Episode 2×04: In which everyone is pissed at Jimmy and Mike gets his ass kicked.
Episode 2×04: “Gloves Off” (written by Gordon Smith; directed by Adam Bernstein)
“Gloves Off” is my favorite episode of season 2 thus far. It’s another phenomenal Mike episode by writer Gordon Smith (who wrote season 1’s Mike-centric “Five-O”), but it’s not just a Mike story, even though it starts and ends with him. In the teaser, we see Mike coming home, grabbing a beer from the fridge and putting some frozen carrots on his face before sitting down on the couch. He’s moving slow and when he takes the bag of carrots away, we see that the entire left side of his face is wrecked—he’s bruised and bloody and his eye is swollen shut.
He’s a mess in a way we’ve not seen Mike before. Usually, Mike is the guy who gets in and gets it done. Sure, he’s taken a bullet or two, but we’ve never seen him beaten to a pulp. Then he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a familiar piece of jewelry: the gold boxing gloves from Tuco Salamanca’s necklace. The teaser is short and sweet, with no dialogue, and ends with absolutely no explanation.
We find Jimmy in his morning meeting with Cliff Main and two other partners (who IMDB tells me are a man named Lynton and a woman named Cordova). The partners are seeing the commercial for the first time and are less than impressed with Jimmy’s directorial debut. Jimmy is still trying to talk his way out of this jam but he’s only focused on the money: the commercial was cost-effective and brought in a bunch of new Sandpiper clients, therefore he did nothing wrong. He figures he’ll apologize for his “experiment” with the commercial, which only aired once, and they will be fine with it because it was a success. Of course, Cliff and the other partners don’t see it this way.
What Jimmy doesn’t understand is that, for the Davis and Main partners, the Sandpiper case is just one of many. Sandpiper is Jimmy’s entire world, professionally speaking, but that isn’t so for the rest of them. As Cordova says, “Sandpiper’s not what keeps the lights on around here.” They have other important clients who could potentially be turned off by Jimmy’s commercial (which, let’s be real, has a bit of an ambulance chaser vibe to it, although he’s not yet at Saul Goodman-level cheesiness). The partners think that Jimmy’s commercial is going to negatively affect their brand image and reputation, which is more important to them than any one case.
Jimmy has also shown them that he’s not a team player. He went behind the backs of his superiors and he’s refusing to fully acknowledge how disrespectful and unprofessional his actions were. Cliff knew when he hired Jimmy that he had been a solo practitioner and that there would likely be an adjustment period for him coming into a collaborative (and hierarchical) environment, but this commercial stunt is beyond anything Cliff could have imagined.
While Cliff is just as furious as Lynton and Cordova, who both want Jimmy fired, he believes in second chances. He tells Jimmy he has one more chance but that’s it, and the partners are going to be watching him very closely. Instead of thanking Cliff for the second chance, Jimmy just leaves the room; he doesn’t seem at all appreciative of the fact that they didn’t fire his ass on the spot, which they had cause to do. It seems like Jimmy doesn’t even care that he almost lost his job; he just seems pissed that he got chewed out. It’s clear that he still either can’t see or refuses to see that he’s actually done something wrong here.
But he does have one concern, and that’s Kim. He calls her to give her a heads up but it goes to voicemail. Jimmy is too late. Her phone is sitting in a bin outside the HHM conference room, where she is in a meeting with Chuck and Howard getting a talking to of her own. Howard is furious that Kim knew about the commercial and didn’t say anything to him about it. Jimmy’s actions made HHM look bad to the Davis and Main people—Howard especially, since he’s the one who recommended Jimmy to Cliff Main. To Howard, the fact that she didn’t tell him is a sign that she has poor judgment. Chuck isn’t saying anything, just staring at Kim with this dead-eyed look on his face.
In episode 2×03, Kim warned Jimmy that this exact thing would happen if he didn’t play by the rules, and unfortunately for Kim, she was 100% correct. Howard tells her to leave and when she’s gone Chuck asks him what he’s going to do. Howard doesn’t answer, but it’s obvious from the look on his face that there will be serious consequences for her.
