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[This story includes spoilers for season three of Netflix’s Outer Banks.]
The Pogues finally ended up with their treasure — but, of course, it came with a price.
Outer Banks’ third season, currently streaming on Netflix, concludes a three-season focus on retrieving the gold lost from the sunken ship known as the Royal Merchant. The twists and turns for the Pogues — including John B. (Chase Stokes), Sarah Cameron (Madelyn Cline), JJ (Rudy Pankow), Pope (Jonathan Daviss), Kiara (Madison Bailey) and Cleo (Carlacia Grant) — culminated in the deaths of Sarah’s dad, Ward (Charles Esten), and John B.’s dad, Big John (Charles Halford), after the friends finally thwarted crime kingpin Carlos Singh (Andy McQueen) and located El Dorado.
During an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, series co-creators Josh Pate, Jonas Pate and Shannon Burke discuss saying goodbye to the two patriarchs; balancing the fan-favorite love triangles, including Sarah spending time with ex Topper (Austin North); what Ward’s death means for son Rafe (Drew Starkey); where the time jump and Blackbeard tease could lead season four; working with Stokes and Cline after their real-life split; and how they juggle their castmembers’ busy schedules with other high-profile projects.
Did you have key goals with this latest season?
Josh Pate: There were some big storylines that we wanted to bring in for a landing — a trilogy with the Royal Merchant gold. There was a big treasure hunt story that was connected over the first three seasons that we wanted to bring to a close. And then, obviously, JJ and Kiara were something that was on our mind as well.
Fans have made it clear how much they appreciate seeing JJ and Kiara together. Why was this the right time to develop that romance?
Shannon Burke: We definitely wanted to do it almost in the beginning of season two, but there was another story about Pope and Kiara. We thought that it would actually go faster. We had to give it room to breathe and let it run its natural course. This was the first time where they were on their own and available to start to interact with each other without stepping on their friends’ feelings.
What was behind the decision to bring back Big John this season and then ultimately say goodbye to him by the end?
Jonas Pate: The treasure hunt was really a stand-in for John B.’s longing for his lost father. Bringing this three-season treasure hunt to a close, it just felt like a natural extension to bring his father back into that and for him to be part of the closure of that story in the flesh. We wanted to make that reunion a little more complicated, so that when he did finally reunite with his dad, he realized his dad was so obsessed that there were all these potentially negative things about him being back. We just tried to thread that needle: the joy of being back and being psyched to be with his dad, but also being daunted by the lengths to which his dad would go to recover the treasure.
Was it tough to write out Big John and not have him in the show moving forward?
Burke: It was a big decision and heatedly debated. The way that it ended was definitely what we had originally intended. The father would come back, but that it wouldn’t be what John B. or probably the audience suspected. He would be more complicated — it was the real father, not the dream father — and then that reunion and closeness with his son at the end. It’s not always the case that we follow what we intended, but in this case, it seemed to end up in that way.
It’s definitely emotional to see both John B. and Sarah Cameron lose their fathers at the end of the season. Had you known for a while that this would be where Ward’s story would end, and how did you decide on how he would die?
Jonas Pate: It was hotly debated, but we always had a sense that it might end that way. Part of that was about giving bandwidth for Rafe to emerge as the villain going forward, and also feeling that Ward, as a character, had done so many things that were so psychologically damaging to his daughter. There was no possibility of really a happy ending. So we felt like this was the most poetic ending where, at the last second, he tries to redeem himself but dies in the process. And then it would also provide a chance for Rafe to emerge and be aggrieved by that death and blame the Pogues for it, and that would set him up for season four.
Congrats on already having been picked up for season four. How soon did you know that would happen, and did it impact how you were able to end season three?
Jonas Pate: We didn’t find out until just before it was announced. Josh and Shannon do most of the writing — you’re always looking downstream because you know you want to be ready for it in case we’re lucky enough to get another season. So I know they had been thinking about it, even though we just found out.
There had been a lot of discussion about Madelyn and Chase’s off-camera romantic relationship having ended. Is that a situation where you would talk to the performers about how to move forward, or did that breakup impact things?
Josh Pate: I’ll sidestep the conversations we had, but I can tell you what was amazing about Chase and Madelyn is that they were super professional on set, and they always brought their A-game. So whatever was happening off-set, that was never part of their work. They’re super professional, and I’m proud of the work that they did, honestly.
What were the elements of John B. and Sarah’s romance that you were most excited to develop this season?
Josh Pate: The big thing was that we’d play Sarah’s triangle with Topper in an escalated way. People love their relationship so much that we knew it would be controversial on some level. But Austin’s another actor that we just adore, and we felt like putting him through the wringer one final time. We took care to try to set it up. We switched the voiceover to Sarah for the first time to use that to unpack some of her psychology about how she could get there to make that decision, which was a brief, boozy decision made on a beach. But she’s really down and out at that point and has no other place to go.
What is it that worked well in exploring Cleo and Pope’s connection?
Burke: Just their personalities. One is a scrappy fighter and the other one’s all logic and the brainy one. Opposites attract, and I would say they just fit well together — they just seemed to work. There was not a ton of screen time, but the stuff that they do together, every time they did it, it worked really well. Both of them just knocked it out of the park.
At the end of the season, we get a time jump and then a bit of a tease about Blackbeard. What was the reason for the jump, and does this tell us where season four is heading?
Josh Pate: Blackbeard is part of Outer Banks lore, and so there’s just a lot of stuff we can work with out of that. It is going to be a part of it, but it’s not going to be a traditional Blackbeard-type tale, although we’re using elements of the mythology going forward. And as far as the time jump, we felt like we needed to get them out of school. The actors are a little older, and it was harder to keep them in high school. We just wanted to move them into a new phase in their lives and move them forward a little bit. The epilogue at the end of [episode] 10 was to set up those two things that we knew we wanted to do going forward.
Is it a challenge to maintain a balance between big action sequences and still creating character moments?
Burke: That’s the biggest trick. We talk about that all the time, speed versus depth. We gotta keep all the plates spinning. We’re always trying to make spaces to have those personal moments because sometimes the plot gets so propulsive that it’s hard to slow down enough to have these character moments. That’s the tension in what we’re doing, is trying to keep a plot that is relentless and then also the character stuff.
The season includes a tribute for Alexander Jennings. [Jennings, who served as a body double for Stokes, was killed in a hit-and-run in July at age 22.] Is there anything you wanted to say about dealing with that tragedy?
Jonas Pate: I’d love to. AJ — that’s how we know him — was an incredibly valued member of our crew and deeply beloved by the cast as well. It was just the most terrible tragedy for his family. We miss him terribly.
Your show has given breaks to a lot of young performers who have now established themselves with other projects — Madelyn with Glass Onion, Rudy in Uncharted, Jonathan with Do Revenge. What’s it like to watch your cast develop into Hollywood stars?
Jonas Pate: It’s such a thrill because we adore these young people, and we’ve known them all since early in their careers. It’s so great to watch them spread their wings and go do other things. We often try to accommodate them if they book a big role. Drew Starkey, for example, just booked a giant role, which we can’t talk about yet, but we accommodated our season four schedule already to allow him to go do it, and we couldn’t be more proud and happy for him. We’re always trying to find a way to help them build their careers. We feel like proud parents, honestly.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Outer Banks season three is now streaming on Netflix.
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