If you thought Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) would fall in love with a woman who was an perfect match for him in terms of how far she’d go for what she loved, marry her, have a baby with her and live some version of happily ever after — even one in which they begin to kill together — well, then you haven’t really been paying attention to Netflix’s “You.”
The second season of the dramatic thriller based on Caroline Kepnes’ “You” and “Hidden Bodies” novels teased that Joe and his new family would move to the suburbs, where he would — seemingly instantaneously — find a new object of his obsession. The third season paid that off immediately by introducing new neighbor Natalie (Michaela McManus). However, instead of watching Joe insert himself into her life over the course of the season before things undoubtedly turned deadly, Natalie was struck down almost immediately — by Love’s (Victoria Pedretti) jealous hand.
From there, the season focused on the complications, and ultimately the dissolution, of Joe and Love’s marriage, as they first worked together to cover up Natalie’s murder but then began to be pulled in opposite directions. Joe found a new woman to obsess over in his librarian boss Marienne (Tati Gabrielle), while Love became entangled with Natalie’s stepson Theo (Dylan Arnold). Joe and Love went back and forth at times on their feelings for each other and just how far they would go to try to save their relationship, including therapy, and polyamory with neighbors Cary (Travis Van Winkle) and Sherry (Shalita Grant).
In the end, Love paralyzed Joe with poison, but he had been watching her closely enough to know she was growing it in their garden and might need an antidote. Luckily for him, something told him to take it just before their dangerous dinner, so once again he got the upper hand, and the woman in the relationship was the one to end up dead — and this time blamed for all that had gone wrong in their sleepy little suburb of Madre Linda, including Joe’s presumed death. (Joe cut off a few toes and left at least one in a quiche before setting the house on fire and limping away.)
Joe dropped off their son Henry on the doorstep of his colleague Dante (Ben Mehl), who had been struggling to adopt with his husband; forged a suicide note for Love in which she confessed to her crimes without revealing the true reason for them; and then skipped town in search of Marienne, who Love surprisingly spared.
Joe didn’t find Marienne by season’s end. Instead, he ended up in Paris, vowing — or threatening, depending on your point of view — to travel the world until he came across her again.
Here, showrunner Sera Gamble breaks down the twists, turns and seemingly ripped-from-the-headlines moments of “You” Season 3.
Given that the pandemic is still very much happening in our real world, is Joe traveling the globe in the fourth season still the plan?
I feel like telling people what definitely is the plan while we’re still in a pandemic is really dangerous. But we leave him wanting to find Marienne and there’s a little bit of a difference between what we can do as a TV production and what you or I can do as a tourist on any given day, so we’re thinking about it, we’re optimistic about it. I definitely want to fulfill the promise that this show has always had, which is to give you an exciting new place for Joe every season and a dark adventure.
Leaving his son behind probably affords him a lot of opportunities that he wouldn’t have if he had a baby with him. How much of that decision was driven by story versus production needs of not working around a baby?
In terms of production we all now have PhDs in working with babies. Very little scares us on that front because we just basically shot a season with a lot of parents of very young children during COVID. So it really came from the place of Joe’s arc from the entire season, which was so much about becoming a father and how that makes him really deeply reflect on how fucked up his own childhood was and what is necessary to ensure that kids grow up to be OK. And so, it has so much more to do, certainly in the minds of the writers, of that endgame between Love and Joe and how each of them feel about the other is as a parent and the very last things that Love says to him.
What made you want to dive into that theme of parenting in the beginning?
We broke the season without much help from [Caroline’s third book in the series, “You Love Me”] because Caroline was deep in writing it, but we do want to have stuff in common, so we were interested in this pregnancy, but I can’t really imagine a version of the show where we do the same thing over and over every season. So part of the challenge of a character like Joe is you do have to keep evolving his situation, kind of like turning up the boiling water. [Laughs.] The baby — and marriage also — both of those things, hand in hand, seemed like such delightful triggers.
So much of Madre Linda on its own feels triggering, especially some of the people. Certainly with what we’re experiencing with the pandemic while we are watching the show, the anti-vaccination piece of the story hits extremely close. What inspired including that, and did you alter anything about it as time went on and it became a discourse we began to engage in more because of COVID?
The writers’ room opened the first week of 2020 and even before the writers’ room opened, I spent a lot of time hanging out with [executive producer] Greg Berlanti and talking about general ideas. The thing about vaccinating children obviously took on a lot of resonance with current events and as we went on we became aware that this was going to feel incredibly current, but it really came from a more basic conversation, which was, when you have two parents who really want to do right by their child and protect their child and they will certainly cross any line that most parent wouldn’t, what kind of things would happen that would really upset them? We were not trying to have political conversations, we were just inviting the parents who work on the show to talk about what they’re scared of, and nothing is more terrifying than your child becoming sick. And so, it wasn’t anything more cheeky or subversive than that. We offered up the question of, “What would incline Love to hit somebody over the head?”
Well, probably a lot less than that.
Potentially, but what would be so traumatic to the parents that they would end up putting somebody in a cage? And so, the idea was always that there would be an episode where the kid got sick because he was too young to be vaccinated and was exposed and then Joe unexpectedly got sick because he had this really shambolic childhood and just wasn’t always cared for and his mom wasn’t always there for him. And if you dangle the opportunity to do a hallucinogenic fever dream in front of me, I will always, always grab it. We had already done a LSD episode and we had already done a head injury episode, and every season I think we have to do something crazy to Joe, but we can’t repeat ourselves. So, how do we double down? We felt like if he spiked a really high fever then maybe the voice in his head would become a whole second person.
