Warning: The recap for the “Gloves Off" episode of Better Call Saul contains storyline and character spoilers.
In which Mike fails to break bad, and the consequences of Jimmy’s actions make you wonder if maybe Chuck McGill isn’t a total bad guy after all.
Mike Ehrmantraut arrives home, throws an envelope of cash on the table — hundred dollar bills spill out — and grabs a beer from the fridge. Then he opens the freezer and takes out a bag of crinkle cut carrots, which he puts on his face. When he sits on his couch and takes the bag away, his face is revealed to be a bloody mess, with one eye so swollen and bruised that it has slammed shut. In his hands: a pair of silver, bejeweled boxing glove charms on a chain.
Wonder what the other guy looks like.
Like You’re the Wright Brothers
As Cliff Main had demanded when he found out about Jimmy’s TV commercial, Jimmy is showing the clip to Cliff and his partners, Cordova and Lynton, the next day at the Davis & Main offices. No one’s impressed by Jimmy’s film work or his decision to run the commercial without their consent, as Cordova tells him. Jimmy says the ad cost just $647 to make and $700 to air, and has resulted in nearly 300 calls from potential clients after just one airing. His “experiment,” he says, was a success.
“You keep using the word ‘experiment’ like you’re the goddamn Wright Brothers,” Cliff says.
Jimmy continue to try to defend the spot, which Cliff and the partners tell him would damage their reputation with other clients, clients who, unlike the Sandpiper case, actually keep the lights on at the white shoe firm. “Suffice it to say there’s not a lot of love for you in the room at the moment,” Cliff says. In fact, the other two partners want to fire Jimmy, but Cliff believes in second chances.
“But know this is both strike one and strike two,” Cliff tells him. “Going forward, you can expect a great deal more scrutiny.”
Jimmy walks out of the dressing down without saying a word, neither an apology nor words of gratitude to Cliff for keeping him on at Davis & Main.
He hurries to his office to call Kim, as he wants to warn her that she needs to call him before she talks to Howard. Too late…
Caught Flat Footed
Howard, Chuck, and Kim are sitting in the conference room at HMM. Chuck says nothing, but looks at Kim with judge-y eyes throughout the tense meeting. Howard, on the other hand, has lots to say. He wants to know if she knew about Jimmy’s TV commercial? Oh, she did? Then why didn’t she tell him about it, warn him? She says she didn’t think it was necessary.
“You were wrong about that,” he tells her. “We were caught flat footed in front of our co-counsel, which, I don’t need to tell you, does not reflect well on HHM or on you.” He dismisses her, and Kim leaves without saying another word, without trying to defend herself, without telling Chuck and Howard that Jimmy made it seem to her like Cliff Main had signed off on the commercial and was pleased with its results.
After hours that day, Jimmy shows up at the HMM offices and knocks on the door until a janitor lets him in. He goes to Kim’s office, only to find it’s been cleared out. A member of the cleaning staff tells him Kim’s still there, and he finds her in “the cornfield,” a big, poorly-lit room in which she’s been assigned to perform the dreaded doc review. Jimmy apologizes right away, but then slips right into trying to justify his commercial project, and takes it one step further and blames Howard for the mess he caused.
“I told you this would happen,” she matter-of-factly tells him.
Jimmy: “[Howard] can’t blame you for this.”
Kim: “I warned you he would.”
Jimmy then says he’s going to talk to Howard. “And what, call him a pigf–ker again?” Kim says. Jimmy insists he’s going to talk to him that night.
“No! I’m not asking you, I’m telling you!” Kim says. “If you go to Howard, you and I, we’re done.”
“So we’re not done now?” he asks. She explains she’s about 40 hours worth of work behind, and asks him to leave.
He tells her again he’s sorry, in the most sincere reaction to the commercial consequences he’s displayed yet.
The Brothers McGill
Feeling guilty and forbidden from talking to Howard, Jimmy heads to Chuck’s. He’s furious when he throws his cell phone and keys in the mailbox, but that’s tempered when he lets himself into his brother’s house and finds Chuck, wrapped in a foil blanket, having some sort of physical meltdown on the couch. Jimmy gets him water and an extra foil blanket, and after Chuck refuses to go to the hospital, Jimmy stays overnight, sleeping in a living room chair, to watch over him.
The next AM, Jimmy tells Chuck he scared him the previous night, and Chuck explains it “happens sometimes,” usually when he spends too much time at the HMM offices. Immediate health crisis aside, that’s Jimmy’s opening to delve into what he originally came there for, to ask Chuck why he’s using Kim to get to Jimmy. Chuck denies making the decision to reassign Kim to doc review, and when Jimmy says he knows Howard did Chuck’s dirty work, Chuck tells him, “If Howard were my puppet, he certainly wouldn’t have recommended you to David & Main.”
Jimmy goes on to explain Kim didn’t know he hadn’t gotten Cliff’s OK to run the commercial, and that she wouldn’t have made him look bad by telling Chuck and Howard that in her own defense, but Chuck says, at the least, the situation still shows she has bad judgment in trusting Jimmy.
Jimmy, while pleading for Kim to be reinstated to her old job duties and her office, also refuses to acknowledge he did anything wrong with the commercial, which frustrates Chuck, who tells him he always thinks the end justifies the means, then is “forever shocked when it all blows up in your face.”
