“A Brush with Death, A New Life of Philanthropy: How Joe Goldberg Escaped Killer Love Quinn.” This is how the fictional version of the Cut covered Joe’s return to New York City in the final moments of You season 4, giving him a complete image rehabilitation thanks to his girlfriend, Kate (Charlotte Ritchie), and her millions. “I subscribe, that’s one reason,” showrunner Sera Gamble said when asked why You is just so obsessed with us. “The Cut is where the writers go to read that kind of stuff, and Joe is from New York,” she adds. It doesn’t hurt that the Cut also broke the news about the “Murder-Suicide of Madre Linda” back in season 3. It’s just logical, unlike everything else going on in You’s most recent installment on Netflix.
“People are pitching absolute craziness all the time,” Gamble says of the You writer’s room. “A boudoir in a very old estate lined with penis candles is us finding the middle of the spectrum.” The wildest twist ever pitched in the room? “That Joe has been talking to himself all season,” she says, without missing a beat. And, yeah, it was pretty shocking to learn, at the end of season 4, that Rhys (Ed Speleers), the politician Joe believes he’s been killing for, is actually… Joe himself.
Gamble took some time between release of Part 1 and Part 2 of season 4 to chat with the Cut about the season’s biggest twists and turns, where Joe Goldberg goes from here, and, of course, that Taylor Swift needle drop.
This season ends with Joe back in New York with a fresh start, so to speak. Was that always the plan?
We kept saying that we’re going to make him go very far away so that he can come home again. We always knew we wanted him to go back to New York, have a homecoming, have his real name, shave his beard, and look like Joe Classic, but that he would be much more in the category of people he used to watch from afar. Now he has near unlimited resources. He has the support of powerful people and he has a lot less ambivalence about what he does in private. So, that’s the setup.
In season 1, Joe calls Beck’s boyfriend, Benji, “everything wrong with America.” Is Joe now everything that’s wrong with America?
Much more than Benji ever was, don’t you think? But I would question whether he really hates privilege, money, access, and power, or if he’s deeply envious of it and he’s disgusted by how poorly the people he observes are using it. They’re throwing it away, they’re illiterate, they just care about dumb things. He’s judging them, but I don’t see him refusing to put on a designer tuxedo for a wedding. He doesn’t say no, he just thinks he deserves it more than the people he’s watching.
We don’t get to hear what Joe really told Kate about his true identity. Are we supposed to think that Kate knows everything he’s done?
I think it’s fair to say that Joe does not have a history of disclosing everything. He picks and chooses, even when he’s trying to come clean. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if he left a few basic details that would happen to be the details that would really freak her out. Those might not have made it into the monologue.
In season 1, Joe’s obsession with Beck was partially driven by his desire to change her and mold her into his idea of what she should be. But with Kate, that’s not even really a thought to him. Why?
No. He’s evolved in his romantic relationships. He learned some lessons of getting your heart broken, and picking poorly, and not having the relationship you want to have. Separate from the part where he keeps killing them.
There’s definitely a big bucket of violence that wouldn’t be hard for him to speak of in a heroic way. I mean, I’m never gonna be mad at him for what he did to Paco’s stepfather. The bit about stalking women and killing them, that’s the hardest part. That’s what makes Joe Goldberg Joe Goldberg. And it takes the most justification. That’s why it was so important that, as we sort of break him down and move towards the end of the season, the stuff that he and Rhys are talking about are things he has never acknowledged before. Joe is finding a new level of acceptance.
It’s something he didn’t have last season with Love, when she was telling him that he was a murderer.
It’s the most uncomfortable thing when you’re in a relationship and someone holds up a mirror, and they say, “We’re the same, and you don’t like that part of yourself.” It’s much more comfortable for Joe to have someone like Kate, who is genuinely trying to be good and who is also scared of her dark side. That’s much more appealing to him and his own self-image.
You has delved a bit into Joe’s psychology in the past, but this is the first time the series has introduced the idea that Joe has multiple personalities. Why now?
Joe has been getting crazier every season. And — even writing the pilot — we call Joe’s voiceover “Joe’s Thoughts” because we wanted them to feel separate and we wanted to treat his thoughts as the other side of the coin of that character.
We’ve been exploring the ways that he’s unhinged. Every now and again, he’ll have a little bit of a head injury, or he’ll take acid, or he’ll get the measles, and he’ll have a hallucinatory experience that goes to the way his mind works. We’ve been building up to put him in a situation that was so high pressure emotionally that he would completely disassociate from that part of himself.
Including this new mental health aspect was a pretty big decision. What kinds of conversations did you have in the writers room?
You can just say it: It’s notoriously a hard twist. We are very clear that we’re not psychiatrists, and that the show is not about diagnosis. We actually talk about a diagnosis for the first time in the show with erotomania. And we did it because that unlocked so much of how the season was gonna work for us. We went back and forth a lot on how Rhys would exist within the real world — was he a real person? And then we started talking about people who have stalked celebrities and have a parasocial relationship with them and have a belief that they have a relationship that they don’t.
