On My Block co-creator Lauren Iungerich on Ruby's fate, season 2 cliffhanger
Warning: Spoilers ahead for season 2 of On My Block.
On My Block sure knows how to leave viewers hanging on a cliff!
Netflix’s most binged show of 2018 returned with an equally fun and emotional season 2, which quickly resolved the fates of Olivia (Ronni Hawk) and Ruby (Jason Genao), who had been shot in the season 1 finale. We catch up with Ruby being released from the hospital and still mourning the death of Olivia. And he would struggle with that survivor’s guilt throughout the 10 new episodes, while Cesar (Diego Tinoco) dealt with his own guilt and the repercussions with the Santos, Jamal (Brett Gray) lost his RollerWorld money, and Monse (Sierra Capri) faced the harsh reality that is her mother. And once they all seemed to make it out on the other side, the group was mysteriously grabbed and thrown in a van.
So what just went down? Well, EW chatted with On My Block co-creator Lauren Iungerich about the latest cliffhanger, why Olivia had to die, and where season 3 might go.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When you wrote and filmed the season 1 finale, did you know what the end result would be?
LAUREN IUNGERICH: We did. We knew about it before we even wrote the first season. It was part of a decision made as part of developing the pitch to sell it. The idea always was that just as you came into the feeling that this is like every other neighborhood in the country and it feels like John Hughes, that we have to remind the audience that the stakes to the mistakes in this neighborhood are so much greater than the average kid and that this is not John Hughes’ neighborhood. We knew that we had a sacrifice a character in order to really show what a lot of these kids go through.
Olivia was introduced in the second episode of the series, so did you always know she was going to be that victim?
Yes. The idea was always that we were going to have this character that everyone was going to fall in love with. All of the friends would fall in love with her, and Monse and her would have a really amazing female friendship without the rivalry and jealousy that we see so much; there are real girls who do have each other’s backs and do love each other. For Monse, it was the first time that she’s had a real girlfriend, and so we wanted to show what real positive girl friendship looks like — and to make it just that much harder on the heels of it for all these kids, if they all loved her. I know it sounds really f—ed up. [Laughs] But it makes for really good storytelling. And it gave us a really good thematic drive for season 2; all the characters were giving up the ghosts of things in their lives. For Monse, it was giving up the ghost of the idea of who her mother was; for Ruby, it was giving up the ghost of the loss of Olivia through his PTSD; for Jamal, it was the idea of what RollerWorld could and would become by the end of the season, once he used and gave away that money; and for Cesar, it was really understanding who he was and who he was in his family, and he had to give up the ghost of the pressure of being a Santo. It was a complicated but great season, and the joy in writing this show is that these characters are really complicated.
Since the plan was always for Olivia to die and Ruby to survive, what was it like mapping out the season for Ruby and him dealing with his PTSD and survivor’s guilt?
What makes the show really hard to write and break in terms of story is taking us inside to something that is really heavy but still finding the humor in it — which is why Ruby had to smoke out with his grandma pretty early on. We can play with the five stages of grief, but even more than that there’s this notion of, “I’m good, I’m good, I got this,” and then seeing how you don’t have it, and seeing the ebb and flow of that. Not just getting through one big emotional PTSD moment and then all of a sudden Ruby is just back to being Ruby. What we wanted to do was to play the phases. He’s ready to be back in action and go win this dance contest, and it’s all good until it’s not. He’s just not ready and to embrace that and to get to the place where he’s able to say that. Because from episode 1, he’s like, “I’m okay, I’m okay,” but he’s not okay. He’s probably not going to be okay for a long time, this will probably be something that sits with him for the rest of his life, but he’ll learn to manage it. And for us too, that’s part of the loss of innocence with these kids, and the only kid who sort of didn’t lose his innocence in season 1 was Jamal. And now by the end of this season, Jamal has tasted that loss of innocence a little bit. A little bit less than the rest of the group, but seeing him have that evolution was important.
You touched on it a bit in that last answer, but this is such a fun show at times, and yet you’re also dealing with so many dark things, so how hard is it maintaining that tricky balance?
It’s a weird tone, but if you watch Awkward it’s the same tone. I don’t really know how it works on this show, because it feels like it’s life. This is why I have a career, I guess. Because I can write ups and downs so naturally, and the balance, and how to execute them. For some people, it doesn’t work, but for the kids, they really feel connected to it and it feels so truthful. I don’t actually think about it, it’s just how it comes out of me. It’s definitely that moment of, we have to bring the fun back amid these really heavy things.
