'You' Boss Explains That Killer Finale and the Penn Badgley Drama's Shift to L.A.

Showrunner Sera Gamble talks with The Hollywood Reporter about the Lifetime stalker drama's twist ending and what's changing for season two.
Courtesy of Lifetime

[This story contains spoilers from the season one finale of Lifetime's You.]

The first season of Lifetime's stalker drama You ended in the way that the story completely telegraphed from the start: Beck (Elizabeth Lail), the object of Joe's (Penn Badgley) obsession, discovered that her boyfriend had killed several people and was actually stalking her. Though she made a valiant escape attempt, Joe outsmarted and killed her, too.

But that doesn't mean there wasn't a twist ending. It turns out that Joe's ex-girlfriend Candace (Ambyr Childers) — whom both Joe and Beck thought he'd killed — is still alive, and has a lot to hash out with her ex.

The Candace part of the ending diverges from the Caroline Kepnes book on which the series is based, but most of the rest of the story is just how Kepnes wrote it. Showrunner Sera Gamble spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the season finale, diverting from the books, and who and what will be included in the already-in-progress second season.

The ending of the season, as far as Joe and Beck are concerned, was telegraphed from the beginning. Were you tempted to do it differently?

The way that Caroline executes it in the book is so thrilling and, not to be cliche, but it was such a true roller coaster ride for me emotionally. There were so many moments when I thought and believed it would end differently. So that was plenty of material to work with, but also there's something a little scary and crazy about knowing that that's the ending of your season. I think feeling it looming in the distance affected all of us all season long in a way that was good for the writing of the show. There were so many times when we were trying to bargain with ourselves and see if there was another way through, and we look back and we adore Elizabeth Lail. She did a pretty masterful job this season and so I think that's good to feel a little bit unsafe and a little bit uncertain about a giant tentpole like that at the end of your season. It keeps you on your toes. We felt like we were earning our way toward that ending all season long.

The final episode gave a lot more information about Joe's traumatic past, but didn't expect the audience to sympathize with him.

We're interested in Joe's story, and that includes the past, and I think fundamentally, having a traumatic and terrible past can feed into becoming a questionable adult. However, I know a lot of people who have much worse stories than Joe Goldberg who have, to my knowledge, killed zero people. We're not saying that if you have a terrible and abusive childhood you will necessarily grow up with the exact tool box that Joe did. We're trying to bring in a lot of things that have influenced him. He is kind of a singular character, but in no way are we saying that having a shitty childhood will turn you into a terrible person as some kind of rule. That's just not how the world works.

It's also frustrating to think about this guy, who is so smart, and everything he could've accomplished if he focused his energy on something good rather than stalking and murder.

Right, the Sliding Doors alternate universe Joe Goldberg who does all of the good stuff, but only for people who actually have asked for his help.

Is having Mr. Mooney as a mentor kind of like a Dexter situation?

Joe was taken in by a guy who had a certain type of life philosophy that really did rub off on Joe. Joe was already a teenager by the time he even met Mr. Mooney. There's a lot more to explore about Joe from earlier in his life. Those are the things we're starting to get into for season two

What was Beck's thought process when she was trapped in the box? It seems like she knows what's going to happen to her.

She does, and I think the exercise for a writer is to say if I were in her situation what would I be thinking? I don't think Beck was fully resigned to her fate. I think she's trying to survive. She's been given a fairly explicit instructions to sit in there and think about what she's done. The writers talked a lot about what she would be thinking about that. To us it was the culmination of a lot of conversation that we had had about how people, when something really bad happens to a young woman, we tend to say what did she do to get herself into that situation?

It was important to us in telling her story to have her — because she's just alone in there and there's literally nothing else for her to do besides think about this stuff — we wanted her to track through all of the things she'd be thinking about what had landed her in the cage. We wanted to be sure that we hit on the conclusion that there was no way for her to win. It wasn't as though she was dumb or selfish and so therefore she deserves to be locked in a cage like an animal, rather that in many ways the situation has been unwinnable for her for a long time. This is just the most extreme version of that.

And why do you think Joe's young neighbor Paco, whom he'd been mentoring, did not open the door for Beck when she was trying to escape?

