Bob Odenkirk in "Better Call Saul."
Ursula Coyote/Sony Pictures Television/AMC Bob Odenkirk in "Better Call Saul."

LAST WEEK'S REVIEW: 'Better Call Saul' Season 2 Episode 3, 'Amarillo,' Goes For the Close-Up

Case Summary

We begin the day after the events of "Amarillo," during which Jimmy handles the personal and professional repercussions of his decision to go rogue and air a TV commercial in search of Sandpiper clients. While he (barely) escapes getting fired for potentially compromising Davis and Main's reputation, Kim is furious with him, as she's being punished by HH&M for being aware that the ad existed (even though she didn't know Jimmy didn't have permission to air it). So Jimmy goes to confront Chuck over Kim's treatment, but when he finds Chuck collapsed and shaking, he instead cares for his brother, staying the night to make sure Chuck's okay. In the morning, though, the two spar over Kim's treatment and Chuck's continued belief that Jimmy belongs nowhere near the practice of law; a sequel to the Season 1 blow-up that removed any brotherly love from their relationship and a confrontation that Chuck ends up winning.

But the real story here is Mike's, as we find out exactly what Nacho wants from him: Tuco Salamanca, dead. Nacho's concern, see, is that when Tuco is on drugs, he is flat-out crazy, and so if Tuco finds out about Nacho's "independent ventures," Nacho's dead. Mike finds plenty of holes in Nacho's initial plan for the assassination and proposes another one, but after doing some rifle shopping, he comes to the decision that the better solution is the one that involves no killing. Mike skillfully manipulates Tuco into a confrontation that escalates to a beatdown just as the cops arrive, getting Tuco thrown in jail for assault and off Nacho's case. Nacho pays Mike half his original offer, but Mike goes home with only his own blood on his hands.

Opening Credits Extreme Close-Up

A drawer full of burner cell phones serve as a reminder that not only will Mike and Saul Goodman work together one day, but they'll be central to the local Albuquerque criminal network — one largely held together by such phones.

What's Up With Chuck?

Oh, we get the best of Chuck this week: his all-too-real vulnerability coupled with bursts of true (yet deeply buried) affection for Jimmy. But we also get the worst: his ugly determination to prove that there's no way Jimmy has changed, coupled with his smug triumph at succeeding. The fact that he has no problem accepting Jimmy's kindness and assistance when he needs it, while also refusing to believe Jimmy is capable of anything better in life, speaks to something fundamentally entitled and cruel within him. The worst part about it is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy — one that Chuck almost seems to relish. That's the real sickness, right there.

Michael McKean and Patrick Fabien in "Better Call Saul."
Ursula Coyote/AMC Michael McKean and Patrick Fabien in "Better Call Saul."

The Least Legal Move

Well, we full-on saw a drug deal go down, and the authorities also tend to frown upon paying people to murder other people. But let's talk about Jimmy and Chuck, and Jimmy badgering Chuck nearly to the breaking point. That breaking point, though, is an unexpected one. Jimmy trying to get Chuck to commit the legal equivalent of extortion is a move we didn't ever expect to see — or see go that far. In fact, Chuck seems dangerously close to telling Jimmy that he'll make things easier for Kim if Jimmy sacrifices his law career, which all around would be a win for Jimmy (provided, that is, Kim doesn't kill him for doing so). In the end, Chuck finds victory in retreat, taunting Jimmy with the news that he's going to be late for work. "Another feather in your cap."

Remembering What Hasn't Happened Yet (The "Breaking Bad" Tie-In)

Oh, man. This season, "Better Call Saul" is really rewarding those whose memories of "Breaking Bad's" earlier seasons are fresh. Not only do we get some quality time with Tuco this week, but we get (chronologically) our first glimpse of Krazy-8! You might remember him better as Domingo, the meth distributor who Walter White killed in the basement of Jesse's house in Season 1, after the two of them discussed Domingo's dreams of studying music in college. At this point, Domingo is still working both for his father's furniture company (same place Walt and Skyler bought a crib!) and more importantly, for Tuco as one of his dealers. Tuco going to jail might be the key to Krazy-8 ascending up the food chain. As Nacho observes, he's got hustle.

In addition, the gun dealer that Mike meets with is, in fact, Lawson, who sold Walter White a .38 snub in Season 4 of "Breaking Bad" and an M60 in Season 5. His strategy to aim for "repeat business" seems to be paying off. 

Oh, That's Right. It's a Period Piece

Hey, look! Pay phones! Actively working pay phones! Not only that, but the close-up on Jimmy's cell phone revealed an old-timey approach to speed-dialing — the ol' pre-programmed cell phone code. Kim is currently No. 3 on Jimmy's speed dial, we learn today. That seems right, though we're hoping that maybe one day she's up higher. (We are fools to hope for so much.)

What's Up With Mike?

Memories, is our best theory. The fact is that when he met with Lawson, he clearly intended to buy a gun, but he leaves that hotel room sans rifle. But thanks to that rifle, we got a revealing bit of backstory. It's pretty explicit that Mike served as a Marine sniper during the Vietnam war. (Regarding the way the wood of the original M40 warped: "Somebody probably should have figured that out before they sent it into a damn jungle.") Maybe it's that experience which led him to come up with a non-violent solution?

Jonathan Banks in "Better Call Saul."
Ursula Coyote/Sony Pictures Television/AMC Jonathan Banks in "Better Call Saul."

On The Journey From Mike to Mike

Because this is such a Mike-heavy episode, let's remember this: The Mike who chooses to get rid of Tuco without killing him is not the Mike of "Breaking Bad." At this point, Mike is a former crooked cop and technically a murderer — after avenging the death of his son — but he won't kill; not for the money Nacho's offering, anyway. Which says a lot about who he is now, but also who he may end up becoming down the line.

It's also a striking reminder that there's one major way "Better Call Saul" differs from its sister series: the body count. After 14 episodes of this show, there have been exactly three on-screen deaths: the two cops that Mike killed in "Five-O," and Jimmy's friend Marco, who died of a heart attack. It's a shockingly low number in comparison to "Breaking Bad's" corpse-strewn legacy, and honestly seems only in part related to the fact that some of these characters are invulnerable, due to their appearances later on in the timeline.

Cocktail Hour

What better way to wash down a punchout than Pabst Blue Ribbon, Mike's beer of choice? Certainly he's not alone there.

Best Quote

"She knows you. She should have known better." 
"You are such an asshole."
"For pointing out that her one mistake was believing you?"
- Chuck & Jimmy
 

Really, that entire scene between Jimmy and Chuck was painful beauty. But while it featured so, so many brutal jabs, this one hit especially hard. We know that Chuck's faith in Jimmy is non-existent, but the cruel reminder buried in here — that Jimmy's actions have maybe cost him everything with Kim, including her faith in him — is a body blow.

In Conclusion, Your Honor

Season 1 of "Better Call Saul's" best episode was the Mike-focused "Five-O," while the best scene of Season 1 was Jimmy's heartbreaking confrontation with Chuck over the realization that Chuck didn't think he should be a lawyer, in the episode "Pimento." Here in "Gloves Off" we get both, and it's a truly gripping installment as a result.

Most importantly: It's an episode that feels massive, setting up plotlines that might typically lead to an explosive season finale. And it's only Episode 4. There are six more weeks to go, and how things escalate from here, we can't even imagine.

Grade: A


READ MORE: How Ethical is Your Favorite Television Lawyer?