All the characters go through a lot this season, but maybe none more than Cesar, between his role in Olivia’s death to the pull of his brother and the Santos. What did you hope to accomplish with him in season 2? Even by the end, he tells his brother that this life isn’t for him, but that doesn’t mean he’s now free from it all.
Exactly. The overarching drive of the show is RollerWorld and how it plays into everything. This notion that has been predetermined for Cesar is a real thing. It’s not just in gang culture, it’s in families who are immigrants from different places. There is a cultural shift that happens when you are trying to exert who you are independent from your family or family business or tradition or religion. That is what we really wanted to shed a light on, like how do you break free from something that has been predetermined for you before you were even born, and how can we show that through the prism of these kids, who by society’s standards we just assume are all bad kids?
Like, there’s no black and white, if you’re in a gang something is wrong with you, and that’s just not true. With that comes a really interesting complex history, which Monse’s dad touched on a little bit, that he’s the product of the early Prophets. We still want to keep digging that out, because what we want to do is, through this show, hopefully create inroads for people to understand and see these kids as humans. They are real people and they have real lives and they have real desires, and sometimes they get caught up in things that they wouldn’t otherwise get caught up in without that pressure. And for Cesar, it’s going to be complicated for him. He had the strength to say it to his brother, and I think his brother was able to take that in, but what does that mean moving forward? That’s something that we’re really going to explore.
I won’t ask for specifics since you probably can’t say much, but what can you say about the cliffhanger with the group being kidnapped?
Well, I don’t want to tell you anything because I think I would give it away. Basically what I can tell you is that it’s setting us up for our season 3 drive. It will totally make sense when it is revealed, but it’s not what you’d expect. I think that’s the fun of the show.
Kids are soooo mad. [Laughs] They were so mad at us last year that they were so emotional and frustrated by that heart-wrenching ending. We knew we could not tonally duplicate what we did last season, it would just be redundant. But we knew we needed a good cliffhanger because that is what our show is; it’s surprising and we need to keep the audience wanting to have that same fervor to come back and watch season 3, which I think we’ve achieved. There was an original ending that was not that ending that set up season 3 in a different way. It was tonally a little bit less of a shocking cliffhanger, and Netflix kind of pushed us and we came back with something else. By the way, it was super-debated and we really locked into it and said as producers, this is it, trust us, this is the way to end the show. They were a little hesitant, but they came around when they saw it. While some kids are really frustrated by it, it left them really excited for season 3. We’re excited to write season 3, and we hope that we get one. And that is all I can say. The fans don’t really want to know what happens!
That kind of leads me into my last question. When we talked ahead of season 1, I couldn’t help but be struck by your passion for this show and these kids. So what was it like to have that passion and emotion rewarded with an equally passionate — and large — fan base?
Oh my God, you totally just made me cry. [Laughs] You’re just reminding me how amazing this has been. I told you, the idea of the show was born from such a deep place of pain, from leaving Awkward and I didn’t get to finish out my show because I was pregnant and facing so much rough sh— from the experience. When I walked away from that show, I didn’t realize how much it would take a toll on me, to leave something that was my dream. It was so personal and about where I grew up, and so much of that show was about me. And so in a deep place of mourning this show was born because my lead editor had called me and asked if I had ever seen the tribute videos of these kids who loved my work and recreated it online. And I saw all these kids who were not white and loved and connected so much to my work, and I thought, “Goddamn, these kids need their own show — they need to see themselves.” They’re seeing me, but they don’t see themselves.
And so the endeavor was just to make this about them, and I’m so lucky that I was able to have lunch with my friend Jeremy Haft who is writing partners with Eddie Gonzalez [both are On My Block co-creators] , who grew up in this world. Right away we were like peas in a pod, we were leaning way into Ruby, because Eddie is Ruby. It’s been so awesome to have such authenticity and inclusion. If you came to our set, in every department there is representation, and how important that is, not only for the show, but for the kids in front of the camera to see that, that their leaders on the set are people of color. It’s been transformative for me. I can’t say it enough, for these kids to feel seen, it’s so special to know I’m part of that.
On My Block season 2 is now streaming on Netflix.
On My Block