‘You’ Season 4 Meta Murder Mystery Party Was the ‘Most Difficult’ Arc to Write

"You" showrunner Sera Gamble tells IndieWire how she set this season apart.
Penn Badgley and Charlotte Ritchie in "You" Season 4
Penn Badgley and Charlotte Ritchie in "You" Season 4

There is no such thing as a simple dinner party among friends when you’re dealing with the uber rich.

From “Glass Onion” to “Bodies Bodies Bodies” to the respective second seasons of “The White Lotus” and “Only Murders in the Building,” the portrayals of murder mystery parlor games over dinner have been the pressure cooker crux of whodunits as of late. Yet leave it to meta Netflix series “You” to skewer expectations, just as lead character Jonathan Moore aka Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) is hyper-aware of his own stake in the slow roasted game afoot.

Episodes 4 and 5, or rather the respective Part 1 finale for “You” Season 4, take place in a remote castle where Lady Phoebe (Tilly Keeper) and her squad of morally numb university pals seek solace from the Eat the Rich Killer, who Jonathan is determined to prove is already among them. Of course, a drug-fueled and bird-hunting centric weekend getaway to hide from a serial killer isn’t complete without a game of guessing who the killer is…by way of cards.

“Only Murders in the Building” had the Son of Sam ’70s-themed card game, “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” had an elaborate theatrical faux arrow through the heart. And “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” the titular game being played, ended in a brutal fatal twist as tech-obsessed wannabe Gen Z influencers unknowingly (for the most part) killed each other IRL in the dark. All a meta mystery party needs is a secluded mansion, apathy for an appetizer, and an entrée of death when cold-blooded wealthy folk with a fetish for murder are in close quarters.

You. Eve Austin as Gemma in episode 405 of You. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022
Eve Austin in “You” Season 4Netflix

For “You” showrunner Sera Gamble, the whodunit aspect of the series, doubled by the meta murder mystery dinner party, was the most difficult arc across the whole series to write.

“[Co-showrunner] Greg [Berlanti] pitched the idea of doing a whodunit. One of the first things we’ve realized is, ‘Oh my gosh, Joe has read whodunits! He’ll know!’” Gamble told IndieWire. “And then someone in the writers’ room quickly pointed out, ‘Joe would hate whodunits.’ But the thing that made this fresh and different from some of the other murder mysteries we were watching for research was that we were going to get to comment on it every step of the way inside Joe’s head because he was so aware of the story that he was in.”

Gamble added, “Once you’re writing something a little bit cheeky and meta, it just wants to become more meta. Hence the idea of playing a murder parlor game as a way of taking your mind off of all of the real murders happening in your friend circle.”

Penn Badgley and Lukas Gage in "You" Season 4
Penn Badgley and Lukas Gage in “You” Season 4Netflix

Once the table was set for the “You” Season 4 dinner party from hell, Gamble knew it was, well, a gamble to find the right pay-off.

“I give so much credit to any show that does a whodunit that takes all season long,” she said. “They’re very hard to keep going, in my opinion. It was a huge writing challenge, the first half of the season. It’s just a genre that holds you to a really high standard.”

Gamble concluded, “It was easily the most difficult story we’ve broken. It’s a funny feeling to be standing there in Season 4 when you are supposed to know your show really well and everyone in the room just banging their head against every single episode.”

You. (L to R) Charlotte Ritchie as Kate, Tilly Keeper as Lady Phoebe, Penn Badgley as Joe in episode 405 of You. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022
Charlotte Ritchie, Tilly Keeper, and Penn Badgley in “You” Season 4Netflix

But, as lead star Badgley teased, there are more games afoot.

“When you’re talking about the opening of this season, it was fun to try on the tweed Jonathan Moore suit, if you will, or mask for a bit,” Badgley told IndieWire. “But of course Joe is always Joe and that’s not really what’s happening. So I think just purely from a practical standpoint as an actor, I was really excited to be shooting in London, to have mostly British actors alongside me, and to just be throwing it all into a different genre for actually half the season. It was interesting.”

As IndieWire’s Proma Khosla wrote in the review of Part 1 of Season 4, the whodunit turn for the beloved campy drama series was greatly welcomed “in the wake of ‘Glass Onion'” and other recent viral murder mysteries. “You” purposefully centers on “disposable two-dimensional characters, a decision that works perhaps because the show never pretends they are anything but,” she wrote. “One by one, Joe’s shiny new friends start dying at the hands of a mysterious Eat The Rich Killer, and he finds himself in what he considers the lowest form of literature, one that the devout ‘You’ audience will lap up greedily: a whodunit. Joe Goldberg is undoubtedly one of the most compelling and watchable characters to come out of the streaming era, but a character with his colorful history will never have a clean slate.”

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