In the first half of its fourth season, You made an exciting turn to become more of a whodunit mystery than a study of how Joe Goldberg gets away with murder(s). But You season 4 part 2 brings the show back to its roots, much to my disappointment.
When the second half begins, the mystery has been resolved with Rhys Montrose unmasked as the Eat the Rich killer. With Rhys pushing Joe to commit more crimes, the show shifts into a toxic bromance for a few episodes. After a few episodes, though, a massive twist changes the game to an all-too-familiar one.
As I wrote in my You season 4 part 1 review, the show’s plot contrivances had begun to feel more and more precarious. Part 2 dials up the action beyond somewhat absurd to groan-inducing far-fetched. I muttered “Really?!” and “Come on!” so often that it took me out of the world on screen.
By the end, You has more or less returned to status quo, which was all the more dissatisfying when I consider how refreshing the first several episodes of season 4 (which felt more like a title deserving the badge of one of the best Netflix shows) felt.
This You season 4 part 2 review contains major spoilers.
You season 4 part 2 review: Strong performances are the highlight
Penn Badgley is the star of You, so, naturally, he’s the one the other cast members orbit around. From the beginning, his performance has been engaging and magnetic. The show wouldn’t work, otherwise.
In You season 4 part 2, he continues to draw your attention, even when Joe is trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. After the big twist (which I’ll talk about in a minute), Badgley truly impresses as he displays a wide range of emotions, from shock and fear to tenderness and remorse.
This installment’s new faces have been whittled down quite a bit, but those who are left are all excellent. Charlotte Ritchie makes Kate seem tough, yet vulnerable; it’s easy to see why Joe falls for her. Tilly Keeper’s Lady Phoebe started out as a vapid socialite, but has a bit of a metamorphosis as she struggles with trauma and the resulting mental health issues.
Ed Speleers takes a bigger role in the second half of the season, as Rhys Montrose becomes a sort of mirror version of Joe. That such a handsome face hides a monstrous killer is quite chilling (used to similar effect in Outlander).
The second half adds one significant new cast member to the mix: Greg Kinnear as Tom Lockwood, Kate’s father. He doesn’t have much to do, but his brand of smarmy entitlement fits perfectly.
But the standout of You season 4 part 2 is a figure from the past – Tati Gabrielle as Marienne Bellamy, Joe’s former flame from Madre Linda. It seemed like Marienne was gone for good after Joe let her go and pretended to kill her to appease his assassin. Marienne’s return, unfortunately, is tied to the huge twist I’ve alluded to before. Still, as much as I disliked it, Gabrielle really shines throughout the storyline. So does Amy-Leigh Hickman as Joe’s student Nadia.
You season 4 part 2 review: A completely exhausting twist
One of the best parts of the first half of You season 4 was that it departed from the usual formula. Joe had embarked on a new life as university professor Jonathan Moore and was living “clean.”
This is a show about murder, though, so it wasn’t long before Joe became embroiled in the murders of a wealthy clique he’d found himself joining. Yet, this time, he wasn’t the killer; that turned out to be Rhys. And for a while, it seemed like Rhys was the smarter, more cunning criminal and Joe was the victim. He was merely caught between the machinations of his toxic bromance partner and his girlfriend Kate’s corrupt, diabolical dad.
And then came the twist.
Rhys was just a figment of Joe’s imagination, the figurative demon on his shoulder, the most evil part of his mind. Joe killed Malcolm, Simon and Gemma. It was Joe all along. Hi, it’s Joe, he’s the problem. It's him.
I probably should’ve seen it coming because it’s so, so, so clichéd. The wicked alter ego has been a trope since at least 1886, when Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was published. It’s since been deployed dozens of times in movies and shows, most famously in Fight Club.
This trope is often explained through a montage of the principal reflecting back on various situations and realizing the other person never existed. So it goes with Joe, who is shocked into remembering that, instead of letting Marienne leave for Paris, he kept her locked up inside yet another glass cage.
Worse than the triteness of the twist is how the show reverts back to its tired formula afterward. There are some slight differences — Joe genuinely seems to want to find a way to let Marienne go. And Marienne herself is enough of a fighter who has real motivation (her daughter) to not join Guinevere Beck, Love Quinn and others on Joe’s list of fatalities.
But in other aspects, the dissociation that has created Rhys hasn’t changed anything. Joe, now fixated on Kate, feels a need to murder her dad to “save” her. And any collateral damage to others within his deadly orbit is deemed as unpleasantly unfortunate.
In the finale, the needle drops on Taylor Swift’s “Anti-Hero,” the title of which is apt. Yet, in that song, she grapples with who she is and what she’s done. Joe: Not so much. I’ve been waiting for a real reckoning for four seasons and I’m not sure how much longer I can keep waiting.
You season 4 part 2 review: Verdict
From the start, You has loudly proclaimed itself as a soapy thriller about a psychopathic killer. The twists, turns and “how is he going to get away this time?” of it all was irresistibly watchable.
But asking that question over and over again gets old. You season 4 began with a much-needed paradigm shift that revitalized the show. By the end, though, everything has essentially returned to the status quo. Actually, Joe’s better off than he’s ever been.
Here’s hoping that You season 4 part 2 has put Joe at the peak of contentment so that we can relish his downfall in a fifth (and hopefully final) season.