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[This story includes major spoilers for You season four, Part 1.]
You showrunner Sera Gamble flipped the script for season four, Part 1, of the popular Netflix drama.
The fourth installment of the series — which is broken into two parts, with the first five episodes now streaming — sees Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) go from the hunter to the hunted, as someone in his new circle of privileged London friends sets him up to go down for the murder of Malcolm Harding (Stephen Hagan).
Over the course of Part 1, Joe and his new pals are the key characters in their own little whodunnit, trying to discover who is plucking them off one by one. When three of London’s elite are stabbed to death, the public labels the murderer the “Eat the Rich killer” — and all signs point to Joe, who actually isn’t the one holding the knife this time around.
Halfway through the midseason finale, the real killer is revealed to be one of Joe’s only friends in London: Rhys Montrose (Ed Speleers). And though the relationship happens in the backdrop of a potentially budding romance with Kate (Charlotte Ritchie), exploring a different kind of love — a platonic one — for Joe this season was important to Gamble and her writers room this season.
“We tried to construct somebody who would be a real disappointment to Joe to lose him as a friend as it were,” Gamble tells The Hollywood Reporter. “One of the features of whodunnit as a structure for a story is that you’re always thinking of the parallels between the detective and the killer — the ways that they’re the same and the ways that they’re different, because it kind of comes down to the detectives’ preternatural ability to suss out the truth about someone who’s lying.”
Below, Gamble opens up about how she decided to make Rhys Part 1‘s big bad, the importance of introducing a male relationship in Joe’s life — and what comes next for the two of them when You returns March 9 with Part 2.
At the start of every season, Joe always seems like he wants to be better, but then he ends up going back to his old habits of stalking and killing. Do you think he genuinely wants to be better, or do you think he just thinks that he does?
Yeah, I think he wants to. But there’s wanting and being willing to do that work, as we all want to be things that are very hard to be.
About 20 minutes into the season and thinking Joe could change, Malcolm (Stephen Hagan) shows up dead in his kitchen — which we eventually learn was not at the hands of Joe. Who were you hoping people would theorize killed Malcolm?
Whodunnits are kind of up to each audience member. There definitely were moments where the conversation in the writers room devolved into everybody just clutching their head from trying to figure out all the different math of who people could be suspecting when. It was the first time I had broken a whodunnit story over many, many episodes like that, so it was a learning curve for me. I realized we just have to assume that people will have every possible theory and make sure that’s not the only thing the story has going for it. So, the consensus among executives and staff who were watching the show was that people were going to strongly suspect Rhys at the end of episode one and that then maybe they would get off and then on to somebody else — at least briefly. We were like “OK, all right, maybe that’s a good misdirect to be thinking about him right away.”
As the season goes on, Joe gets back into his routine of killing people. But he did let Marienne (Tati Gabrielle) go. Why don’t you think he can ever fully change?
Because if he changes he doesn’t get the things he wants more than changing. We have to give him points for commitment, I suppose. There’s nothing he values over this feeling that he calls love, and it is incredibly difficult for him. He tears himself apart, trying to both be his version of a good man and then also get what he wants in terms of love and the kind of relationship he wants in his life. And then also, what even is a good man? He’s picked a path that’s very fraught, in general.
A lot happens leading into the ending of Part 1. When Joe discovers Kate (Charlotte Ritchie) kneeling over Gemma’s (Eve Austin) dead body with a knife in her hand, he thinks Kate could be the new Love (Victoria Pedretti). Does that make his feelings for her even stronger?
He didn’t love the murder thing with Love. It terrifies him to think that she’s a murderer, and he’s made essentially the same mistake again. This goes to what we’ve been talking about. Joe’s idea of himself is not really that he’s a murderer, more that he will do what it takes to protect the people he loves and that he’ll do what he has to do to be a good man. And he also has a lot of ideas about what the woman in the equation should be. And, you know, going off script to hit people with a rolling pin [like Love did in season three] is not on his vision board. It was a huge problem and led to therapy and eventually murder in the relationship with Love. So he’s thinking, “How could I have fallen back into this pattern?” That’s the thought when he sees her with a knife.
