Heading into its third season, Netflix’s controversial stalker drama You may feel like something of a known quantity—and to some extent that’s true. After all, by this point, you probably know if its particular brand of over-the-top, frequently blood-soaked deconstruction of romance and relationship tropes is something you enjoy. And if it isn’t, well, Season 3 is very much not going to be for you. But for those who have enjoyed the wild ride of You’s first two seasons, you’ll likely be delighted by the inventive ways this third outing manages to push the envelope of the series’ premise into fresh and entertainingly ridiculous new territory.
While the first season of You (initially a Lifetime Original) may have felt like a cautionary tale about the dangers of supposedly “nice guys” and the insidious ways social media can be made into a tool of monsters, its second (having moved to Netflix after finding a second life there) largely rehashed much of what had come before. In fact, you’d be forgiven for wondering exactly how long the show could continue to ask its viewers to suspend their disbelief—I mean, just how many people could Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) stalk, obsess over, and/or conveniently dispose of, all while skating this close to being found out by everyone from local law enforcement to a precocious teen girl?
Season 2 ultimately turned the tables on viewer expectations by revealing that Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti), the latest object of Joe’s obsession/affection, was every inch as dark as he was and with her own body count to match. Now, Season 3 takes things to the next level, sending the pair to suburbia to raise their newborn son—the result of a surprise pregnancy that kept Joe from killing Love back in Los Angeles. (Ah, romance, right?)
The story picks up essentially where the second season left off: Joe and Love are married and determined to become better people for the sake of their child. Joe makes it about fifteen minutes before he’s obsessing over bored housewife neighbor Natalie (Michaela McManus), and disaster predictably ensues. (Though probably not in the way you’re thinking right now.)
The change in scenery allows the show to take up—and skewer—an entirely new set of tropes, from the ennui of rich suburbanites to the ridiculousness of mommy-bloggers-turned-Instagram-stars. There’s also a subplot about anti-vaxxers that feels almost too on the nose for our current moment, but which nicely complicates our own feelings Joe, Love, and the things they perceive as threats.
Part of the fun of You is reveling in the ways that Joe repeatedly fools everyone around him, as well as the way that we, as viewers, are the only ones who get to see the full truth of who he is and what his intentions are. The addition of Love to the mix as a full-time POV character and a genuine partner for Joe adds an interesting, unexpected wrinkle to that dynamic, and there are plenty of moments where you’ll wonder who precisely you’re meant to be rooting for.
Though Season 3 contains plenty of Joe’s trademark self-involved voiceovers (and Badgley remains great at delivering them), it’s Pedretti’s Love who steals the show as the complex relationship between the Quinn-Goldbergs drives much of its narrative. In Love, who it turns out is just as unhinged at the man she married, Joe has unwittingly found both his perfect match and his greatest threat. Because Love gets Joe, which means she’s smart enough to pick up on his dark pattern of obsession and dangerous enough to punish him for stepping out of line.
Pedretti’s performance is a delicious mix of rage and bougie suburban white lady privilege, a chaotic tour de force that’s every bit as messy and reactionary as Badgley’s Joe is removed and calculating. The fact that Love is Joe’s equal in both depravity and intelligence—truly these two are perfect for each other—means that You is finally forced to think outside the box of its usual narrative patterns, and the season is more unpredictable than ever as a result.
There are times when the Quinn-Goldberg marriage can seem genuinely charming, particularly when it’s so obvious how uncomfortably similar both these people are. Their love language is violence and their relationship is often toxic, but there’s still something genuinely compelling about it. The two experience real moments of reflection and revelation together, enough that you might just find yourself wondering whether You will really flip the script and give them something like a path to happily ever after. (Even if their version naturally might include more blood than most.)
The series’ supporting cast remains outstanding, from Scott Speedman’s surveillance-happy tech kingpin and Ayelet Zurer’s insightful couples’ therapist who almost sees the truth of the Quinn-Goldberg marriage, to Shalita Grant’s Instagram queen bee who serves as a pitch-perfect frenemy to Love as she seeks to integrate her family into the world of Madre Linda. (Grant’s Sherry is a character who’s so on-the-nose obnoxious that you may find yourself actively hoping for her to run afoul of the Quinn-Goldbergs in some way.)
Season 3 is at its weakest, though, during the flashback sequences that try to add depth and texture to Joe’s lifetime of depravity. Modern television has an irritating tendency to try to explain why bad people are the way they are, and it’s on full display here. Over the course of the season, we watch a young Joe get physically assaulted by bullies, get left at a boys’ home, and realize one of the few trusted adults in his life was being domestically abused the same way his mother had been. But none of these admittedly terrible circumstances justify Joe’s seemingly endless string of awful deeds and, what’s worse, the act of trying to retroactively explain his dark heart turns out to be a boring timesuck, dragging us away from everything else (read: Love) that’s simply more fun to watch.
At some point, viewers may start asking themselves, precisely how many crimes Joe, Love, and the Quinn-Goldbergs as a unit could possibly get away with in a town like Madre Linda where everyone perpetually lives in one another’s business, especially as their terrible choices compound into even worse ones. But part of You’s appeal is undoubtedly its acrobatic ability to get its protagonist(s) out of seemingly impossible situations, all while making its audience feel deeply uncomfortable about how much they enjoy watching these repeated near-escapes.
Where You goes from here is anyone’s guess; part of the problem with the show’s format is that, for better or for worse, every season involves at least some sort of partial reset at the end of it, and that’s still true here. But after the wild ride that is Season 3, I know I can’t be the only person who is—excuse the pun—dying to find out.
You Season 3 premieres Friday, October 15th on Netflix.
Lacy Baugher Milas is a digital producer by day, but a television enthusiast pretty much all the time. Her writing has been featured in Collider, IGN, Screenrant, The Baltimore Sun and others. Literally always looking for someone to yell about Doctor Who and/or CW superhero properties with, you can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.