Mike and Nacho meet across the street from the El Michoacano restaurant—the place where Tuco and Nacho make collections every Tuesday—and we learn that Tuco Salamanca is the guy that Nacho wants Mike to take care of. Given the fact that Mike’s face is perfectly fine in this scene, we now know that the teaser was a flash forward. That beating is still to come, and now there’s even more evidence to suggest that it comes from Tuco. Nacho has a plan, but it’s a really bad plan. Mike knows it’s a bad plan but he lets him finish before he rips it to shreds. Mike doesn’t think that killing Tuco is the way to go but Nacho is insistent.
Nacho tells Mike a story about an incident that happened in the late nineties, when they were doing business with a biker gang from Southern California. A guy named “Dog” Paulsen was their connection for cheap crank, which Tuco started using. Now, Tuco is a lunatic when he’s sober, but when he’s using drugs he’s completely crazy and erratic. Nacho tells Mike that Tuco was doing what he likes to call the “lie detector,” where he stares down an associate at a meet for a long time without speaking and tries to read their face. When he did the lie detector on Dog, he was high on crank and he thought that Dog was trying to cut him out of the business, so he shot him in the face with a sawed off. Nacho was standing behind Dog when it happens and a piece of Dog’s skull is lodged under Nacho’s skin.
This isn’t the first mention of Dog Paulsen. In Breaking Bad 2×02 (“Grilled”), everyone’s favorite DEA agent, Hank Schrader, tells the other Albuquerque agents that Tuco killed Dog in 1998 when the cartel was trying to take over the California biker gang’s crank business. [RIP, Hank.]
After Nacho tells Mike about what happened to Dog, he says that Tuco is using again, and he’s graduated from cheap crank to crystal. Nacho knows that if he finds out about his side business, Tuco will kill him just as quickly and easily as he killed Dog. Mike has a better understanding of the situation now, but he still thinks Nacho’s original plan is complete garbage. He suggests a sniper hit from a long distance and he says he can make the shot. He wants $50K for the hit but he doesn’t explicitly agree to do it. All he says is that he’ll “look into it.” He’s either having some reservations about it or he wants to do some more homework, or some combination of the two.
Jimmy goes to HHM after hours and lies his way into the building (he says Chuck needs his ink blotter, of all things). He rushes up the stairs to Kim’s office but it’s completely cleaned out, and for a moment he thinks she may have been fired, but then the custodian tells Jimmy that she’s still in the building. It’s back to the cornfields for poor Kim and Jimmy comes in all apologetic, but I find it interesting what he chooses to apologize for. He is sorry that he didn’t give her a heads up the night before, after Cliff chewed him out on the phone. At no point doe Jimmy apologize for his original lie of omission, when he showed her the commercial and made it seem like Cliff had approved it. That is the lie that put her in the cornfields, not the one from the night before. At that point, it was already too late. The commercial had aired and the damage was done.
Jimmy tells Kim that he really thought he’d be able to talk his way out of it and he still doesn’t understand why his actions at a completely different firm would affect Kim’s position at HHM. She reminds him that she told him that this exact situation would happen to her and that Howard would blame her for his actions, and she’s able to keep her cool until Jimmy starts insisting on talking to Howard. Kim knows it will only make things worse for her and it’s clear she has had enough of Jimmy doing whatever fool thing he thinks is correct with no regard for how she feels about it. She says, “I’m not asking you. I’m telling you,” and makes it clear that if he goes to Howard, their relationship is over.
Jimmy is truly shocked that she hasn’t decided to dump his ass already, and honestly so am I. Kim obviously loves Jimmy but he has lied to her multiple times, he’s a threat to her job security, and he just generally doesn’t respect her wishes. She knows that, on some level, their relationship is toxic, but she’s hanging on to the hope that maybe he will finally learn his lesson. Of course, we all know he doesn’t, but love makes you stupid and I think Kim has to believe there’s a chance Jimmy can straighten up and fly right.
So what does Jimmy do next? Exactly what Kim told him not to. Well, not exactly. He doesn’t go to Howard; he goes to Chuck. But Chuck is in no shape for conversation. He’s incapacitated on the couch, still in his suit and tie, groaning under the space blanket. This is the most severe episode Chuck has had since he was tased and hospitalized in season 1. Jimmy snaps into brother mode once he sees Chuck in pain. He brings him an extra space blanket and a glass of water and he helps him sit up so he can take a drink. It’s like the old days, before Chuck’s truth was revealed, and it is a touching reminder that even though their relationship is in shambles, Jimmy really does love and care for Chuck. They are in a very bad place, but the brotherly bond is not completely broken.