At the end of the midseason finale, we also discover that Rhys (Speleers) is the one who has been texting, stalking and blackmailing Joe, and killing the others. Talk to me about that decision. How did you come up with that storyline and how you wanted it to play out?
We asked ourselves who Joe would want to be friends with. We’ve spent a lot of time painting these portraits of just assholes, privileged assholes. Forty [Love’s brother in season two, played by James Scully] was sweet at the end of the day, but he wasn’t really best-friend material for Joe. So, without tipping our hat too much, we tried to construct somebody who would be a real disappointment to Joe to lose him as a friend. One of the features of whodunnit as a structure for a story is that you’re always thinking of the parallels between the detective and the killer — the ways they’re the same and the ways that they’re different, because it kind of comes down to the detectives’ preternatural ability to suss out the truth about someone who’s lying. Part of that was about picking apart the ways in which they’re very much the same. And then the ways in which Rhys is different.
And piggybacking on that, what do you think it was like for Joe to find someone so similar?
He was surprised, I think. The last thing he expected in this horrible club that he finds himself in is just a like a squadron of Malcolms. One of the things that I happen to agree with Joe about is — he has insecurity around it — but he has this feeling that fancy education does not necessarily equal brilliant and talented, and all of those things and that there’s a nobility in the self-taught outsider who didn’t have a lot of privilege coming up. I think that’s a huge part of the appeal of Rhys. He proves the point. Here’s a guy who came from nothing and only stepped into privilege by a later accident of birth.
You touched on this a little bit, and Penn Badgley mentioned it in an earlier conversation with THR, but Joe doesn’t seem to have a lot of good relationships with men. Why did you want to introduce one to him now since Forty?
For that exact reason, because he doesn’t have it very much. And there’s always these sort of technical conversations we have. When we were first writing Love, we would frequently reference Beck [Elizabeth Lail, who starred in season one of You] because we didn’t want to repeat ourselves. And this season, we were thinking a lot about Love, and we didn’t wan to repeat that. So, even deciding for sure that the Eat the Rich killer was a man was a long conversation. But the more we talked about it, the more we felt like there was more unexplored territory for Joe if this is a different kind of love and a different kind of romance — the romance of friendship.
What comes next for Joe and Rhys in Part 2?
The season divided very cleanly for us. The first half is the whodunnit. We leave you with “Here’s the killer.” And so, Part 2 is about the relationship between Joe and Rhys. He solved the mysteries, and now, how does he actually solve the problem? Is the question. It’s really fun, and I can’t say enough about Ed Speleers’ performance. He obviously had the story for the whole season in his pocket when he started, but I think for people who like to go back and rewatch, there will be so much pleasure in watching his performance.
This is probably the biggest ensemble cast you’ve had in You. How did you balance telling their stories with telling Joe’s?
It is one of the built-in challenges of whodunnits. You need a lot of suspects. Way back in the day when I was on staff of the show Supernatural, sometimes I would turn in a script or a document of some kind to Eric Kripke, and he would read it, and he’d be like, “This is beautiful, nuanced work, but I need to remind you that you’re not writing a novel. You’re writing a short story.” He would say, “Pick the three cleanest attributes, because you only have a few scenes to completely convince me of who this person is.” So, I did hear his voice in my head a lot about really figuring out what makes each character tick and making that information available to you. You feel like you’ve moved into a whodunnit when that happens. As soon as you start writing characters that way, you sort of are like, “Oh, this is what Dame Agatha probably felt like,” drawing all these people. But because there were so many characters, there was story that we didn’t have quite a chance to tell. And so I’m a little sad about some of the little storylines that fell away. That happens every season, but maybe we’ll get to revisit. They didn’t all die.
You season four, Part 1 is streaming now on Netflix. Part 2 drops March 9. Read more from Penn Badgley and Sera Gamble on Part 1.
Interview edited for clarity.
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