AMC’s Better Call Saul
Season 2, Episode 4: “Gloves Off”
Directed by Adam Bernstein
Written by Gordon Smith
* For a review of the previous episode, “Amarillo” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Rebecca” – click here
With Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) in hot water with Clifford Main (Ed Begley Jr) over the Davis & Main commercial, is Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) about to feel blowback, too? And what about Nacho (Michael Mando) and his request to Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) at the end of “Amarillo”?
“Gloves Off” begins on Mike, which is always a treat. He comes home with a manila envelope filled with money. He has a nice sip of Blue Ribbon from the fridge and puts some frozen carrots on his aching face. Mike sits in his living room and rests. It’s clear there have been goings on. Likely major ones. Then in the light we see his face is beat to pieces; a swollen eye, cuts, Band-Aids. From his pocket he removes a silver chain of some sort, two diamond-studded boxing gloves on it. Very, very interesting.
Cut to Jimmy’s commercial – the black-and-white setup, the old woman in the rocking chair as she does a voice-over narration, then looks into the camera. Jimmy’s trying to show Cliff and the board what he came up with, though, nobody looks too pleased. At all. They couldn’t care less about money. They’re mostly concerned with their name being on it. It’s definitely cheesy. However, Jimmy reveals they’ve received a couple hundred phone calls. Above all else, it’s insubordination on his part. But Jimmy fights, he’s always fighting, he clearly only wants to get ahead. “We are a team at Davis & Main,” says Cliff, trying to make Jimmy understand. It’s a 2-1 vote to fire him. Except Cliff is a “fan of second chances” and that keeps him around a little while longer.
Jimmy tries to call Kim. But she’s in a meeting with Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian), and surprise, surprise – Chuck McGill (Michael McKean). They are not pleased either, with her involvement concerning Jimmy’s experimental commercial. So, yes, Kim is getting the blowback of Jimmy’s decision. It’s unclear how hard that will come at her.
So finally, back to Mike and Nacho. We’re likely going to see more of Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz), as he’s brought up in conversation by Nacho in reference to the new job for which they require Mike’s help. Special reference.
There is a plan in place. Mike gets tasked with the “headshot“, but he has lots of questions for Nacho. Mike’s a guy who likes to have everything planned, start to finish; he needs an exit plan, all the details. Yet Nacho says that’s he is there for – to iron all that out. What I love here is that Nacho sheds light on the character of Tuco, more than we’ve even seen from Breaking Bad, and we’re able to get a look behind the curtain of madness. We hear a story about Tuco killing a guy, which put a piece of the man’s skull underneath Nacho; a mark he still carries with him. So, this entire plan is a way to get Tuco up and out, as he’s getting hard into the crystal meth. But we know better, those of us Breaking Bad fans, about what happens to Tuco. What’s extremely fun to watch is how everything plays out, not knowing exactly how things end up the way they do. And regardless, Mike is in on the job for “fifty grand“, so I can’t wait to connect the events of the episode to our grim beginning.
At the office, Jimmy shows up after hours. He finds Kim’s desk wiped out, completely bare. Downstairs in one of the board rooms, she’s face down in a ton of work. Jimmy tries apologizing. But that doesn’t do a whole lot of good. He’s safe in his job for now, yet Kim has been knocked down a few pegs, taking the blame. Their relationship is fast degenerating. Every greasy move Jimmy makes puts them further apart. He wants to fight the good fight for her. Although, that’s not what she wants either. “If you go to Howard, you and I are done,” Kim explains to him. They aren’t finished just yet, but she tells Jimmy: “I need this job.”
Nevertheless, Jimmy does go to see Chuck. He’s about to go inside without checking his electronics at the door. Instead, being the dutiful brother, Jimmy deposits them loudly into the mailbox then heads inside. He finds his brother wrapped up in a foil blanket on the couch, in what looks like great pain. Something I love about Jimmy is that he hates how his brother treats him, hates the be underestimated and looked down upon, but STILL, he always helps Chuck, he looks after his older brother without question, even in times he’s incredibly aggravated with him. It’s noble. Tragic in a way, too.
