“Hello, you” begins the internal monologues of You protagonist Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley), accompanying the moment the stalker-murderer fixates on yet another love interest. On its fourth outing, the show inverts this setup: Having fled the U.S. following season three’s calamitous climax—in which he murdered his wife Love (Victoria Pedretti) and abandoned his son—Joe finds himself in London, in the hunt for his obsession, librarian Marienne (Tati Gabrielle). He’s landed himself a new identity as “Jonathan Moore,” a cushy job as an English literature professor, and ingratiation within a group of urban elites. However, the arrival of a mysterious “eat-the-rich” killer, who begins picking off the group’s members, threatens Joe’s serene old-world excursions. When the killer starts stalking and framing Joe, they assume the mantle of “you,” becoming the subject of his monologues as a gripping game of cat and mouse ensues.
The hallmarks that made You such an enticing show are still present this time ‘round, but they feel diluted. Once again, Joe only partially obfuscates the sinister and predatory nature of his pursuit of a new romantic interest, socialite and art gallery manager Kate Galvin (Charlotte Ritchie), encouraging the audience to indulge in the knotty moral ambiguity of his viewpoint. Badgley’s performance continues to successfully mine the discomfort induced by Joe’s combination of superficial charm and monstrous actions. However, the chemistry between the two leads often feels forced. This is compounded by the scattergun writing of Ritchie’s character, whose cold exterior gives way to infatuation in sporadic moments largely brought on only when the plot demands it.
You continues its penchant for satirizing the privileged, using their ridiculousness to provide levity from the more murderous moments. Joe’s faux-intellectualist narrative voice has taken great pleasure in ridiculing New York literary elites, L.A. influencers, and wealthy suburban picket-fence dwellers in past seasons. Season four aims squarely at Britain’s class hierarchy, with the killer embodying this anti-elitism. The new characters, from aristocratic toffs with family crests and country estates to foreign royalty and trust-fund babies, each behave as caricatures of greed whom Joe takes quiet pleasure in deriding.
You’s class messaging shies away from the overtly political, and has always remained secondary to its plot—no one would mistake its earlier seasons for a Bong Joon-Ho film. That said, its targets in England are stereotypes of such cartoonishly exaggerated proportions that it becomes hard for the satire to land. No character better exemplifies this than aristocrat Roald Walker-Burton (Ben Wiggins) who, during a country retreat, proclaims, rifle-in-hand and without a trace of irony, “I’m going peasant hunting.”
What the show lacks in nuance, You still delivers in leaps and bounds of unencumbered thrills. As the season progresses, a series of bolder plot twists ensue—murders, kidnappings, and blackmail pile up while Joe faces the threat, or promise, of justice. These developments are irresistibly compelling, fixating the audience on guessing Joe’s next manoeuvre as various mysteries unravel. Admittedly, the high stakes in these moments ask the audience to suspend reasonable disbelief, and more often than not, depend on events that toe the line between being merely outlandish and outright plot holes. This is not to mention the horrendous writer’s-room-psychology underpinning the presentation of Joe as a sufferer of mental illness, drawing more from popular film tropes than any real medical information.
Nevertheless, amidst the adrenaline of the chase, these weaknesses don’t detract an awful lot from the viewing experience. In its trashiness, You was never built upon a precise or profound depiction of obsession, mental illness, or criminality. Rather, much like Joe’s own literary rhetoric, these themes cloak what was always a more simplistic show built on raw entertainment, unashamedly stimulating audiences’ fascination with the grim and gory. By this more modest metric, You’s fourth season delivers emphatically upon its mission.
You Season 4 (Part 1 + Part 2) is streaming now on Netflix.