Editor’s Note: This post contains spoilers for “You” Season 4, Part 2.
“You” has never been a series for the faint of heart, and Season 4 tests even the most vigilant fans of Penn Badgley’s serial killer drama.
Part 2 has everything: psychological dissociation, erotomania, secret hostages, Greg Kinnear, and more (with a side of naan). The five episodes barely rest before kicking off a stalker storyline for Phoebe (Tilly Keeper) that ends up being one of the breeziest parts of the whole season. From there, we learn the truth about Joe Golberg’s (Badgley) leisurely London retreat, and it’s a harrowing ride right til the end.
“We were interested in exploring the idea of redemption,” showrunner Sera Gamble told IndieWire before the season premiere in February. “The events of the past three seasons have worn on this character the same way it’s worn on us as we’ve watched it. We’ve learned a little something about the something about the mistakes you can make in relationships along the way. We wanted Joe to learn some stuff too. The edge that we’re always playing with is, ‘How self-aware can this character truly be?’”
As it turns out, quite a bit — perhaps too much.
Season 4 deliberately obscured Rhys (Ed Speleers) from the start, but the reason for that seemed clear in the Part 1 finale; because Rhys was the Eat the Rich killer, and keeping him in the periphery kept viewers from suspecting him too early.
It’s a clever way to cloak the second twist, in which Rhys — at least the Rhys that viewers and Joe know — is not Rhys Montrose at all, but a projection of Joe’s psyche, his most murderous tendencies personified. A secret psyche twist isn’t revolutionary by any means, but it makes more sense on “You” than in so many other shows and films. Joe Goldberg is mentally ill, no question; he hyperfixates on every woman he’s ever “loved,” and turning that obsessive nature to a new target absolutely tracks. For someone who never felt safe around men, Joe wanted a male friend as much as the Rhys in his mind claimed to. As someone surrounded of late by wealthy, superficial people, he craved Montrose’s supposed grassroots persona, latching onto it just like the idea of Beck or Love or Marienne.
“It was a separate idea that we had for longer, that essentially Joe would become more unhinged each season,” Gamble said. “The same way that we were tracking, ‘What is the love history of this character who lives for love, and what is the impact of each failed relationship on him?’ — we were also asking: ‘What is just the psychological impact of lying to himself and partitioning these different parts of himself through justification and lying?’ We had it in our pocket and we thought about it every time we did a hallucinatory episode of any kind, starting in Season 1 when he hits his head.”
Courtesy of Netflix
And with that, “You” cements itself as decisively uninterested in Joe’s redemption. Pursuing the righteous path was so anathema to Joe’s identity that his mind actively rejected it. All this time the show was reinventing itself, switching up characters and settings to keep Joe from getting caught — but it was simultaneously reinventing Joe himself. Through his own narration, this was framed as repeated attempts to be a good person — a good partner, father, neighbor, and more — all while he slid further and further into the darkness within. Flashbacks show what Joe was really like while holding Marienne captive, which Badgley said “feels like a different character” but he did not consciously play as such. “This is never meant to be a clinical portrayal of a serial killer or someone with genuine schizophrenia,” he told IndieWire.
At long last Joe is done reinventing himself and pursuing unreachable absolution; his final form (or season) is of acceptance. That’s mirrored in his unique partnership with Kate (Charlotte Ritchie); one thing “You” has always done is distinguish its female protagonists from each other, as well as differentiating their relationships with Joe. Beck was a trusting person looking for affection; Love was as unhinged as Joe and delighted to pair their madness; Marienne saw Joe as a glimmer of sanity and stability amid the superficiality of Madre Linda. Kate is mature and practical, picking a partner with whom she sees a future — in this case, a future completely divorced from the past. Kate and Joe might be in love, but this is much a strategic alliance as a romantic one.
In the final scene, Joe reveals that he’s accepting himself fully — integrating the murderous dissociated parts with the scholarly romantic instead of rejecting his less palatable traits. It’s no accident that he’s clean-shaven for this sole scene of the fourth season, a chilling visual callback to previous seasons and versions of himself. He’s no longer running from the past, but bringing it — welcoming it — into his future.
In the past, a few loose “You” threads were harmless, like Season 1’s notorious pee jar or Beck’s therapist (John Stamos) who ended up taking the fall for her death. But after four seasons and multiple reinventions, Joe might not be able to outrun his past much longer. Those who doubted him in New York, in Madre Linda, and in London might follow that string back to his past and his crimes — or remain silent for their own safety.
The two prime examples are of course Marienne and Nadia, both terrified of what Joe can do. If Marienne knows what happened to Nadia she’ll feel indebted to her, but likely not enough to jeopardize herself or her daughter ever again. Joe’s narration, Nadia is keeping quiet in prison; the last time Joe put someone behind bars it was a white man with a successful career of repute, and speaking out did him no favors.
Badgley said that “You” is at its best “when it is an exploration, this fanciful, campy, and deranged exploration of what we think of love, and thereby for some what we think of power.” The show has always ruminated on themes of love and class, establishing Joe’s determination as his secret weapon. But now he has another, his most loathed and coveted: Money. With Kate’s money and influence (and loyalty), no one can touch Joe, least of all the ones he outsmarted without the might of the Lockwood name.
“You” has not officially been renewed for a fifth season (though Badgley and Gamble have ideas), but Season 4 wraps up its contained narrative just as its predecessors did. A fifth season could bring back Marienne and Nadia and the possibility of Joe’s destruction, but will undoubtedly reinvent the show yet again for a final, bloodstained hurrah. As Marienne states, over and over, there is no catching Joe Goldberg: just stopping him, once and for all.
Additional reporting by Samantha Bergeson.
“You” Season 4 is now streaming on Netflix.