- "Nobody moves crystal in the South Valley but me, bitch!"
- ―Tuco Salamanca after beating up Jesse
Tuco Salamanca was a psychotic Mexican drug kingpin, local in the Albuquerque area, who briefly became Walter White and Jesse Pinkman's meth distributor. He was the grandson of Abuelita and nephew of Don Hector Salamanca, one of the most powerful members of the Juárez Cartel. Tuco also had three cousins involved in criminal activities: Marco, Leonel and Joaquin Salamanca.
Ruthless, unpredictable, and prone to violent outbursts, Tuco nevertheless respected Walter because of his superior product, intelligence, business style, and guts. He was the main antagonist for the second half of the first season and the beginning of the second season of Breaking Bad. He also appears as a minor antagonist in seasons 1 & 2 of Better Call Saul.
Tuco is known for his erratic personality and propensity for extreme violence, making him one of the most dangerous drug dealers in New Mexico. He is shown to be capable of killing people close to him without showing remorse if they do something disrespectful on his point of view. However, Tuco shows signs of being extremely loyal to the people he truly trusts. His family is tied to the Juárez Cartel, as his uncle Tio Salamanca was one of the highest ranking members of the cartel. Tuco's cousins were also hit-men for the cartel. Tuco was trained by Tio in the art of selling and distributing meth. He groomed Tuco to eventually take his place in the organization when Tio was unable to. It is revealed that Tio treated Tuco as a son, showing how strong the bond between uncle and nephew was.
Better Call Saul
Tuco is at his grandmother's house cooking food for her when she arrives followed by the twin brothers, Lars and Cal Lindholm. They claim that Tuco's grandmother ran over one of them in her car and then tried to drive off, so they followed her home. One of the brothers call her "biznatch", which deeply offends Tuco. He calmly convinces his grandmother to go upstairs and watch her soap opera and then proceeds to beat down both brothers. As he is cleaning the blood from the floor, Tuco calls one of his goons, telling him to bring "the van." Another man knocks on the door claiming to be an "officer of the court", Tuco grabs a gun from the top of a bookshelf and forces the man inside at gunpoint ("Uno")("Mijo").
The man presents himself as a lawyer named Jimmy McGill, he tries to explain to Tuco that he received a call from his clients claiming that they had an accident. Jimmy convinces Tuco to let him and the twins go, but when he is about to cut them loose, Lars tells Tuco that the accident was all planned and it was all Jimmy's idea. Tuco and his associates, Gonzo, No-Doze and Nacho Varga take Jimmy and the twins out to the desert. Tuco tries to interrogate Jimmy to find out if he's working for the government, but Jimmy explains that he was planning a scheme to bring down one of his former clients, but the twins accidentally confused the target with Tuco's grandmother. Still not convinced, Tuco threatens to torture Jimmy, but Nacho convinces Tuco that he is speaking the truth and they decide to let him go.
Even though, Tuco still plans to torture the twins to death because of the way they disrespected his grandmother. After an intense negotiation, Jimmy manages to convince Tuco not to kill the boys, but only to break one leg of each one so he can send a message. ("Mijo").
Nacho continues working for Tuco, but eventually decides that he wants to get Tuco out of the picture, preferably by killing him. He thus hires Mike to do the job. After much discussion, they get Tuco sent to prison by orchestrating a situation where he's provoked into beating up Mike in front of police officers. ("Gloves Off").
In "Off Brand", Hector learns through a phone call that Tuco knifed another inmate and attacked a guard, ending up in solitary as a result.
After the death of Krazy 8, Tuco evidently becomes one of the most powerful and influential dealers in Albuquerque. When Walter White and Jesse Pinkman are in search of a distribution network for their meth, Jesse finds out about Tuco from Skinny Pete, who once shared a prison cell with the former. He and Jesse find themselves in Tuco's hideout with a pound of Walt's meth, believing they will be able to negotiate a deal with Tuco. Tuco's henchmen frisk Jesse and Skinny Pete, and lead them to Tuco's office. After being shown the meth, Tuco invites Jesse to snort some of the product to prove he isn't a cop, before snorting some himself off the tip of a knife. Tuco is extremely impressed by the quality of the meth and says he'll buy it on consignment. Jesse begins to realize Tuco does not wish to pay the $35,000 for the product, and Tuco threatens Jesse and Skinny Pete with a knife after Skinny Pete tries to intervene in the negotiation. Desperate, Jesse tries to book it with the meth but is stopped by Tuco's armed guards. Tuco appears to be okay with Jesse's escape attempt, even offering Jesse the $35,000 he wants "up front." He stuffs stacks of cash from his safe into a bag holds it out to Jesse, but when Jesse reaches for the bag, Tuco uses the bag to beat him into the floor mercilessly.
