SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “You” Season 2.
Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) is going to be a dad. And that’s not even the biggest bombshell of the second season of “You.”
After killing the supposed love of his life Beck (Elizabeth Lail) and pining her murder on her therapist Dr. Nicky (John Stamos) in the first season of Sera Gamble and Greg Berlanti’s adaptation of Caroline Kepnes’ novel of the same name, Joe received a blast from his past in the form of girlfriend Candace (Ambyr Childers). The girlfriend everyone assumed Joe had killed was actually alive and looking for a bit of revenge of her own. Joe headed west from New York, landing in Los Angeles, where he promptly met a new object of his affection: Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti). The two started dating, got pregnant, and Love revealed herself to be just as dark and twisted as Joe: Not only did she kill her childhood au pair, but in present-day, she ended up killing Candace, as well as Joe’s neighbor Delilah (Carmela Zumbado), too. She just has different reasons for such acts.
“She’s not a cold-hearted sociopath; she’s feeling everything really deeply, and she’s doing what she feels she needs to do. She probably sleeps a little better than Joe does, actually, but she’s not doing anything because she loves the taste of blood; she’s doing what she has to do to protect her family,” Gamble tells Variety.
The second season of “You” is inspired by Kepnes’ second novel in the Joe Goldberg series, entitled “Hidden Bodies.” But in that story, although Love does learn of Joe’s murderous ways, she ultimately comes back to him, realizing she loves him so much she can live with even the darkest parts of him. For the show, Gamble says she and her writers’ room knew they wanted to take it further.
“We asked ourselves a lot of questions about how to construct a character who would ultimately be OK with it, and then we started realizing we were making a season of TV that’s really about Joe being threatened with a reflection,” she says. “Candace is saying, ‘I’m going to show you who you really are, and you’re not going to like it.’ So we wanted to bury in plain sight a perfect reflection for him that he would really recoil from when he saw it.”
Gamble admits that she never wanted to play with Candace as being that reflection for Joe. Instead, she wanted Candace to be a threat to him and the new life he was trying to build — a life that included being a protector to another young neighbor, Ellie (Jenna Ortega), as well as a reluctant but still budding friend and writing partner to Love’s brother Forty (James Scully).
“Objectively, if you step away and just look at the facts of the story on paper, she’s the hero of the story and Joe is the villain,” Gamble points out. Candace is the “survivor who can’t get any help inside the system and who is trying anything she can to be able to stop him so she can sleep at night.”
In breaking the second season, Gamble and her writers’ room wanted to make sure Candace had integrity but also the tragic backstory of a young woman who “wanted to live her life and fell in with the wrong guy and has been paying the price ever since.”
As Candace begins to track Joe, getting close to Forty as a way to keep Joe in her crosshairs, Gamble says having her pop up in certain moments in the story was about making sure he couldn’t “hide” and that, at times, it would feel like she had the upper hand. Unfortunately for her, and many women in similar real-world situations, Gamble adds, Joe always had the “nuclear weapon” of “She’s my crazy, stalker ex” at the ready.
“When a woman comes forward to share an uncomfortable or accusatory truth, it seems like our culture rushes to prove that she’s crazy. And most women have at least one story of a time where they needed to say something, and that thing was so important and scary that it made them emotional, and then they were immediately written off because they seemed crazy. It’s a weapon you can use to immediately discredit whatever is coming out of a woman’s mouth,” Gamble says. “We knew she would show up, she would have a great story, but the show would have an incredible weapon. How do you argue against crazy without sounding crazy? We were interested in exploring that.”
It wasn’t only Candace who was dismissed when raising concerns about Joe, though. Forty, eventually, caught on, but his rantings were at first just brushed aside, under the assumption he was back on drugs. An addict who believed he was the one who had killed the au pair in a drug-induced blackout state when he was a teenager, Forty was a “casualty of the kind of family and life that the Quinns have,” Gamble notes.
But like Candace, Forty knew more than he let on — or so he claimed. In the finale episode, he told Love and Joe that he knew what Love really was, which meant he had to die before the season’s end.
