Ever since its release and runaway success, You has been a memorable addition to the hall of guilty pleasure shows. The buzz surrounding this show has picked up once again since the recent release of Season 4’s second half. After a watch, it’s easy to remember why You has maintained its status as a binge-worthy hit.
The first half of the season starts off with Joe Goldberg, the infamous “nice guy”/serial killer, attempting to start again in London under a new identity. As several members of his new social group are picked off by the mysterious “eat-the-rich killer,” Joe goes into full Sherlock Holmes mode in an attempt to catch the murderer. Not only that, but Joe becomes deeply paranoid that the killer is trying to frame him for the murders. In what is seemingly a satisfying karmic twist, Joe goes from being the stalker to the one being stalked.
That’s where Part 1 ends, but surely there has to be more to it? At first glance, it’s a deceptively simple plot compared to the other diabolical twists this show has pulled in the past. So it wasn’t much of a shock when the complexity of the story was upped significantly after the release of part two. After some well-executed deception and foreshadowing in Part One, the second half of the season goes down a road of You’s signature unhinged twists.
But does Season 4 live up to the hype of You’s previous installments? Well, mostly. One of the things that makes You special is its ability to evolve with each season. Although the premise of each is roughly the same (Joe moves to a new city, finds a new “you” to obsess over, swears he’ll change, chaos ensues), they all manage to feel fresh. Season 4 is the most striking example of this so far.
The first notable change in this season is Joe himself. His actions turn what was formerly a twisty thriller into straight-up psychological horror. Gone are the days of Joe Goldberg as a deceiving everyman. There are no more meet-cutes with women in bookstores and markets, and the hopelessly romantic persona he’s curated fades away. Joe completely loses his grip on reality, and is finally revealed as the irredeemable monster that he’s always been.
Having Joe transition away from this facade is undoubtedly the right decision for the trajectory of the story. It’s also the more morally responsible choice in some ways (considering the valid critiques that the character romanticizes abusive behavior). But the thing is, Joe’s romantic delusions are part of the complexity that makes him different from other psychopath characters. With less focus on his obsession with love, he risks turning into a generic villain who isn’t as interesting to watch. Personally, this change has left me somewhat less invested in the character.
Now that Joe’s white knight complex has been moved to the backseat, there’s much more room for the show to dip its toes into other genres. A large portion of time is devoted to the mystery elements, with the first half of the season in classic whodunnit format. This is enhanced with a significantly darker edge, and a few “wait, are they really going to show this?” moments of brutal shock value. For better or for worse, the genre shift of this season turns You into something that is almost unrecognizable at times.
Although the subject matter is interesting, the chaos of the plotline can be troublesome. It’s true that You isn’t exactly known for its realism. However, many of the subplots still manage to get out of hand (the continuity of the cage has become difficult to grasp, for instance). They range from mildly puzzling to straight up outrageous.
To Season 4’s credit, its major twist is pretty exciting (and satisfying to those who saw it foreshadowed in Part One). However, it quickly loses its luster after a few episodes, and doesn’t add as much as you might expect. Seeing as a lot of the thrill of this season is tied to this specific twist, things begin to slow down considerably after the reveal.
Joe’s love interest, Kate, is an interesting case. She’s refreshingly different from previous love interests. The only thing she has in common with the others is the lack of curtains in her apartment. Unlike past paramours, she is not initially wooed by Joe. It’s profoundly satisfying to see someone accurately perceive Joe with a healthy amount of suspicion.
Unfortunately, the lack of chemistry between Kate and Joe is what keeps this relationship from being as electric as it could be. The drama between them feels manufactured, and their dynamic is cold and transactional. Although initially refreshing, it’s not quite up to standard for a show that is famous for its toxic yet passionate relationships.
A noteworthy highlight of this season is the subplot involving Nadia and Marienne. Nadia, a plucky Nancy Drew type and student of Joe’s, goes on a mission to uncover her professor’s secrets. She eventually discovers Marienne, Joe’s previous love interest, trapped in the infamous cage. The two plot together to not only free Marienne, but get rid of Joe once and for all. In an otherwise bleak show, it’s refreshing to have such strong characters to root for.
Although this season is imperfect, it feels fresh at the very least. In a climate dominated with countless reboots, it’s nice to see a show take chances and expand even when it’s not necessary. You’s past formula has worked well, and the creative team could have probably continued to rehash previous plotlines for this season if they wanted to.
Instead, You has admirably chosen not to play things safe. There are parts where the twists and changes pay off, and it successfully delivers a bold new take. There are other moments that rely on half-baked plotlines, leaving the show to be sustained mainly by its own ambition. Either way, it succeeds in being sufficiently entertaining.
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Despite bold changes that both hit and miss in this new installment, You maintains its status as a binge-worthy wild ride.
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