Welcome back, Better Call Saul fans. Time to find out some things. Like Mike’s ultimate interpretation of Nacho’s no good, very bad idea from the end of last week’s episode. Like Cliff’s interpretation of Jimmy’s no good, very bad (but very effective) idea, in the form of his Sham-gela Lansbury ad. Like Kim’s interpretation of Jimmy’s latest interpretation of a good legal idea. Like Chuck’s ability to prove a point.
We open “Gloves Off” in the dark, with a weary Mike returning to his sparse apartment. He throws a large sum of cash on the table — significant, given last week’s aforementioned interaction with Nacho — and heads for the fridge. Mike cracks a beer, takes a sip, then opens the freezer. Healthy choices abound! Sliced carrots! Frozen spinach! But it would appear Mike needs the veggies for a reason that has nothing to do with making healthy choices. Holding the carrot pack to his face, he sits for a minute, then lowers it to reveal the bruised, stitched and swollen mass that is the left side of his mouth, and his left eye and cheek. Youch! However he scored the cash, it certainly wasn’t easy.
But he did come home with a trophy besides the cash: A pair of small, diamond encrusted boxing gloves on a necklace-length chain. Tuco’s back in the picture. And Ehrmentraut lived to tell the tale.
Faux Lansbury is back, too, doing her persuasive thing on the TV screen in Clifford Main’s office, where the nonplussed partners are getting their first load of Jimmy’s ad. Yes, he used his own voice. But yes, it only ran once. In a little, teeny market. That’s how he could carry out his “experiment” on the cheap.
Cliff says the issue isn’t money. It’s about the firm’s rep. And Jimmy’s liberties. Exuberance is no excuse for keeping the partners in the dark. Yeah, says Jimmy … but over 200 phone calls. Win! Er, win. Win … right?
Well, he can keep his job, so there’s that. But Cliff was the only partner who voted to give Jimmy a second chance — and the ad was strike one and two. Learn to blend around here, brother. Sandpiper is hardly the firm’s bread and butter.
Realizing the ripples, Jimmy tries to call Kim, but he gets no answer. That would be because Kim’s phone — along with her other Chuck-troubling items — are in a plastic bin, while she undergoes an inquisition from a smug Chuck and tense Howard over what she knew about the ad. She says yes, Jimmy showed her the ad … but they do not get her to slip that her heart may have overruled her head on this one. She says she just didn’t think the ad was a problem at the time.
Kim is excused. Chuck asks Howard’s next move. Howard just sighs.
Time to find out how Mike got the salami face. He and Nacho are across the street from a Mexican eatery that is apparently where Tuco prefers to do business. Always on a Tuesday. And they always sit facing the parking lot, so Tuco can keep an eye on his beloved ride. Tuco also has his own particular brand of lie detector test: When his dealers come in to square up, Tuco stares them down. Sometimes 5-10 minutes straight. Takes hours to get through the ranks. But afterward is when Mike will earn his cash. See, Nacho always gets in his car, Tuco gets in his own and they go their separate ways. Except this time, Mike will pull up along side Tuco and take him out with a couple pops to the head. The cartel will blame the dealers.
Too visible, says Mike. Too much potential for disaster. Besides, is Nacho sure he wants to kill his partner? “That’s a bell you don’t unring,” the older man advises. Mike should know.
Nacho has a little story.
One time, back in ’96-97, Tuco developed a taste for the cheap crank they were peddling with a biker gang. Their contact was a little dude, guy named Dog. One day, Dog didn’t pass a cranked-up Tuco’s lie detector test … a day that Tuco had a sawed-off shotgun on hand. Nacho still has pieces of Dog’s skull embedded in his chest. “Not the kind of thing you go to the doctors for,” he notes. Sickest thing he ever saw. And the thing was, Tuco liked Dog. Felt real bad about it after.
But the point is, now he’s using crystal meth instead of the entry-level stuff. Imagine what he’ll do on that.
Mike says he’ll do the job sniper-style, then. For 50K.