Another Breaking Bad reference – Lawson (Jim Beaver), the man who got Walter White some of his heavy artillery later in the series, brings a sniper rifle for Mike to look at. They meet in another little hotel room, all hush-hush. Mike’s not too happy with the weight and size of the first one. Then he’s shown a smaller one, that might not be “a hernia with a scope on it“; excellent line. Love how the parent series bleeds into this one without feeling forced. These characters we see again, other than the main ones, are worked in organically, and provide that little thrill for fans who remember them. Finally, he finds the A-1 model of sniper rifle, one he seems to know well – this gives us an idea that Mike possibly served in the army, remarking someone ought to have figured out its complications before sending it into the “jungle“; highly suggests Vietnam. More character development, another thing I dig so much about this series.
Jimmy’s trying to talk with Chuck about Kim. The older brother denies his part in any of the nonsense happening. Chuck lays it all on Howard – “Can he talk when you drink a glass of water?” Jimmy asks. But Jimmy goes on white knighting, trying his hardest to take the full blame of his commercial fiasco. At the same time, Kim didn’t say a word about not knowing what was going on, and that shows she tried protecting him. “That‘s your problem,” Chuck tells his brother: “You think the ends justify the means.” Instead of trying to stand behind his brother at all, Chuck harps on about Jimmy being irresponsible, about his inability to take things seriously. Furthermore, Jimmy tries to make a deal with his brother. Chuck won’t admit he doesn’t want Jimmy in the law business. But the latter knows his older brother wants that: “I need to hear it from your mouth.” Essentially, Jimmy wants him to commit extortion, he simply can’t get Chuck to admit the real truth, despite anything that’s at stake.
Meanwhile, Mike doesn’t agree to the job Nacho offers. He doesn’t want to “draw Salamancas like flies” by killing Tuco and alerting the cartel. “Something‘s gotta give,” Nacho says: “With or without you.” Not trying to rock the boat hard enough to sink it, Mike suggests making Tuco “go away“, but how?
Now we get another Breaking Bad reference – Krazy-8 (Max Arciniega) meets with Tuco and Nacho, dropping off a fat roll of money. Interesting to see Krazy-8 not as the gangster he was when meeting Walter and Jesse, but a green little guy worming his way into the meth business. Again, love these characters reappearing and filling out the world of Vince Gilligan and Co.
Outside the restaurant where Tuco and Nacho conduct business, Mike waits across the street by a payphone. He puts a voice on, reporting a “gang thing” happening around the area. Perfect, slick little moment on the part of Mike; he wipes off his fingerprints before heading out. Pulling into the restaurant parking lot he dings Tuco’s car a little. On purpose, or no? Tuco’s not happy – you can also notice the diamond-studded pendant hanging from his neck. Mike gets confronted by Tuco, who calls him “Mr. Magoo” and gets angry when he thinks the old guy is calling him “a liar“, which then brings Nacho into the situation. The talk heads outside, with Mike getting more belligerent by the minute; he agrees to exchange insurance and so on. Tuco won’t be having any of that. But the further this goes, we can see Mike is playing a game. What is it? How will it play?
After things start to get a little physically intimidating, and Nacho looks more nervous by the second, Tuco brandishes his gun. Once Nacho leaves at the sound of sirens nearby, a fight starts between Tuco and Mike. The older man manages to keep himself from death, but gets a nasty beatdown. When the police show up, things finish. And Mike is able to live another day, albeit with a few nasty bumps and bruises.
Afterwards, he meets Nacho in their usual dark place. “Wow,” exclaims Nacho after seeing Mike’s face: “Look at you.” At least now Tuco will be out of commission for a while. “You went a long way to not pull that trigger,” says Nacho: “Why?” But no reply from Mike, no answer at all. Just a look, a bruised and beaten smile.
This way another excellent chapter in the series. I love that Mike Ehrmantraut gets as much of a backstory and dissection as Jimmy/Saul. Can’t wait for “Rebecca” next week. Stay tuned with me, friends and fellow fans.