At this point, you probably know whether the Netflix stalker drama You is, well, for you. If you’re a fan of its over-the-top premise, bonkers storytelling, and high-tension twists, Season 4 of the show (the first five episodes of which land this week) doesn’t rock the boat in that regard, and there’s plenty to delight viewers who love watching stalker/murderer/generally terrible person Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) obsess over women, narrowly escape justice, and literally get away with murder. Don’t get me wrong, this show remains an entertaining, fun, and wildly propulsive ride in its fourth season, and You, in general, remains one of the best arguments for Netflix’s full binge model that encourages you to snack on just one more episode before shutting it off.
But four seasons into You’s run, it may be time for even those of us who enjoy the series for what it is to ask ourselves whether its premise still has something meaningful to say. After interrogating the dangers that can often lurk behind the public veneer of supposed “nice guys,” lambasting the insidious ways social media can be used to do real-world harm, skewering life in Instagram-friendly suburbia, and pairing Joe off romantically with a woman whose body count was considerably higher than his own, where could the show possibly go next? After all, we already know the basic beats of a typical season: Self-involved voiceovers, multiple grisly deaths, and all-too-convenient narrow escapes from everything from nosy neighbors to law enforcement. How many times can we possibly watch this story play out?
To its credit, You is particularly deft at maneuvering Joe out of particularly hairy situations—or straight up ignoring the inconvenient fact that the sheer number of both new lives he’s built and near-discoveries he’s managed to avoid is fairly ridiculous. But as Season 4 once again attempts to reboot Joe’s story, it seems worthwhile to ask: What’s the point of all this? And, perhaps most importantly, how complicit are we as viewers when we inevitably find ourselves actually kind of rooting for a man like Joe Goldberg to succeed?
You Season 4 attempts to reframe Joe’s story, this time through both a change in location—he faked his own death and relocated to Europe at the end of last season—and the introduction of an entirely new set of antagonists for him to combat in the form of a squad of uber-rich British aristocrats. With the recent popularity of shows like The White Lotus and movies like Glass Onion, You Season 4 fortuitously arrives at a time when audiences are especially primed to embrace stories about sticking it to the uber rich. And so, while it may not make a ton of sense, Joe (now going by the name Jonathan Moore and somehow having parlayed his love of reading into a job teaching college-level literature with no identifiable credentials or resume to speak of) suddenly finds himself a regular guest at members-only clubs, exclusive dinners, and hunting weekends at Downton Abbey-esque estates.
His new circle runs the gamut of assorted rich people stereotypes, including sketchy professor Malcolm (Stephan Hagan), icy art gallery curator Kate (Charlotte Ritchie), ditzy heiress Lady Phoebe (Tilly Keeper), American playboy Adam (Lukas Gage), mysterious artist Simon (Aidan Cheng), his spon-con influencer sister Sophie (Niddy Lin), and Rhys (Ed Speelers), a scrappy striver from a poor background with grand political ambitions. Naturally, Joe hates all of them and their various associated hangers-on, so he is immediately forced to become an intimate part of their circle after a drunken night out with the group takes a dark turn.
Season 4 ultimately shakes up You’s standard dynamic by turning the tables on Joe—giving him an anonymous stalker who not only sends him opaque text messages via an encrypted app, but who seems to know everything about him and keeps killing various people in his orbit. Seeing Joe scrambling and utterly in the dark does make for a nice change of pace after three seasons of watching him direct the lives (and deaths) of so many people. But it also uncomfortably positions him in the role of a victim in ways that the show doesn’t seem particularly eager or capable of looking at too closely. Yes, his snarky commentary on why his new rich social circle is terrible is very fun to watch, but it also begs the question of whether You has lost its way a bit when it comes to its main character. Is Joe really someone we’re ever meant to be rooting for in this story?
The show certainly does its best to make sure all the other people in his orbit seem as bad and/or morally offputting as he is, and while the posh nobles, decadent billionaires, and would-be tech geniuses probably aren’t serial murderers—though some are certainly a lot more comfortable with hunting human beings than you might expect—You implies their monstrousness is different only in a matter of degree. Yet, somehow, none of Season 4’s supporting characters have anything close to the nuanced layers that made Victoria Pedretti’s Love Quinn such a compelling foil for Joe. They all just… kind of suck.
These are all people who appear to face no consequences for anything, who openly exploit those they consider beneath them, and who contribute nothing of any value to society. They’re thieves and liars, blackmailers and adulterers, and between them, their families control many of the highest levers of power in the country. It’s doubtful that anyone watching at home will be particularly sad when one of this group dies—they have few redeeming qualities as people—and the show itself seems more interested in the idea of an “Eat the Rich Killer” than it does in the people that murderer might ostensibly be targeting (at least in this first part of Season 4).
And that’s the other thing: For the first time, Netflix is splitting its latest season of You into two halves—the back end of Season 4 is slated to arrive in March—leaving viewers with an ending that feels less like a stopping point than a pause, and with many outstanding questions unresolved. Joe’s true primary antagonist is revealed by the end of this half-season, but the story’s larger narrative goals remain fairly murky, so it’s difficult to predict where things will go next. With such a sprawling supporting cast it seems evident that the scope of this season’s drama—and body count—can only inevitably go up, and there’s plenty of time left for You to craft a thrilling finish to Season 4. (Before Joe will inevitably have to flee London to reset his life and avoid having his worst secrets made public. Again.) Here’s hoping it figures out what it’s trying to say first.
You Season 4 (Part 1) premieres Thursday, February 9th on Netflix.
Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.
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