All season long Paco has been the person that brings out the best in Joe. Joe is completely selfless with Paco and really just wants the best for this kid, and wants to protect him and even goes so far as to save him from [his abusive stepfather] Ron, which is a level of involvement. Joe doesn't just go around killing people. He has to have a really, really good reason to get involved. He has to really love you to get involved — at least that's the life code that Joe would say he's working with.

That is a double-edged sword. We wanted to make sure that there were real consequences to what Paco learned from Joe this season. He didn't just learn that classic literature is a good way to pass the time. He didn't just get saved from his abusive stepfather. He also learned some things that ended up having really dire and tragic results such as that Joe would never ever, ever have a human locked in the basement who didn't deserve it. Paco watched Joe take care of Ron and then Joe very compassionately and really thoughtfully laid out for Paco that he might have had to do something bad but for a really good reason. We needed that to end in a moment where Paco would come to that same conclusion about Beck and then would feel safer.

Why did you decide to stray from the book and bring Candace back?

We knew we were going to start flashing back to Candace as Caroline does in the book. We started by talking about how people would presume that he has killed her and be increasingly convinced that he had done so the more that they know about Joe throughout the season. So we just wanted to do something more surprising and realize that she was such a substantial and interesting character.

It did make the casting process more intense, because usually you're not so far into a season and casting someone that you potentially need for later. So we knew that we needed somebody really great and luckily, I had already worked with Ambyr Childers. She was a series regular on Aquarius and I was really familiar with her ability to embody a lot of contradictions in one character. I was able to say, "You know, this is an actress I think we can bring in and see a little bit of and then know she'll be able to really sink her teeth into bigger stuff later."

The second book in the series takes place in Los Angeles — is that where season two is heading?

The show is in L.A. We started work. The writers are on the Paramount lot and we're looking for stage space here in L.A. Joe Goldberg comes to L.A. and he is a die-hard New Yorker so I can't say that he comes to L.A. and he instantly falls in love with the place. At least at first glance, this is not Joe's kind of town, which is delightful. Starting to talk about what Joe would think of Angelenos has been so much fun in the room.

What other characters are returning? Joe framed John Stamos' character, Dr. Nicky, for Beck's murder, and there's still a PI investigating Beck's BFF Peach's death.

Part of the fun of continuing the story is that the loose ends from Joe's past are still dangling and could come back to him at anytime. He is very worried about the fact that Peach Salinger's family has hired people to investigate her alleged suicide, and there is evidence potentially still at her house from season one. If you look at every act of violence that he does in season one, that is potentially something that could come back and bite him. And Dr. Nicky is in prison and he is ardently protesting his innocence. It's too soon to say definitely whether John Stamos will return in season two but we have been talking a lot about the character and we're excited to keep telling that story.

Before the season began, we spoke a lot about how the show touches on male entitlement and the #MeToo movement. What themes are you planning to cover in season two?

It's an interesting conversation for us to be having because the book was written before the #MeToo movement, and we were in production before the Harvey Weinstein story broke. In fact, we were in post on the first couple of episodes when that story broke. And so the thing that I try to keep in mind, that we all try to keep in mind, is that we are not telling a story because of the current iteration of the #MeToo conversation. We're telling a story that predates it. And these problems will continue in some form for, I think, a long time to come in our culture. We're trying to change things and those changes are going to be difficult. So we make sure that we're not just following the story, but rather that we continue to mine as deeply as we can into how we really feel about this stuff.

Joe is a very interesting, particular kind of guy who thinks that he is — what's the word for it? Maybe "woke." He thinks he really understands women. He thinks that he is such an incredible ally. I think that can be one of the most dangerous positions of all when you're entitled and when you're not entirely self-aware about why you do the things that you do. It's certainly something that irritates me when I read things in the news cycle. I'm irritated by people with immense privilege holding themselves up as being spokespeople for less privileged groups of people. So I don't know, we're having a lot of fun being subversive with the story, and that will continue.

It's also interesting just how integral Penn's casting was to the character — the viewer trusts him inherently, but there's something wrong with the character.

Penn is really very in on it. He is actually that thoughtful guy. In the conversations that we have with him behind the scenes, he embodies a lot of what Joe Goldberg thinks he is — but Penn actually is that guy. It makes him the perfect actor to play Joe Goldberg with a lot of layers. I think it also brings a certain amount of necessary discomfort with some of the stuff the character does. But I think we're all on the same page about why we're telling the story, so that makes it really fun and interesting and a rigorous exercise.