Needing to make big money fast, Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) plunges deeper into New Mexico’s drug underworld but stops short of murder on “Gloves Off,” Episode 204 of AMC’s “Better Call Saul.”
Gangbanger Nacho Varga (Michael Mando) desperately wants to get rid of his psycho boss, drug kingpin Tuco Salamanca (Raymond Cruz). So Nacho offers Mike $50,000 if he guns down Tuco outside an Albuquerque restaurant.
“Pop, head shot, roll out,” Nacho explains. And because Mike is a “ghost” with no connection to Tuco, the Mexican drug cartel will suspect a rival dealer ordered the hit.
“You sure about this?” Mike asks Nacho. “Killing your partner, that’s a bell you don’t un-ring.”
It’s kill or be killed, Nacho replies, recalling the horrific time when Tuco’s methamphetamine-induced paranoia caused him to blast a biker named Dog with a sawed-off shotgun.
“If Tuco finds out about, you know, my independent adventures,” Nacho says of his secret drug deals, “it’s gonna be Dog all over again. It’s him or me.”
Figuring it’s safer to shoot Tuco from a distance than at close range, Mike initially considers buying a sniper rifle from Lawson (Jim Beaver), an illegal arms seller. But soon Mike devises a better plan.
“You won’t have to talk to the cops,” Mike tells Nacho, “you won’t have to do any time. And there’s no killing. But your Tuco problem, it goes away.”
First, Mike calls 911 and claims there’s a gang-related altercation at the restaurant. Then he intentionally bumps Tuco’s car and refuses to pay cash for the repair.
“Give me your wallet and maybe you walk away from this,” Tuco growls before repeatedly punching Mike in the face, causing his left eye to swell shut.
When police officers arrive, they witness the brutal assault and find a gun, meaning Tuco faces “a five-to-10 stretch” in prison.
For luring Tuco into committing a violent crime, Mike receives $25,000. But why didn’t he earn twice as much cash “for one-tenth the hassle” by murdering Tuco?
Laconic Mike drives off without explaining. But now he’s able to relocate his widowed daughter-in-law Stacey (Kerry Condon) and granddaughter Kaylee (Abigail Zoe Lewis) to a safer neighborhood. And he doesn’t have a homicide on his conscience.
Meanwhile, attorney Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) feels the wrath of the Davis & Main partners for airing -- without permission -- a cheesy commercial that recruits clients for a class-action lawsuit.
“Our image, our reputation is something we’ve been carefully building for years,” Clifford Main (Ed Begley Jr.) angrily emphasizes to Jimmy, who could be fired for cause.
“However,” Cliff adds, “I believe in second chances. But know this is both strike one and strike two. Going forward, you can expect a great deal more scrutiny.”
Jimmy’s pride is wounded by this heated exchange. But he’s more concerned about the future of his attorney girlfriend, Kimberly Wexler (Rhea Seehorn).
Kim got Jimmy hired by vouching for his professionalism. Now she pays the price by being demoted.
“What can I do to put Kim back where she belongs?” Jimmy pleads with his older brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), a founding partner at Kim’s law firm. “You want me to quit being a lawyer?”
Because Jimmy will, he vows. “Poof,” like his practice never existed.
However, forcing Jimmy to quit the legal field so Kim can regain her status would be extortion, Chuck points out.
“You want me to commit a felony,” says Chuck, who takes pride in his high ethical standards. “Because that’s what you’d do, right?”
Needless to say, Chuck doesn’t bite at Jimmy’s proposal. And the careers of Jimmy and Kim remain very much in limbo.