YOU is back, and in its third season, it’s twisting expectations yet again. The first two seasons of Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble’s thriller/rom-com followed similar beats: faux-nice guy Joe (Penn Badgley) finds a girl, falls in love, and relentlessly stalks her while murdering anyone who gets in his way. But this time around, Joe has met his match thanks to his new, equally kill-happy wife, Love (Victoria Pedretti).
Instead of another stalker story, YOU Season 3 is like a twisted guide to marital problems. While Joe and Love try to figure out their new lives with a baby in suburbia, they also engage in an endless battle of shifting alliances, cover ups, and surprise murder. It’s a twisted season that proves this Netflix drama still has a serious edge. Ahead of its premiere, Decider spoke to series showrunner Sera Gamble, newcomers Shalita Grant and Travis van Winkle, and the reason for the bloody season themselves, Penn Badgley and Victoria Pedretti.
When approaching a new season of YOU, Gamble doesn’t try to top herself. Rather, she focuses on the central questions of this series. “The subject matter is so rich and multifaceted. Like, love, obsession. What does it mean to be a man, or a good man? Those are really huge questions, and it can’t actually be answered in one season,” Gamble explained. “Beck [Elizabeth Lail] was one way to get at some of that, but basically over time as we get to know Joe better and better and better, we can use different sort of surgical tools to unearth more of the subject. We’re all poking at it because I don’t think anyone on Earth has all the answers to these questions. It’s an open ended exploration. That sounds very intellectual. The college professor in me wants to say that we and the audience are on a bit of a journey into exploring love and toxic masculinity.”
In this season, part of that exploration comes in the form of two new characters for our anti-heroes to hate, Shalita Grant’s mommy blogger Sherry and Travis Van Winkle’s hyper-masculine Cary. Both Sherry and Cary come to represent the ideal example of a Millennial marriage, characters who look too perfect, are just woke enough, and who have flawless social accounts to match their flawless lives. Sherry in particular is constant thorn in Love’s side as she tries to figure out how to make things work with her new husband. But Grant’s Instagram-perfect influencer may seem familiar to fans of the actor.
“I always say I feel like [Search Party‘s] Cassidy Diamond walked so that Sherry Conrad could run. I loved how much the producers and casting, they knew me from that show and they loved elements. So for me, giving life to these unlikable characters is really just about a lack of judgement,” Grant said. “I love just pulling away everything that I’m expected to feel and think about these people and then drilling into the humanity of them. It’s super fun for me. Also, I love playing with my co-stars. I rarely learn my lines ahead of time. I don’t learn the night before, I learn it during rehearsal. So that frees me up to really play. That play really lends itself to a reality, to just being present.”
While Sherry embodies the perfect Millennial wife and mother, Cary and his exaggerated focus on masculinity never fail to enrage Joe. “I’m fodder for Joe’s worldview, for sure. Everything I say, he rips me apart with his inner monologue,” Van Winkle said. “What I love about it too is I get to take Joe into the woods, and I want to use my methods to introduce him back to his masculinity and to free him up. Little do I know, he already has his own methods for that. And that’s murder. I had so much fun with this guy.”
But more than any pesky neighbors, Joe and Love’s biggest rivals are each other. Season 3 smartly plays with the highs and lows of their relationship, pushing the moments when Joe and Love are on the same page to their most sinister limits. Conversely, when they’re on opposite sides, their lives are literally on the line as they both try to handle a murderous spouse. When asked if they prefer their characters to fight or work together, both Badgley and Pedretti were quick to answer.
“Fighting,” Pedretti said.
“Yeah, because they’re lying too much to themselves,” Badgley added. “They’re either lying to each other or they’re lying to themselves when they’re working, unfortunately, and when they’re fighting is when they’re the most honest. And then there’s that momentum there.”
Toward the end of Season 2 we started to see the explosive emotions that led to Love killing her brother’s abusive babysitter, and Joe’s neighbor Delilah (Carmela Zumbado). Now, in Season 3, the series really dives into Love’s particular brand of bloodshed. It’s a far cry from the calculating nature we’ve come to expect from Joe and one that Pedretti enjoyed capturing.
“I find myself just really deeply embedded in Love’s truth and really feeling firm in that,” Pedretti said. “You’re not really interested in seeing the other person’s perspective, so it is kind of an interesting experience to just be kind of exploding and exploding and exploding without really any… just in this really self protective, selfish kind of way. It’s really interesting to read and then perform.”
Badgley sees Joe’s ongoing journey in a far less explosive context. According to the actor, this new season is less about chronicling Joe’s slow downfall, and more about taking the time to examine his disassociation with the world.
“I think when we met Joe, Episode 1, Season 1, he’s fallen. So maybe what we’re witnessing more is sort of… What’s the word? I’m thinking of somebody who’s just lost. He’s like in an alternate world, but isn’t aware of it, and every now and then comes into contact with that truth. Like, ‘Wait a second, wait a second, wait a second, wait a second. Am I the problem? Nope. That person who suggested that is gone. OK. Moving on,’” Badgley said. “He’s in this simulation. I always forget which color pill is the pill that makes you stay in the Matrix, but he’s repeatedly taking the pill that keeps you in the Matrix. Every now and then when Neo shows up, he’s like, ‘I’m going to murder you. OK.’ So it’s less of a downfall than a fugue state.”
All episodes of YOU Season 3 premiere on Netflix on Friday, October 15.