After weeks of twist and turns and back handsprings, Dare Me stuck the landing and finally gave viewers some answers about the murder of one Sarge Will Mosley and exactly how much the high-school cheer coach, Colette French, had to do with it — followed by a zillion more questions. (Warning: Spoilers ahead. Go back to the JV squad if you don’t want to have the show ruined for you.)
Following Sunday night’s season finale, “Shock & Awe,” Vulture caught up with Megan Abbott, who adapted the series from her own 2004 novel alongside her co-showrunner, Gina Fattore, to talk about the finale’s dramatic reveal, her obsession with love triangles, and, naturally, Cheer.
That twist! What you can tell us about the Frenches and their scheme, now that we know they’re in on it together? I am very curious to know where you see things going.
What became increasingly interesting to us as the scenes developed was the chemistry between those two actors, Willa [Fitzgerald] and Rob [Heaps], and the weirdness of their marriage, which felt both very common and yet also somewhat twisted. We so wanted to get inside that marriage. We had to hide it for so long. What the ending does is finally get in there and see what was making them tick and who was leading the charge. We did shoot two endings, and one just puts it a little further, which is the one you saw.
What happened in the alternate ending? Do we not get to see that Colette French and her husband are in cahoots?
We stopped it much sooner. It’s when she’s looking for the bracelet and he reveals he knows that that’s the affair, but we don’t know that he knows everything, and, perhaps, was a part of everything. Now we have both surprises at the end. Originally, in the shorter, more sedate one, the surprise was that he’d known all along about the affair.
How did you decide which one to go with?
Everyone liked both endings, weirdly. We tried to fuse them somehow, but it didn’t work. And this ultimately seemed so true to the move toward noir as the season’s gone on. It’s only gotten darker and darker and more criminal.
Things did get very dark. And gruesome. That episode where RiRi loses her teeth, over and over again, thoroughly ruined the dentist for me.
It really did become a fixation for all of us. I have teeth things in several of my books. I don’t know what my thing with teeth is, but it became contagious in the writers’ room. Teeth kept emerging, and our special-effects guys had so much fun. It was one of those things where you [as a viewer] think they’re in there as motifs or for practical reasons, like a cheer accident, but then they turn out to be important [to the plot].
On a very gritty level, I was curious if you can, in fact, actually keep dissociated teeth alive in milk?
Lisa Lutz, who wrote that episode, knew about that. And if you Google it, as we did when no one believed her, the results were: Some people say you can, some people say you can’t. That felt like enough for us. We really wanted things to get more and more dreamlike, too, as the season went out. This had a slightly surreal feeling.
This story really hinges on relationships between women: friend relationships, sexually tense relationships, and, of course, the big one, a coach and her athletes.
I had read a story at the time [I was writing the novel] about coaches blurring boundaries with their athletes. Not in a case of inappropriate sexual contact, but, like, a cheerleading coach taking her squad to motel parties and just sort of slipping back into her teen years. I became really interested in this triangle with a young woman figuring herself out. She has these two powerful women, her best friend and her coach, that are fighting for dominance. Cheer was so perfect for that, of course, because it is so full of risk. You need each other, but you can also destroy each other.
I really love that triangle between Addy and Beth and Coach French. Having read the book, it rang pretty true to the source material. I’m curious if there was ever any discussion of changing that dynamic for network television?
There wasn’t by the time it got to USA, but the show was in development for a long time. 2012 [when the development process started] was a different world in a number of ways. One way was: It was very hard often to explain what is almost a universal female experience, of being in one of these intense friendships or having an intense mentorship. There was a lot of doubt that was something even worth having a show about. Shows that took teenage girls seriously, which now we have many, thank God — back then, we had almost none.
There are definitely more shows like that, but I think something that’s still pretty rare and what Dare Me does so well is it allows the relationships between these women to sort of percolate without putting a spotlight on them as, like, capital-R Relationships.
Exactly. Often when you’re selling your show, there’s this desire to define all the relationships and define the sexuality of everybody; that was not the world of these young women to us. That’s not the world of most of us at that age; things are murky. You’re figuring yourself out. It’s changing and fluid. It’s hard to dramatize. You have to count on the audience to pause in that way with you.
During the years-long development process, there was talk of adding a male love interest, right?
It was so funny, because it wasn’t posed as “let’s get Addy into a straight relationship.” It was posed as if there were no relationships on the show, so let’s create one. And we were so confused, because it’s all romantic triangles at the center. There was this kind of blindness to it. You would think it would be about making her straight somehow, but it was never that. It was about not seeing what was, to us, the center of the show. I can’t imagine a show where she’s already involved with these two women, and in the midst of breaking up with one to be with another one, suddenly she’s going to fall in love with the boy next door.
So, correct me if I’m wrong, but you were never a cheerleader, right? No, not at all. I was a high-school newspaper girl. Cheer was quite different then, in the late ’80s. I would actually be less inclined to do it now because I’ve never had any athletic ability. That’s my fascination with it. I marvel at the control over the body and the risk-taking.
Have you watched Cheer on Netflix?
Yes! It was such a thrill, I have to say. I’ve spent seven years explaining how serious cheer is to people, and often people wouldn’t believe me unless they knew about that world in some way. The pop-culture representations of cheer, while often quite fun, never really explored it before.
Did you see any similarities with Dare Me?
There was always discussion about our coach. Why is she wearing boots on the mat? She should be wearing sneakers. Everyone I’d talked to … their coach had worn boots or some sort of cool shoe. And on Cheer, of course, she wears those boots! I felt so gratified we’d kept it in there. The coach needs to separate herself [from the team]; she’s not one of them.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.