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[The following story includes major spoilers for You season four.]
You showrunner Sera Gamble knew the Netflix drama’s fourth season would be compared to one iconic movie.
“People will immediately be like, ‘Oh, they pulled a Fight Club.’ Right? That’s what I called it. ‘Oh, we’re gonna do a Fight Club thing,'” Gamble tells The Hollywood Reporter about the big season four Part 2 plot twist, which revealed that Part 1 villain Rhys Montrose (Ed Speleers) has actually been a figment of Joe Goldberg’s (Penn Badgley) imagination.
Though the idea that the latest season of the Penn Badgley-starring series would be compared to such a classic film was intimidating, the creator says she was looking for a new way to challenge herself with the script, which resulted in season four being the most difficult one for her to write. But, that’s also what excited her. “For better and for worse, I don’t have much interest in working on a season of TV that isn’t continuing to challenge me as a writer and challenge the writers room,” she explains.
You pulled off its split identity conceit after Joe hit his head on the box he built for Marienne (Tati Gabrielle), whom his alter ego “Rhys” had been holding captive for most of the season. The showrunner says the late-in-the-game reveal had been planned early on in the series, which meant she and the writers have been keeping a close eye on “how crazy” Joe got from season to season, so it didn’t “come completely out of left field.”
Gamble also speaks candidly about how Joe Goldberg getting away unscathed with more murders by the season’s end mirrors a reality in which some people simply aren’t brought to justice. “We keep telling you who he really is and then, somehow, some part of us keeps liking him and forgiving him over and over and over again,” she points out. “He keeps pulling the wool over our eyes. And that’s a symptom of a larger truth, which is that the Joe Goldbergs of the world do get away with it in broad daylight a lot.”
Below, Gamble digs more into her stalker-murderer main character, talks about what comes next for Joe and girlfriend Kate (Charlotte Ritchie), and shares how Taylor Swift’s “Anti-Hero” made it into the finale.
The Part 2 reveal that Joe has actually been imagining Rhys this entire season was something I was not expecting. Talk me through that creative decision: How did you decide to take that route?
At its core, it’s a story that really scares me and intimidates me as a writer. People will immediately be like, “Oh, they pulled a Fight Club.” Right? That’s what I called it. “Oh, we’re gonna do a Fight Club thing.” That’s, first of all, a really high standard. There have been a lot of shitty versions. You have to have a great reason that you’re doing this, and then also have a lot of ideas up your sleeve about what to do with it when you jump into the deep end. The first thing that was appealing was that this was going to be a real challenge. For better and for worse, I don’t have much interest in working on a season of TV that isn’t continuing to challenge me as a writer and challenge the writers room. I wish I didn’t feel this way.
This was the hardest season by a mile. First, we did an entire whodunnit [with Part 1], and then the whole time we were then going back to the beginning of every single scene and tracking it with what happens when you find out what’s really going on with Rhys. We had this in mind for several seasons. We started talking about it early. We didn’t commit to it for this season until we knew we were doing the whodunnit, but we did keep a close eye on how crazy Joe was from season to season because we didn’t want it to come completely out of left field.
This season, for the first time, Joe’s obsession was with a man. We touched on this in our conversation tied to Part 1. What it is about Rhys that made Joe worship him?
Rhys is a success story that Joe thinks he could be. I don’t remember where I read it, but I heard somewhere that we’re the most jealous of people who are within a couple of levels of where we are. I don’t have any envy when I read Shakespeare. I don’t think that he and I are the same species, really. But there are other people in the TV business where I might have a little moment because we’re in the same field. The same way that he was built to be his friend, Rhys is like an idealized, successful, admired version of Joe. He has earned all of the acclaim and status that Joe feels that he deserves, and he seems to have done it without selling out. Joe, in a less conventionally romantic way, he really falls in love with this public figure.
