Warning: Tell Me Lies Season 1 finale spoilers ahead.
We finally see Welcome Week through Macy’s eyes, learn one of Stephen’s darkest secrets, watch him choose between Lucy and Diana, and gain some much-needed clarity on why Bree and Evan’s engagement party is teeming with tension.
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Episode 10, “The Bedrooms of Our Friends,” has more twists than a bag of pretzels, and Tell Me Lies showrunner Meaghan Oppenheimer is well aware that your jaw will be on the floor when the end credits roll.
“We blew up a lot of shit,” Oppenheimer, who adapted Carola Lovering’s best-selling 2018 novel for Hulu, told Decider in a Zoom interview. “We all are like, ‘This show’s fucking crazy.’”
While you’re recovering from emotional whiplash, read what Oppenheimer has to say about the shocking finale, its major twists, “Mr. Brightside,” a potential Season 2, and more.
DECIDER: Before we get started. Have you ever seen The Office?
MEAGHAN OPPENHEIMER: Oh my god, yeah. Of course.
The scene where Mindy Kaling’s character Kelly says, “Yeah, I have a lot of questions. Number one, how dare you?” is how I felt after this finale.
[Laughs] Oh, my god. That’s so funny. I love it. Yeah, we blew up a lot of shit.
Going from finale to pilot and rewatching the season helps connect a lot of dots, but with so many unanswered questions and a massive time jump you have to return for Season 2, right?
Initially, I wasn’t going to repeat that first engagement party scene in the finale. It was going to cut to when she sees Stephen again. But in the edit, we thought, “What happens if we put that whole scene back and replay it?” And it was so fun, because so much makes sense that didn’t before and there are even more questions now. We don’t know if we have a Season 2 yet. But we’re certainly hoping we have one. Yes, I have a lot planned — both in the college years, and also the adult years. I think getting to see more of Lucy’s life as an adult, and what her reaction is as Stephen kind of re-enters her life after years will be interesting.
So many questions and twists, the first major one being that Stephen was driving the car the night Macy died. How challenging was that scene to film?
It was a hard scene for sure. It was very late. I think it was 3:00 a.m. and we were out in the middle of nowhere in Atlanta, being literally eaten alive by insects. But it was hard. I think it was something that Jackson [White] was very aware of all season. He knew it was coming up. And I think he had a lot of nerves and anxiety about it. But I think a lot of times with actors, especially when they’re as talented as him, that anxiety ends up fueling an amazing performance. We just let him play around. It was all scripted, but we let him take as long as he needed, and freak out in some takes, and be really subdued and others. And then we cut it all together. You don’t want to make it too melodramatic. But you also need it to be believable. You don’t want him to seem like he doesn’t care. And I thought that Lily [McInery] was the best dead body ever.
You’ve talked about efforts to make Stephen semi-likable, or at least give viewers enough of a glimpse into his life to understand why he behaves the way he does. What was it like plotting his terrifying character evolution?
Stephen’s arc was definitely the biggest challenge in the writers’ room from the beginning, and in filming and the edit, just making sure you found that balance between really fucked up person and complete monster. In the book, he’s driving. So I knew that was not going to change. And in the book, he’s much more clearly a sociopath from the beginning, because you’re hearing his internal thoughts. So that’s not as much of a surprise. But even though he’s lying and manipulating, I was hoping that the audience — those who haven’t read the book — would be surprised. Because that’s the whole point of this kind of relationship. You’re like, “Is he a bad guy? No, he made me feel good. I feel sorry for him because of this thing.” And you keep second guessing yourself, even though this person is behaving in horrendous ways. When he finally takes the keys and starts driving, hopefully the audience is like, “Oh fuck. All my worst instincts are right.” It was definitely hard to find the balance, though. Sometimes we’d write a scene that was way too dark, or other times he was way too soft. So we were always adjusting and calculating.
Another twist is Stephen’s unexpected breakup with Lucy. I really didn’t want to see this scene as iconic, because it’s so rude, but then you played “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers I had no choice.
