Netflix’s cult-hit stalker melodrama returns for a second season of wild, campy intrigue.
The most important thing to remember before embarking on a binge of season 2 ofYou (now officially a Netflix Original after spending its first season on Lifetime) is this: Joe Goldberg is a murderer. Yes, he’s handsome, and yes, he’s intelligent, and yes, a lot of the characters last season were very annoying. But, regardless of your feelings towards Beck or Benji or Peach or Ron, Joe is a murderer who murdered them and got away with it all.
The first season of You ended with the reveal that Candace (Ambyr Childers), Joe’s ex-girlfriend (whom he’d ostensibly killed) was, in fact, alive, showing up at Joe’s bookstore shortly after his murder of girlfriend Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail). Joe (Penn Badgley) flees Candace and New York City, taking the name Will Bettelheim and moving to Los Angeles, a city where he assumes no one will ever search for him since it’s everything he hates in one place. There’s a lot this season about things that Joe hates: having left his NYC cocoon, he is forced to interact with an environment almost custom-made to repel him.
Once established in L.A., Joe/Will gets a job at Anavrin, a fancy organic market, and begins a romance with Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti) and an uneasy friendship with her twin brother Forty (James Scully), the poor little rich kids of the store’s founders. Their social circles are a very specific set of Los Angeles stereotypes, all Moon Juice and celebrity parties and bringing wolves to wellness weekends so that attendees can face their inner beasts.
Against his better judgment, Joe becomes involved with Love, a young widow and chef who is hideously codependent with Forty, a recovering addict and aspiring director. It’s clear that Love has given the majority of her life to caring for her brother, something Joe both respects and seeks to free her from. And yes, their names really are Forty-Love.
Joe desperately wants to change and live a “normal” life with Love, a life which is hindered by his demons, both real* and imaginary, and by a poorly sketched out #MeToo plotline involving his new neighbors Delilah (Carmela Zumbado), a journalist who wants to “do what Ronan Farrow does”, and her sister Ellie (Jenna Ortega). With Harvey Weinstein very much still in the public eye, the shadow that #MeToo casts over this season is both on the nose and out of place. Yes, the story is sadly relevant and the work Delilah wants to do is important. But, should real-life monstrosities be used to fuel fictional vigilantes? If Joe’s “instinct” for protection is seemingly pointed in an appropriate direction, does that make it okay?
This storyline, like several this season, seems crafted by the universe to keep pulling Joe back into his wicked ways, no matter how badly he wants to resist. Unlike the first season, where Joe’s crimes were primarily of his own devising, Season 2 wants Joe to fall back into his old ways despite himself, and by removing his self-motivation, almost tries to justify him.
The show maintains an uneasy balance with exactly how it wants the audience to view Joe.
The show maintains an uneasy balance with exactly how it wants the audience to view Joe. Season 2 wants Joe trying really hard not to be a stalker/killer to be funny (and yes, sometimes it is, thanks to Badgley), while also having various characters inform Joe that he is, in fact, the bad guy. But! The show also wants him to be a tortured soul with a bad childhood who just wants to protect people. Having characters tell Joe that he’s wrong isn’t the same as him grasping that or the same as him STOPPING.
None of the things that You does this season ever entirely gel. It’s a dark comedy! It’s a social commentary! It’s a psychological thriller! No, it’s not really any of those things. Fortunately for the show, and for the audience, it’s never boring. Twists and turns and cliffhangers are You’s bread and butter, and it knows that even when the overall product doesn’t quite work. The performances, particularly from Badgley (who has the rare ability to do excellent voiceovers) are strong, and everyone involved is giving it their all. It’s just not clear what they’re giving it to.
*This is a metaphor, there are no actual demons in You.
You Season Two will be available on Netflix on December 26th.