Finding out that Joe actually did kidnap Marianne (Tati Gabrielle) and kept her in one of his infamous boxes was devastating. Why do you think he couldn’t let her go?
He just can’t. It’s what she says: He cannot let things go, he cannot let her go. He wants a lot of things that would be better for everyone around him, himself included. But this is the deep flaw of this character. Possessing the object of his desire, essentially, trumps every reasonable behavior that he should have. And it was actually so difficult for him to pull this off, that he was in complete denial about it. He didn’t even remember he did it.
Episode eight features a montage of Marienne of the days she spent in the box. She’s trying to figure out how to escape. She’s making art. She’s kind of just coping, all while telling the story through a fairytale for daughter Juliette. How did you decide to go in that creative direction?
That’s one of my favorite parts of the season. It’s just about 20-25 pages, I think, of descriptions of her pretty much in a cage. We originally thought of it as the episode where we switch POV, which we like to do occasionally and finally could when we revealed she was there. Then, just because of the quirks of the show, the next question we asked ourselves is, “Well, how does the voiceover happen?” She’s not talking to the “you” in her head. What would that be? And it just was an exploration of the character.
She seemed like someone who would tell a fairytale and to her daughter, specifically. The “you” for her is Juliette. And the thing I really loved about making that episode is that anytime you put a character in the cage, it’s a crucible, and you melt them down to their deepest component parts. And getting to figure out how she would survive, and that her art — essentially being an artist and being a mother — is how she survives in the cage. It was such rich territory for the writers.
Nadia (Amy-Leigh Hickman) and Marienne are the girl team to root for here, with Nadia helping Marienne fake her death and escape Joe for good. How did that come together?
One of the beautiful things about telling a story that’s 10 episodes long is that you make discoveries along the way. We actually didn’t originally have that planned for Nadia. In the very earliest iteration of the season, for the erotomania story with Phoebe’s [Tilly Keeper], we had a version of that plan for Nadia. And then as soon as we started really writing the episodes, it was very clear that, first of all, that was Phoebe story. But also, as soon as we cast the role, we were like, “OK, the thing that really makes sense is that Joe’s Agatha Christie mentor, essentially, in the beginning — somebody who presents like an Ellie [Jenna Ortega’s character in season two] or a Paco [Luca Padovan’s role in season one] — she’s the real detective of the season. She has to come up in the end as the truth-seeker of the season.
Nadia doesn’t die in the end. But Joe frames her for killing her boyfriend, student Edward [Brad Alexander], and she goes to prison. Why that ending for Nadia?
Actually, usually in situations like that in this show, the easiest thing to do, the most straightforward story to tell, is the one where Joe kills them.
The writing challenge is in believably keeping them alive so that they can be threats, or just because we don’t want to kill every single person on the show. I took a while to figure out. The first thing that became clear to us was that she and Edward were going to have to get close enough that she trusted him. We were sort of reverse engineering an ending to the story where Joe won, but Nadia may still be out there to fight another day. And we were like, “Well, we’re gonna have to kill her boyfriend to make that happen.” (Laughs.)
You mentioned Love and Beck earlier, and we got to see them again in the penultimate episode. What were the conversations like to get actresses Victoria Pedretti and Elizabeth Lail to return?
We just directly approached the actors and had a conversation with each of them about what we wanted to do. It’s always a scheduling thing. Knowing that Penn was directing the episode, it felt like it would be fun for everybody, and that it would be meaningful for him to direct actors that he had so much understanding with, that he had worked with so, so much. And also because it’s a dream, and they are appearing to Joe to get him to see the truth, we got to write a nastier version of Beck than we’ve seen before and a slightly heightened version of Love. The thing about Love is that every scene is a surprise, because Victoria is so gifted, and it was the same this time. I watched it and was like, “Wow, that is so much better than what I envisioned.”
It was a very powerful scene. They sort of lead him to this decision to kill himself, which he tries but ends up surviving. Why did you take take that path, instead of having someone, like Nadia, bring him to justice?
