[For Better Call Saul “Gloves Off” or any other recaps on Fetchland, assume the presence of possible spoilers.]
Gloves Off. Mike considers a lucrative proposal that may bring about dire circumstances.
“Gloves Off” is appropriately titled not just because there’s a bare knuckled beatdown in a parking lot but also because Jimmy finally starts to get real with Chuck and in his face tells him to fight, “Come on, get down in the dirt with me!” he yells. But this one’s more about Mike’s battle than Jimmy’s and thus the episode begins and ends with Mike.
He gets home late at night with a split open, puffed out eye – like Rocky at the end of the big fight. Mike clutches a pair of keychain-sized silver and diamond studded boxing gloves, settling into his armchair with a bag of crinkle cut carrots pressed against his busted eye. Fact is, the episode title also can simply be taken literally. Mike got those gloves off someone and his whole story for this episode revolves around that seemingly small fact. It’s one of those episodes that starts at the end and then circles back – for emphasis.
In the next scene we see Jimmy’s homemade ad playing for the head partners at Davis & Main and they’re upset for lots of reasons; he used his own voice, they have their tighty whiteys all in bunches, etc. Jimmy apologizes for his exuberance but reminds them of all the phonecalls they’re now getting for the case. It’s a boon for them! Why can’t they see that? Well, they’re busy picking those wedgies… for one. Davis & Main’s namesakes don”t see the bright side and tell him to stop “selling” and that exuberance is no excuse. They worry that Jimmy “can’t fit in” and warn him to expect a lot more scrutiny going forward. He calls Kim and leaves a voicemail but she doesn’t get the message because she’s busy getting grilled by Chuck and Howard, who clearly suffer from their own paroxysms of undies up the wazoo.
Next we see Nacho explaining to Mike exactly how he’d like see his partner, Tuco, killed and Mike gives feedback. He points out that killing your partner is a bell you can’t unring. Nacho then explains the circumstances that make it either “him or me” with his partner; namely that Tuco’s on drugs again. This makes him unpredictable, violent, and paranoid – not exactly the ideal drug dealing business partner… Then Nacho tells Mike he’ll pay $50K and that ends the conversation.
Then Jimmy finds out Kim’s being punished and was put in document review for not telling the office what Jimmy did. He’s outraged on her behalf. Jimmy visits Chuck, who’s wiped out from all the well poisoning he’s been doing at the office and so, lies on his couch with the shades drawn nestled under an aluminum foil blanket. Next we see Mike buying a gun in a hotel room from a guy with a suitcase and a lot of know-how. It’s clear from the interaction that Mike knows his way around hardcore guns and ammo but he ends up deciding not to buy a gun after all.
Then Chuck wakes up surprised to see Jimmy still by his side but he’s not there with good tidings. Jimmy confronts Chuck about what they did to Kim; saying that Howard is Chuck’s puppet and not to punish Kim for what he did. Jimmy tells him Kim didn’t know about the commercial until after it had already aired. Chuck is, of course, an asshole about it and says Kim should have known better because she knows Jimmy and thus should expect him to do the wrong thing. Now it’s time for Jimmy to get feisty. He makes Chuck an offer; he’ll stop practicing law completely if Chuck just puts Kim back into her former position at the firm and all’s forgiven for her sake. It’s a tempting deal for Chuck but he says he can’t because it’s essentially extortion and he’s all about rules. In fact, Chuck’s drowning in all the rules he lives by. The rules he worships have replaced any semblance of actual life Chuck might have had. So, this was Jimmy’s “Gloves Off” moment with Chuck, the rule-breaker extraordinaire, but the fight ends in a draw. Nobody wins. We get the impression, though, that the gloves are gonna stay off between these brothers.
Next Mike tells Nacho the big news – he’s not gonna do the job, not even for $50K. Mike tells him this isn’t the best move for his situation. Nacho needs Tuco off the action and out of the way but that doesn’t have to mean dead. He can get him off the streets without killing him and taking that risk. Nacho says he can’t snitch on Tuco, it would ruin his business. Mike says he can help him do it without Nacho having to go to the police or prison. We see Mike’s plan in action next.
Tuco counts an underling’s money sitting next to Nacho, who double checks the count. Then we notice those same silver and diamond studded boxing gloves from the first scene with battered Mike. They hang from a necklace around Tuco’s neck. He’s quite stern-faced and scary with excruciating pauses and dead eyes. Meanwhile across the street Mike calls from a payphone to report a fight with an armed gang member going on at the restaurant where Tuco and Nacho are. Mike then drives over to the restaurant, swiping Tuco’s car as he pulls into the parking lot. Tuco confronts Mike but he says he didn’t hit it but then apologizes when Nacho says he saw him hit Tuco’s car as well. Mike gets his order and leaves but Tuco isn’t having it. He follows Mike outside and demands restitution in cash. Mike says no and then Tuco swipes Mike’s keys and demands his wallet. Mike delays but eventually hands it over. A siren blares nearby and Nacho drives off. Mike grabs Tuco’s boxing glove charms and won’t let go so that Tuco keeps beating him and beating him until he’s pummeled, bloody and smashed, passing out on the ground as the cop car approaches.
In the last scene of “Gloves Off” it’s late at night and Mike tells Nacho Tuco’s gonna be in prison for a five to ten stretch because he had police witnessing the beating, Mike’s wallet in his pocket, and a gun tucked into his belt. Nacho says he doesn’t understand as he hands Mike $25K. Why go through all this pain when killing Tuco would have been doing the world a favor and also made sure Tuco could never come after Mike? He would have made twice the money with a tenth of the hassle. Again Nacho asks Mike why. But Mike never answers that question. It’s one of his policies. He simply drives away.
It’s easy to forget the brilliant strategies Mike concocts or that he’s basically just a guy who wants to look out for his granddaughter’s best interest because he’s such a hardened tough guy in so many ways. This episode reminds us of both these aspects in Mike’s character. He’s super tough and can take a serious beating without complaint. At the same time he’s like a chess player, always several moves ahead of the people surrounding him in the boxing ring. Thing is that Mike doesn’t keep score the same way everyone else at the boxing match does. He’s only got his eye on one prize, a better life for little Kaylee. The picture she drew sits on his freezer door to remind us of this in the first scene when Mike reaches inside for the bag of carrots to quell the bloody ferocity on his face.