[Laughs] It’s so funny. I was really lucky that Hulu let me choose most of the music, and there were some things we didn’t get because of clearance, but I had a very specific playlist I made while I was writing the pilot that I gave to everyone. I had originally put “Mr. Brightside” in an earlier episode. And Hulu — and I was very bummed out at the time, but thank god they said this — they were like, “This song isn’t right for this moment. Let’s save it for a bigger emotional moment.” And I was like, “OK fine.” And I didn’t agree. And then when we were cutting the staircase scene, we initially had sadder music that just felt a bit silly and melodramatic. And I said to my editor Julie, “Will you just put on ‘Mr. Brightside’ to see what that sounds like? This is probably crazy.” And she put it in and then we were silent after, and she was like, “I think that’s perfect?” And I was like, “I think it’s perfect, too!” And [the scene] completely changed. The song made what could have been a melodramatic, soppy, sad scene like nasty in a fun way. I think we needed that little bit of irony that the song provides. So I’m so glad you like it, because I laugh with such glee when I watch that scene. It’s just so wicked and terrible.
Along with “Mr. Brightside,” one of my favorite parts of the show is Bree and Evan’s relationship, which the finale threatens with Lucy and Evan drunkenly sleeping together. Based on comments at the engagement party, I got the impression Bree doesn’t know about that night.
She definitely does not know. I think Stephen does not know, because he would have used that as a nuclear weapon. And I think Pippa knows. That’s that comment in the pilot where she’s like, “This is our opportunity to not be shitty be friends to her for once.” I think as adults they both know they haven’t been as good of friends to Bree as she has been to them. I’m hoping the start of Season 2 will be Lucy’s redemption tour towards Bree, like really realizing how much she has betrayed her. Not just with Evan…she’s just taken her for granted a lot.
Lucy had quite the transformation in Season 1. Do you have a whole story in mind from the summer after her freshman year to this engagement party?
Yeah, loosely. For sure. And the goal if we, knock on wood, get Season 2, would still be seeing college. I want to go through all of college. So all the unanswered questions where people are like, “How the heck did that come to be?” We will dive into all of those things: How did Stephen get together with Lydia? Where did his relationship with Diana go? When was the last time Lucy and Steven actually were together? Because it wasn’t the Hawaiian party. There’s more entanglement. That wasn’t their last breakup, I would say. So yes, I have a lot planned. I was just with some of the writers, and we were brainstorming all this crazy shit we could do. We have a lot of fun ideas, and we’ll hopefully see a lot more of the ensemble as well. I’ve been really happy with the audience response to some of them, so I think getting to explore their lives more will be really nice.
Speaking of the Lydia twist, which I don’t believe was in the book, I remember in the pilot, she says that infamous line to Lucy: “Don’t worry, one day some guy’s gonna get under your skin and rot there, and I’m gonna laugh.” Did you know from the start Lydia would end up with Stephen?
I did. That was actually the end of my pitch to Hulu, before they hired me. I was like, “And then he shows up with Lydia.” I was like, “Who’s the craziest person he could show up with?” And I don’t think anyone will see that coming, so I’m excited about that.
Tell Me Lies is so full of toxic relationships and friendships that it’s hard to watch at times. What do you hope viewers take away from these dynamics play out on screen?
When I read the book, I was like, “God, I wish I’d read something like this when I was 18.” I think there are so many relationships like this, and we just aren’t honest about them. We try to make our own lives sound better to friends, especially when we’re younger. And we never want to admit when we’re being completely humiliated and belittled by a person that we are, for whatever reason, hopelessly into. I’m hoping that people will watch it and maybe recognize things that they’re accepting in their own lives and shouldn’t be. I hope people will also have more empathy for others who are in these kinds of relationships. I think it’s easy to assume that only idiots could fall for someone like Stephen. But Lucy’s not an idiot. We can all get completely — for lack of a better word — dickmatized and completely blinded, especially at that age when everything is new. So hopefully people will demand better treatment.
Before we go, I know Emma Roberts is an EP on the show. What’s it like working with her and did she also think this finale was chaos?
[Laughs] I love Emma, she’s wonderful. We’re actually working on another thing together now. And she’s just so she’s so funny and truly so, so smart. She’s extremely intelligent and witty and says some of the funniest, most honest shit. She has a very dry sense of humor, gave amazing notes, and had really good ideas. She’s been working since she was a baby, so she knows what works and what doesn’t. And she’s very honest and straightforward about her opinions in a way that I really respect. I think she does think the finale’s unhinged. When I initially pitched Evan and Lucy waking up together she sent me a really funny email that was like, “OMG, I’m dying,” basically. That to her was really shocking in a great way. But yeah, we all are like, “This show’s fucking crazy.”
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Season 1 of Tell Me Lies is currently streaming on Hulu.