In some sketchy motel room somewhere Mike is meeting up with Lawson, the arms dealer from Breaking Bad who sold Walt his .38 snub and the M60 he uses in the series finale. Mike is looking at sniper rifles for the Tuco job and he seems particularly familiar with the M40—the rifle used by Marine snipers. This scene is full of technical gun jargon, most of which I had to Google to understand, but the most important thing to note here is that it is strongly implied that Mike is a Vietnam vet—likely a Marine sniper who used that very rifle. It’s clear from the way Mike looks at it and handles it that he has very strong memories of that particular type of rifle, and they probably aren’t happy memories. After he spends a little time with the M40, Mike tells Lawson he’s changed his mind about making a purchase.
After Chuck’s episode, Jimmy ends up spending the night at Chuck’s, watching over him. After getting Chuck some tea, Jimmy says what he came there the night before to say. He accuses Chuck of punishing Kim to get at him but Chuck denies that he had anything to do with what happened to Kim. He tells Jimmy that Howard makes all personnel decisions and that he had nothing to do with it. Jimmy doesn’t believe him for a second and he says that Howard is just his puppet, and then Chuck hits Jimmy with a pretty sick burn when he says, “If Howard were my puppet he certainly wouldn’t have recommended you to Davis and Main.” Ouch.
Chuck makes it clear that, while he wasn’t involved in Kim’s punishment, he understands why Howard did what he did; he was angry that she didn’t tell him about the commercial because it made him and the firm look bad. Jimmy tells Chuck that, as far as Kim was concerned, there was nothing to report because, as far as she knew, Cliff had approved the commercial. Of course, Kim neglected to share this piece of the puzzle with Chuck and Howard at their meeting. Apparently she didn’t want to make Jimmy look bad, but I think she should have at least told them that she was under the impression Cliff Main had approved the commercial. That’s the truth of the situation. It’s not her fault she was lied to. [And also, come on, Kim. I know you love Jimmy and all but you gotta do you, girl. He’s already in trouble. You don’t have to go down with that ship.]
Then Chuck really lays into Jimmy. He says that even if Kim didn’t know that the commercial wasn’t approved, she should have known better than to trust that Jimmy was playing by the rules. He tells Jimmy that Kim’s “one mistake was believing in you,” which is maybe the most hurtful thing he’s ever said (and there’s a lot to choose from). The thing is, he’s not wrong, and I super hate when Chuck is right, but every nasty thing he says to Jimmy in this conversation is true. He compares him to an alcoholic who can’t admit they have a problem and endangers others, and it’s really true: Jimmy cannot stop himself from breaking the rules, nor can he admit that his actions have consequences for other people. In some ways, Chuck is right when he says that Jimmy thinks the world revolves around him, although he’s not a fully selfish person (yet). He cares deeply for Kim and for Chuck, but at the end of the day, he simply cannot resist the lure of the scam or the shortcut that gets him what he wants, even if it hurts the people he cares about. He thinks that when he does the wrong thing for the right reasons, he’s taking all the risk on himself, but that’s not the way the world works and he refuses to acknowledge that.
Jimmy loses patience with Chuck’s lecture and lays it out for him: if Chuck gets Kim back in the good graces of HHM, Jimmy will quit the law forever. This is technically extortion, which Chuck quickly points out, but you can see in Chuck’s eyes that he would love nothing more than to make this deal. He wants Jimmy as far away from the law as possible and he always has, and it’s really not that big an ask to give Kim a pass. But Chuck McGill does not break the law. He tells Jimmy to quit the law if that’s what he wants to do, but that he won’t have anything to do with it. And it’s clear that Jimmy does want to quit the law. He straight up tells Chuck he never wanted the job, and he’s willing to give it up in a second if it meant he could fix things for Kim at HHM. He only ever took the Davis and Main job because Kim wanted him to, and now that he realizes that his cushy job comes with a lot more responsibility and rules than he’s willing to deal with, he’s ready to drop it all and head back to that hotel pool.
Meanwhile, Mike has decided that he isn’t going to kill Tuco Salamanca. He isn’t Mike Ehrmantraut the professional assassin quite yet. He tells Nacho that killing Tuco doesn’t solve his problem, because if Tuco gets whacked the Salamancas aren’t going to stop until they find out who did it and why. But Mike is still Mike, and he’s got a plan to get Tuco out of the way and keep Nacho’s secret safe.