Jimmy arrives after hours at HHM and Just Waldo lets him in when he fibs that he’s fetching stuff for Chuck. He’s really looking for Kim. He finds her, back in the basement “cornfield” where she first began, relegated to documents review. Stung, Jimmy says it makes no sense to punish her for something he did, at an entirely different firm, but she — and we — know it makes perfect sense. If anyone can get through to Jimmy, it is Kim. And if anything can wound him enough to change his ways, it’s seeing his girl wounded, too.
Kim keeps her eyes on her paperwork and her voice calm and low — until Jimmy says he’s going to Howard in protest. He’ll even do it yet tonight, so there. Kim finally meets his eyes. “No!” she thunders. “I’m not asking you. I’m telling you. If you go to Howard, you and I — we’re done.”
Jimmy gets a message, if not the message.
“So we’re not done now?” he stammers. Oh Jimmy. But I rest my case: Ruining this girl would — will? — ruin him.
Kim tells Jimmy that she needs this job, she’s days behind on her busy work and she needs for him to go.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers.
But he doesn’t go home. Instead, he heads for Chuck’s, still taking care — inspite of himself — to rid himself of his cell before he barges in. There, we learn how Chuck fares after his little outings to HHM. Or at least how he’d like Jimmy to believe that he does.
Big brother McGill is on his sofa under his foil blanket, trembling and grunting like a frightened animal. Jimmy fetches him water and an extra blanket and hoists him up to drink. They sit in silence.
Meanwhile, Mike is gun shopping with a jean-jacket clad smarty who clearly knows his way around an illegal weapon and how to keep it untraceable. It’s quite the lesson. The last rifle, an M-40, is the same sort used by Marine snipers since 1966. The seller notices Mike is familiar with the gun. Mike wearily agrees that he is. The pair lament the wood version’s shortcomings, especially in humidity and the sun. “Someone should have figured that out before they sent it into a damned jungle,” says Mike, swabbing his prints from the weapon.
He leaves without a piece. The guy seems pretty sure he’ll be back.
Back at Chuck’s, the elder McGill wakes from a nap and notices that Jimmy’s still there. Chuck says he could use some tea and Jimmy dutifully makes it. Tells Chuck he scared him pretty good. Then takes him to task for Kim’s shoddy treatment. Chuck protests that it’s Howard’s decision, not his.
Jimmy lobs some classic Jimmy-isms:
Tell me, when Howard was making his management decisions, was he sitting on your knee with your arm up his ass? (Sorry, fellow visual types!)
Can he talk when you drink a glass of water?
Chuck retorts that if Howard were his puppet, he never would have recommended him to Davis & Main. Jimmy says that if Chuck’s mad at him, he should take it out on him. Not her. Chuck says not everything revolves around Jimmy. Kim didn’t look out for her firm’s interest and that’s a punishable offense. Jimmy says Kim couldn’t do that when she didn’t know there was anything amiss.
Chuck basically escorts Jimmy into tidily admitting that he can’t handle the details of practicing law and that a jurist who can — and did — is being punished for that. Then he goes in for the kill: Kim still shows lack of judgment for believing in Jimmy at all.
Jimmy protests that the ad worked and says that what is really needed here is a dab of perspective. Chuck says that in the case of the law the ends do not always justify the means. Jimmy broke the rules. He turned Kim into an unwitting accessory. He embarrassed HHM and Cliff and his partners, too. And that’s just the start.
“You want perspective?” Chuck concludes. “I’ll give you mine. You’re my brother. And I love you. But you’re like an alcoholic who refuses to admit he has a problem.” He has no intention of letting Jimmy drive the school bus off a cliff. Or into a Clifford.
Jimmy doesn’t want to talk about this. How does he get Kim her standing back at HHM?
“Life’s not one big game of Let’s Make A Deal,” snarls Chuck.
“Yes, it is!” howls Jimmy. And he’s Monty Hall! So if Chuck wants to Jimmy to quit the law, he will. If it will get Kim back in good standing.
