Better Call Saul “Gloves Off” Analysis (S2E04)

“Gloves Off” was written by Gordon Smith and directed by Adam Bernstein who were the same guys on last season’s “Five-O” and yeah another fucking awesome one, better shared with the Jimmy story too which I also thought was great. The one thing I kept thinking throughout the episode is the performances. Every little scene, these actors kill it every time. I loved watching Jimmy getting chewed out by the partners. I loved seeing Howard have an excuse to play the “bad guy” again when Kim is reprimanded. The conflict between Jimmy and Kim (being the only real reprucussion that Jimmy seems to understand), and then the strongest titular parallel of Mike’s story that climaxes with Jimmy/Chuck were all so wonderfully written, directed, acted, etc. Let’s take it step by step before I get to Mike haha.

First off, I know this is not Mad Men, but I love the office drama that the show offers. I want to see Davis & Main’s other partners get better developed throughout this season, other than Ed Begley Jr. kind of representing that front as a whole. Not saying that they need their own story or anything but just enough screen time to better distinguish who Jimmy’s pissing off when he screws up. That said, from what we got it was a great scene and was definitely something I was looking forward to after Cliff’s angry phone call last week.

Howard sending Kim down to the “corn field” last season was what the writers described in the commentary as the actual worst thing Howard did when you take away all the faux-antagonism you were lead to believe. So although I love the switch in perspective towards his character that is made at the end of season 1, I enjoyed here that he is still the boss and he’s going to be tough when necessary. One of my favorite scenes with him last season was when Kim was trying to figure out why Jimmy was turned away from HHM when the Sandpiper case was introduced. The line delivery of “…you KEEP it to yourself because I don’t care” is in my opinion one of most subtle underrated acting moments from last season (the whole scene). I remember worrying that Patrick Fabian might not get relevant screen time anymore due to the direction the show may be going, but he’s been used very well so far and this is just another reason why I’m happy the writers aren’t in any rush to leave everything behind.

Jimmy has some nerve to storm through the Chuck premises and demand that Kim gets a break, especially after Kim, pretty bluntly, asked him not to do that. Granted, Jimmy’s right. She didn’t know, but it’s Jimmy’s behavior through this scene that proves he’s not remorseful, let alone understands what he did wrong even after the partners had to spell it out for him. Up until now, the tension between Chuck and Jimmy has been subtley passive aggressive and you really feel it. Here, this episode reminded me of the fourth episode of Breaking Bad’s final season “Fifty-One” where Walt and Skyler finally step into that ring to address the major conflict in full. That’s what this was with all the subtext layed out on the table. Even when you think Jimmy is back-pedaling by offering Chuck water and an extra blanket, it ends up being a false sense of security before the first punch is thrown. (Also note that Chuck had another psychological episode after Jimmy screwed up)

Then there’s Mike! The cold open painted him in defeat so my first thought was “you should see the other guy” and if that wasn’t the case, I was pretty much preparing myself for something that can only be very hard to watch. What we got was a clever compromise and very original in execution. I loved the set up and that the writer’s wasted no time in revealing that the hit was Tuco, only adding to the “Mike’s not going to be successful” lead-on. Whenever there is a heist or mission that is introduced from the beginning, no matter how impossible, these writers know how to turn that crank in order to make everything absolutely plausible, believable, yet always surprising (something The Walking Dead can take some tips from). And Tuco wasn’t sent away rather than picked off because he’s immune from death, but because it made sense for what Mike’s willing to do and the argument of more Salamanca blood crawling out of the wood-work.

I loved seeing Lawson again. Jim Beaver and Jonathan Banks in the same room! Then Krazy-8 getting inspected by Tuco was great. I always kind of half-wished that Krazy-8 would become a character back in the day. I always liked that actor and felt you can probably get a lot of good stuff out of him if he was to be further developed. I’m grateful for the cameo we got here though. If all this crossover wasn’t already fun enough, I would never imagine that Jonathan Banks and Raymond Cruz would ever be in such an epic standoff together, let alone in a scene. Two of Walt’s adversaries colliding without making either character any less for what they’re capable of. The fact that Tuco knocked Mike out rang so true to that character and the idea that Mike had the balls to endure those blows in order to pull off the long con is exactly the only reason you would ever see Mike in such a state. Between the oblivious old man character he was playing, being completing unfazed by Tuco’s threats, and then taking the offensive by grabbing Tuco like a bear trap, my god. Everything about that scene was perfect.

The final scene with Mike and Nacho was so good. How ghoulish was that final shot? Nacho mentions that Mike will be a ‘ghost’ in regards to the original plan, but Mike still managed to disapparate into the darkness with what he ended up doing. I wonder if the wind picking up all that sand was a happy accident that was taken advantage of or if it was written in. All I know is that when I saw Mike peel out, I was thinking “please cut…please cut…please cut…” for the very moment when the dust wipes across the screen. I actually cheered from a director’s standpoint for how good that turned out.

Some afterthoughts:

-I liked that we learned with so little words of Mike’s history in Vietnam.

-Last week when Jimmy was watching Ice Station Zebra, he kept asking questions for how the story will turn out. This is exactly his character in a nut shell. Always wanting the shortcuts, without experiencing it properly. Then when he returns he asks if he missed anything (anything blow up?) which is pretty much the cherry on top.

– Any Curb Your Enthusiasm fans here? I’m so glad Alan Sepinwall requested this:

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