‘You’ Season 4 Review: A Risky Reinvention for Joe Goldberg Pays Off
Season 4: Part 1 of ‘You’ is streaming now on Netflix.
Hello, You. It’s been far too long. Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley), resident serial killer with a penchant for baseball caps and pretentious literature, is back for the newest season of You – but this time, he’s got a new name, new city, and new objective. Surprisingly (and thankfully), Joe’s newest target is not yet another poor, unsuspecting woman. Instead, Season 4 of You finds Joe actually being the one on the defense as he frantically tries to figure out the identity of the “Eat the Rich Killer,” a mysterious stranger who kills off members of the Oxford circle of wealthy snobs with whom Joe finds himself surrounded. Oh, and the killer also happens to know Joe’s true identity and entire murderous past. So much for Joe’s relaxing vacation in the UK.
The end of Season 3 saw Joe on the run after murdering his wife Love (Victoria Pedretti), faking his own death, and leaving their newborn son behind. The start of Season 4 sees Joe in London with a brand-new identity: Professor Jonathan Moore, a college instructor of American short fiction. He is surrounded by a new cast of eccentric characters – a group of friends who all met as students at Oxford. The Oxford gang is everything that Joe hates – filthy rich elitists who inherited fame and fortune without having to lift a finger.
Each season of You up to this point has been set in a different city, each with its own unique cast of characters who border on caricatures. Season 4 is no different. Just as Season 2 captured the stereotype of the granola LA hipsters and Season 3 showcased the toxic wasteland of momfluencers, Season 4 delves into the world of the rich and royal. There are certainly some standouts in You’s new supporting cast – Charlotte Ritchie gives a beautiful depth to her character Kate, who may be a member of the elite, but has an emotional backstory that balances out her initial “ice queen” act. Tilly Keeper is an absolute delight as Lady Phoebe, who may be royalty but lacks the cruelty and inhumanity of her wealthy peers. Keeper’s comedic timing is perfect, but like Ritchie, she brings a distinctive emotional touch as a woman who, underneath all the wealth, feels truly alone and misunderstood. Ed Speleers also gives a stellar performance as author Rhys Montrose, the unexpected member of the Oxford group due to being born into poverty.
As a whole, the new supporting cast works well against Joe, but does often lean a bit too hard into the hyperbolic. Granted, You has always delivered an over-the-top cast of characters, but perhaps there’s only so much you can do with royalty before it loses its comedic appeal. The Oxford gang is simply not as memorable as the likes of Sherry (Shalita Grant) and Cary (Travis Van Winkle) Conrad (true MVPs of Season 3), or even Artisanal Soda Bro Benji (Lou Taylor Pucci) back in Season 1. And of course, there’s no one quite like Love Quinn. Pedretti’s gorgeous, chilling performance as Love breathed new life into You, so when she met her untimely end last season, it was hard to imagine how the series might survive without her. And here’s the truth: You let go of its beating heart with Love, Joe’s perfect match, and you do feel her absence in Season 4. Without Pedretti, there is the sense that there is something missing. All of that said, however, Season 4 proved that You can still be good without Love because of one key reason: it finally broke its tried-and-true formula.
Aside from Pedretti’s unforgettable performance in the last two seasons, Love’s introduction to the series worked so well because she offered Joe his first real adversary – the mirror image of himself. She turned the tables on Joe and disrupted what we assumed would be another Beck (Elizabeth Lail) 2.0 situation: stalk, charm, kill. With the Season 4 trailer showing Joe chasing Marienne (Tati Gabrielle) through the streets of a new city, it was easy to assume that we were going back to the basics. Was Marienne another Beck (albeit much cooler and a lot less whiny)? Would Season 4 just be another season of Joe obsessively stalking the same woman every episode?
Season 4 avoids this by making Joe the target. His familiar narration that guides the show is no longer delivered with twisted “adoration” for a woman, but with a simmering resentment for a stranger who is hellbent on making sure he gets his hands dirty by giving in to his murderous impulses. This creates not only a fresh twist on an established formula that You has maintained for three seasons, but also gives us the chance to look deeper into Joe’s warped sense of self. Throughout the season, he is appalled at the “Eat the Rich” killer’s actions, clearly viewing himself as morally superior – despite the fact that the killer is simply doing the same exact thing Joe has done for the past three seasons. How dare someone stalk him and find out every detail of his life? Joe is enraged at this stranger’s audacity, emphasizing Joe’s utter delusion and wildly distorted image of himself as the “tragic hero” who only does what he does for “love.”
The second half of Season 4 is admittedly stronger than the first. Part 2 (set to drop on March 9) gives us what You does best. Just when you’re thinking, “This is good, but it needs something” – You gives it to you. You is the master of twists, and Season 4 is no exception. While the first half of Season 4 is certainly a fun watch, there is the sense that something else must be going on here. Ever since Season 2, You has never settled – it always finds a way to pull the rug out from underneath its audience. At the end of Season 2, we learned that Love is not who Joe thinks she is – and certainly not who we thought she was either. It left us with the complicated question: is Love just as bad as Joe? Is she redeemable? Then, in Season 3, You once again did the unexpected. Just as we thought there was a new “You” with Joe’s new neighbor, the mysterious woman across the fence (Michaela McManus), Love gave her the ax (literally) at the end of Episode 1. Just when we assumed we knew the overarching narrative, You flipped it on its head.
Part 1 of Season 4 follows its narrative steadily, focusing mainly on the overarching mystery: who is the Eat the Rich killer? And while it is engaging (and often funny, given the Oxford gang’s completely blasé attitude towards the murder of their so-called friends), there is the pressing question of how You will keep it interesting once the mystery is eventually revealed. Yes, it’s fun watching Joe scramble to pin down his own mysterious stalker, but it lacks that extra spark that kept us on the edge of our seats the last three seasons.
But then there’s Part 2 – and it is a doozy. Once again, You flips the tables on us and leaves us positively reeling. The last five episodes of You Season 4 are Badgley’s most impressive performance to date. Badgley delivers Joe’s thoughts, actions, and whirlwind of emotions with such a delicate nuance that you are reminded why you love watching this series in the first place. This season of You took a risk by moving its tried-and-true narrative in a new direction – and it works. Season 4 of You is bold and unexpected with twists and turns that are simply wicked. Joe Goldberg has managed to conquer an ever-increasingly challenging feat in Season 4 – he finds a way to shock us once again.
You Season 4 Part 1 is now streaming on Netflix. Part 2 will drop on Netflix on March 9.
222 total views