Where does a fugitive go once he’s stalked and murdered his way through both New York and Los Angeles? In You Season 3, Penn Badgley’s misanthropic bookworm Joe Goldberg is stuck in a new hell of his own making: suburban life with a serial killer and their unborn child, whom he’s desperate to protect from his wife. (Because her murderous tendencies are totally worse and more villainous than his.)
Madre Linda, where newlyweds Joe and Love Quinn make their home in Season 3, is You’s first fictional location. Creator Sera Gamble says the gossip-obsessed town was inspired by several bedroom communities in Northern California.
“We were intrigued by the notion that on the outskirts in and around Silicon Valley, there are a lot of people that have made their fortune in industries that are at least adjacent to surveillance,” Gamble told The Daily Beast during a recent interview. “It cut to the heart of a lot of what we’ve been saying the whole time about how privacy is dead and at this point we’re all both voyeurs and exhibitionists and there’s no going back.”
“We do love to put Joe in a privileged community,” Gamble added with a laugh. “He’s gonna think very honest thoughts about it on our behalf.”
One of the delights of watching You from season to season is observing how the show reinvents itself. This season finds Joe and Love struggling to overcome their respective baggage—a few major traumas, some murders... the usual stuff!—to be the perfect parents to their child. Its broad but cutting satire seems bound to hit close to home for a lot of married people—even those who’ve never committed murder.
In many ways, this season feels like a leveling-up moment for You, as accomplished as its first two seasons already were. It’s a quiet shift that might have something to do with a couple life changes that occurred behind the scenes.
“Marriage is a goldmine,” Gamble said. “It’s sort of the heteronormative romance brass ring... So it’s fun to give a character like Joe exactly what he thinks he wants.” (Key word: “thinks.”)
“I never thought to wonder what happens after boy gets girl,” Joe muses at the start of the season premiere. “Because we know: ‘And they lived happily ever after,’ fade to black, roll credits. I should have asked some more questions.”
“I frequently write from a place of like, what is the worst-case scenario?” Gamble said. “And as a newlywed, it was almost like talking about these awful things that are happening in this marriage was kind of soothing my anxiety in real life, honestly.”
Another fortuitous coincidence: Penn Badgley just welcomed a son last year, which Gamble says “deepened his life experience in countless ways.” It’s hard to imagine a better form of Method training for playing a young father than changing a never-ending stream of diapers yourself.
But beyond those changes, perhaps the most important ingredient this season is Victoria Pedretti. Most of the women in Joe’s life tend to die before the end of a given season; Pedretti makes the most of her return, upping the ante on Love Quinn’s venomous fragility with terrifying conviction.
The young couple’s inability to see one another accurately, to separate the person in front of them from the baggage they’re projecting, feels reflective of many dysfunctional relationships—like a gentle prod at all of us to notice the lies we tell about both ourselves and our partners to maintain a world in which we are always the “good guy.” But the things they leave unsaid make their couple’s therapy scenes a lot more fun than the average relationship drama.
As with previous seasons, Joe also finds himself at odds with a new male foil. Last time around it was Love’s brother Forty (RIP), and this time we have the devout “biohacker” Cary—played with raucous, absolutely ripped gusto by The Last Ship alum Travis Van Winkle.
Cary seems hell-bent on making a macho man out of Joe. One of the season’s funniest episodes finds Joe attending a guys’ retreat where Cary tries to help him unleash his inner beast—just what Madre Linda needs!
“He just doesn’t hold back,” Gamble said of Van Winkle. “There’s no wink in the performance. He’s not trying to say, I know this is comedy. He just committed to it.”
But the most intriguing addition this season might be Marienne—a local librarian with a traumatic past that could go toe-to-toe with Joe’s. Tati Gabrielle, who also stars on Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, plays her character with just the right blend of vulnerability and stand-offishness to entice both viewers and, predictably, Joe. Whether or not he’ll act on that temptation—or his fascination with Natalie—is something we’ll leave unspoiled here. But as Gamble notes, the scenes Gabrielle and Badgley share are some of the season’s most unsettling.
“She feels very much like a dancer to me in the way that she sort of lands on the set and commands the space,” Gamble said of Gabrielle’s performance. “And she also has incredible range just in her voice. If you’ve seen her in other roles, then you know that she sounds quite different from role to role.”
The real treasure of the season, however, is the twisted dynamic Badgley and Pedretti sustain throughout its run. Joe’s journey last season toward discovering who the woman he’d idealized really is—a baker, a dysfunctional twin, a fellow murderer—pales in comparison to the furious, single-minded intensity that the actors share as newlyweds. As Gamble notes, Joe and Love are extremely compatible in some of the worst ways. The couple take turns narrating this season, and the juxtaposition of their experiences is where some of the best comedy and bleakest tension lies.
The core ingredients from the show’s original recipe, however, remain intact—including its ongoing exploration of the ways in which our society unfairly judges women. As Gamble notes, Love’s story reflects, above all, the impossible expectations we heap on mothers.
“She keeps running into these brick walls because it’s actually impossible to do those things perfectly,” Gamble said. “We’ve all been set up to feel bad all the time because it’s not possible to check off every check mark on the brief that’s been created to put women in a box and make them crazy.”
While Joe spends the season working to “protect” his infant child from his own wife, Love agonizes over how to fix their marriage—which remains wracked with extremely understandable mistrust despite their efforts to turn over a new leaf in Madre Linda. In the end, however, we all know where this is going. As Joe wryly observes after a dry spell, “The spark our marriage needed doesn’t come from swinging; our love language is violence.”