“You broke the rules. You turned Kim into your accessory,” Chuck tells him. “You embarrassed Howard, who, God help him, inexplicably vouched for you with Cliff Main, you made Cliff and his partners look like schmucks, shall I go on? How he hasn’t fired you for this positively mystifies me… You’re my brother, and I love you, but you’re like an alcoholic who refuses to admit he’s got a problem. Now someone has given you the keys to the school bus, and I am not gonna let you drive it off a cliff.”
Jimmy’s unmoved by Chuck’s words, and instead offers a deal: He’ll quit Davis & Main, and take the “chimp with a machine gun” out of the law profession, forever, if Chuck will see to it that Kim’s job situation reverts to what it was before the TV commercial. “Life is not one big game of Let’s Make a Deal,” Chuck says, but Jimmy says that’s exactly what it is. Chuck refuses to go along with the proposal, saying it would be tantamount to extortion.
Chuck: “You want me to commit a felony? Because that’s what you would do, right? Because you wanna believe that deep down, I’m some hypocrite.”
Jimmy: “Let’s find out! Come on down, roll around in the dirt with me! All your dreams will come true! Come on! Do it!”
Chuck: “I am not the bad guy here. You don’t wanna be a lawyer? That’s between you and the New Mexico State Bar. You wanna 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, it’s an hours drive to Santa Fe. Even if you leave right now, you’re still gonna be at least 20 minutes late for work.”
A Tuco Problem
The backstory on the bloodied Mike: Nacho wants Mike to kill Tuco, who, in addition to his usual brand of crazy, becomes even more dangerous when he uses his own product. Nacho relates how he once got high and shot a guy, a guy he liked, in the head. Nacho was standing right behind the guy, and now has a piece of that dude’s skull embedded in his shoulder. So, yeah, when Mike asks if Nacho’s sure he wants to take out his partner, Nacho is sure, especially since Tuco just started using crystal meth.
Nacho proposes Mike assassinate Tuco when he leaves El Michoacano, the Mexican restaurant where Nacho and Tuco meet with their dealers to pick up their profits every Tuesday. Mike considers it — the $50,000 Nacho is offering would go a long way towards getting Kaylee and Stacey out of their dangerous neighborhood — and he even meets with a gun dealer to secure a weapon. Ultimately, he decides not to buy a gun and not to kill Tuco; he has another suggestion for dealing with Nacho’s Tuco problem.
On the day Tuco and Nacho are holding their profit pickup meetings, Mike uses a pay phone across the highway from El Michoacano to call the cops. He says there’s a fight going on at the restaurant, “looks to be some sort of gang thing,” and that one of the men has a gun.
Then Mike drives over to the restaurant, making sure to nick Tuco’s prized car (yes, the rims spin), when he parks. Mike walks in and orders, blowing a calm Tuco off when he confronts him about hitting his ride. Mike pays for his food, revealing he has a few hundred dollar bills in his wallet, and leaves, and an increasingly no longer calm Tuco follows him. Tuco threatens Mike, Mike offers to swap insurance, and when Tuco demands cash instead, Mike says he has none. But Tuco saw his wallet inside, and after he swipes it, he’s going to let Mike go. Tuco has already told Nacho to bounce when sirens started blaring nearby, and he plans to let Mike go, too. But when the cops are within sight, Mike grabs Tuco’s shirt and won’t let go. He begins hitting Mike, telling him to let go of him, but Mike won’t. He eggs Tuco on as Tuco starts whaling on his face, and by the time cops pull up, and get out of their squad car, Mike has manipulated Tuco into doing enough damage to his face that Tuco, with Mike’s wallet in his pocket and a gun in his pants, will likely get a five-to-ten-year stretch in jail.
Nacho’s cool with the results, but tells Mike Tuco will be looking for him when he gets out. He also wants to know why Mike would go through all this, for just half the money, when he could have taken care of Tuco permanently, with much less effort and pain. “Just sayin’, you went a long way to not pull that trigger,” Nacho says. “Why?”
Mike doesn’t answer. He just drives away with Nacho’s $25,000 payment, and a chain, ripped from Tuco’s neck in the fight, that holds two bejeweled boxing glove charms.
* There are a pair of cool Breaking Bad Easter eggs in “Gloves Off.” First, the great Jim Beaver pops in as Lawson, the gun seller who Mike considers buying a weapon from. Lawson is the same guy who sold that M60 to Walter White in Breaking Bad, the one Walt used to save Jesse and wipe out Uncle Jack and Todd in the BB series finale. We also meet Krazy-8 (Max Arciniega), who’s selling drugs for Tuco and Nacho, and who is rather good at it. But we know it all goes down the drain — of a bathtub — for Krazy-8 and his cousin Emilio when they cross new partners Jesse and Walt in the first season of Breaking Bad.
* There were hints throughout Breaking Bad that Mike may have been a member of an elite military squad, and during his meeting with Lawson in “Gloves Off,” we get more. First, Mike seems especially familiar with a gun Lawson says is favored by Marine snipers, then when Lawson mentions a drawback of one of the guns, Mike says he wishes that issue had been fixed before they “sent it into the jungle.” Is Mike a Vietnam vet?
Let’s hear your feedback, Saul fans: Did Kim’s job woes, caused by Jimmy’s commercial plot, have you sympathizing with what Chuck told Jimmy about not acknowledging how his actions affect those around him? Do you think Mike was right to spare Tuco’s life, or did he just take one of the “half measures” he warns Walter White against in the future?
Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on AMC.