You has never been a typical murder mystery show. Most tend to fall into the category of “whodunnit” (Only Murders in the Building), “howcatchem” (Poker Face) or even “whodead” (White Lotus). But You is more like “howgetawaywithit.” The thrills come from seeing stalker/serial killer Joe Goldberg evade the notice of people close to him, as well as law enforcement.
But with three seasons under its belt, You began feeling a bit tired. The plot contrivances needed to let Joe get away with it felt more and more precarious. Sure, You has always been a bit absurd — Joe’s “undercover” look of a mere baseball cap is on par with Superman hiding with a pair of glasses. Still, I was wary of yet another season of the same-old story: Joe falls for a woman, obsessively stalks her, ends up killing her and somehow doesn’t get caught.
So, I was pleasantly surprised that You season 4 part 1 changes up the formula to become more of a “whodunnit.” Joe has built a new life in London, where dead bodies are still piling up in his social circle. This time, though, he isn’t the only stalker/killer on the loose. The hunter is now also the prey.
This You season 4 part 1 review contains light spoilers.
You season 4 part 1 review: Compelling new characters
As the star of the show, much of You rests on Penn Badgley’s performance — and he’s better than ever in season 4. Joe can often seem robotic and emotionless, as he has schooled himself to not give anything away by his expressions. Yet, you can still see the often frantic thinking going on behind his eyes. It’s really a testament to Badgley’s skill that you can discern the subtle differences between how he regards someone he loathes (but needs to appease) and someone he cares about (but shouldn’t).
Every season brings new characters into Joe’s orbit. And as usual, You does a fantastic job with casting. From the beginning, the show has recruited bright, talented young actors, including Elizabeth Lail, Victoria Pedretti, James Scully, Jenna Ortega and Tati Gabrielle.
Likewise, season 4 features some excellent performers inhabiting compelling new characters. The standouts are Charlotte Ritchie as Kate, an icy and suspicious art gallery director; Tilly Keeper as the vapid, rich socialite Lady Phoebe; Lukas Gage as obnoxious American entrepreneur Adam; and Ed Speleers as handsome, charming author Rhys Montrose.
With Joe choosing to be blandly inconspicuous, the supporting characters are there to provide color. In season 4, Joe falls in with a group of very wealthy, privileged, pampered a**holes. Their entitled snobbery makes great fodder for ridicule. This kind of “eat the rich” schadenfreude is all the rage (see again: White Lotus), so while it’s not new or inventive, You’s farcical tone can push it to the extreme.
You season 4 part 1 review: Adding mystery to the murders
In my opinion, ahead of season 4, You was skirting a very dangerous zone, where viewers felt fatigued by the sameness of the storytelling. From the start, You had an formulaic format: Joe selects a new object of obsession, stalks her to insinuate himself into her life and kills a couple of her friends and lovers who get in the way before she finally catches on.
That last step has varied slightly. Season 1’s Guinevere Beck ended up dead. Season 2’s Love Quinn initially survived by being as sociopathic as Joe — and marrying him and having his baby. Still, she ended up dead by the season 3 finale. Joe’s most recent target, Marienne Bellamy, fled to Paris, where Joe followed.
But when season 4 kicks off, he’s living in London under the alias Jonathan Moore. He’s gotten a job as a college professor teaching literature and trying to be “good” (i.e. not killing people). Joe’s pursuit of Marienne is over, the reasons for which are explained. How this all comes about is a very flimsy deus ex machina, which is one of the weakest points of the first episode.
This past rears its ugly head soon enough, and Joe becomes embroiled in the murder of one of his new, rich acquaintances. He didn’t do the killing, though; someone else is responsible. And this someone else has Joe’s number (literally and figuratively). The stalker is being stalked! For once, Joe is the one in the dark. All of the people around him are suspects, and Joe has to figure out whodunnit before he’s blamed and imprisoned.
You season 4 part 1 review: Verdict
Like the last show I reviewed, Emily in Paris season 3, You doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not. This isn’t a high-minded, serious drama; it’s a soapy, ridiculous, titillating thriller. Almost all of the characters are terrible people, not just the actual murderers.
Yet, like any soap worth its salts, You is eminently watchable. No, it’s as addictive as the drugs consumed by the spoiled scions in their posh private club. Maybe the better analogy is that we get as hooked on watching Joe be a stalker/killer as he is to the stalking and killing. The episodes are carefully built around red herrings, clues and cliffhangers so that “watch next” isn’t even an option.
Four seasons in, You is keeping things fresh with a bit of a paradigm shift. Adding a mystery element was a smart move. I’m certainly anticipating You season 4 part 2 much more now.
But the fact that there is a part 2 is extremely frustrating, not just because part 1 ends in a cliffhanger. Ever since You moved to Netflix, its 10-episode seasons have been released all at once, just like most Netflix shows. But the streamer is clearly looking to tweak its binge release model, dividing recent seasons of Stranger Things, Ozark, Lucifer and Money Heist.
Split seasons feel like a blatant cash grab, a way for Netflix to hold onto subscribers for another month. I get that it’s good business for the company, but it’s really annoying for viewers.