The Pitch: TV’s favorite semi-reluctant serial killer is once again on the move: After New York, Los Angeles, and Silicon Valley suburbia, Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) has a new identity, a new job, and a new city to explore. Sure, he’s licking his wounds a little bit, after having to fake his own death to escape the violent end of his marriage, but for a lover of books and old things, there are worse ways to live than teaching London college students about American literature.
Joe’s determined to lie low and not let his past — including his failed efforts to reconnect with Marianne (Tati Gabrielle) — complicate his life again. Before he realizes it, though, he’s been sucked into the circle of a new flavor of the young, rich, and annoying (they exist everywhere, it appears) just as members of this friend group start getting murdered.
Takes a serial killer to recognize a serial killer, and so Joe becomes committed to figuring out who the alleged “Eat the Rich Killer” is, if only for the sake of Kate (Charlotte Ritchie), Joe’s bristly yet vulnerable neighbor who has her own secrets, which is only one reason Joe’s intrigued by her…
The Beginning of the End? The new season of You continues building upon the format established by past seasons in ways that are often pleasantly familiar — Joe arrives in a new city, stumbles across a new social scene that looks glamorous but features plenty of toxicity, and becomes fixated on an new “you” in ways that eventually result in lives ruined and people turning up dead.
As any lover of romance novels or Law & Order will tell you, the formula is the feature, not a bug; and watching Joe once again face the (usually figurative) knives of the spoiled rich as he builds a new life for himself in London makes Season 4 compelling from the jump. It helps that after Season 3’s dark descent into suburban marriage, the show isn’t afraid to move on like Joe has, finding a fascinating new set of character dynamics to explore and also pushing him into an altered role: No longer just trying to cover up his own crimes, Joe now finds himself trying to uncover someone else’s.
It’s a fitting choice for a season set in the homeland of detective fiction greats like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. However, it does start to feel a little rote at times, even though Season 4 contains more twists than any past season, with a body count that leaves you feeling a bit numb towards the end. (Hard to be shocked by yet another shocking murder at a certain point, even when you’re not sure whodunnit.)
This may be why this latest batch of episodes seems to indicate that we may be at the point of diminishing returns. Due to the way that Netflix is releasing Season 4 — as you read this, the first five episodes are now streaming, while the second half will debut on March 9th — it’s very difficult to talk in specifics about the plotting. However, showrunner Sera Gamble has continued to up the stakes and find new dimensions to explore within the show’s premise… while perhaps finding the outer limits of said premise, and how much further it might continue.
Dramatis Personae: The show might be called You, but while the focus of Joe’s everpresent voice-over often changes, it never really stops really being about Him. Badgley’s performance has always been key to the success of the series, as buying all the different facets of Joe — abuse victim, lover, stalker, schemer, and, yes, killer — would be impossible without him never losing sight of the character’s disturbing depths of humanity. (It’d be so much easier to write Joe off with pejorative words about his mental health, but You does its best to avoid that trap.)
As for the supporting cast, it’s almost entirely new faces, with some clear standouts: Amy-Leigh Hickman plays Nadia, a precocious student of Joe’s who proves immediately likable, especially when he turns to her for advice on the whodunnit genre. Also serving as a solid scene partner for Badgley is Ritchie as Kate, a well-drawn character that brings a unique sharp spark to Joe’s life; if you’ve never seen the great Netflix dramedy series Feel Good, give that a watch to experience how completely Ritchie transforms as an actor between roles. It’s remarkable.
The Verdict: When You originally premiered on the Lifetime network in 2018 (that’s right — in case you forgot, the adventures of Joe Goldberg did not originate on Netflix), this critic was immediately hooked, but not optimistic about the show’s odds of survival beyond Season 1. This was because the show was premiering at the tail end of Lifetime’s short-lived experimentation with dark original scripted dramas; You‘s primary hope for renewal at that point was that some other platform would recognize the show’s addictive properties and keep it alive.
Which is just what happened, after the first season dropped on Netflix and became massively popular with the audience there; that engagement has sustained the show for four seasons now, which is itself a remarkable achievement, given how many Netflix series have fumbled to an end with a third and final season in recent years. This is all in way of saying that one of the key joys of You is how it’s survived the odds in remarkable ways, an under-sung success story for the streaming era.
As a fan from the beginning, it’s my hope that the series does get the chance to conclude on its own terms in a fifth and final season, because Season 4 works far better when evaluated as a penultimate chapter in this story (especially given some of its wildest swings). Because for all its wildness, the series remains fascinating not just as a character study, but what this character in particular tells us about our favorite stories, about the way we as a culture look at the line between love and obsession. The final word on that matter doesn’t feel like it’s been written yet.
Where to Watch: The first five episodes of You Season 4 are streaming now on Netflix. Episodes 6-10 premiere on March 9th.