This review contains spoilers.
I usually roll my eyes when I hear a series will be split into two halves. Not only is it a cynical way to ensure subscribers stick around for another month, but it also often makes a show feel disjointed, interrupting a narrative that has, more often than not, been written as one story. But the fourth season of serial killer thriller You is the first time that interference has made sense.
At the end of the first part of series four, which premiered exactly a month ago, Joe (Penn Badgley) was accused of being the Eat the Rich Killer (a murderer targeting London’s most privileged residents) and hunted, literally, by Roald (Ben Wiggins), before the pair of them were caught by the real killer, Rhys (Ed Speleers), and chained up in the dungeon of a country manor that was promptly set on fire. Thankfully, Joe’s new lover Kate (Charlotte Ritchie) was there to save the day, and sprung them from the cellar in the nick of time. Remember all that? Never mind if not, because most of what you think you know from the first half is flipped entirely on its head in part two’s big twist.
In fact, what happens in part two changes the entire perspective of part one.
Rhys announced his mayoral candidacy as the part one cliffhanger, leaving Joe — still posing as English university professor Jonathan and convinced he’s now a Good Person — to take it upon himself to end the Eat the Rich Killer’s reign of terror. But since Rhys knows Jonathan is really Joe, and the string of deaths Joe is responsible for, he continues to blackmail Joe and asks him to kill his political opponent, Tom Lockwood… who happens be the multi-millionaire tycoon father (played by Greg Kinnear) of Kate.
Just as Joe is about to do the deed, Tom – who also knows of Joe’s past – offers an alternative solution: kill Rhys, who by this point has revealed to Joe that he has Marienne (Tati Gabrielle), the object of Joe’s affections before Kate, locked up in a cage. Brill, thinks Joe, and speeds off to Rhys’s country house to find out where Marienne is imprisoned, and then kill Rhys. As ridiculous and soapy as it sounds, this is all signature You until this point. But things take a turn for the strange when, all of a sudden, Rhys doesn’t seem to know who Joe is and has never even heard of Marienne, who he has supposedly kidnapped.
The slow revelation that the Rhys we’ve been watching isn’t real and is, in fact, a figment of Joe’s imagination, a physical embodiment of his worst self, is a spectacular flourish. In a series of brutal flashbacks, it’s spelt out that Joe really was the Eat the Rich Killer all along, that he was the one who had drugged and kidnapped Marienne, that he was keeping her in his famous glass box, starving and separated from her beloved daughter.
Joe’s likeability has always been uncomfortable. He is a stalker and a serial killer, but he is also handsome, clever and funny (his inner monologues are more stand-up routine than mental ramblings, and Badgley’s charming persona away from You shapes how we see the character). But now showrunner Sera Gamble seems to be chastising us for getting distracted by his charms, shouting about Joe’s evilness from the rooftops. Not only had we all fallen for Joe’s promise of being a better person and atoning for his sins, but he had also convinced himself of his goodness and had a severe mental breakdown along the way.
That You manages to offer a serious critique of society’s readiness to forgive violent men while also being incredibly entertaining is a marvel. At no point does it lecture about the problems with rooting for Joe, but his nastiness, once subtle, is now impossible to ignore. Badgley’s effortless performance turns from nice guy to explosively angry within a millisecond as Joe begins to accept his brokeness.
Joe Goldberg has been one of TV’s most frightening serial killers since the show started. Now he has finally given in to his evil self, You is darker, more violent and more terrifying than ever.