Every monster needs an evil lair — Blofeld’s hideout in You Only Live Twice, The Mayor’s office in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Empire’s Death Star in Star Wars, and of course, Joe's hand-me-down cage in Netflix’s You. For four seasons, we’ve watched serial killer Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) trap and hold numerous victims hostage in “the cage,” a big glass box equipped with a highly secure lock system to prevent anyone from escaping. The device has become a key part of Joe’s persona and an unmistakable symbol of evil, so crucial to the story that it’s almost like a character itself.
The cage was initially just intended to store rare books in the basement of the New York City bookstore Mooney’s. But Joe’s adoptive father Ivan Mooney (Mark Blum) used to lock him in it as punishment; eventually, Joe started using it to trap his own victims. Over the show's run, we’ve seen multiple people held hostage in the cage, sometimes for days on end — Benji (Lou Taylor Pucci), Will (Robin Lord Taylor), Delilah (Carmela Zumbado), Beck (Elizabeth Lail)… the list goes on. A few very lucky characters managed to somehow beat Joe’s twisted game and survive the cage, like Sherry (Shalita Grant) and Cary (Travis Van Winkle). As many times as Joe has tried to leave his past behind and start over, the cage always pops up and reminds viewers of who he truly is.
Enter Kevin Phipps, production designer for Season 4 of You and the real-life mastermind behind this season’s cage. Phipps has worked as a production designer and art director on films and shows like Black Mirror, V for Vendetta, The Fifth Element, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He says he likes to think of himself as an architect.
“I create the physical environments and choose all the props, the colors, the settings, the artifacts that facilitate the process of filmmaking,” Phipps tells Primetimer. “Whether it's for cinema, films, or television, it's the same job, really.”
As the production designer, Phipps was given the challenge of seeing this season’s cage through from the initial blueprints to the final product. Rather than simply reuse the same one, a brand new cage is actually crafted for each season of You. “Strangely, the cage has been scrapped each time,” Phipps says. “So there wasn’t a cage in existence. Or if there was, it may have been in storage somewhere. We did investigate trying to find it, but nobody was particularly interested in finding it and shipping it.”
Although Phipps and his creative team had previous outline drawings to guide them, they were told this new design needed to be more advanced, equipped with features like electromagnetic locks, remote locks, and digital coding. This was not a task Phipps took lightly. In past seasons, the cage was reportedly very difficult to work with in terms of lighting and shooting, resulting in having to turn to computer effects at times. He recalls that executives were all “really worried” about this new cage. So, it was crucial that Phipps got the design exactly right. “It’s all well and good designing an interesting set, but it has to function on many levels,” Phipps says. “It has to be practical, it has to be affordable. And it has to work, you know, not just visually, but it has to work. It’s part of the story.”
To achieve the perfect cage, Phipps first spent many Zoom calls with writer Sera Gamble talking through designs. He collaborated a lot with art director Gary Jopling, who’s well-versed in 3D modeling, and also worked with a model-making company in Bristol, England. And of course, there was a whole construction team as well. The final cage was approximately 8 feet in length, 12 feet in width, and 8 feet in height, with the base on wheels for convenience. The panels were mainly composed of individual pieces of plexiglass, which Phipps says was the secret to the design’s success.
“[The cage] was made of plywood and all that stuff, but you could stand within inches of that and believe it was cast iron and corroding. It was totally, totally believable,” Phipps says. “And it was real. I mean, the electromagnetic locks locked. You have to put the code in to open the door. There was, of course, the emergency release, and then there was a button on the inside, you could [use to] get out. But if you didn't know, you could actually get locked inside it, which was fun.”
But the cage itself is only half of the equation — equally important, Phipps emphasizes, is the environment it’s placed in. In the past, Joe’s cage has resided in Mooney’s bookstore, a storage unit in Los Angeles, and the basement of Love’s bakery. Season 4 tries something a little different. The cage is unusually absent until the end of Episode 7, which Phipps describes as a “pivotal” episode.
“The whole season sort of revolves around Episode 7,” Phipps says. “That was a very tricky animal to handle. You know, what happens? What has to happen? And then the reveal of the cage, and the environment, and who’s in the cage.”
When the cage is discovered, it’s revealed to be hidden in a deep-level shelter. For historical context, the London deep-level shelters are a series of eight shelters that were built beneath London Underground stations during World War II for protection, similar to bunkers. “In our underground system [in London], there's a number of either redundant stations or redundant lines,” Phipps explains. “Sometimes urban explorers get down in them to look at them, and now they’re [also] being opened as tourist attractions.”
To Phipps, this seemed like the perfect bone-chilling environment that would elevate the cage to another level of creepiness. He pitched the idea of placing the cage in an old, abandoned part of the underground network, complete with a ticket office that’s been closed for about 50 years and a giant spiral staircase. The room itself would be like a “drum,” made up of dark metal and equipped with tunnels. Phipps describes the environment as “dirty, rusty, corroded, and kind of damp,” a direct contrast to the “beautiful acrylic and aluminum cage.” He says the space created its own history in a way.
“Everybody that walked onto [the set] just loved it,” Phipps says proudly. “They all said it was the best environment yet for the cage.”
Phipps also addressed a question that’s been on everyone’s minds: Just how exactly does Joe manage to transport this cage every season? It was already baffling that he seemingly was able to move it from New York to California, but to ship it to a whole other country? Building a new one from scratch every few months seems awfully expensive. The answer? Just use your imagination.
The writers initially drafted a scene this season that showed Joe buying the parts to assemble a new cage, but ultimately decided to scrap it. The absurdity is just part of the show’s charm and dark humor. “You do have to take a broad view on that kind of, you know, magic realism,” Phipps says. “There's more CCTV cameras in London than anywhere in the world. Of course, in our world, you never see a CCTV camera, so Joe can inhabit this world with his hat on and become invisible. That’s kind of the black comedy of the [show].”
You Season 4, Parts 1 and 2 are streaming now on Netflix. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Kelly Martinez is an entertainment freelance writer covering all things TV, movies, and fandoms. She is based in Los Angeles.
TOPICS: You (Netflix series), Netflix, Penn Badgley