“You Went a Long Way to Not Pull That Trigger”
It’s easy to forget that despite the show being titled Better Call Saul, this series is as much an origin story for Mike as it is for Jimmy McGill. Last season expanded upon his background for an entire episode in “Five-O” to great effect, ditching our “main” character entirely. “Gloves Off” goes for a similar approach, filling in another important part of Mike’s life pre-Breaking Bad, while keeping Jimmy’s story in a tense holding pattern.
If there’s one point “Gloves Off” got across, it was that there’s still much more to Mike we don’t know. His decision to find an alternative to killing Tuco is a complicated one that the episode carefully explains to us. Initially he takes on the job with cool efficiency. He disregards all of Nacho’s planning for a simple rifle shot from cover. It’s not until he goes to pick out a rifle that he begins to rethink things.
The revelation that Mike is a Vietnam veteran isn’t all that surprising, but it’s an important detail that reframes everything we know about him. Is he trying to avoid killing someone because of his experience in the war? Potentially. However, we know he eventually becomes a hitman for Gus, so we know something else has to give later down the line.
Either way, anyone who watched Breaking Bad (let’s be honest, most of you have) knew that Tuco was going to live somehow. Yet, that made the entire sequence all the more entertaining. Watching Mike play the clueless old man was hysterical, but the scene never lost any of its tension thanks to Tucos downright intimidating demeanor. He’s that bully everyone grew up with x1000. We don’t need Nacho’s story about how he blasted a dealer named Dog to understand how crazy he is. The tweaked up Tuco we knew and loved-to-hate from Breaking Bad is very much here in full form.
Speaking of bullies, Jimmy’s best scene this week came from his heated interaction with his brother Chuck. There’s a part of Jimmy that still feels compassionate towards his brother, as evidenced by how he took care of him during the night. That compassion was shattered the following morning when Jimmy attempts to extract the real reason Kim was punished for his actions. He wants to know: if he quits being a lawyer, will Kim be left alone? We know that’s the deal Chuck wants to hear. Nothing would make him happier, but for uh, legal reasons, he can’t say it outright. We almost saw the birth of Saul Goodman right here – a fully resigned Jimmy McGill who is ready to throw his entire life away to helping two-bit clients hide their money.
Bob Odenkirk did an especially great job this week, both in turning from tender to resentful with Chuck to highlighting the disconnect between him and Davids & Maine. His commercial stunt didn’t necessarily have a major impact on his career, yet, but it did damage his relationship with Kim. I’m unsure whether to interpret her comment to him about them being “finished” as a couple, or finished with their jobs. Either way, the cost of her job would certainly spell doom for their relationship.
Jimmy seems oblivious to the fact that he can harm other people with his actions, which is a very Saul Goodman thing to do. Not only has he put Kim’s reputation in jeopardy, but he is completely out of tune with the image Davis & Maine were building. His actions have nothing to do with the amount of clients or money he’s bringing in (he even used his own voice to save a few bucks!). It has to do with his inability to work as a team, his desire to constantly get ahead, and his rogue DIY nature that has gotten him through most of his life.
Contrast this with the actions of Mike this week, who seems fully conscious over not only what he’s doing, but the repercussions of his actions beyond immediate results. He knows killing Tuco would draw the attention of the Salamancas. It’s not only something he’d want to avoid getting involved with himself, but it could also mean the end of Nacho. Beyond moral reasons, he can’t help his sister-in-law move to a different location with the cartel snooping around him and his family.
Ultimately, watching these two characters come together will prove to be the highlight of the season. We’ve seen what happens when the two work together before, but how long until they have a more robust relationship? Mike is a great fixer because he sweats the small stuff, even if it means taking a beating himself. Jimmy has the bravado to sell and talk his way out of anything, often at the detriment to those around him. “Gloves Off” helped each character take a major step forward towards becoming the Mike and Saul we knew before, which is both an exciting and terrifying prospect.
Odds & Ends:
- I haven’t talked too much about the technical side of things this season, but that simple shot of Kim’s phone in the electronics bin struck terror in all the right places. Such an effective shot.
- That was Krazy-8 sitting through Tuco’s “lie detector” test! If only he knew what was coming.
- So is it safe to say this takes place 5-10 years before Breaking Bad, based on Tuco’s jail time? Unless he somehow escapes.
- Kim called Howard a pig-fucker. A PIG-FUCKER. FUCKER. SEE? AMC THIS IS PRIME TIME TELEVISION. WE’RE ALL ADULTS STOP CENSORING YOUR SHOWS. PIG-FUCKER PIG-FUCKER PIG-FUCKER.
- Fuck Chuck.