Like a gluten-free keto scone we can’t say “no” to, we couldn’t help but love and root for Sherry and Cary Conrad by the end of Season 3 of Netflix’s hit show “You.” (Heads up if you haven’t finished watching the series: Copious spoilers ahead!)
Madre Linda’s stalwart power couple — one half tech bro entrepreneur, one half mommy blogger extraordinaire — are easily the most insufferable characters in town (and in a show as murder-y and treacherous as “You,” that’s saying something).
Cary (played by Travis Van Winkle) has 6% body fat, can’t stop talking about optimizing every segment of his life, and leads male-bonding hunting trips where he shares his weird Matthew McConaughey-esque musings on masculinity.
Sherry (Shalita Grant) is a cliché momfluencer who lives for the ’gram and positively seethes when her neighbor Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti) feeds the couple’s twins cupcakes with raspberries on them. (Even fruit has sugar! How dare she spike their blood sugar levels, which of course Sherry and Cary track on an app.)
But about halfway through the 10-episode season, one of the show’s most surprising twists occurs: After a night of swinging gone wrong with Love and Joe Quinn (Penn Badgley), the Conrads end up in Joe’s brand-spanking-new glass supervillain cage.
They look (and feel) worse for wear, but the two manage to keep their wits about them ― and slowly prove that they have what it takes to last, unlike the show’s central characters Joe and Love, two serial killers grasping for normalcy and marital contentment but failing miserably.
In the cage, Sherry goes tit-for-tat with Love and her mind games, and Cary somehow finds his moments of zen in the corner. They don’t even succumb to shooting — err, killing — each other when Love slips a loaded gun into the box and tells them whoever kills the other will be let go. (“Well, if your marriage is so perfect, stay together. Die together,” a particularly diabolical Love tells them before going back upstairs to the bakery.)
But the two don’t just survive Joe Goldberg’s glass cage of emotion, they thrive.
It helps that they’ve got killer communication skills ― when they’re arguing and the emotional tempo gets too high for either of them, they shout “purple flag” or “green flag” to communicate their level of unease.
We see how they complement each other: Cary is a man smart enough to know that his wife is the smarter one and not mind in the least. Sherry patches up her husband’s wounds and really is smart enough to get them out of the damn box. (Yes, things get a bit heated when Cary accidentally shoots a little bit of Sherry’s ear off, but the man even manages to smooth that over: “You’re gonna be the hottest one-eared bitch in Madre Linda”? Instantly iconic!)
Even more romantic, Cary lets his wife know he’s loved every iteration of her, recognizing that people aren’t static and the person you married isn’t necessarily going to be the person you’re with years down the road. You mold with that first version, but you have to be fluid enough to mold and mold again as they change.
The Conrads were intentionally set up to be marital foils to Joe and Love, showrunner Sera Gamble told TV Guide recently.
“I think of [Sherry and Cary] as a fun mirror of the other marriage,” she said. “We thought that by the end of the season, Sherry and Cary will also be in a form of couple’s therapy that is a lot more intense because they are in a cage and they might die at any moment ... We see them through Joe’s eyes. We see them through the audience’s eyes. There’s a lot of stuff about them that is pretty privileged and clueless, but they’re awesome. We all wanted them to live.”
So did Omar Torres, a psychotherapist in New York City who works with couples and individuals.
“As a therapist, off the clock, mind you, and in sweatpants while watching on the couch, I found Sherry and Cary both wildly superficial and self-absorbed ― narcissists but narcissists with a lowercase ‘n.’”
But like the rest of us, Torres eventually saw that what seemed like a superficial, performative relationship was the real deal.
“What I found particularly notable was when communication started to break down in the cube,” he told HuffPost. “Even after losing their cool with one another, they were both able to come back together and admit that they work best together.”
To quote Joe, “In their own weirdo way, the Conrads bring out the best in each other.”
Torres’ favorite Sher-Car moment? “After Cary loses a bunch of blood from a gunshot in the cage, Sherry slaps him conscious and Cary weakly responds with a simple, ‘sexy,’” Torres said. “I thought that was pretty hysterical and sweet.”
Then there’s the fictional couple’s handling of navigating an open relationship, which many poly fans online are loving.
“[They’re] a polyamorous bisexual couple that sets boundaries and communicates openly about their desires and limitations and it isn’t treated like a kink but a genuine way to maintain a partnership,” one Twitter user wrote. “Netflix’s ‘You’ really provided us [with] this incredible representation through Sherry and Cary.”
Los Angeles-based marriage and family therapist Saba Harouni Lurie agreed: Joe scoffs at the Conrads’ arrangement, but it works for the couple, and that’s what matters.
“Both Sherry and Cary seem to not only be open to, but enjoy and relish in being in an open marriage,” said Harouni Lurie, who’s also the co-host of the podcast “Therapists Talk TV.”
“An open relationship requires a great deal of communication, both with each other and with the other couples they invite into their sexual relationship,” she said. “The Conrads do that: They have contracts, have a safe word, and show each other a great deal of care in how they navigate it all.”
Even before the box, Harouni Lurie thinks the show was giving hints that the Conrads were built to last, unbearable as they may be on the surface. She pointed to an early conversation Love and Sherry have about soulmates:
Sherry: “The whole soul mate thing is mostly bullshit. You choose your soul mate. Cary and I, we had some fundamental problems. I didn’t even like him for a while, but I decided he was my person, and I made it work. Love is mostly chemicals, dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin; to activate all three, exercise, eat some protein, and squeeze in eight hugs a day. When you’re happy and healthy, then you can make real choices, and that includes choosing your life mate.”
Love: “That easy, huh?”
Sherry: “It is not easy, but it is so worth it.”
As a description of how to sustain a marriage, it’s a tad clinical, but it’s a powerful statement, Harouni Lurie said.
“So much of what we are sold through the media, Hollywood, Disney, is that we are ‘fated’ to be with someone, that they will ‘complete’ us, and that if a relationship is the right relationship, it will be easy,” the therapist said.
“What that leaves out is the fact that we choose our partners, and that we continue to choose them every day we choose to be in a relationship with them and actively work for it,” she added.
The Conrads’ surprisingly touching narrative arc shows how deeply invested this season was in relationships and how much work and effort is required to maintain and cultivate a long-lasting one, Torres said.
“From the couples therapy sessions to the NDA Sherry and Cary had Love and Joe sign, it was clear that ‘You’ wasn’t so much about ‘you’ this season as it was about ‘us,’ Torres said. “Through Sherry and Cary, we see that ‘us’ takes a lot of effort, thought, grace and flexibility.”
Optimize those three things and you, too, might be monetizing your marriage and leading a TED Talk on how to navigate the ebb and flow of a long-term relationship. (Just be careful who you invite to any potential foursomes.)