But we hold ourselves to a standard: This needs to make sense to all of us about this character. We know nobody is going to show You in a Psychology 101 class as if to say, “Look at these perfect examples of these different disorders.” We’re blurring the edges.
In the last few episodes of the season, Joe has two voices in his head: Rhys and his voiceover, or thoughts. How did you differentiate between those two voices?
There was one horrible day when Rhys could hear the voice over and then everybody’s brains exploded, so we decided to keep them separate.
Joe’s thoughts and Rhys really work independently. We thought about the part of Joe that would have split off and then the part of him that stayed. So, the Joe that you’re hearing is the Joe that you’re seeing in the scenes throughout the first seven episodes of the season. The voice that you’re hearing is the part of Joe’s identity that he is admitting to himself exists. The part that says, “I’m never doing it again. I let Marianne go.”
When I’m talking to myself in my head, I do reject the worst things about myself. To my knowledge, there’s not another me running around and killing people while I’m asleep, but there are definitely parts of myself that I feel more comfortable with and there’s a way that I talk to myself that reinforces my self image. This is something we talked about in the writer’s room a lot, and I think it’s pretty common. Joe is just a more extreme version in every way.
The season ends with Joe looking at his reflection and seeing Rhys, a sign that he’s accepted his darker side. Will we be seeing Rhys and having the voiceover going forward?
We haven’t talked too much about the technical aspect of it, but moving forward, Rhys and Joe are integrated. It’s like a turbo powered Joe because he’s not going to have to spend the first five minutes of any murder pretending, “Oops, I didn’t mean to murder him.”
The question of Joe’s possible redemption is a major debate among fans. And in the first half of the season it almost seemed like some kind of version of that might be possible. Was that ever an option?
No. This is not a show about a bad man who redeems himself. In the writer’s room, we talked a lot about the redemption tours that you see in the press when somebody does something bad and it becomes public, and then they have to apologize to be able to resume their lives. There was a lot of debate about whether people can change. It’s one of those fundamental questions in life. But we never would seriously consider that for Joe. We don’t actually believe that you can make up for a bunch of murders by hunting down another murderer. That’s not how it works.
I was so frustrated at the end of season 4 because I really thought for a moment that Nadia and Marianne were going to come together and take Joe down. But then I realized that someone in Joe’s position, with that amount of wealth and access, would probably get away with murder. Would it have been realistic for Joe, a ridiculously rich white man, to face consequences in 2023?
We have always been modeling Joe on something that we see in the world around us that is deeply troubling to us. Every season, that’s the first thing we’re looking for: What are we really tackling with this character? And now that he has a long trail of bodies behind him and several people out there who know who he really is, we have to ask ourselves, what would be just desserts for Joe and are we going to give them to him or not? Would perfect justice be meted upon Joe Goldberg by 2023 American society? I’m not so sure.
A producer told Variety that there was a five season plan for the show. Can you confirm?
I’m so superstitious about it because I’ve been on a few shows. So I never say anything, but I did see that he said that. If I can put my superstition to the side for a second, I’ll say that we have an idea for season 5 that I’m really excited about.
Do you have an endgame for Joe?
Yes, we do. We’ve been talking about it since before we shot a frame of the show. We have a target, but we haven’t filled in everything about it yet.
I assume Joe’s death is on the table?
Oh, for sure. Everybody’s death is on the table at all times. And if anyone should be stopped permanently in our story, it’s Joe. But we wouldn’t want to do something that let him off the hook.
Let’s talk about that Taylor Swift needle drop. How did you get “Anti-Hero” on the show so fast?
It had only come out a couple of weeks before, and we were in post production. The episode was pretty much finished. We were putting the songs in, and we knew we needed a big song there. “Anti-Hero” just seemed so perfect, and then Penn dropped his first TikTok, and I watched it and I thought, that’s a good point. He’s the problem. It’s him. And so we thought, no harm in asking! I think it’s pretty clear that the people who make You are Swifties. I’m a fan of hers, and we have writers who are next level fans. We have a writer who comes into the room on important days wearing a shirt that just says “Track Five,” which had to be explained to me. All Taylor Swift references and needle drops come from a deeply sincere place.
There are Easter eggs in this season. One that I can think of off the top of my head is the combination to the glass cage. Penn got it right away, when the script came out. I have faith in the Swifties to find the rest.
You’re very active on social media and do a lot of Q&As with aspiring writers. Why is that important to you?
It’s always disappointing to me when people gate-keep information. Becoming a television writer is competitive enough. We know that it’s hardest for people who have the fewest connections, who weren’t born into that world, and who don’t have unlimited resources to take minimum wage jobs for a really long time at the entry level. I’m just sharing the information that I feel everybody should have. The people who benefit the most from getting advice on social media are the people we need more of in the business. Those are the voices we want to hear. If we’re saying we want a more diverse array of voices and points of view, well then let’s tell everybody what they need to know.