With Better Call Saul's second season, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould are playing with house money. The writing-producing duo, who turned Breaking Bad from a charming little story about a high school teacher who falls into dealing meth into a full-blown pop culture phenomenon, decided that they would double down and take even more risks with their prequel series, hoping to stay relevant in an endless torrent of narrative content.
While Gilligan’s M.O. of being the “nice guy” who is the antithesis of the “difficult man” showrunner is well-trodden ground at this point, it’s maybe not so much that he’s nice per se. It’s that he – and his troupe of writers, actors, directors, et al. – have the confidence to flush all the tropes of the so-called “golden era” down the drain in favor of truly bizarre and elliptical storytelling. And somehow, though it opened to strong numbers, Saul might be one of the more underrated programs on broadcast.
So, after a solid first season, Gilligan, Gould, and one of TV’s most accomplished music supervisors, Thomas Golubić, decided to write and produce a mariachi song – which is available for download on iTunes today, in advance of Monday night's Episode 4 – for a one-off TV spot in the hopes of drumming up some new interest in the show. I spoke to Gilligan and Gould via phone about how that song came together and what the rest of Season 2 might have in store.
Tell me about this new mariachi song, "Yo Soy Saúl." How did that come about?
Vince Gilligan: The whole thing started in late November of last year when AMC’s promo department, led by a guy named Geoff Whelan, said, "We’ve got this idea. We got a little money left over here at the end of the year and we wanna give Better Call Saul Season 2 its best foot forward." He had an idea for this commercial before 2015 is over in which Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman is sitting at the bar, having a drink by himself, in this really down-and-out nasty dive bar. And we have this image in our heads that this mariachi band is playing in the background while some scary looking characters are up to no good, up to some illegal business. We thought that was a wonderful idea. And when we heard "mariachi band," we said, "Shit, let’s swing for the fences here. Can we have the mariachi band sing a song that is specific to Jimmy/Saul?"
This first discussion was [late] November, and this had to be shot before the year was over. Also, everyone was leaving for the holiday break, so we had less than a month to put the thing together. AMC said, "We don’t have a lot of experience writing mariachi songs, but [Saul music supervisor] Thomas Golubić can help put this thing together, say no more." We got Thomas on the phone and he leapt in with both feet. We found several mariachi bands. Amongst these wonderful bands that he found for us was Mariachi Bandido. It’s a local L.A. band.
Peter Gould: Thomas sent us a few videos of them. They have such a spirit of fun. Their music – I hate to say it – swings. That’s probably the wrong word for mariachi. They had all this positive energy. They just grab you. In addition to being excellent musicians, they’re also charismatic performers.
Gilligan: That's them in the commercial.
Gould: These were the perfect guys. And so – I’m using the word "co-write" very loosely, because Vince and I are not musicians and neither one of us speaks Spanish...
Gilligan: We’re monolingual and not musicians.
Gould: Neither one of us claims to be experts on mariachi music, either.
Gilligan: We’re a triple threat.
Gould: We’re the cement blocks around the feet of this project. But Vince – to his credit – loves writing lyrics. Vince wrote some lyrics, then I wrote some lyrics. Then Vince wrote a great hook for the song.
Gilligan: There’s a great bit that Peter wrote in English that Arturo Salas translated for us. Peter and I wrote, like, one percent of this thing, and Arturo did the heavy lifting with the other 99. So, Peter wrote this bit in English. I found this Spanish rhyming dictionary online. So I found out the Spanish word for lawyer is abogado, plural abogados. And I knew that rhymed with avocados. So, naturally the line was "Yo soy Saúl / El amo y señor de los abogados / Yo soy Saúl / El amo y señor de los abogados / Mis cojones son tan grandes / Como los avocados" (translation: “I’m Saul / The king of the lawyers / I’m Saul / My balls are as big as avocados”).
Gould: It’s a boastful song. One of the things we loved about the context of the commercial is that Jimmy/Saul has hit a dead end. And here’s this song where he’s boasting about how his words can unlock the cell doors and paralyze the police and he’s the best. He’s the one you call when you hear the sirens. We love that juxtaposition about the character feeling shitty about himself but there’s this song playing that is as boastful as it could possibly be.
Gilligan: After they refined the lyrics, we added a melody. I had a very rough idea of a melody that I whistled into my phone and sent it to them. They took that and ran with it.
It sounds like you're really excited. Where are you in the process of Season 2?
Gould: I think just yesterday we locked the last two episodes. I have to say you’re catching us at a nice moment. We’re in a great mood. I think I’m speaking for both of us here, but we’re very happy about Season 2. You never really know how the episodes are gonna come out until you’re sitting in the edit in post. Vince and I have been sitting together on different couches for the last couple months, and we keep turning to each other and saying, “I have to say, that turned out pretty damn well.” The whole season is a really good season of television. I hope the audience agrees, but I think this is better than the first season.
Gilligan: There were times earlier this season where I was afraid we’re losing our way a little bit in the writers’ room. I don’t know; we’re biased as hell. I guess the final arbiters will be the viewers, but we’re really proud of our work this season.
This will probably come off as a backhanded compliment, but whatever: It seems like the core creative team you’ve established has already been working together for so long now that I think there’s a sense of cohesion on Saul Season 1 and 2 (so far) that is stronger than it was in that first season of Breaking Bad, say. It’s not trying to find itself the way the earlier episodes of Breaking Bad were. It’s more confident, maybe?
Gilligan: I’m as proud as I can be of those early days of Breaking Bad, but you’re absolutely right. We didn’t know what we were doing. I’m not even sure if I could point out the exact moment when we started to understand what we were doing. It was an evolutionary learning process, and I have great fondness for those early episodes because we were really finding our way through the dark without a flashlight. But, yes, over the years, we’ve developed a great team that has been working together for the better part of a decade now. One of the biggest things I worry about moving forward is once Saul ends — which everything must, and we have no idea when that will be, by the way — I wanna keep being productive and creative if for no other reason to keep this team together. It was hard fought getting these people together, and I hate the thought of losing them.
Can you tease anything about the rest of the season?
Gould: I will say what happens in Episode 4 [airing tonight] really takes the season in a new direction. There’s some ways in which we hit the gas in a very different way than we’ve seen so far.
I feel like something really terrible is going to happen to Kim’s character.
Gilligan: Well, there’s a reason all the fairy tales end with “and they lived happily ever after.” They don’t start with that. And that’s because watching people happy and contented and in a good place in their lives is the antithesis of drama. So, you might be onto something there.
What about Gus? Does he show up in Season 2?
Gould: This is tricky. I think it’s fair to say you’re going to see some folks from Breaking Bad who come into the story in organic and inevitable ways. But I think it’s going to be a huge surprise when you see who shows up in the next few episodes. Fans of Breaking Bad will be well taken care of by the end of Season 2. With every episode of Saul, we get steps closer to the events of Breaking Bad.
And Bryan Cranston? Has he told you what he thinks about Saul?
Gilligan: He came to our premiere screening a few weeks back, and he’s just a great fan and friend of the show. He is so busy doing giant movies and getting nominated for Oscars. But it would be a shame if this whole series came and went without him taking part in it, whether it’s him acting in or directing an episode. He’s a busy man, and rightfully so.