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Netflix's stalker thriller is back to skewer England's elite
Early on in the fourth season of Netflix's psychological thriller You, our resident serial killer Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) gives us a nice little summary of his feelings on his big post-Love move to Europe: "If L.A. was purgatory and suburbia was hell, London may be when I finally got to the good place." Is anyone else glad to see that Joe remains as monstrously delusional as ever? Also, do we think he actually watched The Good Place, and if so, does he picture himself a redeemable demon like Ted Danson's Michael, or was he just in it for all the bud hole jokes? Aside from reminding us of Joe's sociopathic perspective on his own life (and rampant avoidance of anything resembling guilt or accountability), the pithy line of voice-over also reminds us of You's uncanny ability to pull off a major reset each season.
After skewering Brooklyn's literary elite in Season 1 and taking on "wellness" obsessives in Los Angeles in Season 2, Sera Gamble and Greg Berlanti's You (based on Caroline Kepnes' novels) quite literally torches the upper middle class suburbs, in all their snobbery and mundanity, during Season 3. The season ends with a real romp of an episode in which Joe kills his impulsive murderer wife, Love (Victoria Pedretti), drops their son off with neighbors, and fakes his own death before blowing up their house (a person only needs eight toes, right?). With his new freedom and trusty black baseball cap, he sets off for Paris to try to track down the new object of his affection, librarian and single mom Marienne (Tati Gabrielle).
It is that hunt for Marienne that eventually leads Joe to London, where, because of a few events that I won't spoil here, he assumes a new identity: He's literature professor Jonathan Moore, and it doesn't take Professor Moore long to find himself in the middle of a new group due for some skewering: the English aristocracy. Once again, the social satire hits hard and remains one of You's biggest draws. Honestly, You only seems to be having more fun with age and has never been as laugh-out-loud funny as it is in Season 4. Penn Badgley's performance, both on screen and through his spot-on voice-overs, continues to anchor the show.
But Joe is not only dropped into a world full of snotty elitists who do things like make servants act as human croquet wickets or say a friend who has turned up dead with a missing ear "never did listen to anyone." No, Joe finds himself in the middle of something he might have even more disdain for: a murder mystery. After a wild night blacking out with his new acquaintances, Joe wakes up to find one of them dead on his kitchen table — and then the anonymous text messages begin. The anonymous texter, who has figured out Joe's true identity, begins picking off members of the group one by one and threatening to out Joe for who he really is, unless Joe can put a stop to it. Which means Joe Goldberg is now the star of a good ol' fashioned whodunit.
For this well-read serial killer, it's the lowest, most formulaic type of genre, and yet working through the mystery like some sort of deranged Hercule Poirot just might be the only way for Joe to protect himself and the people he finds himself growing closer to (see also: obsessing over). While Joe might complain about genre formulas, plopping Joe into a murder mystery and putting him on the defense shakes up You's own formula.
Joe was also pitted against an adversary in Season 3, and the framework certainly feeds into Joe's delusion that deep down he is some kind of hero, that his kills are necessary. But the setup in Season 4 — at least in Part 1 — is much less compelling than Joe versus Love was in Season 3. Joe and Love's relationship made their psycho-killer back-and-forth more complex and interesting, and Love's impulsivity kept Joe on his toes, giving that season an energy that is lacking with this anonymous "Eat the Rich" killer (as the press dubs them). Even a reveal late in Part 1 isn't the most shocking and leaves a lot to be desired. In short: These first five episodes lack a little bite.
And yet, like fans of whodunits, we know our genre tropes, don't we? Knowing that we are only halfway through the season — Part 2 premieres March 9 — points to something more coming down the road. You has always packed in twists on top of twists and has let things go off the rails just enough to remain compelling. In these first five episodes, Joe feels almost caged in (hilarious since his cage is nowhere to be found) and too in control. This is our fourth go-around with Joe Goldberg, and if we can be sure of anything, it's that as much as he says he wants to, he can never stay in control of his dark impulses for too long.
Premieres: Thursday, Feb. 9 on Netflix
Who's in it: Penn Badgley, Tati Gabrielle, Charlotte Ritchie, Lukas Gage, Tilly Keeper, Amy-Leigh Hickman, Ed Speleers
Who's behind it: Sera Gamble (showrunner)
For fans of: Whodunits, skewering England's elite
How many episodes we watched: 5