Always the rules guy, Chuck points out that impeding his own employee’s career for the sake of compelling Jimmy to do something against his will — AKA disbar himself — it would constitute extortion. And he wouldn’t do that — even if Jimmy never said a thing. — because it is a felony. And Chuck is no hypocrite. Jimmy snorts.
“I am not the bad guy here,” says Chuck, taking a seat. “You want to quit the law, that’s between you and the New Mexico state bar. You want to quit Davis & Main, be my guest! You clearly don’t need any help from me to tank your career — you’re doing just fine on your own.”
Speaking of which. Jimmy’s going to be late to work. And this ain’t no client outreach.
Back at their meeting place, Mike informs Nacho that no amount of money is worth killing Tuco. Besides, it doesn’t solve his real problem. A dead Tuco would draw Salamancas like flies. The cartel will take notice. And Nacho’s secret won’t hold up.
Nacho says well something has to happen. And he’s not cooperating with the authorities, because he’s no snitch. Mike has a plan. No talking to the cops, no doing time … and Nacho’s Tuco problem goes away.
Cut to the El Michoacano, where they very proudly serve tortas and menudo. Outside, Tuco’s spinning hub caps do their thing, while, inside, he does his at the customary table, Nacho at his side and diamond-encrusted boxing gloves gleaming around his neck . We witness the lie detector (I confessed a dozen things — like I’m scared to try menudo — to my coffee cup in the process), and the dealer emerges unscathed, even though Tuco’s openly tweaking.
Outside, Mike puts on his best Grandpa Mike voice and places a call at from a phone booth. He’d like to report a fight. Looks like a gang thing. He’s just a passer-by … doesn’t want to get involved.
Then he does. Seated behind the wheel of a beater, he pulls into the restaurant parking lot, tapping Tuco’s bumper just a little as he does. Tuco’s ride shudders gently. Tuco stays stock-still. Oopsie!
Mike strolls past the pair and heads for the takeout counter. Tuco appears behind him. Nacho plays his part. Mike says he’s sorry, turns back to the cashier and displays a wallet full of hundreds. He pays ten bucks for his six-dollar dinner, then heads outside, Tuco and Nacho trailing behind.
It’s a tour de force performance on all accounts. Mike says the damage will buff right out, but if Tuco demands retribution, he has great insurance and they will handle it. If he doesn’t want to handle it via the appropriate channels, well, all Mike has on him is 20 or 30 bucks. Tuco demands the cash he saw when he peeked over Mike’s shoulder inside. Mike says it’s his Social Security money, all he has to live on for the month, and he certainly isn’t about to give it to them.
Tuco snatches his keys, demands his wallet again and Mike repeats, much less grandfatherly this time, that Tuco isn’t getting a damned thing. Tuco flashes his piece. Mike hands him the wallet. But Tuco would like to belabor the point. Why would an old dude risk his life for 400 bucks? Nacho interrupts to draw attention to approaching sirens and Tuco excuses him.
When Nacho pulls away, Tuco tells Mike he’s lucky and turns to leave, too, but Mike grabs him by the collar — and the boxing gloves. “Let go!” hollers Tuco, drawing his gun. Mike grabs onto the building instead, even as Tuco rains down punches on his face. He holds on long enough for the cops to arrive, guns drawn.
Then he goes for an insurance policy.
“That all you got?” he sneers, his lip and nose gushing blood. Tuco looks back for the briefest of moments, laughs maniacally and it’s lights out for Mike.
Afterward, he meet ups with an impressed Nacho. Mike won’t have to testify because the cops witnessed Tuco committing a felony. Five to ten for Tuco. Twenty-five thousand for Mike. But Nacho’s curious. Why not do the world a favor, make twice the cash and not have to worry about what happens when Tuco gets out?
Mike just turns and walks away.
So what say you, Saul fans? Are you starting to see Chuck’s point? Will James McGill, Esq. quit the law — to rise again as Saul Goodman? Will Kim and Jimmy mend fences, or is this the beginning of the end? Are you mystified by Mike’s actions, even if he’s a haunted man? Is this how Sneaking Pete gets his cell mate? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
New episodes of Better Call Saul premiere Mondays at 10/9CT on AMC.