The Netflix dark comedy is as watchable as ever, while still struggling with what it wants the audience to think about its protagonist.
The ultimate representation both of making it, and of giving up, the soul-crushing blandness and hidden darkness of suburbia is a well drawn from many, many times. HOAs and smiling politely through block parties and feigning interest in rose bushes, moving to the suburbs is frequently painted as the end of adventure and creativity. What happens when the couple that moves to their shiny new house to start shiny new lives aren’t just leaving the city but also a trail of bodies behind? Can a relationship work when you’re not just newlyweds and new parents but are also trying your darndest not to murder any more people or each other?
Primarily based (like Season 2) on Caroline Kepnes’ novel Hidden Bodies, Season 3 of You also weaves in elements from Kepnes’ third Joe Goldberg-narrated book, You Love Me. Following last season’s bloody blaze of glory, Joe (Penn Badgely) and Love (Victoria Pedretti) have moved from Los Angeles to Instagram-perfect suburb Madre Linda to raise their newborn son Henry. Their new community’s social circle revolves around mean girl momfluencer Sherry Conrad (a pitch-perfect Shalita Grant) and her husband Cary (Travis Van Winkle), a supplement entrepreneur who runs weekend “return to nature and manhood” getaways for local dads; and Sherry and Cary’s hangers-on, a cadre of lawyers and life coaches and stay-at-home parents.
Next door to the Quinn-Goldbergs are the Englers: cold tech CEO Matthew (Scott Speedman), his stepson Theo (Dylan Arnold), a troubled college student who becomes infatuated with Love, and Natalie (Michaela McManus), Matthew’s wife, whom Joe started to find just a little too fascinating in the closing moments of Season 2. That fascination can only mean one thing, that it’s time for Joe to bring out the blue baseball cap and start up his old habits. Joe’s burgeoning fixation on Natalie starts a cavalcade of actions that underline the season’s biggest question: Can Joe and Love change?
Joe is having a bad time coming to terms with his new reality and even discovering the local library and its fetching director Marienne (Tati Gabrielle) isn’t helping. His mother-in-law Dottie (Saffron Burrows) has bought a condo 30 minutes away and strolls into their house at will; she also refers to Henry as “Forty” despite being constantly corrected. After all, her shaman confirmed that Henry is Forty reincarnated!
You can almost sympathize with Joe. Then his ever-unreliable voiceover tells us that “Parenthood is Groundhog Day as written by Jean-Paul Sartre” and we remember that the rest is entirely pretension. It’s not surprising that he’s finding it difficult to make friends. Though Joe tries to pin his return to stalking form on his boredom with his new life, it’s made progressively clear that this is who he is, and Love’s growing paranoia and jealousy are who she is. How much can anyone truly change, no matter their motivation (in Joe’s case, for Henry), especially when, like Joe and Love, they continuously justify their actions?
You’s third season leans into the dark comedy of earlier seasons with varying degrees of success. Joe’s adventure in the wilderness with Cary and the local dads is a fun little detour, as are Dottie’s branding adventures at her new vineyard, but when You is too in on the joke, it doesn’t play. When Joe meets up with a teenage drug dealer who only accepts Bitcoin, it’s a step too far over the Facebook comic meme line. It’s refreshing to see Joe stumble in conversation with Marienne when he doesn’t know what Missing White Woman Syndrome is, but are we to believe that Joe Goldberg, know-it-all extraordinaire, wouldn’t know that? After the initial glow of Marienne’s comeback, it falls flat, an excuse to say the episode title.
As ever, the biggest issue You faces is how to deal with the likability (or lack thereof) of its now double protagonists. Never has the warning that a protagonist is not by default the hero been more accurate than You, and never more so than in Season 3. Love throws Joe’s crime scene expertise in his face even when it’s useful, Joe treats Love as a dangerous wildcard as he spends his days creeping through new obsessions’ houses. As viewers, it’s tempting to pick a side: Do we pity Love, uprooted from her LA friends and laid into by Madre Linda mean girls while Joe makes eyes at the neighbor? Or do we side with Joe, who seems to genuinely believe he’s changing for the better? Is Joe wrong about Love? Is Love wrong about Joe? How much concern are we meant to have for either one? Have the Quinn-Goldbergs as a unit endeared themselves enough to the audience that we should root for their marriage (and all its bugs) to work?
Philosophical musings aside, You re-establishes itself as pure binge-able television, playing up the twists and cliffhangers that we’ve all come to expect. Season 3 is a medley for sure, a little bit Sliver, a little bit Scenes from a Marriage, and at times completely ridiculous yet it works as a whole all the same. Pulling both Joe and Love from their comfort zones lends a fresh element and a needed new cast of characters to the proceedings, even as they find themselves falling back into their old patterns.
Just remember, as we must every season: Joe is not the hero.
Season 3 of You premieres on Netflix October 15th.