[Editor’s Note: The following interview contains spoilers for “Dare Me” Episode 7, “Scorched Earth.”]
Whether you read the book or just tuned in for the series, there’s a pervasive sense of dread that runs through “Dare Me.” In the opening episodes, there’s a cloud of sorts that hangs over the lives of the central trio of women at the heart of the USA series, even if it’s one that’s never fully articulated.
Well, at the close of Episode 7, the audience finally gets to see the seismic event that’s been hinted at in ways both subtle and overt. After slowly working into the lives of both Addy Hanlon (Herizen Guardiola) and her cheer coach Colette French (Willa Fitzgerald) — much to the objections of Addy’s best friend Beth (Marlo Kelly) — military recruiter Will Mosley (Zach Roerig) is found dead of a gunshot wound.
Though, in some ways this is a culmination of the anxiety that’s been building since the beginning of the season, it’s indicative of the show’s approach that there are plenty other threads in the “Dare Me” story that also reach a significant point in this episode. “That was part of what was so exciting to me and made me want to take on the project, that it wasn’t just going to be a crime story, it was going to be a coming-of-age story,” series co-creator Gina Fattore told IndieWire. “This event that rocks their world doesn’t happen until later in the season and I know there are some people who want faster stories than that. But I definitely wanted people to understand that you’re not watching a typical crime show. We had the artistry of cheer, we had relationships among the women, we had all these other areas we could service and delay this happening. You see who people are before they’re tested in this way.”
Further fallout from this tragedy is on the way, but waiting this long for that pivotal event to happen only solidified all the ways that the show is rewarding its faith in watching the lives of its central trio unfold. Series co-creator and author of the original novel, Megan Abbott, credits the three actresses that made these intertwining threads all the more impactful.
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“We got a lot of actors who could really read the innocence, the lieutenant in the background, and the more upright and upstanding parts of her. They could play all that. But they couldn’t get the weirdness that we wanted in Addy,” Abbott said. “We talked a lot in the writers room about ‘Blue Velvet’ and the Kyle MacLachlan character. We wanted someone that would embrace the strangeness and voyeuristic aspects of her. Herizen instinctually brought all that. She’s just a curious and explorative person and she wears it all on your face.”
In its novel form, “Dare Me” is told entirely through Addy’s perspective, so casting Beth and Colette presented another challenge: finding performers who could build out elements of those characters that didn’t have the same textual basis.
“For Beth, it was someone who wasn’t going to do the traditional Mean Girl, which is really not the story we were telling. What Marlo brought was this gravitas. It was almost like Lady Macbeth meets Beth it was so heavy and and that it was you know everything that we wanted,” Abbott said. “For Colette, we needed her to be very cold in a way that actresses are not supposed to be, aren’t socialized or trained to be. Willa didn’t smile, she didn’t move forward or lean in. She was this sort of aloof, Hitchcock blonde. That was so perfect.”
Even amidst the danger that’s run through the episodes of “Dare Me” that don’t end with a dead body, the show has also been able to take advantage of the cheer side of its story, particularly in what Guardiola and Kelly are able to perform. Episode 7 finds the Sutton Grove squad competing at Regionals, right in the middle of Addy and Beth working through mounting disconnects in their friendship. Abbott said that, before filming on the show began, the “Dare Me” writers room would watch routines on YouTube to try to conceptualize how their fictional versions could drive the story forward.
“We never wanted to have a cheer moment that wasn’t dramatizing something,” Abbott said. “But then once we started shooting, we would find with our DP and our cheer coordinator — who choreographed all of it — and our stunt coordinator all these great ideas that would come up and then and then we would ask ourselves, ‘What’s a place where we can use this?’ They would start to feed each other and that was really exciting, once we saw what the actors could do and what stunts we could do with the limitations of the gym we were shooting in.”
Kelly said that she and Guardiola worked with director Steph Green during the making of the pilot on calibrating an Addy/Beth dynamic that felt built on unseen years of the two characters’ time together. That work reverberates through the scene in “Scorched Earth” when the two reconvene in a chilly hotel bedroom, with both of them trying to articulate those longstanding feelings and frustrations, not knowing the imminent danger that’s happening back in their hometown.
“It’s funny because I don’t think Herizen and I ever actually discussed it, which is part of what I think is important about that scene. The way they’re both interpreting that as entirely different people with the same shared history,” Kelly said.
It’s moments like that one that highlight how “Dare Me” exists at the cross-section of a handful of different genres. Much like the Season 1 midway point signaled a shifting series, the evolving understanding of both Addy and Beth makes the uncertainty of the episode’s final images all the more powerful.
“It’s a really scary thing trying to tell stories that are emotional, because you don’t always have dialogue and language. If characters are inarticulate about their feelings, then you have to rely on other things. These young actors, just embodying these feelings of melancholy and loss or desire or even anger, it’s more interesting sometimes to see those silent moments,” Fattore said. “It’s a very internal story. So much is unsaid in the world, and that makes it more powerful when things are said. It’s the famous line from ‘Howards End’: ‘Only connect.’ But it’s such a hard thing to do. And when you’re a teenager, it feels even harder.”
“Dare Me” airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on USA.