Outer Banks Season 3 Embraces the Magic of Shipping with Jiara

JJ and Kiara's romance in Outer Banks season 3 reveals the occasional benefits of listening to fans.

Outer Banks. (L to R) Madison Bailey as Kiara, Rudy Pankow as JJ in episode 304 of Outer Banks.
Photo: Jackson Lee Davis | Netflix

This article contains spoilers for Outer Banks season 3.

“Jiara,” which consists of JJ Maybank (Rudy Pankow) and Kiara Carrera (Madison Bailey), became a fan favorite ship back in Outer Banks Season 1 before their potential was even realized. Josh Pate revealed to EW that the entire Outer Banks creative team “were inspired by the fan reaction” to the duo’s bond after the first season. This led to a pivot in the story in order to fully develop a real romance between them. He explained, “You realize that people process things differently, and seeing those little fan videos [on social media] was really a great reflection. I was like, ‘Oh my God, it was in there. I see why people really took to that.'”

Rudy Pankow managed to sum it up perfectly, saying, “It’s one of those things where you see fans want something so bad, and the writers clocked that.” It’s been a long journey from JJ expressing that he doesn’t understand why this “super-hot, rich, hippie chick” was slumming it with the Pogues to the character actually accepting that the door’s not locked anymore and Kiara wants him because she sees just how special he is. Back in 2020, Madison Bailey shared that she is Team JJ. “It’s unexpected, we did not plan it at all and I think it would be so interesting to see something that was completely created a hundred percent by the fans,” the actress told MTV News.

From the first episode of Outer Banks Season 3, it’s very clear where these characters are heading, which is so exciting for the fans who have been waiting to see this pairing get their time in the spotlight. Their time in Poguelandia has only made them an even better team, which is clearly shown as they cheer each other on while spearfishing to “provide for the family.” The two have a conversation, JJ expressing that he doesn’t want to be rescued and that he’s not going back. Why would he? He has everything he needs on the island. Surprisingly, Kiara agrees, adding that it’s “just like they talked about.” The Pogues then all play truth or dare and when it’s Kiara’s turn, John B (Chase Stokes) asks her a question that gets JJ’s attention: if you could go home to your parent’s house on Figure Eight this instant, would you do it? She doesn’t hesitate before telling him there’s no chance that she would. 

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Unfortunately, rescue does come to bring them back to reality and it’s clear that JJ, Kiara, and Sarah (Madelyn Cline) aren’t ready to leave. But they do and it’s the wrong choice, resulting in a plane crash that allows Kiara to get kidnapped by Carlos Singh. Of course, JJ is the first to notice she’s not with them, and with Kiara in danger, he is quick to jump into action, leading the charge to get her back and coming up with plan after plan because he can’t waste any time and risk losing her. It is rough to see JJ’s reaction to her being taken, John B and Sarah have to talk him out of going after her at that very moment, but watching him spiral while trying to save her proves just how important she is to him, making it crucial to show. Anything that isn’t about getting Kiara back is simply unimportant to him and he makes that known. This brings us to the first reunion moment, a scene that will no doubt be a forever favorite for fans of the couple. 

We see JJ, despite his friends’ protests, ready to walk right into a trap if it means finding Kiara, who chooses that moment to make her appearance. The clear emotion on both of their faces as Kiara runs into JJ’s embrace is the perfect way for audiences to see how much they mean to each other, but if you need further confirmation, the dialogue proves exactly that. One thing is clear from their words: as long as they’re with each other, everything will be alright. This seems to finally be understood by the two of them as well because in episode three, just as the boat causes them to fall into each other, JJ voices that one by one, they’ll defeat all of the problems waiting for them back in the Outer Banks. With JJ holding her, Kiara promises that no matter what, they’ll handle it together like they always do. They’ve always worked well as a team, but there’s something different about this agreement, something more intimate and just for them.

Naturally, their return to the OBX brings up JJ’s insecurities, and when Kiara visits his house to check on him and talk about what happened on the boat, teasing another almost kiss before JJ shuts down because he insists they “shouldn’t be doing this.” This launches him to express how it would all blow up because she’s got everything and he’s got nothing, so why would she want or care about him? It’s just another way to bring the whole theme of Kooks versus Pogues to the surface as well as the argument her parents have been using for the entire series to keep her away from the boys. Pankow’s performance is incredible and truly heartbreaking, especially when we see how affected JJ is by the conversation in the moments after. It’s painful to watch as someone who loves this character because years of abuse have forced him to believe he is not worthy of anything good, which is so far from the truth. 

That tension is short-lived for the time being as the two are forced to talk at The Chateau after Sarah finds out the cross is going to be in Wilmington the next night. JJ is ready to start making a plan, but Kiara wants to finish their conversation. He listens as she proves how well she understands him, telling him that she knows that he freaks out when people get too close. Her reassurance that she doesn’t blame him is such an important line because it proves how deeply she cares for him and she’ll do whatever it takes to show it. They call a truce, giving them a clean slate. Not wanting to leave her parents in the dark again, Kiara tells them everything. When they’re not getting it, JJ speaks up at her request, which fuels Mike’s anger at everything that has happened concerning his daughter. He confronts JJ, commenting that his daughter was a lot better off before she met him and his friends. The younger Pogue leaves the Carreras to fight it out, overhearing her father compare him to his own. It doesn’t matter that Kiara’s defending him because, at that moment, he’s reached his breaking point, deciding he’s going to live up to the accusation that he’s heard all of his life and steal Mike’s money clip. 

