Here’s what Penn Badgley says about “how much they were trying to make a statement.”

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About the Anti-Vaxx Storyline in You Season 3
Credit: Netflix, Getty Images/InStyle

There's so much to discuss when it comes to season 3 of You, which landed on Netflix last week. But before we get into all the murdery bits, let's talk about that episode, which is so on the nose it had to be planned with the intention of making a statement, right? (Episode 3 spoilers ahead.)

I'm talking about episode 3, the anti-vax episode, in which Joe (Penn Badgley) and Love (Victoria Pedretti) find that their newborn son, Henry, has contracted the measles. The measles? In 2021? Yes.

As Henry's life hangs in the balance, Love discovers that the unvaccinated children of her neighbors are the sources of the outbreak. When the father of the disease-spreading children apologizes to Love, rattling off nonsensical excuses as to why he and his wife didn't vaccinate their kids, Love, to put it mildly, loses her shit — not unlike Blac Chyna in the Miami airport. 

You, like me, might think this had to be an intentional statement, but Penn Badgley himself said he was surprised at how topical this episode has turned out to be. The storyline is "even more relevant than we thought it would be," Badgley recalled when we spoke ahead of the season 3 premiere. He says that the episode was filmed in January 2021, which was a few weeks before the most vulnerable populations became eligible for Covid-19 vaccines and a war on science divided the nation. In the context of that time frame, he says, "I didn't think it would be something that everybody cares about, regardless of where you fall [on the political spectrum]."

Of course, anti-vax rhetoric had been alive and well long before the coronavirus pandemic, especially in the kind of wealthy, white, "wellness"-obsessed neighborhoods upon which You's season 3 setting, the fictional NorCal town of Madre Linda, is based. So the writers probably had some inkling that they were about to ruffle some feathers when they put pen to paper for the episode titled "Missing White Woman Syndrome." But not even the most pessimistic among us could have predicted the level of vaccine fear-mongering and misinformation that swept parts of the country this summer.

Given that the You-niverse is not too distant from our own, with allusions to Covid-induced lockdowns and quarantines throughout season 3, it stands to reason that the subject of Covid vaccines is every bit as contentious in Madre Linda as it is in real life. However the show doesn't acknowledge that specifically.

Still, Badgley says we can't be sure "how much they were trying to make a statement [about] something that seemed relevant or how much it's just a natural storyline." What we do know is the actor got a kick out of the coincidence. "It's funny, because now, eight months later, it's just more of a hot topic." A hot topic, indeed.