After Walt learns of the events that occurred in the hideout, he decides to take matters into his own hands. Arriving at the hideout, he presents himself as "Heisenberg" to Tuco. Walt gives Tuco another bag of crystals and asks for $50,000, Tuco laughs at the offer, saying that Walt is not doing the math correctly. Walt explains to Tuco that $35,000 is for the meth that Tuco stole, and another $15,000 is for Jesse's pain and suffering. Tuco realizes that Walt and Jesse are partners and then ridicules Walt for bringing him yet another pound of meth after he stole Walt's first batch. "This is not meth," Walt corrects him, as he hurls a piece of the crystal at the floor, causing an explosion and leaving the hideout in ruin -- Walter has substituted his meth with crystallized fulminated mercury. With the rest of the bag of explosive in his possession, Walt threatens to throw the entire bag and kill himself and everyone in the room. Tuco is impressed by Walt's "balls" and he tells Walt that he's won his respect and agrees to pay all of his debts, explaining that the meth he'd taken from Jesse sold better on the streets than any other product he's had. Walt then tells Tuco that he'll pay Walt and Jesse "up front" for future purposes and demands that Tuco now buy two pounds of his meth instead of one, which Tuco agrees to without hesitation ("Crazy Handful of Nothin'").
Walt and Jesse set up a meeting with Tuco in a auto junkyard. Jesse criticizes Walt for his poor choice of location to set up a meeting with a psychopathic drug dealer. Tuco and his associates, No-Doze and Gonzo arrive. Tuco also makes fun of the location choice, asking "what, is the mall closed or something?" Walt explains to Tuco that due to a "production problem," they will have to delay the delivery of the rest of the first batch. Tuco is annoyed, and as an apology Walt offers to extend his offer to four pounds. Tuco agrees but delivers a stern warning: "Talk is talk. But owing me money, that's bad."
Walt uses methylamine to deliver the amount of meth he promised in time. They meet again at the same auto junkyard and Walt delivers the first ever batch of blue meth. Tuco questions why the meth is blue, but Walt guarantees him it is as pure as their previous product. Tuco snorts some of the blue meth and approves of it, telling Walt to keep doing what he's doing and then pays Walt for the product. "We're gonna make a lot of money together," says Tuco. No-Doze then unconsciously warns Walt and Jesse to remember who they are working for. High on the meth he just snorted, Tuco screams at his associate, claiming that he is disrespecting their new partners. Walt tries to calm down the situation by telling Tuco to relax, and Tuco responds by viciously beating No-Doze's face to a pulp, even showing Walt and Jesse his bloodied knuckles as he celebrates. Tuco laughs and tells a bewildered Walt he'll see him next week as Gonzo drags No-Doze's limp body to the car, and the drug dealers drive away ("A No-Rough-Stuff-Type Deal").
Walt and Jesse are horrified after witnessing the scene, as they get in Jesse's car and are driving out of the junkyard, Tuco's car returns and blocks their path. Tuco gets out of the car and drags an unconscious No-Doze out to the floor, ordering Walt to perform a CPR to bring him back. Walt tries to explain to Tuco that CPR won't help, they need an ambulance to save the man's life. No-Doze then dies in front of them, prompting Tuco to release his rage by furiously kicking the corpse several times. He then orders Gonzo to dispose of the body, to which Gonzo says they should give his buddy a proper burial, but Tuco coldly orders him to stash the body underneath a stack of old cars. Tuco turns his attention to Walt and Jesse, dismissing the duo saying that they are "done" before violently pushing Jesse to the ground for no apparent reason. Walt and Jesse drive off from the junkyard and begin to fear that Tuco will mark them both for death because they were witnesses of Tuco murdering No-Doze. Later that day, Gonzo returns to the junkyard to retrieve No-Doze's body and give him a proper burial against Tuco's orders. As he is removing the body from under a pile of cars, the pile collapses on Gonzo's arm and he bleeds to death. The body is later found and the scene is investigated by the DEA, they find Tuco's bloody fingertips on No-Doze's body and decide to raid Tuco's hideout. Tuco left his hideout before the raid during the night, where several members of his crew were arrested. He then goes to Jesse's place and manages to kidnap him, they drive to Walt's house and trick Walt into getting in the car with Jesse, only for Tuco to point a gun at them and force them to drive to an unknown location ("Seven Thirty-Seven").
By the morning, they arrive at a cabin in the desert where Tuco lives with his disabled uncle, Tio Salamanca, who appears to have suffered from a stroke and is only able to communicate using a bell attached to his wheelchair. As he is cooking breakfast for them, Tuco orders both Walt and Jesse to give him their wallets so he could take a look at their documents, learning that "Heisenberg's" real name is Walter White. Tuco then asks Walt if he can trust him, to which Walt responds with a solid "yes" while looking Tuco in the eyes, gaining his trust. Unaware that Gonzo is dead, Tuco believes that Gonzo was the one who turned him in to the DEA and brought the raid on his hideout; he is extremely upset about it and feels betrayed, stating that he treated Gonzo like a brother. Walt and Jesse are aware that Gonzo was found dead, so they play along with Tuco so he won't think that they were the ones who ratted Tuco out. Tuco mentions his future plans, he says that he has a lot of connections south of the border, his cousins are coming to give them a lift to Mexico where Walt and Jesse will be taken to a superlab so they could "cook 24/7." He also states that, thanks to his connections, the DEA would not interfere with his business. Walt and Jesse then proceed to attempt something they were planning before being kidnapped: to poison Tuco with ricin disguised as a small bag of meth. Jesse easily convinces Tuco to snort it, but the plan ultimately fails when Jesse explains that the "meth" contains chili powder. "I hate chili powder," Tuco complains as he throws the bag away.
Tuco prepares burritos for Walt, Jesse, and his uncle. While Tuco is distracted in the kitchen, Walt attempts to sneak in the ricin into Tuco's burrito in front of Tio, who Walt and Jesse believe to be in no mental conditions to ruin their plan. But it turns out that Tio is still very aware of his surroundings, when Tuco comes back with the other burritos, Tio is able to convince Tuco not to eat his poisoned burrito. Believing Tio wanted the biggest burrito, he switches plate with his uncle, Tio then proceeds to push the poisoned burrito to the floor while staring angrily at Walt, but Tuco is unable to receive the message. Later on, as Tuco is shooting animals with an assault rifle while he waits for his cousins to arrive, Tio keeps ringing his bell to call his nephew's attention. Tuco finally asks his uncle what he wants, and Tio is able to tell Tuco that he doesn't like neither Walt nor Jesse. Walt tries to tell Tuco that Tio is in no mental conditions, but Tuco is very aware that his uncle's mind is still sharp. Tio is able to tell Tuco that Walt and Jesse are "punking" him, Tuco furiously approaches Jesse, grabs him by the shirt and drags him out of the cabin as Walt runs after them trying to calm him down. Tuco proceeds to beat down Jesse while using his assault rifle to keep Walt away.
After beating Jesse for some time, Tuco points his gun to Jesse's head and demands to know what Walt and Jesse were up to, Walt reveals that they tried to poison him because he is "an insane, degenerate piece of filth." As Tuco is distracted by Walt's comment, Jesse is able to grab a rock and strike Tuco in the head, making him drop his assault rifle. Walt manages to grab the rifle, but is unable to shoot Tuco as him and Jesse are struggling in a fight. Tuco gains the upperhand by choking Jesse while repeatedly slamming him against the ground, but Jesse is able to grab a pistol from Tuco's belt and shoots him in the stomach. With Tuco out of action, Walt and Jesse are able to make their escape. Some seconds later, Tuco manages to stand up despite his wounds and approaches Jesse's car, noticing that they left behind the assault rifle. Another car approaches the cabin. Hank Schrader, who sought to locate Jesse by tracking the location of his car, approaches Tuco believing that he was Jesse. After a brief moment of silence, Hank realizes that he is actually confronting Tuco and withdraws his gun. Tuco grabs the assault rifle and shoots at Hank in which Hank uses his car for cover. Both men run out of ammo and have to stop to reload, but Hank ultimately shoots Tuco in the head as Tuco was getting up to resume firing ("Grilled").
It is revealed that Tuco was not simply an ordinary drug dealer from Albuquerque, but he was a representative to the Ciudad Juárez Cartel north of the U.S. border. Tio Salamanca was, in fact, Don Hector Salamanca, a highly influential member and one of the most feared capos before his health deteriorated. Tuco's cousins, hitmen for the cartel, are summoned to Albuquerque to kill Walt in retribution for Tuco's death.
Murders committed by Tuco
- Dawg Paulsen: Shot in the face with a sawed-off shotgun in 1998.
- Unnamed Mexican national: Knifed in an altercation in prison in 2003.
- No-Doze: Beaten to death for "disrespecting" their new partners, Walter and Jesse.
- "This kicks like a mule with its balls wrapped in duct tape!"
- ―Tuco after experiencing Walt's methamphetamine.
- "Tight! Tight tight, yeah!"
- ―Tuco after using blue sky for the first time.
- Tuco: "TELL ME WHAT YOU DID!"
- Walter: "We tried to poison you. We tried to poison you because you are an insane, degenerate piece of filth and you deserve to die."
- —Walt's words to Tuco just before Jesse bashes Tuco in the face with a rock.[src]
- Jesse: "We got to be Tuco. Alright, cut out the middle man, run our own game."
- Walter: "So you're going to what? Snort meth off a bowie knife? You're gonna beat your homies to death when they "dis" you?"
- —Walt referencing Tuco's psychotic nature.[src]
- Tuco was the very first person to use Blue Sky.
- As the explosion racks Tuco's office, the famous "Dean Scream" by 2004 presidential candidate Howard Dean can be heard among the sound effects.
- Tuco was originally supposed to be the main antagonist of Season 2, but due to Raymond Cruz having difficulties portraying the character, he was killed off earlier than intended.
- Tuco, as a distributor of the Juarez Cartel, was loyal to Don Eladio Vuente. Coincidentally, Raymond Cruz once played a character going by virtually the same name, 'Eladio Buente', as part of the X-Files episode 'El Mundo Gira' in 1997.
- Tuco's name is likely a reference to Tuco Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez, or the Ugly, in Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Similarly to Salamanca, Ramirez is a Mexican criminal based in New Mexico.