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REVIEW: 'You' Season 4 is the lowest form of satire … and good fun

March 2, 2023
Courtesy of Netflix
Courtesy of Netflix

No matter how many bodies add up, expensive glass cages constructed and beautiful, not-like-the-others-girls stalked, Joe Goldberg somehow always manages to get away with a clean slate.

This time, after the turbulent ending of season 3 — where he staged his wife Love Quinn’s death as a brutal murder-suicide, costing him two toes and custody of his son in the process — Joe Goldberg is no more.

Although Love Quinn, played by Victoria Pedretti, was a slashing, sporadic force that undeniably drove season 3 forward and kept us on the edge of our seats, I resented her for jeopardizing Joe’s safety, and I was relieved when she died. 

“You” season 4 picks up with Joe racing to Europe in hopes of finding Marienne, played by Tati Gabrielle, the Madre Linda librarian he fixates on in the previous installment. The catch is, Marienne is not a clean slate like Candace, Beck and Love were: Love already spitefully revealed to her that Joe is a murderer. 

With this, I fully believed Marienne was fated to become another girl caught in the crossfire of Joe’s obsessive, murderous tendencies and deluded dedication to hopeless romance.

But during a flashback in the first episode, where Joe corners Marienne, she begs him not to kill her; seemingly stunned by her fear of him, Joe lets her go to prove he’s not the man she thinks she is. 

Here begins the soapy, eccentric writing of season 4.

Joe Goldberg, now Jonathon Moore, quickly finds a place as a literature professor in London, a city that seems to finally share his love and respect for books in sharp contrast to the New York hippies, Los Angeles bloggers and Madre Linda yuppie suburbanites.

His sanctimonious lectures about redemption and deserving fall upon the deaf ears of his students, who expertly counter his arguments (to no avail, of course). And, following a pattern that audience members have become all too familiar with, Joe vows to put his past and old habits behind him.

As expected, that proves to be difficult. Joe, sporting a beard instead of his infamous blue cap, becomes wrapped up in spying on neighbors, charging in as a knight in shining armor and unwillingly diving into the upper-crust, drug and booze-addled pocket of British society.

Soon Joe is already soaked in the blood of our first body: Malcom Harding, an obnoxious fellow professor, who was stabbed and mysteriously dumped on Joe’s dining table. A few texts from the real killer, promising to continue the murder spree and expose Joe’s real identity, marks the start of what Joe calls “the lowest form of literature”: a whodunit.

Though I admire the writers of “You” for trying to venture into different territory, it ultimately didn’t stick. Yes, it’s highly amusing to see the tables turned on a frenzied Joe trying to catch his own stalker, but it lacks the calculated spark that fueled the last three seasons.

For one, the “Oxford gang” of filthy rich, ignorant nepotism babies Joe becomes involved in lacks the love-to-hate them comedic fondness that I came to regard Sherry and Cary Conrad in season 3 and Peach in season 1 with.  

“You” drowns in its satirizing of the young British aristocracy as dialogue becomes cliched and the characters — like the detestable heiress Gemma, played by Eve Austin, who at one point forces a butler to be a human croquet hoop — seem uncharmingly outlandish.

Even the frigid Kate Galvin, played by Charlotte Ritchie, who is Joe’s love interest this season, fails to fill the blood stained shoes of Love. However, I will say that the hostile dynamic between her and Joe is the most refreshing I’ve seen of any other love interest in the show.

If a lackluster social circle was the writers’ way of making sure I root for Joe, it wasn’t necessary; Penn Badgley is stellar as always and plays Joe with such perfected, charismatic menace that I’ll find myself sympathizing with his predicament no matter what.

Some characters stood out: Lady Phoebe, played by Tilly Keeper, is sweet and bubbly, and playboy Adam Pratt, played by Lukas Gage, offers some dimension as the show navigates his strange kink. A college student named Nadia, played by Amy Leigh-Hickman, makes a brief, inquisitive appearance that reminds me of Jenny Ortega’s Ellie in season 2.

Yet, the show is still thoroughly entertaining and doesn’t ever lose its violent, bizarre pace. Rarely will I find another show that triumphantly blasts Cardi B’s “I Like it” while Joe gruesomely disposes of a body. Joe’s habits remain perfect fodder for disaster and his blatant disdain for rich elitists creates ironic fun.

But that’s also exactly what makes the identity of the “Eat the Rich” killer so predictable: who else would Joe’s stalker be but mayoral candidate Rhys Montrose, the sole person in the Oxford gang who came from nothing and bonded with Joe over disgust for money?

Interestingly, Rhys is one character in a position to hold up a mirror to Joe Goldberg’s face. He’s just as infatuated with Joe as Love was, but he’s not as impulsive as her, which allows him to begin carefully revealing Joe’s own nature to himself. 

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In true “You” fashion, Part 1 ended with multiple cliffhangers. 

Rhys is a killer on the loose fixated on exposing Joe, who’s fixated on ending Rhys. Joe takes a baby step towards mentally fulfilling his promise to Marienne by saving the life of Roald, another insufferable socialite. Finally, Joe decides to try his hardest to stay away from Kate out of fear of what Rhys will do to her, but we already know how that will go.

Unless the show is renewed for a season 5, “You” seems to have reached the end of its Joe Goldberg tether. His delusion has created a clear pattern. With four seasons of evidence. a fifth season would just reaffirm what I already know to be true.

We might find, in season five, that Rhys is Joe's own Tyler Durden — simply a hallucination that enables his killing as his damaged mind devolves. This might explain Joe's gaps in memory this season, but it's unlikely.

Or he gets caught. But to see Joe, a character written so that I root for him against better judgment, be brought to more concrete, legal justice would shatter my expectations for him — and his own.

Joe can’t be arrested. He has evaded capture and self reflection too many times for one to finally sink in. Instead, he would likely die as a martyr, immortalizing his belief that everything he does is out of love.

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