’s past, he probably started out okay, school-wise, and grew to be more of a badass petty criminal druggie dropout type as he got older, and that’s when he slacked off, didn’t apply himself, learned zero chemistry (as we’ll see later). But the point is, Jesse has some smarts underneath it all.
Anyway, this talk of Gonzo and Tuco offing him future tense leads to one of my favorite exchanges in the episode.Jesse: Yeah man, I’d waste him too.
Tuco: Shut up.
Tuco mentions his cousins. Tuco mentions a Mexican superlab. Were these little moments sprinkled in on purpose to be used later, or did they just create opportunity later? And when it comes down to it, Walt fights for Jesse when Tuco is fixing to shoot Jesse. Walt stands up (Jesse doesn’t this time) and says that he needs Jesse. These two are starting to become like family too. And maybe they should’ve worked better on their ricin-meth pitch in the last episode because Jesse’s thinking on the fly and saying the secret ingredient is his old calling card, chili P, doesn’t fly with Tuco.
Meanwhile, back at the White house, Hank and Marie discuss Walt’s disappearance and Marie lets slip about the second cell phone Walt must have. I always sort of thought (trying to say this w/o giving away anything of the future episodes) that Marie might figure out Walt’s secret identity as Heisenberg before anyone else. She’s suspicious of him. She doesn’t think it’s an affair that Walt’s hiding. She’s the one who points out that Walt’s been lying (“He hid cancer from you for weeks”) and brings up Walt’s drug connection to Jesse. “Chemotherapy and marijuana go together like apple pie and Chevrolet,” she says. Hank is more skeptical. It seems like he really thinks Walt could be having an affair, that that’s what the second cell phone was all about.
In general, I think it’s hard to see things sometimes about family members. It’s really easy to be blind to what’s going on right in front of you. It reminds me of how I’ve known people who are really intuitive–just extremely gifted in that way–and yet almost always wrong in what they “intuit” about family members. It has something to do with being too close. And this could be a big part of why Hank doesn’t suspect Walt in any way. I also think that with family, we fall into roles, and from there it’s easy to fall into always seeing or casting other family members in those roles. One person is the jokester, someone else is the wild troublemaker, etc. In this family, Walt was the milquetoast meek one. It’s really hard to see people outside of these roles, even as they change. I think that’s another part of why Hank doesn’t see it. And lastly, how Hank sees Walt sort of reinforces his own sense of manhood. Hank’s the alpha man in the family, the badass. Walt being all mild-mannered and fearful only reinforces these roles. I don’t think that’s conscious on Hank’s part but I think it all makes it believable that Hank wouldn’t suspect Walt at all.
When Hank goes to see Jesse’s Mom, we get to hear a little bit about Walt as a chemistry teacher. He was the only one who saw some potential in Jesse in high school. It’s kind of funny because look what chemistry potential he ended up having, but it’s also kinda cool to get Walt as Teacher from someone else. And Jesse’s Mom, she wants to protect her family too, even her total screw-up son, because as soon as she learns Hank’s from the DEA she changes her tune completely, accuses Hank of not being forthright. Of course, this may set other things in motion.
Walt tries to poison Tuco’s food but Hector (“Tio”) sees him do it and tries to warn Tuco. I still wonder how they came up with the idea of this guy, struck by a stroke, who can only communicate through a bell. One of the most lasting images from this episode is, I think, when Tio has used his hand to knock over the food and then is trying to ring the bell and also point at Walt, but there’s no bell, and he’s just making the bell-ringing motion in the air.
I also like that it’s never outright stated in this episode that one ring is yes and that no rings is no. That’s clear in the context and I just like that it’s not spelled out because it wouldn’t make any sense for Tuco to spell it out. It also does heighten the tension because we’re a little unmoored from the systems going on, Tuco and Tio are just interacting, and not knowing the exact system and inferring it puts us more in the same place as Walt and Jesse.
Another thing I was thinking about is how in a lot of TV shows and movies when people are in peril together, especially when these two people are partners of some sort, they’re being all heroic and sacrificing for each other, and all you go run away and save yourself and I’ll face down the crazed gunman or whatever it is. Heroic in a way most people probably wouldn’t be in real life. Walt and Jesse aren’t doing that here. They argue about whose life is more important. Jesse says that Walt should be all sacrificial because he has “the big C” and Walt retorts. For two people in peril together, they argue a lot. I liked that, different from what we typically see, refreshing and real. And kinda raw, in a good way.
And oh Jesse. He gets really beaten up here. And this acting performance by Aaron Paul is just so…real. It’s so raw. Watching it, I really think Jesse really thinks he’s going to die. It’s heartbreaking and gut-wrenching and so, so powerful. And Walt, he steps up. Tuco’s asking him what they did and Walt, for the first time this episode, really steps into his Heisenberg voice and persona and tells Tuco about the poison, and actually does risk himself for Jesse, also giving Jesse a chance to hit Tuco with a rock. And then shoot him a minute or two later. Hank gets to show up later, and gets that look of recognition when the person he thinks is Jesse turns around and turns out to be Tuco, and to be shot already. They have their epic gun fight and then Walt and Jesse’s nemesis and drug distributor is dead.
When they hear a car pulling up, which is of course Hank, Walt says, “The cousins!” referring to the cousins Tuco said were driving up from Mexico.
The last sound in this episode is Tio ringing his bell.
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