Well, she can’t bring him to justice, as we see. He kind of cannot be stopped. What Marienne warned Nadia about, Joe understands that at this point. If any part of him wants to change, he has to take matters into his own hands. You really have to kind of project yourself way far into somebody else’s shoes where you’re trying to think, “What is the course of action that has the most resonance and makes the most sense after I’ve killed about 15 people?” So that was a thought exercise with Joe. Would you really face the 15 people that you killed?
He was sort of unstoppable before, and he’s going to be even moreso now that he has Kate (Charlotte Ritchie) backing him and essentially rewriting his story. Why does Kate want to do this for Joe, even after he tells her everything?
I wouldn’t be so confident that he tells her everything. There are some parts of that story that are easier to tell than others, so I think it’s fair to assume there are still some surprises for her. But being raised in the household she was raised in and having the father that she did, she’s not afraid of hearing that somebody has resorted to murder. That’s within the vocabulary of what can happen in this world, and Joe is, to her, a much more noble figure than her dad ever was, because her dad was just greedy and ruthless and Joe is trying to help and save people, primarily.
I mean, they have a great relationship that may or may not stay great as more is revealed. But there’s a double-edged sword to giving Joe exactly what he’s always felt he deserved — that level of privilege and access — which is that his anonymity is largely gone. And also, he’s pretty much surrounded by Toms [Lockwood] now. It’s one thing to throw me into a nightclub full of third sons of titled aristocrats and tech billionaires, and it’s another thing to be in that really cutthroat world in New York.
You touched on this a little bit, but if you were to get to season five — which I’m not sure how you wouldn’t now! — what comes next for Joe? We see at the end of season four that “Rhys” is still present for him, but now he’s with Kate and has returned to New York.
He’s gotten to come home again, and that is significant. Something that we felt like we didn’t need to keep going forever with was the idea that every single time, pretty much, that he killed somebody, he not only has justified it in his head, he’s justified that it was probably an accident a lot of the time. “Oops, I hit her head too hard.” “Oops, he fell down the stairs.” “Oops, I pushed him off the balcony because I was in a rage for a moment.” Without sacrificing the beating heart of Joe, which is his romantic sensibility and his belief in love, we are very interested in what happens if he doesn’t constantly fuck up because he’s lying to himself about what he’s about to do. Like, how much better might he get at what he does, if he accepts the way that we heard Rhys accept it?
I will say, I was hoping that Nadia or someone else would be able to take him down. Why does he get away with it, again?
Well, for one thing, we want to keep telling the story. But people like Joe don’t always see justice. This has been the point of the show since the first frame, which is that you look at Joe and you think, “What a nice guy, real boyfriend material.” And then we keep telling you who he really is and then, somehow, some part of us keeps liking him and forgiving him over and over and over again. He keeps pulling the wool over our eyes, and that’s a symptom of a larger truth, which is that the Joe Goldbergs of the world do get away with it in broad daylight a lot. So, we’ve been holding fast to the idea that we definitely have no responsibility to ever redeem him, but it’s an ongoing kind of exploration for us of what kind of justice could Joe see that wouldn’t feel like the avenging writers, finally, just were like, “Enough Joe!” One that we feel is suitable for the guy who’s basically at the very, very top of the food chain of our culture.
What went into the decision to use Taylor Swift’s “Anti-Hero” in the finale?
It had very recently come out, and we had another great big song in there that was more British. I watched the video and I realized that it was hilariously perfect for Joe, and then my first thought was, “Why would she let us use this immediately?” Sometimes if it’s the single that’s in the world at that moment. It’s a very, very precious song, and it would mean a lot. But it was one of those things where I just thought, “No harm in asking.” And then we were very grateful when she said yes.
What was the British song?
I’ll just keep that one in my pocket, and maybe we will use it later.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Parts 1 and 2 of You season four are now streaming on Netflix.
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