Readers caution: Spoilers for You season 2 are below.
At first glance, Jenna Ortega’s Ellie, a new character on the second season of Netflix’s You, appears to be a teenage girl who’s in way over her head when it comes to her ambition of becoming a filmmaker. That false image quickly fades as you see just how tenacious and observant the adolescent actually is, unafraid to mouth off to her older sister Delilah or call out Penn Badgley’s Joe/Will on his bullsh*t.
“What I love about Ellie is I feel like she has the balls to say things I wouldn't typically say. So for me, it was just like, all right, this is the time to let it all out,” Jenna tells Teen Vogue. “I know so many people like Ellie. Most of us teens go through that angsty stage, so I just kind of played with that. It was really just a matter of spending more time with that version of myself.”
Season two of the romance thriller takes Joe, who has stolen the identity of someone named Will, to the sunny city of Los Angeles after being tracked down by his ex-girlfriend Candace. He moves into an apartment complex managed by gossip reporter Delilah (Carmela Zumbado), sister and guardian to Jenna’s Ellie. To help welcome Joe to L.A. (and so that he “owes her one”), she gives him a crash course on social media: don’t overshare, for example, by posting your breakfast on Instagram, unless breakfast is your brand. Your brand is “not that deep,” it’s just about having good taste in whatever your thing is. Don’t hashtag, they’re thirsty. You know, all the things that any normal teen nowadays knows but many adults still screw up.
This is one of the first scenes that Jenna shot, and she remembers being nervous going into the table read even though she has had plenty of acting experience, including her starring role as Harley Diaz in Disney Channel show Stuck in the Middle and playing young Jane in Jane the Virgin. When she realized it was explaining something that her generation practically knows as second nature, the nerves went away, and it was a good start to her on-screen dynamic with Joe. Most fans of You know Penn from his years as Dan Humphrey on Gossip Girl. But Jenna hadn’t watched the beloved series, only read the original books, so Penn was new to her other than knowing him from watching the first season of You. The two make quite the scene partners, Ellie often treating him like a bumbling older brother.
Their relationship is also one of the aspects of the series that makes it so intoxicating to watch: You craftily portrays Joe as so damn dreamy and likable even though he’s killed multiple people and stalked several women. His overprotectiveness of Ellie helps support his good-guy image, especially since he does genuinely care about her in his own screwed-up way. For example, he installs spyware on Ellie’s phone to keep tabs on her partly to know what she’s up to in case she ever tries to pry into his life and partly if she ever lands in trouble. The joke’s on him though because she soon realizes her tech has been compromised, using it to her advantage by sending fake texts about her whereabouts.
“It was perfect because everybody is constantly rooting for Joe because everyone is in love with this serial killer and every once in awhile it's nice for things to not go his way,” she says about the twist. “And it makes total sense at this point. Teens, we're so savvy with phones and technology. Of course [Ellie] noticed.”
As the de facto teen on set, 17-year-old Jenna was also able to chime in when she felt like Ellie would say or do something differently. It was a collaborative environment where she could speak up and was never treated differently even though she was the youngest person around.
“My voice was heard and that was very empowering to me because I've been on sets where being a young woman of color, I don't always get a say in what my character is doing or what's happening on screen, but I was very included on the set and that was really nice,” Jenna says. “I love it when it can be a collaboration [where] everybody's working, it's not just solely one person. It was very freeing as an artist.”
As resilient as Ellie is, she does eventually find herself in trouble about halfway through the season. One of the subplots of You is about how a director named Henderson has been taking advantage of underage women over the years. Ellie doesn’t believe the claims and instead hopes that by interning for him, she’ll be able to jump-start her career as a filmmaker. One night while hanging out at Henderson’s house, he drugs her. Joe also just so happens to be in the house, drugs the predator, and accidentally kills him in the basement all the while Ellie is passed out on the couch upstairs. It’s a particularly chilling part of the season, and though thankfully nothing happens between Ellie and Henderson, the scenes serve as somewhat of a cautionary tale to all the gross men out there that still hold power.
“Make sure that you're comfortable in your environment and you have control of the situation that you're put in to avoid something scary because it can be such a sketchy industry, especially when so much of the power is given to these adult, Caucasian males,” she advises.
Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you view it, Ellie makes it to the end of the second season of You in one piece. But her sister Delilah becomes a victim of the war of love between Joe and his girlfriend Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti). Never knowing who is safe is another one of the thriller’s most tantalizing elements. Every time Jenna read a script she let out an audible gasp. The writers had individually pulled aside many of the actors to tell them their character’s storyline, however, Jenna was kept in the dark. So she only found out that she would make it to the end alive about a week before they shot the finale. The twists and turns (and murders) are what make You such an enthralling watch, along with how it subverts so many romantic tropes we’ve been taught to enjoy that are actually fairly dangerous.
“It's funny to me because it's just like the irony of it all. To think that somebody who's so head over heels for you and all the arrows just seem to be pointing in the right direction, when really this man is literally killing people and going out of his way stalking you just to make sure everything plays out [in his way],” she says. “A lot of people like the clingy, obsessive type which is a dangerous balance and this very fine line. It's just interesting because nobody has really challenged that idea before. It's really cool that, [creator] Sera Gamble and Penn, obviously the [novel] writer Caroline [Kepnes], really pushed the line with this one.”
At the end of the season, Joe sends Ellie somewhere far away from Los Angeles to escape the mess that he’s made before he settles into his prison of suburbia with Love and a baby on the way. But considering that Ellie survived the tragedies of season two, there’s always the hope she might make a return if the series gets renewed for a third season. Jenna has some ideas if that were to happen.
“I just want her to be an even bigger badass. I don't want her to come back and be extremely vulnerable and sad. We have to remember that even though people still find Joe somewhat charming, he's evil, he does terrible things, and he gets away with them because of his gender and race and his position in society,” Jenna says. “It would be amazing to see Ellie come back and take control of her life. She has so much potential and so much talent that she shouldn't waste because of him.”
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue