SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Bluebeard’s Castle,” the first season finale of “You.”
On Lifetime’s “You,” Joe Goldberg’s (Penn Badgley) past has come back to haunt him — just in time for the show to take its hiatus between seasons.
At the end of the first season, showrunner Sera Gamble opted to bring Joe’s ex Candace (Ambyr Childers) walking through the doors of his bookstore, very much alive and very much to the surprise of Joe himself. This was a major plot deviation from Caroline Kepnes’ novel of the same name, on which the show has been based. The novel ends with Joe finding a new object of obsession in the form of a young woman named Amy.
“The philosophy is always to remix the books in a way that makes emotional sense,” Gamble tells Variety. “The way you feel when you read the books, we want to capture that in the show a little deeper. … We were just thinking about what would be the best cliffhanger and f— with everybody’s head in the best way as they waited for more.”
Gamble also wanted to subvert expectations about how Joe and Candace’s relationship ended. The novel leaves the storyline vague, and as she and her writers’ room were working on episodes, she says they realized pretty quickly the audience would assume Joe had killed her.
“That started a conversation about, ‘What if he didn’t; what if he just thought he did?'” she says. “It just opened up all of these avenues for Joe Goldberg’s future that [were] irresistible.”
The history the audience knows Joe and Candace have had — told through his perspective and that of her friends in the first season — sets up higher stakes for the already ordered-second season than if Gamble had followed the book verbatim and introduced a new character.
The character of Joe’s young neighbor Paco (Luca Padovan) also became an important ingredient in raising the stakes for Joe. All season long, Joe tried to protect Paco from his mother’s abusive boyfriend Ron (Daniel Cosgrove) and in the finale ended up killing him — in front of Paco’s eyes.
“Paco has been a character that illuminates the best, most compassionate side of Joe,” Gamble says. “He educates Paco, he gives Paco a sandwich when he’s hungry, he keeps Paco safe. And then he does this incredible thing in the finale.”
Gamble notes that Joe “doesn’t go around killing people for no reason” but has a “very strong code.” Usually his self-interest and preservation is at the center, which is what led him down the road to killing his girlfriend’s meddling best friend Peach (Shay Mitchell) earlier in the season and even that girlfriend, Beck (Elizabeth Lail), herself in the finale. But in this instance he put concerns about Paco first.
In many ways, Paco could be seen as a loose end for Joe going forward in the story. After all, not only does he know what Joe did to Ron, but he also caught Beck trying to escape the basement of the bookstore, where Joe had imprisoned her. But in choosing not to help Beck, Paco proved his loyalty to Joe.
“Paco has been exposed to Joe [after] being trained to see Joe as this hero and savior, do the biggest tragedy for me in the finale is that moment where Paco does the math and realizes there must be something very deeply wrong with her or Joe would never do something like this to [her],” Gamble says. “His faith in Joe and his trust in Joe was so deep that Beck could literally be screaming through that door, but what Paco has just learned is that if Joe is doing something like this, he must have an incredibly important reason.”
Gamble admits “being loved by Joe is a double-edged sword.” Gamble recalls reading the novel and thinking that Beck would somehow still make it out of her relationship with Joe alive — and that “those two crazy kids were going to make it work.” Although she acknowledges that was a “shocking and appalling” line of thought, that was “the spirit of the story that we wanted to capture” for the roller coaster ride of the show.
While Beck and Joe’s story came to an end in the first season finale, in many ways Candace and Joe’s story, as well as Paco and Joe’s story, may just be beginning.
“Do you remember in ‘Kill Bill’ when Uma Thurman’s character says to the little girl, ‘Come find me in 20 years?’ When we were shooting those last scenes with Paco, that’s what kept popping into my head,” Gamble says. “What I’m most interested in is doing an entire TV show about who Paco grows up to be because he spent some time with Joe.”
Of course, Gamble isn’t actually making that a reality just yet. The second season of “You” will follow some of the themes and dynamics of Kepnes’ sequel, “Hidden Bodies,” as the story follows Joe who worries over the “stress and the pressure of what he has done.” While he may be able to justify and live with the murders, there are people still out there who are trying to get to the bottom of them, leaving him vulnerable.
Gamble shares that people including Peach Salinger’s family and Dr. Nicky (John Stamos), who is in prison for the murders of Peach and Beck but “has something to say about his innocence,” are still in play. Other loose ends weighing on Joe in the second season will be the DNA he left behind at one crime scene, just like in the novel, as well as Beck’s friends, and of course Candace, who Gamble says is “the one that is the most in his face.”
“The fun of breaking season 2 is figuring out largely when to detonate each bomb. Joe may be trying to start a new life and have a fresh start, but it’s hard to do that when you have such skeletons in [your] closet,” she says.