Better Call Saul
Some time in the not-so-distant future, Mike Ehrmantraut will warn fledgling drug kingpin Walter White to avoid taking any “half measures.” It’s a lesson he learned the hard way during his time as a Philadelphia beat cop. He’d demonstrated relative leniency to a repellent domestic abuser — i.e. choosing not to execute him in an alley — only to clean up the mess two weeks later when that “piece of shit” bashed his wife’s head in with a blender.
Nacho’s learned a thing or two from the past himself. Back in ’96, he and Tuco were squaring up with a steady drug connect named “Dog” Paulsen, their link to the Southwest biker community. Tuco, wired on crank and fighting off symptomatic paranoia, blasted Dog away at close range with a sawed-off shotgun. Poor Nacho was positioned right behind Paulsen. He still can’t get the image out of his head, let alone Dog’s skull fragments out from under his skin (gross). Nacho’s takeaway: High Tuco is loco Tuco, and now Tuco’s hooked on meth. Not Walter White’s pure-blue crystal just yet, but a strong enough strain to make him less than predictable. So, given Nacho’s extracurricular dealings and Tuco’s short fuse, the former deduces his lunatic cohort’s gotta “go away,” no matter how much cartel heat it inflames.
Mike doesn’t see it that way. “Killing your partner, that’s a bell you can’t un-ring,” the crusty vet cautions, always one with an advisory word for overly ambitious troublemakers. He pivots from Nacho’s convoluted plot to take Tuco out, going so far as to walk away from a black-market weaponry deal empty-handed (hey there, Jim Beaver). Instead, he calls 9-1-1 with claims of a bogus shooting at El Michoacano — Tuco and Naco’s preferred spot for tortas and drug deals, much to the owner’s obvious lament — and instigates an ass-whooping from Tuco outside the restaurant that climaxes just as the police finally arrive. Strapped and caught mid-mugging, Mr. Salamanca’s headed toward the slammer for five-to-ten. (Given his fateful 2009 encounter with Walter, it’s safe to assume he served the minimum projected sentence.)
Later, Mike meets up with Nacho to claim his $25,000 fee. His eye is swollen shut, cheekbone likely shattered, lip swollen and curled like a fat Elvis. Nacho’s perplexed. Why turn down $50,000 to put Tuco down permanently and take a beating for half the payday? Never mind what might happen when Tuco gets out of prison. Mike says nothing, merely taking his wad of bills and retreating home to ice his face with some crinkle-cut carrots and sip from a well-earned can of suds. Though he’s probably wondering why it had to be so clear-cut for Nacho: Is it really as simple as roguishly breaking off into his own endeavors now or toiling endlessly alongside his erratic partner? No one could blame Mike for wanting his own answers as to why Nacho couldn’t just bide his time, wait for Tuco to do himself in, then take his rightful place atop the food chain when the time was right. But as Mike knows too well, and as would be reiterated in his dealings with Walter, some criminals never learn.
Not so for Jimmy. He’s getting closer to accepting that his version of pursuing justice necessitates bending the law. And just as quickly, it’s sinking in that he stands no chance of becoming a self-made man if he plays by other peoples’ rules. Upon arriving at work for his reckoning over the successful — if unauthorized — commercial he aired in Colorado Springs, Jimmy endures a mighty tongue lashing from Cliff and the other Davis & Main partners. It’s humiliating and frustrating. More essentially, it impedes his progress in putting Sandpiper to bed, regardless of whether his motivation is personal validation or vindication for exploited nursing-home residents. Jimmy’s mind can wrap itself around Mike’s full-measure philosophy, so it’s no wonder the two eventually make an unlikely alliance.
There’s plenty of punishment to go around in “Gloves Off.” When Howard and Chuck confront Kim about Jimmy’s ad, she opts not to throw Jimmy under the bus and spare herself, despite how his lies landed her in this predicament. After she leaves the conference room, the camera frames Howard in a way that suggests he’s tired of being made the fool and plans to assert his will. Accordingly, Kim gets mandated to basement document review, stamping and calculating and collating the wee hours away in a windowless hell. Jimmy visits and extends empathy, but it’s becoming obvious to Kim that he can’t truly identify with the humiliation she’ll abide to keep her career on the right track. Jimmy’s merely lucky their relationship hasn’t entirely derailed.
The same can’t be said for whatever bonds remained between the brothers McGill. Enraged over Chuck’s continued attempts to squash him — and now Kim — at every turn, Jimmy reluctantly storms into the man’s darkened home for a confrontation. What he finds is his Chuck on the couch, still in his suit and tie, wrapped in foil and shivering like a feverish child. It’s a perfect paradox to illustrate Jimmy’s dilemma. He’d spent his entire day spinning from the paternal reprimands handed down to him and Kim, and now here he is, nestling his older brother with a caretaker’s touch. To quote Nacho, “Something’s gotta give.” Kim, Chuck, Howard, and Cliff may be content with the contradictions inherent in toeing some invisible line of decorum, as is dictated by the State Bar of New Mexico. But Jimmy recognizes that the only way he can survive is by crossing it. Mike finds himself at a similar precipice amid an underworld governed by thieves and thugs. In their own ways, both of these polar-opposite protagonists are ready to fight for their lives.
Apart From All That:
- God, I love this show’s love of numbers. This rifle reaches 1,200 meters, that ad cost $647 but generated 72 calls over the past several hours, the nearest I-40 ramp is only eight blocks away, etc. Details bring this story to life.
- Funny that this week’s episode title was represented so literally.
- Yeah Cliff, not sure Jimmy’s a “fit in with the team” kind of guy.
- You can indeed get your tires taken care of at Alberto’s on Isleta.
- Get tortas at El Michoacano while you’re at it.
- AMC.com needs a “take Tuco’s lie-detector test” game (they can thank me later).
- Among others, guess which Breaking Bad episode was helmed by “Gloves Off” director Adam Bernstein? You guessed it.
- Guess the killing of “Dog” Paulsen was notable enough to eventually land in the DEA’s Salamanca file. Our old pal Hank Schrader mentions him in Breaking Bad’s season two episode “Grilled.”
- I, like you, am wondering: Didn’t Mike kinda take half measures here?
- I, like you, am assuming that however this bites him in the ass will reaffirm his eventual conviction with Walter.
- That “You’re still here” and “I’m still here” exchange between Chuck and Jimmy about sums them up.
- Chuck’s not wrong, but he’s also no better. He just toes the line.
- Mike’s job sure was trickier before burner phones.
- Some things just can’t be buffed out.