Warning: This article contains spoilers for the third season of the Netflix series You starring Penn Badgley, which just dropped yesterday.
What fresh hell has Joe Goldberg gotten himself into now? With the third season of You hitting Netflix this weekend, we sat down with series showrunner Sera Gamble to talk through some of the show’s latest twists and turns. We talk Joe’s latest obsession, his dalliance with parenthood, and his season-ending trip to “Paris.” (Note: At the time of this interview we didn’t know if there would be a You season four, but it has since been announced.)
The A.V. Club: When you all went into the writers’ room for season three, what challenges were you facing and where did you want the season to go?
Sera Gamble: Oh, my God, we had no fucking idea what the challenges would be because it was February of 2020, so we were just like, “We have to make sure that the story with Love is really twisting and turning.” And then the entire world caught fire about six weeks later.
I think our challenge is always to find new aspects of love and obsession and new little avenues into the character of Joe. As time goes on, the plus side is that you get to know him so much better and you’ve seen him go through so much. We feel like we really know him. But also it’s about keeping things genuinely surprising and interesting and fresh and honest. That’s not a job that gets easier. As a show matures, you actually have to work harder, I think, to keep that going.
AVC: You’ve also got to consciously avoid writing yourself into a corner. For example, Joe can’t die, right? Or if he did, how would the show go on?
SG: Yeah, I mean, I am prone to ask that question. I hope that we’re just twisty and unexpected enough that there are moments where viewers are like, “I wouldn’t put it past them,” because that’s the gold standard of uncertainty in a show.
AVC: At the end of the season, Joe is in Paris looking for Marienne and Juliet. If there is a season four, how do you imagine that situation playing out? We talked to Tati Gabrielle for another piece and we couldn’t imagine Marienne playing along or being cool with it like Love.
SG: We can’t, but Joe can. He thinks that this is all just a misunderstanding, that he can clean it up with her. I think if he didn’t believe that, he would have gotten on a plane. I think we were hearing his honest, uncensored thoughts when he was paralyzed on the ground and he was just like, “Don’t let her poison you against me with her lies,” basically. So he sees this as something he can potentially fix.
AVC: When does Joe lose interest in an obsession? What turns him? Is it just that the challenge is over?
SG: That’s an interesting question. I don’t know if it’s always the same thing, I do think he saw so much about what was great in Love and the thing that turned him away from her is just that she revealed parts of herself that were uncomfortably close to parts of himself he can’t look at. He can’t face them in her unless he faces them in him, so he would rather just make her the enemy.
AVC: At the end of season two, there seemed like the possibility of a long-term version of their relationship that was the two of them doing some weird couple shit, where they’re making each other jealous and helping each other.
SG: I think we cycled through as much of that as we could. We wanted to hit all of it. It wouldn’t have been fun, I think, if they were just enemies the whole time. So the first job was to win them back to each other for a while so we could enjoy. One end of the spectrum is Bonnie and Clyde, and the other end of the spectrum is Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but when they’re fighting. We wanted to not miss any of the fun parts on the spectrum. We wanted to do all of them.
AVC: Writing straight romance also seems harder than writing conflict.
SG: Everything needs conflict. It’s not a story unless there’s conflict, which I think is part of the reason we have gotten so used to love stories that are actually about men doing objectively horrible criminal things in the name of love. That’s how you turn a story about two people who want to bang into an epic romance.
Not for nothing, but the inspiration for the whole show is to deconstruct why we’re so into that. It might be as simple as what you just said, which is that the writer needed conflict so they created this paradigm that’s really toxic for our whole culture.
AVC: Speaking of the objectively horrible things that men can do: Scott Speedman’s character Matthew is trying to put together who killed his wife, who, first of all, didn’t even like him. But, more importantly, he’s accessing video cameras illicitly all over the town. Could he have hacked into Love and Joe’s baby monitor or phones? And even if he had found the smoking gun, what could he have done with it? He couldn’t take the footage or proof to the cops because it’s not admissible.
SG: Right? Yeah. I mean, we spent one million arduous hours figuring out the difference between different networks that you can hack into. We had charts of, like, “baby monitors are this kind of closed network…” We had to understand what would be on his computers to begin with.
My thought on where his character goes is he gets obsessively involved in trying to get this evidence and trying to figure out what happened. He knows it’s not admissible in court. It’s so far beyond that. It’s about the fact that he has an instinct and he just needs to know. Also, he has every resource in the universe. He could probably do something else if he knew who the bad guy was. So he just wants to figure it out.
AVC: How did you deal with Joe and Love having a kid? We know what happens to Henry at the end of the season, but were there other options you worked through in the room, like “What if Joe keeps him and then he becomes little Joe?”
SG: I remember having a conversation with [You author] Caroline Kepnes long before we even started the season where we were musing on what Joe’s kid would be like at 17. We’re just not quite ready to tell that story on the show yet. So for now, it was much about “Can we at least move Joe through all of the stuff he goes through and all the stuff he does this season? Do we believe that by the end of the season, he would be clear-eyed enough to know that to truly protect his son, he would have to hand Henry over to Dante?”
AVC: Madre Linda is supposed to be in northern California, presumably in the Bay Area. What’s the analog in your mind? Is it Montecito? Monterey?
AVC: We looked at a lot of towns around the size of Los Gatos. There’s a lot of interesting little towns with a lot of character up there. We had a plan to go shoot part of the season up there, so we were scouting for places that had interesting architecture. We were trying to match the library set thinking we would shoot it up there, but then, of course, COVID made that impossible. So that’s why you might recognize so much stuff [in L.A.]. We were disappointed, but we were relieved. At least we weren’t trying to pretend that the lot in Burbank is New York City. We would have been truly fucked if that had been what our season was.
(You can check our interview with Tati Gabrielle, You season three’s Marienne, below.)