[This story includes spoilers for season three of Netflix’s Outer Banks.]
The Pogues eventually ended up with their treasure, but of course it came at a price.
Outdoor benches’ The third season, currently streaming on Netflix, wraps up a three-season focus on recovering the lost gold from the sunken ship known as the Royal Merchant. The twists and turns for the Pogues — including John B. (Chase Stokes), Sarah Cameron (Madelyn Cline), JJ (Rudy Pankow), Pope (Jonathan Daviss), Kiara (Madison Bailey), and Cleo (Carlacia Grant) — culminated in death from Sarah’s father, Ward (Charles Esten), and John B.’s father, Big John (Charles Halford), after the friends finally thwarted crime boss Carlos Singh (Andy McQueen) and found El Dorado.
During an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, series co-creators Josh Pate, Jonas Pate and Shannon Burke discuss the farewell of the two patriarchs; balancing the fan-favorite love triangles, including Sarah spending time with ex Topper (Austin North); what Ward’s death means for son Rafe (Drew Starkey); where the time jump and Blackbeard plague could lead season four; working with Stokes and Cline after their real life split; and how they juggle their cast members’ busy schedules with other high-profile projects.
Did you have any major goals this last season?
Josh Pate: There were some big story lines that we wanted to bring in for a landing – a trilogy involving the Royal Merchant gold. There was a big story about the treasure hunt that tied together through the first three seasons that we wanted to bring to an end. And then, of course, JJ and Kiara were also something we thought about.
Fans have made it clear how much they appreciate seeing JJ and Kiara together. Why was this the right time to develop that romance?
Shannon Burke: We definitely almost wanted to do it in the beginning of season two, but there was another story about Pope and Kiara. We thought it would actually go faster. We had to give it room to breathe and let it run its course. This was the first time they were on their own and available to hang out with each other without stepping on their friends’ feelings.
What was behind the decision to bring Big John back this season and finally say goodbye to him near the end?
Jonas Pate: The treasure hunt really was a stand-in for John B.’s longing for his lost father. When this three-season treasure hunt came to a close, it just felt like a natural extension for his dad to get back into it and for him to be a part of that story’s conclusion in the flesh. We wanted to complicate that reunion a little bit so that when he finally reunited with his father, he realized that his father was so obsessed with all these potentially negative things about his return. We were just trying to thread that needle: the joy of being back and excited to be with his father, but also discouraged by the effort his father would go through to recover the treasure.
Was it hard to write Big John out and not let him advance in the show?
Burke: It was a big decision and it was hotly debated. The way it ended was definitely what we originally intended. The father would return, but that would not be what John B. or probably the public suspected. He would be more complicated – it was the real father, not the dream father – and then that reunion and closeness with his son at the end. It’s not always the case that we follow through on what we set out to do, but in this case it seemed to end that way.
It’s definitely emotional to see both John B. and Sarah Cameron lose their fathers at the end of the season. Have you known for some time that Ward’s story would end here, and how did you decide how he would die?
Jonas Pate: It was hotly debated, but we always felt like it could end up like this. Part of that was about giving Rafe some bandwidth to emerge as the villain in the future, as well as feeling that Ward, as a character, had done so many things that were so psychologically damaging to his daughter. There was no possibility for a real happy ending. So we felt like this was the most poetic ending where he tries to redeem himself at the last minute but dies in the process. And then it would also give Rafe a chance to come out and be saddened by that death and blame it on the Pogues, and that would set him up for season four.
Congratulations on being picked up for season four already. How quickly did you know that would happen, and did it affect how you were able to end season three?
Jonas Pate: We only found out right before it was announced. Josh and Shannon do most of the writing – you’re always looking downstream because you know you want to be ready in case we’re lucky enough to get another season. So I know they had thought about it even though we just found out.
There had been a lot of discussion about the end of Madelyn and Chase’s romantic relationship off-camera. Is that a situation where you would talk to the artists about how to move forward, or did that breakup affect things?
Josh Pate: I’ll sidestep the conversations we had, but I can tell you what was great about Chase and Madelyn is that they were super professional on set and they always brought their A game. So whatever happened off-set was never part of their job. They are super professional and I’m honestly proud of the job they’ve done.
What were the elements of John B. and Sarah’s romance that you most wanted to develop this season?
Josh Pate: Most importantly, we would play Sarah’s triangle with Topper in an escalated fashion. People love their relationship so much that we knew it would be controversial on some level. But Austin is another actor we adore, and we felt like putting him through the wringer one last time. We made sure to try and set it up. We switched the voice over to Sarah for the first time to use that to unpack some of her psychology on how she got there to make that decision, which was a short, drunken decision made on a beach. But she’s really down and out at that point and has nowhere else to go.
What worked well in exploring the connection between Cleo and Pope?
Burke: Just their personalities. One is a cunning fighter and the other is all logic and the clever one. Opposites attract, and I’d say they just go well together – they just seemed to work. There wasn’t much screen time, but the things they do together every time they did it worked really well. Both just knocked it out of the park.
At the end of the season, we get a time jump and then a little tease about Blackbeard. What was the reason for the jump and does this tell us where season four is headed?
Josh Pate: Blackbeard is part of Outdoor benches lore, and so there’s just a lot of stuff we can work with. It will be part of it, but it won’t be a traditional Blackbeard-esque story, although we’ll use elements of mythology in the future. And as for the time jump, we felt like we had to get them out of school. The actors are a bit older and it was harder to keep them in high school. We just wanted to take them to a new stage in their lives and help them move forward a little bit. The epilogue at the end of [episode] 10 was to set up those two things that we knew we wanted to do in the future.
Is it a challenge to keep a balance between big action sequences and still create character moments?
Burke: That’s the biggest trick. We talk about that all the time, speed versus depth. We have to keep all the plates spinning. We always try to make room for those personal moments because sometimes the plot gets so powerful that it’s hard to slow down enough to have these character moments. That’s the tension in what we’re doing, trying to hold a plot that’s unforgiving and then so is the character.
The season includes a tribute to Alexander Jennings. [Jennings, who served as a body double for Stokes, was killed in a hit-and-run in July at age 22.] Is there anything you want to say about dealing with that tragedy?
Jonas Pate: Please. AJ – as we know him – was an incredibly valued member of our crew and much loved by the cast as well. It was just the most terrible tragedy for his family. We miss him terribly.
Your show has given breaks to many young artists who have now settled down with other projects – Madelyn with Glass onionRudy in Not chartedJonathan with Revenge. What’s it like watching your cast grow into Hollywood stars?
Jonas Pate: It’s so exciting because we love these young people, and we’ve known all of them since the beginning of their careers. It’s so great to see them spread their wings and do other things. We often try to accommodate them when they book a big role. For example, Drew Starkey just landed a huge role, which we can’t talk about yet, but we’ve already adjusted our season four schedule for him to do it, and we couldn’t be more proud and happy for him. We always try to find a way to help them build their careers. Honestly, we feel like proud parents.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Outdoor benches season three is now streaming on Netflix.