During the heist, the B team is back at it again as they ride JJ’s motorcycle to stop the train and together, they’re actually successful. Cleo (Carlacia Grant), Pope (Jonathan Daviss), Topper (Austin North), and Sarah manage to get the box off the truck, but as JJ and Kiara run to help them, the money clip falls out of JJ’s pocket. It stops Kiara dead in her tracks, frustrated at the fact that he’s just given her parents a genuine reason to be against him. Kiara has never hesitated to defend the boys, especially JJ, but now, he’s stolen from her family. She’s definitely still upset, but they don’t have the time to continue, so she’s getting on the back of his bike and they follow Topper’s truck. With the cops on their tail, JJ gets Kiara to safety before sacrificing himself. However, it might be his most deadly distraction attempt yet as we see him crash off the overpass. While everyone is clearly panicked, Kiara is downright distraught, screaming JJ’s name before falling to the ground in distress. By some miracle, he’s okay and Kiara’s response is the most powerful among the group, begging him to never do that again. The fact that he doesn’t even argue or try to joke with her speaks volumes because he saw firsthand what losing him would do to her. 

Despite what JJ did, he and John B show up to the Carrera’s anniversary party, hoping to convince the girls to go with them to rescue John B’s dad in South America. Their timing genuinely could not be worse and he acts as if Kiara’s abandoning them by not coming, but she calls him out before dropping the fact that she loves him. Even though they’ve been dancing around it, the words catch JJ off guard and he once again tells her that it’s not gonna work between them. He is, once again, doing whatever he can to push her away. At the end of episode eight, JJ seemingly regrets what he did, starting to apologize to Kiara until he’s cut off by The Chateau being lit on fire. Kiara’s not ready to let it go though because she knows what she wants and he promises to tell her on the plane to make sure she gets on. However, when she goes back to her house, she’s ambushed and taken to Kitty Hawk, despite her pleas. Bailey does a fantastic job with this scene, devastating those watching as the character is ripped away from everything she knows and loves. 

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When Kiara doesn’t show up, JJ refuses to leave with the group, convincing John B to give him an hour to go get her because he owes her. We get a small moment of recognition from John B as he figures out what JJ really means, which is done perfectly and will delight fans. Despite knowing how Mike and Anna are, JJ still goes to their house in search of Kiara only to discover what they’ve done to their daughter. He manages to sneak into the camp under the guise of being a counselor’s brother, but the staff won’t actually let him get a message to Kiara. Thinking on his feet like he always does, he manages to charm the counselor with a story about Kiara’s cat passing away. The tactic works and, when Kiara is told, she quickly realizes there’s only one person that would come up with such a story: JJ is there to break her out. She plays into it and we see the boy smiling outside of the cabin, a moment that shows just how in sync they are, even when they’re separated.

Once all the campers are in bed, JJ finds her in one of the group cabins. This marks their second reunion of the season and it’s just as emotional as, if not more than, the first. She runs into his arms once again and, not wanting to risk not having the chance to tell her, he apologizes. Kiara simply uses the opportunity to repeat that she loves him, but this time, he says it back and they share their first kiss, earning an eruption of applause from the rest of the girls in the cabin. This moment is a true turning point for the character, JJ finally accepting the love he has always deserved. It’s a long-winded trek through the woods, but they escape Kitty Hawk. Right before they get on the plane Kiara asks if he’s sure about their plan, to which he asks if she has somewhere else to be. Her response? “Not anymore.” And just like that, they’re heading to El Dorado with everything to lose.

Choosing to work off of this chemistry was not only a brilliant decision for the show but for the individual characters as well. It’s beautiful to see JJ lean on Kiara while he is at his lowest. Plus, seeing Kiara pursue what (or who) she wants rather than what is being forced onto her, such as her parents’ desires, is crucial. She has always embraced being a Pogue, defying her parents to protect her friends, but when she gets on that plane with JJ after being sent to Kitty Hawk, she is leaving it all behind and we begin to see a new side to her, realizing nothing is worth hiding who she is. 

It was announced, during the Poguelandia Outer Banks Experience, that the show has been renewed for a fourth season! With that guarantee, it almost seems like a no-brainer for the writers to include flashbacks of what happened during the 18-month time jump in the season three finale.

To skip over the early moments of JJ and Kiara’s relationship, as well as their own character growth, would be a true loss of opportunity. The writers have done so well at giving Jiara fans the slow burn and providing the build-up for these two to come together as naturally as possible. It could seem almost anticlimactic to wait so long to reach this point in their story and not see their transition from being best friends to an official couple. Fans would love to see that development explored, especially since we’ve never seen JJ in a relationship. Not to mention, we still have to see the aftermath of Kiara’s situation with her parents and how each Pogue adjusts to life back on the island. How are we supposed to live without seeing JJ’s excitement when he buys the charter boat? There are a lot of loose ends to tie up before we can jump right into a new treasure hunt.

That being said, getting to this point in season three was definitely worth the wait. If Kiara and JJ came into the season with nothing to lose, they absolutely have everything to lose now.

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All 10 episodes of Outer Banks season 3 are available to stream on Netflix now.