Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) gets a new identity in YOU Season 2, but he still can't escape who he truly is. The second season of the deadly drama series — its first as a Netflix original, after moving from Lifetime — sees Joe abandoning his life in New York for Los Angeles. He's adopted the name Will Bettelheim and gets a low-key gig at an upscale grocery, but his primary purpose in life still seems to be harboring an all-consuming and dangerous obsession with a woman.
This time, it's Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti) who has unwittingly captured his attention, and he has hopes that her sunny disposition might radiate unto him and turn him into a better person. Love has endured a very difficult loss in her own life but still maintains a warm and reassuring demeanor; her brother Forty (James Scully) is a bit more daft, however, and that creates quite a complication. Just as Joe believed he had some sort of secret say-so over the people in Guinevere Beck's (Elizabeth Lail) life in Season 1, Joe sets right into analyzing Love's family and friends and deciding whether he approves of them or not in some more of those unsettling inner monologues.
See, even though he thinks he wants to change, Joe-slash-Will is still as calculated and cold as ever when it comes to just about everyone he meets — with the exception of the now-formulaic kid neighbor in need, a sassy and tech-savvy teen named Ellie (Jenna Ortega). It doesn't take long for him to fall into other bad habits, either; since it was included in the trailer, it's not a spoiler to say that Joe has built himself an all-new kidnapping chamber just like the one he had in the bookstore basement, and, yes, there will be blood.
The second season of YOU — which Netflix sent out in advance for review with a laundry list of things we can't talk about — is primarily focused on Joe's fascination with Love and the great lengths he'll go to in his creepy courtship of her, but the new episodes also present a significant foil for him in the form of Candace (Ambyr Childers), his ex-girlfriend who surprised him and all of us when she showed up alive and well in the Season 1 finale. Candace isn't interested in some kind of cozy reunion with Joe; she's ready to get some payback after what happened between them, which is finally, fully explored in some key flashbacks this season. Watching the two engage in their duplicitous little dance is certainly one of the highlights of the season.
Fans of the series' first foray — especially the millions who caught on after its Netflix debut — will easily slip into Joe Goldberg's new world because Penn Badgley doesn't miss a beat returning to the character's messed-up mindset. Badgley once again makes the character disturbed and full of terrible ambitions, but still oddly sympathetic and even, against our better judgment, a little dreamy at times. Meanwhile, Victoria Pedretti's turn as Love is an absolute breath of fresh air for the show. She is in no way dense but carries herself with an almost childlike level of compassion for people. Even as tender as she is, though, Pedretti also equips Love with enough toughness that audiences can hope she'll survive Joe, where Beck did not. It's also easy to see why someone like Joe might think she's the one who can finally fix him — even if we all know better.
There are plenty of plot points in YOU Season 2 that are essentially recycled from Season 1; in addition to Joe almost turning into a good guy when it comes to the kid next door again, he's still completely sloppy at crime scene cover-ups, and he still isn't always able to fool people close with his litany of lies. There are also some strange and satisfying surprises in store this time around, though, because not every decision Joe makes here is the same one he might've in Season 1. We're also introduced to some very harrowing and revelatory details about his own personal past, and the motives and behaviors of those around him — especially the women in his life — often upend Joe's expectations. As much as he believes he can read others, he's not the only one with some very dark secrets tucked away, which makes this season a very edge-of-your-seat experience, especially in the final act.
In all, YOU Season 2 is a meaty sophomore outing which gives its new cast plenty of new room to play while remaining familiar with its maniacal mainstay. Fans already know Joe Goldberg well enough to anticipate a lot of what's ahead with him, but it's still fun to watch him try to recalibrate as Will, especially when the ladies of the show come through with unexpected intrigues and prove that Joe isn't quite as smart as he thinks he is.
YOU Season 2 is based upon Hidden Bodies, Caroline Kepnes' sequel to the 2014 book which inspired the first season. Robin Lord Taylor, Carmela Zumbado, Charlie Barnett, Adwin Brown, and Chris D'Elia also star.
YOU Season 2 premieres on Netflix on Thursday, Dec. 26.
TV Guide rating: 4/5
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