Better Call Saul: Season 2, Episode 4 – Gloves Off Review

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★★★★

It goes without saying that there are spoilers in this review, so don't end up looking like one of Slippin' Jimmy's marks.

The creative team isn't messing with the title of this episode, as it applies in several ways to what happens in the show. We open on Mike coming home in darkness. From his gait, he's either tired, hurt or both and we soon learn it is indeed both. He looks like he's gone several rounds with a prize fighter, and needs a bag of frozen carrots to soothe his damaged face. From this, it appears whatever he was asked to do at the end of the last episode has gone down, so will we only see the aftermath? Keep watching...

Jimmy, meanwhile, is getting beaten up in a different sense. He's facing the withering displeasure of his colleagues and bosses at Davis & Main after airing his ad about the Sandpiper care homes without authorisation. If he thought he was in trouble when he got that phone call from Cliff last night, it's nothing compared to the simmering anger on display here. Jimmy tries to argue it's already generating results, but Cliff and the rest aren't interested in that. Jimmy's not being a team player and the partners are seriously thinking about sacking him. The only thing in his favour? Cliff believes in second chances.

But the ramifications aren't just affecting Jimmy. Kim is being dragged across the coals over at Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill, as Howard gives her a serious dressing down for not telling them about Jimmy's plan. Chuck McGill, meanwhile, sits quietly at the table, and after Kim is sent out of the meeting room, they talk about what Jimmy has done.

In what is clearly a flashback (either that, or Mike has Deadpool-like healing abilities... which we wouldn't put past him), Nacho and Mike are discussing what Nacho needs doing. They're lurking across the road from a taco restaurant and Nacho is explaining how he and Tuco (Raymond Cruz) meet there every week with their various dealers to collect their drug network cash haul. Tuco is apparently using drugs himself again, and Nacho is concerned that he'll discover his sideline dealing, and take it out on Nacho the way he did on someone else in past. Suffice to say it ended badly with that guy. So Nacho wants Mike to kill Tuco. After dismissing Nacho's plan to drive up next to Tuco's car and kill him as he prepares to leave, Mike offers his own idea – he'll use a sniper rifle from the location across the road. Nacho agrees and offers $50,000. It's fun to see Mike's mental wheels working again, even if it is plotting someone's assassination.

Jimmy heads to HHM to see Kim, worried that she's been fired because of his actions. Instead, she's been sent to legal Siberia, dispatched to the bowels of the building to work on document review. He's apologetic, and she's coldly calm with him, reminding Jimmy that she warned him, and he can't fix this so easily. Jimmy offers to call Howard and explain that Kim didn't know anything, but she says they're finished if he does.

After seeing Kim, Jimmy goes to Chuck's house to have it out with him, but finds his older brother shivering under one of his reflective blankets, either in the grip of one of his electromagnetic hypersensitivity attacks, or faking it to avoid confronting Jimmy. He really seems in a bad way, and it deflates Jimmy's anger. It's such a wonderful little moment between the two brothers, played to perfection by Bob Odenkirk and Michael McKean, and that's just the first half of the scene.

We break from the brothers to find Mike meeting Lawson, the arms dealer played by Jim Beaver (BOBBY FROM SUPERNATURAL!) who popped up a couple of times on Breaking Bad. Mike's there to find the perfect weapon for the planned assassination of Tuco. Despite a variety of weapons on offer, Mike has clearly made his mind up to go another way, and offers Lawson money for his trouble. Lawson demurs, saying that Mike is good for repeat business. Walter White will appreciate that in a couple of years.

Back at Chuck's he's woken up, and Jimmy, who has slept in a chair overnight, fetches him a cup of tea. The mood changes from brotherly bonding to accusation as Jimmy figures Chuck was the one behind punishing Kim to get back at him. Tempers flare: Jimmy calls Chuck an asshole and Chuck fires back that he's like an alcoholic who won't get help. Jimmy says he'll quit the law if Chuck helps Kim get her full job back, which would essentially mean Chuck was extorting him. Chuck won't rise to the bait... Yet and tells Jimmy he'll be late for work, hardly the best example to set when he's already in the doghouse.

Mike meets with Nacho again and outlines his problems with killing Tuco. Not only will the death "draw Salamancas like flies" – a premonition for what later happens in Breaking Bad – but it'll be more trouble than it's worth for both Nacho and Mike. Mike proposes a different plan - Tuco will go away, but in a different sense. Cut to Tuco and Nacho at their meeting with one of the dealers in the restaurant. Tuco's twitchy and intense, using what Nacho previously described as his "lie-detector" stare on the dealer. Mike arrives in his car and clips Tuco's flashy ride in the parking lot, drawing the kingpin's ire. A confrontation in the restaurant (where Mike tips his hand as to how much money he has in his wallet on purpose) spills out into the lot, where Tuco threatens Mike for the money to fix his car and Mike goads him into attacking. We soon learn how Mike's face got so beaten up... But he's wisely already called in a tip to the police. Nacho gets out of there as sirens wail in the distance, but Tuco is too enraged and drugged up to care. The police show up and arrest him as he's still smacking Mike around.

Later that same day, a bruised and bloodied Mike meets Nacho at the same out-of-the-way spot as last week and collects $25,000. Nacho tells Mike that Tuco may come after him, but Mike doesn't seem to care. Instead, he simply gets in his car and drives away.

This is a prime example of the Better Call Saul team taking their time in setting up situations, layering in character work and then lighting the blue touch paper. The clash between Chuck and Jimmy is amazing work from both actors, perfectly staged in Chuck's darkened home. The truth hurts on both sides, and all the slow burn build up is worth it for this sort of scene.

Mike's material is just as compelling, showcasing his keen analytical mind, the brain of a smart cop turned to a life of crime. His scenes are also a superb use of Raymond Cruz's mercurial, dangerous Tuco. Though faced with the situation that all of Saul is a prequel, so neither Mike nor Tuco can be in real danger, the clash between them is still incredibly effective. Now we just have to see where they go from here – Jimmy seems likely to slip further into the darkness, and Mike has exposed himself to a whole world of new trouble.