There were times this season where Love was weighing how far she would go versus how far she wanted to go, just like Joe was. What were the complications in determining how, where and to whom harm would be done this season?
We tried to engineer these characters to make you ask the question, “Do I myself want to kill this person?” But I think a really important thing about these two characters is they don’t enjoy murder, so their default condition is never, “I want to do something violent.” It’s actually the opposite: what they want is to have a really peaceful and happy home in a community that’s really close-knit. That just really butts up against Love, who has such a primal reaction to something that would threaten her family. That goes back to when she was a young teenager with her brother. If Joe’s secret trigger is love — with a lower case L — and Love’s secret trigger is protecting her family, then that’s the pressure cooker we have to put them in, and we want to see them trying really, really hard not to hurt anybody.
When they built the new cage, they both hid a key in it, indicating they obviously didn’t trust each other 100% right from the jump, and yet it was still a slow burn before you really felt they were going to go after each other.
That includes a lot of conversation with Penn and Victoria. We were constantly talking about what we would be thinking if we were the audience. Part of what we need to do is surprise you a little bit, and we have a lot of ambition in terms of the story we want to tell for each of these characters. We looked at the season and said, “This is about marriage and about parenthood for each of them and also romantic love.” And of course we are craving the “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” of it all because they are so well-matched as adversaries — we do want to see them against each other — but we also think they’re an amazing team, and we don’t want to dispatch one or the other and leave the other alone all season. So they have this crisis in their marriage at the end of Episode 1 [when Love kills Natalie] and we just talked about, “When you have a huge explosion in your marriage, how do you fix it?” We were just telling, on one level, a very sincere story about marriage, and they have a very particular kind of love story.
Having somebody who really knows you — being with somebody for long enough that they see you when you’re making bad choices and when you want to be alone is incredibly terrifying and not at all part of the advertisement for romantic love. So the best possible thing we could do to these two is give them exactly what they want — the exact postcard image of what each of them through they wanted. But real love is incredibly confronting and parenthood is so mindbogglingly confronting that I’m really in admiration of anyone who does it.
“Mr. & Mrs. Smith” is a great comparison for the way they might go after each other, but that couple was stronger together at the end of the film. Why did you feel Love had to die?
We rifled through so many permutations and we’re not idiots — we know that Victoria is amazing! But this was the plan from the beginning — the plan was to always have a two-season story with this character.
Not that you’d necessarily follow the character in future seasons, but why not leave it open that she was out there, potentially a threat to him?
We want you to feel that the show is just crazy enough that any of those things could happen — up to and including, “Wait a minute, has the plan always been for Penn to walk off the show?” I love the idea of giving the audience something you don’t expect because they’re incredibly savvy and all of us have watched 5 million hours of TV in the last year, so I always want to just make sure that the audience is awake. But we do have in mind that there are other ways to get really formidable foes for Joe, and at the end of the day, his worst enemy is always just fucking Joe Goldberg.
Because of the way Joe writes the end of Love’s story, many of their former friends in Madre Linda are now just going to assume she was some crazy woman.
Right, and that never happens in the real world! But we ask ourselves frequently, “Have we made sure that this character has had a chance to speak its truth?” And there were many times this season in writing the process of the script where the writer had to stop many times and ask that, often of Joe, but definitely it was a big part of writing Love this season because she’s so complicated. There are parts of her that are, fair to say, genuinely unhinged, but also she has so many great points to make about being a woman and being a mother, and I really emphasize with a lot of them, quite frankly. But yeah, with one suicide note that he fabricates, he can undo her entire identity to everyone that remembers her. So we just wanted to make sure about how we were clear about who she was and the audience knows the truth.
It’s something that hangs over the show every season. In Season 1, when we were writing Beck, she was more and more aware as the season went on that there was no way for her to win, and that’s really the sharp conclusion that she came to when she was in the cage: the system was really rigged against her. And so too with Love, even though she’s done much, much worse things and is not, what we would call, a good person. And Marienne. All of them have something specific to say about that. Every woman, no matter how many people she’s murdering, she never, ever reaches quite that pinnacle of insane privilege that Joe does.
In creating Marienne, how different did she have to be from who Joe was attracted to before, perhaps in part because of how he is different now after experiencing all he has with Love and maybe even Beck?
I think there is an aspect of that. Very early on, we’d think, “Who can he fall in love with now?” It’s this forensic investigation of the qualities of Beck and of Love and everybody. But I think fundamentally this is when he keeps making the same mistake over and over again. He walks right up to the edge of self-awareness, and this season he manages to hold it sometimes, but he is so committed to this idea of love deep inside of him that he just keeps thinking he’s going to find it outside of himself. But with Marienne, it was sort of a breath of fresh air as we got into the second half of the season and we were able to investigate her more fully and start to get into what a relationship between the two of them would look like because she’s so grounded and is living such a dramatically different life from Love that it felt like we had opened a door and let a whole big swath of the real world in — somebody who was living in the real world, not just in Madre Linda.
This season you had a really fun moment fans would only catch if they stuck around through the credits of the finale where you gave all of your staff members’ dogs credits, complete with photos. What inspired that?
They were credited as emotional support since we’ve been working from home through the pandemic. I wanted to give the dogs producer credit at the Episode 10. I’m hoping it’s fun for intrepid viewers to find it.