After flirting with justifying its unreliable narrator, the show reminds viewers of exactly who he is once again.
You Season 4 Part 1 depicted its antihero protagonist, Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley), at his most straightforwardly heroic. He was teaching classes, avoiding romance, and trying not to commit any more murders. At least, that’s what Joe told himself and the audience in his omnipresent narration. It was a notable and perplexing turn for a character who viewers first met stalking, kidnapping, and murdering the object of his demented affections.
After wannabe progressive politician Rhys Montrose (Ed Speleers), a member of Joe’s new London social circle, revealed himself to be the so-called Eat the Rich Killer, the second half of the season seemed almost obvious. You Season 4 Part 2 appeared to be steering its protagonist into Dexter territory, pitting serial killer against serial killer. Luckily, showrunner Sera Gamble has some tricks up her sleeve that keep the series from covering that well-trod ground. It feels like almost every episode ends with a twist.
This new batch of episodes returns the show to its Season 1 roots, leaving no doubts about where the audience’s sympathies should lie. The writers play with the unreliable narrator device more than ever and to great effect. It keeps the viewer guessing about the fate of certain characters until the very last moments. It’s surprisingly comforting to see the series reaffirm that Joe is indeed a monster. Especially after Season 3 framed many of his killings as justified or necessary. You Season 4 Part 2 digs back into the madness that motivates his misogyny, and it’s all the better for it. Badgley has always been clear that he sees his character as a villain. It’s nice to see that supported by the show’s text, which has often seemingly seriously flirted with portraying Joe as a misunderstood dreamer.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given her character’s confusingly brief arc in the first part of the season, Tati Gabrielle returns as Marienne. We finally see what really happened after Joe followed her to Europe. Spoiler alert: it’s not good! Marienne is a single mother and former heroin addict who’s escaped an abusive husband with her young daughter, which leaves her even more vulnerable to Joe’s violent tendencies than his usual privileged paramours. Gabrielle delivers a heartbreakingly gentle and sensitive performance, even when saddled with hokey, faux-literary narration.
Her fate feels incredibly important, ratcheting up the season’s stakes significantly. In addition, it’s interesting to see the story loop back around to what feels like Season 1 territory. The tone often echoes when Joe tormented and manipulated his ill-fated girlfriend, Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail). In its first iteration, a huge part of the show’s character lay in critiquing violent misogyny. You Season 4 Part 2 feels like a step back in the right direction, even if it is genuinely hard to watch at times.
If anything, the new season pushes the envelope further with some of the most sadistic and violent murders the series has ever featured. Gone are the days when a character with a goofy name like Peach Salinger (Shay Mitchell) would be shot in the head offscreen. Now characters are being sexually tortured to death with whips and zip ties. It honestly feels like a bridge too far for a series that still courts a campy, pithy tone.
This new batch of episodes returns the show to its Season 1 roots, leaving no doubts about where the audience’s sympathies should lie.
You tries to balance out the bloodshed with its signature silly literary references. Without revealing too much, let’s say that much of Season 4 is an on-the-nose play on one of the most famous British horror stories of all time. There’s also Nadia Farran (Amy-Leigh Hickman), the student who tried to teach Joe about the works of Agatha Christie. Naturally, when she notices strange things about her professor, Nadia goes into full-on sleuth mode, bringing whodunnit style into the series with aplomb. A self-assured, mature college student, Nadia is a welcome reprieve from the plucky tweens Joe sparred with in earlier seasons. Hickman is easy to root for and energetic. Her B-plot proves a welcome reprieve from Joe’s self-absorbed nastiness.
Speleers delivers an enjoyably broad performance as Rhys, a wacky character even by You’s inflated standards. At first, his character’s over-the-top villainy might seem too much to swallow. However, it soon becomes clear that Speleers completely understands the tone required to make Rhys’ story work. He purposely switches between posh, upper-crust British and working-class accents, depending on who’s with him. It’s a delightful choice that tells viewers so much about the character and how he wants to be perceived. He has a wonderful onscreen rapport with Badgley as Joe, and the show wisely leaves the door open for Rhys to return next season.
Charlotte Ritchie also brings new shades of nuance to Kate, Joe’s latest love interest. Though she initially led Joe to believe that she came from a typical middle-class background, Season 4 Part 1 revealed her dad as a high-powered, dark money investor type. He’s incredibly evil, yes. He’s destroying entire communities. Still, he’s played by movie star Greg Kinnear, so he’s very charming. Kinnear and Ritchie play off each other beautifully as father and daughter. It makes it understandable why Kate might not be quite as ready to cut her dad out of her life as she claims. Kinnear feels like a genuine “get” for You, and he digs into his part with relish. His presence is a breath of fresh air in a mostly interchangeable cast of attractive thirty-somethings.
Much was made online of potential You Season 4 Part 2 cameos by deceased characters like Beck and Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti). Unfortunately, the show relegates them to one short nightmare alongside other Joe victims. Still, while brief, it’s a fitting sequence for You Season 4 Part 2. It connects well with the season’s repeated callbacks to Joe’s dark origins. While some images presented are haunting echoes of real-world violence against women, Gamble’s ability to balance darkly satirical social commentary and more light-hearted pop culture spoofing is a big part of what makes You stand out in a sea of other streaming thrillers. Hopefully, it’s teeing up what will ideally be the final season.
Now that he’s torn through New York’s bad art friends, crunchy California snobs, and sneering British socialites, where will Joe go next? The season finale hints that the answer is Corporate America. It’s not what this reviewer would have guessed, but Gamble and the You team have proven they can wring romantic drama and ghoulish kills out of pretty much any scenario. That feels especially the case now they’ve recommitted to the idea of their antihero as an unreliable narrator and deeply disturbed man. Even when You gets messy, it’s impossible to look away. The series has its audience right where it wants them. Your move, Joe.
You Season 4 Part 2 stalks you on Netflix March 9.