There’s no way around it: Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) is a bad, bad boy. That’s the fun in watching the series You, initially based on Caroline Kepnes’ novels. That’s the fun in watching the show, which just dropped its fourth season on Netflix (the first season aired on Lifetime, and then the streamer picked it up): how much do we want to root for a killer, even if he finds new ways to justify it to himself?
Joe could always rationalize his crimes by putting himself on a moral pedestal above his peers in each world – New York, Los Angeles, northern California suburbia, and now trendy blueblooded London; he may have been bad in practice, but these other people were morally dubious at heart, which to him was a greater infraction: a sin, which is worse than a crime.
Equal parts clever and a little desperate, this season finds new ways for Joe to evade his murderous self. For one thing, he’s not even Joe to his newfound peers: he is Jonathan Moore, an English professor at a prestigious London university, newly reinvented abroad thanks to the help of an ambiguous ally-enemy. For another, a new murderous culprit has shown their hand, offing members of the circle of callously rich young socialites that Jonathan has infiltrated (don’t ask too many questions here, and the show will not be required to tell you any lies.
So You has turned the tables, in a sense, on Joe/Jonathan, a murderer who might have to pay for crimes of which he is innocent, thanks to aptly-named “Eat the Rich” Killer. The show’s strength, and signature difficulty, is finding the right balance between liking Joe and finding him revolting. In its latest season, though, the satire is slight and convenient – several revelations feel lazy, reliant on disorienting the audience and withholding information as though that were plot development.
Badgley doesn’t get enough credit – he never has – for keeping the show’s plates spinning in the air and making the audience care about Joe/Jonathan as he continues to go from obsession to offense to opportunism. The newest season – which Netflix dropped in two batches of five episodes each, a month apart – includes a lot of fresh blood, and while the newer members of the cast are inconsistent, Amy-Leigh Hickman and Ed Speleers do particularly nice work.
Despite the bumps, the show knows how to stick the landing, and is poised for an interesting fifth season. But I hope that’s it. You is starting to show its age, and should go exit before it loses its sense of humor.