For those keeping score, Gloves Off is the first two-word title of an episode of Better Call Saul. They may have moved past cute title tricks.
What are you going to do?
There were two moments in Gloves Off when I felt like, aha, that’s the episode in a nutshell. The first, quoted above, is what Chuck says to Howard about Kim. But it is, essentially, what Nacho is saying to Mike, what Cliff is saying to Jimmy, what Cliff and his partners are saying to each other, what Mike and Jimmy are saying to themselves. What are you going to do? What’s right? What’s necessary? Which will affect each characters actual behavior?
Life is not one big game of Let’s Make a Deal.
Yes it is! I’m Monty Hall!
Yep, that’s the other moment. Jimmy really believes that life is all in the wheeling and dealing, and Chuck really believes it’s in upholding standards, even when the only purpose of upholding those standards is to punish others—like your own brother—for being inferior. This interchange encapsulates these two characters beautifully. Chuck says, “I am not the bad guy here”, and he means it, but he means it only in accordance with his standards, and not with respect to anything that actually happened. He’s not the “bad guy” because he didn’t break the rules, but Jimmy sees a bad actor in someone willing to punish Kim for Jimmy’s wrongdoing. Jimmy’s morality is simplistic, has nothing to do with rules, and even within his own morality, he bends and twists as it suits him.
Hey, can he talk when you drink water?
Jimmy is in a struggle with his brother that most people can relate to. Most of us have a person in our lives—a family member, often—who we feel we should be one way with, yet find ourselves being an entirely different way. Jimmy’s eyes have been opened, and he feels he should cut Chuck out of his life, he should treat Chuck coldly, he should reject Chuck. But this is the big brother Jimmy has looked up to since forever, this is the guy Jimmy has been trying to please, been the clown for, been the lapdog for, catered to and cared for. Jimmy just doesn’t know how to be any other way.
But the struggle within Jimmy over his conflicted brotherly feelings takes its toll, and he’s sharper and angrier than we’ve previously seen with Chuck. He brings water immediately when told, then calls him an asshole.
Let’s turn our attention to Mike. Like Jimmy, he cares more about right and wrong than about rules. Like Jimmy, he has bent and broken rules that have caused harm to others—especially and heartbreakingly, his own son. Like Jimmy, he still has an ethos that matters to him, that he tries to uphold. These two seeming opposites are deeply connected; the show gives us both so that we don’t mistake Jimmy’s glibness for a lack of depth.
The whole Mike story is cleverly filmed. Because, in the opening scene, we see how badly his face is beaten, there’s no need to do anything to indicate a flashback—every time we see his face is okay, we already know. Also, even though we find out in the end that the beating was exactly Mike’s intention, it certainly looks like something went horribly wrong, so every Mike scene is infused with dread. Clever writing.
- Mike, we learn, is a Vietnam vet.
- If you want to know what Let’s Make a Deal was, you can learn on the official site, which appears to have been created in 1997 and never since updated.
- The gun salesman was a character on Breaking Bad, as was the young drug dealer with whom Tuco plays “lie detector” (as well as Tuco himself, of course). I want to emphasize, there’s absolutely no need to have seen Breaking Bad to enjoy this show, but little nods are sprinkled throughout.
- The janitor recognizes Jimmy and lets him in right away—Jimmy was accustomed to late nights at HHM, probably to meet Kim, since he was never a lawyer there.
- Jimmy also calls the janitor by name. How many lawyers do you imagine bother to learn the janitor’s name?
Thanks, Basketcases, for your patience while my review got later, and later, and later.