“We kept him alive as far as we could as that obstacle, which is half an episode. You have a responsibility to a certain level of consequences on a show like this,” Gamble says.
Joe didn’t kill Forty; Officer Fincher (Danny Vasquez) did, after he had been staking out the suspicious trio and saw Forty had a gun trained on the other two. “Forty was a problem for Joe but so intimately tied to Love that he couldn’t get rid of him if he wanted to,” Gamble says. “And we thought it would be more interesting for the show if all of this forced connection with Forty led Joe to really like him in a certain way. The story of Love and Forty and Joe really is a tragedy, and we wanted to tell a LA noir tragedy about [Forty].”
Joe started to become protective of Forty in the way that he has proved himself to be protective of children, including Ellie, who Joe began tracking through spy software on her cell phone because she was hanging around with comedian Henderson (Chris D’Elia) who had drugged and assaulted Ellie’s older sister Delilah years earlier.
“What we were interested in exploring on the show was the idea that there are so many masks that we wear in 2019 and 2020, and one of the ways that modern technology has affected our culture is it assists and solidifies in improving those masks. So Henderson is someone who has a public persona, is famous for certain stuff, is bolstering that image of himself online — like when you first meet him, Joe knows that he has created a narrative around his own career based on that he beat cancer,” Gamble says.
Henderson’s story was not ripped from any specific #MeToo tale, Gamble acknowledges, but it is indicative of the dark layers many people manage to keep underneath their public-facing personas.
And because Joe is the kind of persona who can see through the personas to the dark layers, in part because he shares a darkness but also because “he’ll break into your house,” Gamble notes, his picture-perfect image of Love has been somewhat cracked by the revelation that she is capable of murder (and keeping him in a cage), too.
About that cage, Gamble shares that Joe “can build it fairly efficiently,” but he didn’t move to Los Angeles and construct it right away. Instead, after he hit the man who’s identity he was borrowing, Will (Robin Lord Taylor), over the head, he realized he had a need for one after all and “actually built it with the guy tied up in the corner of the storage room,” Gamble explains.
The new cage came in handy for keeping Will under control so Joe could continue to be him, but it became a bit of a shackle, too. Joe ended up letting Will go, and he planned to do the same for Delilah after temporarily imprisoning her in the cage after she found out some of his truth. But getting caught up with the Quinn family meant Joe couldn’t flee as he planned, and Love found the cage, with Delilah in it, and killed her.
“We try to make it difficult for Joe to escape the mistakes of his past. I really love the feeling that anything you tripped on before can come back and haunt you, and he is really in it right now,” Gamble says. “But the ultimate question of how self-aware Joe can get, that’s part of what we’re exploring with the show, and I don’t even really know the ultimate answer to that yet.”
Although the second season saw Joe have more self-awareness about his part in these lopsided relationships than the first, Gamble says there is constant conversation about “what he’s in denial about and what he thinks he did and why does he think he did it? That sort of stuff is endlessly fascinating. We all have stuff we’ve been using as defense mechanisms since we were kids; Joe is just a really, really drastic version of that.”
And one of those defense mechanisms for Joe is transferring his compulsion. Therefore, at the end of the second season, Joe’s curiosity has already been piqued about a new mystery woman.
“When we were first pitching the show, very glibly we were like, ‘New city, new girl,’ and of course now the show is a living, breathing creature and it’s a lot more nuanced than that, but it feels like it’s built into the matrix of the show that Joe has to keep moving. And that you always want to put him in an environment where he will feel like an outsider and he will be Sherlock Holmes-ing everyone who comes through the door. So we wanted to promise a little bit of that at the end of Episode 10,” Gamble says.
That is not to imply that Love is not still special to Joe — especially now that she is carrying his child, but “I think he got exactly what he wished for with Love, and be careful about that,” Gamble continues. “At the end of the second book, he’s going to jail, and so we all were like, ‘Are we going to send him to jail?’ And we kind of feel like we did, in a certain way.”
“You” Season 2 is streaming now on Netflix.