When the first part of You season 4 dropped last month, it was an enjoyable, albeit shaky, status quo change for Netflix’s twisty drama about Joe Goldberg, a former bookseller trying to turn a new leaf in London after some “stateside whoopsies” where he just couldn’t stop stalking and murdering people. Turns out that the show had so much more in store.
Part 2 of the season, now live on Netflix, takes such an outrageous turn that it’s hard to talk about without spoiling. So, taking a cue from Netflix, this review is in two parts. The first is for people who have seen part 1, leaving part 2 unspoiled. The second goes into the big twist but ultimately leaves the ending unspoiled.
And thankfully, you don’t have to read them a month apart.
Part 1: The spoiler-free version (of part 2)
[Ed. note: This will have spoilers for part 1.]
The first half of season 4 was largely a murder mystery centered on the Eat the Rich Killer, a serial killer that targeted members of London’s wealthy young socialite community that Joe has fallen into thanks to his new alias as Jonathan Moore, a well-to-do English professor at a prestigious university. This killer also knew Joe’s past somehow and was anonymously tormenting Joe about it, inspiring a paranoia that he might be next.
At the end of part 1, the killer was revealed to be Rhys Montrose (Ed Speleers, also of Picard’s third season), a rags-to-riches author whose disdain for the elite caused him to find kinship with Joe — that is, until Joe found out Rhys was the killer and had intended to frame him. Instead, he settles for attempting to murder him by trapping him in a cellar set ablaze, which Joe survives — only to find that his new nemesis is running for mayor, and he might be the only person who knows the truth about him.
This cliffhanger left You in an odd place that threatened to push the show into Dexter territory, where its deluded protagonist is convinced he can indulge in his dark proclivities for stalking and incidental murder for good. While this sort of thing could conceivably lead somewhere good, it’s also a premise that could undo the show’s careful work to not overly empathize with or justify Joe, even as it remains firmly rooted in his perspective.
Part 2 quickly puts this fear to rest. First, it introduces a new player — Tom Lockwood (Greg Kinnear), the father of Joe’s current love interest, Kate Galvin (Charlotte Ritchie). Lockwood is a casually ruthless figure, one whose contentious relationship with his daughter means he keeps tabs on every part of her life, especially Joe. Given his considerable resources, he also knows that Joe is not Jonathan Moore, and suspects his spotty history with dead women means that Joe is, in fact, a killer.
This traps Joe as a pawn in a cat-and-mouse game between Rhys and his girlfriend’s father, as each wants Joe to kill the other. Joe, however, wants to put his dark past behind him and try and have a healthy relationship, for once, with Kate. None of that is possible, however, because You has one more twist in store. For those who want to remain unspoiled: Consider watching as soon as you can, because it’s the sort of thing that recasts the entire season, and makes it about something entirely different from what it has been thus far.
Part 2: The big twist of You season 4
[Ed. note: Spoilers for You season 4 part 2 follow.]
I like to think of myself as a smart person, but every goddamn time a story decides to do a Fight Club I fall for it, and You is no exception.
Two episodes into part 2, this season of You gets turned on its head when Joe arrives to kill Rhys Montrose and discovers he has no idea who Joe is. Because the Rhys Montrose Joe has been talking to has been, like Tyler Durden in Fight Club, a creation of Joe’s fracturing psyche, an alter that embodies his darkest impulses while Joe tries to live the fantasy of starting over as Jonathan Moore, a man that doesn’t have to live with the crimes of Joe Goldberg.
You has always been exceptionally clever pulp with a point, a melodramatic interrogation of the ways white men of privilege can lionize their foibles and heroically center themselves in any story, simply by neglecting the agency of others. There is always a “You” that Joe is obsessing over, addressing in his thoughts, building a whole imaginary identity around a person he watches from afar and up close, never really accepting the real person in front of him over the version he created. In seasons past, the conflict between these competing ideas of a person has led to Joe acting out in violence, violence that he always rationalizes as circumstantial and not a result of who he is. With the introduction of his inner Rhys Montrose, You makes Joe question that: Is all the death that follows Joe simply misfortune, or is he a violent person in denial?
For the viewer, the answer is pretty obvious — Joe is no hero. But with its alternate-personality twist, You’s writers give the accumulated sins of Joe Goldberg shape and form that Joe can’t reason his way around, as much as he tries. His ever-present narration, more guttural than ever, now has a voice that argues back at him, pushing him away from denial and toward a dark acceptance. It’s wonderfully hammy stuff — as Joe’s inner Rhys, Ed Speleers is a delectably wicked presence that sells what otherwise is a very odd choice for the show’s direction, one that is hard to get on board with unless it plays into the show’s endgame. Fortunately, showrunner Sera Gamble has indicated as much, and the direction the season moves in also seems to suggest that.
You’s twist is ultimately a matter of necessity, a device to counter the mounting ridiculousness of Joe’s crimes and for the writing staff to maintain their show’s sense of morality while finding new ways to let their wildly entertaining monster loose. Through Rhys, Joe directly confronts his violent nature and denial of it, externalizing an internal conflict that, frankly, You needed to bring to the forefront. If it did not, then You would have a Dexter problem, continually working its protagonist out of jams simply because the show must go on, not because there is anything further to explore with him.
The fourth season of You makes a shaky, albeit convincing, case for the continued murderous misadventures of Joe Goldberg by placing him among the 1% — people whose lifestyles are afforded by economic predation. Some of them are oblivious to it, some relish the ruthlessness, and others, like Kate, try to scrub their hands clean. Maybe, You’s writers suggest, there’s a reason that Joe slides into their lives so neatly despite not having money. Maybe, the show implies, the version of Joe Goldberg that survives this season could be the worst one yet.