It’s business as usual for Tuco and Nacho, who are at El Michoacano doing collections with their street dealers. One of said dealers is none other than Domingo Molina, better known to Breaking Bad fans as Krazy-8, the meth dealer (and DEA informant) who caused a world of trouble for Walt and Jesse in season 1. He’s much younger here, and judging by his shirt and the van he’s driving, he is still working for his father at Tampico Furniture. My guess is he’s just starting out as a dealer and not even close to working with the DEA yet. He may even still be studying at UNM and dealing to help pay for school. Wherever we are in Krazy-8’s timeline, he’s still really nervous when Tuco starts the lie detector. And who wouldn’t be nervous if this face was staring you down?
Eventually Tuco lets him leave. Mike is across the street and once he sees the van pull out, he uses the payphone to call the police. He tells the cops that there’s a fight breaking out outside the restaurant and that one man has a gun so it’s probably a “gang thing.” He refuses to give any information about himself and he hangs up. Mike drives across the street and pulls in next to Tuco’s car, hitting the bumper on his way. Tuco, who has just snorted some crystal, sees this happen and he’s less than thrilled. Mike acts completely oblivious as he enters the restaurant, walks to the counter, and orders some food.
I love it when Mike pretends he’s just a regular old man going about his business, and he’s doing it perfectly—just enough to get Tuco all riled up while not being openly antagonistic towards him. It’s great stuff to watch, and given what we saw in the teaser, Mike’s plan becomes clear: he’s gonna take a wicked beating from Tuco to get him locked up and out of the picture. It’s brilliant, and it works perfectly. Nacho is playing along, and I’m assuming Mike laid every detail of it out for him and told him exactly what to do ahead of time because this is Mike Ehrmantraut we’re talking about and he’s not about to leave it to chance.
Mike is outside with Tuco and Nacho, trying to convince Tuco that he has no money and needs to go through his car insurance to fix the dent he left in the bumper. But Tuco saw that Mike had a couple hundred bucks in his wallet when he was paying for his food and he’s done playing nice. Mike has Tuco to the point where he’s flashing his gun around and taking his wallet, and Mike is resisting knowing that Tuco is about to kick his ass. But none of this works if the cops don’t come and it’s taking quite a while for them to get there since Mike made the call. Finally the sirens blare in the distance and Nacho, who has a bag full of drug money, tells Tuco it’s time to go. Tuco tells Nacho to take off, and once Nacho is gone Mike grabs Tuco and knocks his gun out of his hand with one precise motion. It’s time for his beating and Mike takes a real nasty one but he holds on until he’s sure the cops have witnessed Tuco in the act. The cops have their guns out and pointed at Tuco but he’s still holding on to Mike, who with a bleeding smashed up face finally drops the act. Mike looks at Tuco and says, “That all you got?” and then gives him a little half smile before Tuco knocks him out cold.
A badly beaten Mike meets up with Nacho to get paid his $25K—half of what he would have made if he’d agreed to kill Tuco. Nacho doesn’t understand why he would go to so much trouble when he could have made twice as much by taking one clean shot. He asks him why but Mike doesn’t answer. He just takes his hard-earned money and leaves, and we come full circle to the beginning of the episode.
“Gloves Off” is one of those episodes that really knocked me on my ass the first time I watched it and has only gotten better with subsequent viewings. I love me some Mike Ehrmantraut, and I’m really enjoying the dynamic between Mike and Nacho that’s developing this season. This episode also has the best Chuck and Jimmy scene since the reveal of Chuck’s betrayal in season 1.
And as if all of that wasn’t enough, there was some A+ Tuco Salamanca craziness and the return of Krazy-8 and Lawson. I have to say I was a bit worried when it was reported that they were bringing back even more Breaking Bad characters this season. I was concerned it would feel forced, like fan service, but the way these characters were brought into this episode was incredibly natural. I mean, if not Lawson, who else would Mike be buying a black market weapon from? And it’s been so long since we’ve seen Krazy-8 that he was the perfect choice of a street dealer to be at that meeting. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I trust the Better Call Saul writers implicitly, and they do not disappoint.
Just please, Gilligang, don’t bring back Walter White. Some people need to stay dead.