Tuesdays with Tuco
By Matt Berry
This week, Better Call Saul belongs to Mike in an episode that focuses on decisions and regret. We also (finally!) get a no-holds-barred verbal throwdown between Jimmy and Chuck, a virtual Breaking Bad reunion (of third tier guest stars, but still!), and Mike takes a licking and keeps on ticking. All this happens and more in:
I wasn’t too sure about this season’s insistence on a Jimmy-Kimmy ’ship (I’m still working on that nickname), but I will happily admit that it has become a highlight and key factor in ratcheting the season’s tension to a Swiss watch tock. Worrying about the repercussions that Jimmy’s misdeeds will have in his relationship is just as stressful as fretting over what his habitual rule-breaking will do to his career. And it is those twain meeting that forms the fascinating backbone of this week’s episode.
My Favorite Bits
Still Krazy-8 After All These Years
Within Mike’s tale this week (more on that later), we get not one, not two, but three Breaking Bad character cameos! And three goosey ones at that!
Raymond Cruz’s Tuco Salamanca is one of series television’s greatest villains. He is volatile, vile, and vicious, and his violence unpredictable. This week, however, Mike manages to use Tuco’s zero-to-sixty temper and quick-to-fisticuffs way against him. Cruz, as always, frightens and delights in every bite of his brief time on screen.
The great Jim Beaver (Deadwood, Supernatural) also returns this week as Lawson, the folksy arms dealer who once supplied Walter White with a snu- nose revolver and (eventually) the lethal weapon that ended the whole damn BB narrative (not to mention Walt himself after he catches a stray bullet from the cowboying assault rifle). Lawson charmingly walks Mike through a number of weapons choices for a job Mike has agreed to take on for Nacho (Confession: I feel awfully goddam silly calling a guy Nacho, even in recap format, every time I type it, honestly). Like Tuco, Lawson’s time on screen is short on minutes but long on making you point at the TV with your mouth full of potato chips while trying to inform your loved ones of the significance of that guy being on this show.
Perhaps the giddiest fan-geek giggle this episode, though, came courtesy of a cameo with even less screen time and by an actor far less known outside the Gilligan-sphere. In a fantastic blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance is Krazy-8, Breaking Bad’s first villain and a pre-Heisenberg drug-dealing partner of one Jesse Pinkman. Krazy-8 (aka Domingo Molina) was also at the center of a crucial turning point in Walter White’s transformation into the Man in the Black Hat.
Throwing an even briefer wink at the cameras is the Tampico Furniture van! Krazy-8 (okay, now I’m starting to feel silly calling a guy Krazy-8)—anyway, “Krazy-8,” if you’ll recall, worked a day job at Tampico, his father’s furniture store where Walt and Skyler once purchased a crib for an infant Emo McGee. This tidbit served as a heartwarming moment of bonding between Walt and Domingo just before Walt went ahead and strangled him to death with a bike lock. #Memories
Might As Well Face It, You’re Addicted to Scum
In last week’s recap, I talked about Jimmy’s inability to stay out of trouble and his pathological need to break rules and wow people with his words. This week, Chuck expresses the same diagnosis in one of the series’ finest and most cathartic moments so far: a long-brewing, let’s-finally-go-there, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf style knock-down drag-out ’tween them feudin’ McGill boys.
Jimmy initially goes to see Chuck in a fit of anger after discovering that Howard and Chuck have punished Kim for her involvement in the unauthorized airing of Jimmy’s sleazy Davis & Main commercial. When he finds Chuck in a bad way, curled in a fetal cower beneath one space blanket and several layers of betrayal and regret (his trips to the office to mind Jimmy are taking a toll on his psyche), Jimmy takes care of his brother and sees him through the night—a further glimpse of who the younger McGill really is beneath all that Barnum-like bluster.
Once the sun comes up, however, no more Mr. Nice Guy. The gloves come off (hey, I just got why that’s the title!), and the two familial adversaries spew everything that’s been seething between them with a vitriol and venom worthy of Tennessee Williams. And I’m not just talking about his plays (the man was a well-known bad breaker-upper and an emotional line-crosser in arguments!). It’s a harsh and revealing fight but with Jimmy battling to protect Kim at its heart.
In the end, while it’s true that Chuck has some valid points about Jimmy’s issues, it’s also true that Chuck resents the hell out of Jimmy for some reason. We don’t know what it is, but his want to see Jimmy fail and his smug pride when it happens go beyond a simple distaste for his little brother’s penchant for shady tactics. My theory is that Chuck, in addition to his other struggles with mental health, also has a fundamental and crippling fear of breaking rules and is maddeningly envious of Jimmy’s flagrant and easy rebelliousness. Once again, I voice my desire to see a flashback to the boys’ youths where we might catch a glimpse of the parent or parents who made one brother a habitual criminal and the other a self-loathing Rules-are-Rules Nazi.
Some Bells Can’t Be Unrung
The true heart of “Gloves Off” is the story that picks up just after Nacho (seriously, I have to visit Vince-Gilligan-a-pedia and find out what this character’s real name is) has hired Mike to disappear old Tuco, like permanent-like, like for good, like make him expired, extinct, ceased to be, run down the curtain and joined the Choir Invisible—you get the idea. So Mike and He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named nix a plan in which Mike goes full Tupac, capping Tuco in a drive-by, and instead concoct a plan where Mike gets his Lee Harvey Oswald on by taking out the target from afar with a good old-fashioned bolt-action rifle.
Mike has a change of heart while meeting with Lawson, the arms dealer. No one comes right out and says it, but this scene tells us pretty clearly that Mike was a Marine with Special Forces in Viet Nam. Mike was a sniper, and he’s apparently had his share of bad experiences with malfunctioning weapons. What I find intriguing is that we’re not told exactly why Mike decides in this moment not to kill Tuco. We can only surmise that it is either Mike reflecting on his time at war and deciding that he doesn’t wish to have that blood on his hands yet again, or that he’s reflecting on an instance of a mission gone wrong and decides that a smarter option exists. In either case, Mike decides to con Tuco instead and to remove him from Nacho’s work life by goading him into an act of parole-violating brutality in front of Albuquerque’s finest. Tuco, being the impulse-driven, meth-fueled rage monster that he is, falls hook, line, and sinker for the ruse. (Our prescience, of course, lets us know Mike has, yet again, taken a half-measure when he should have taken a full.
Mike’s pre-fight call to the cops, by the way (on a working pay phone! Sometimes I forget that this hanging-chad, flip-phone-loving show is taking place all the way back in 2002!), was a quick comedic highlight. His portrayal of a nervous passer-by was right up there with Jessica Jones’ Valley Girl phone voice and Dexter Morgan’s Anonymous Caller Hayseed. Jonathan Banks knocks his dramatic material out of the park every single episode, but he is just as adept at deadpan comedy, and I love when he’s given opportunity to show it.
The fight itself is brutal and leaves Mike looking like a Pabst Blue Ribbon-swigging version of The Thing from the Fantastic Four. Mike’s tough persona proves once again to be no mere act of bravado. As easily as he once dished out a quick and effective beat-down of a world-famous meth cook, he takes Tuco’s fists of fury and calls for more.
At episode’s end, when asked why he chose to take less money and a vicious beating when he could have made twice as much by firing a rifle from a distance and running free into the night, the dead-eyed Mr. Ehrmantraut, true to form, exhales a scowl, turns, and walks away. Classic Mike. He can say “fuck you” in 30 different languages with just one look. Where his and the Cartel members’ story goes from here, I can’t begin to guess, but I’m looking forward to seeing it unfold, explode, and eventually ensnare Jimmy, ushering him further down the road to being called Saul.