‘You’ Season 4 Part 2 Is a Complete Betrayal That Wants Us To Feel Bad for Rich People
Hell no, you.
To call You—Netflix’s wildly successful romantic thriller starring Penn Badgley—a “guilty pleasure” isn’t entirely accurate, but it isn’t too far from the truth. Even as far back as its humble first season as a Lifetime original, You has succeed in its willingness to engage audiences in our morbid fascination with serial killers (especially handsome ones). The show’s signature tongue-in-cheek writing style is a singular, intoxicating mix of true crime and satirical romantic drama that turned out a trio of three brilliant seasons.
But with the release of the second half of season four, a so-called “guilty pleasure” turns into something not just hard to watch, but downright unrecognizable from what it once was. Though the season’s first half may have just seemed like a lackluster but not-to-offensive play on the formula, You season 4 part 2 sends everything we knew about Joe Goldberg out the window—ruining the show in the process.
Okay, ruin might be a strong word, but that’s because the back half of You season four is one of the most mind-boggling, frustrating seasons of television in recent memory—in trying to take a big swing and subvert expectations, the series has accidentally swung too far and transformed itself into what feels like a betrayal of the audience and the antithesis of what it originally stood for. To explain exactly what makes You 4.2 such a betrayal is to go into heavy detail about every major twist in the rest of the season, which is streaming in its entirety on Netflix as of this morning.
When we last left Joe at the end of 4.1, he was in a bit of a tight spot—being forced to do the bidding of the sadistic “eat the rich” serial killer/mayoral candidate Rhys Montrose in order to keep himself from going down for Rhy’s murders. While trying to find a way to put a stop to Rhys’ reign of terror, Joe is also juggling a blossoming relationship with the icy, uber-rich Kate (Charlotte Ritchie), and a sticky situation with the object of his previous affections, Marienne (Tati Gabrielle). Though the first half of season four may have had some asinine, shallow characters and a love interest that failed to be compelling, those were pretty much the worst of its flaws—but part 2 makes a revelation so drastic that it changes the entirety of how the season’s first half should be perceived.
Seriously, issuing a MAJOR SPOILER WARNING here for the back half of You season 4: You’ve officially been warned.
The major twist in the most recent batch of You episodes? Turns out, Rhys has been a figment of Joe’s imagination this entire time, and it’s actually been Joe committing the murders, and covering them up during psychotic breaks. Yes, you read that right; Netflix took a page out of Jekyll and Hyde.
Oh yeah, remember how Joe “let Marienne go” at the beginning of the season to prove how he was a better man? Forget that, too—he’s actually had her in London the entire time, starving to death and leaving her daughter to think her mother’s abandoned her. The revelation that Joe has not, in fact, turned over a new leaf, and has actually been undergoing a major psychotic break for the entirety of the season, is a twist straight from an M. Night Shyamalan movie—and a cheap, underhanded one at that.
Though the idea of Joe completely losing touch with reality has been simmering under the surface over the course of the entire series, and makes for a natural progression of the character, the way in which the series goes about weaponizing this twist to drastically alter the stakes of the season is disappointing, particularly for how it undermines the audience and the themes explored in previous seasons. Now, on its own, the twist of Joe cracking and actually being the killer all along is a great one, but for whatever reason, You season 4 decides that this is also the season that Joe finally gets to win.
This is where I go back to the idea of You being a “guilty pleasure”—it’s always been the kind of show that the audience can take secret, filthy pleasure in enjoying. Though we might not be rooting for Joe, per se, we delight in watching him cook up schemes and chop bodies, all in the name of “love.” But going hand in hand with this indulgence was an undercurrent of understanding that someone like Joe would never really “win” at the end of the day—yes, we like to watch him plot and scheme, but in the end, it’s most delicious to watch his life come crumbling down around him.
And rightfully so—this is an obsessive stalker who manipulates and murders to further his selfish, toxic romances. The audience knows this, the show knows this, and it’s treading the delicate line between wanting to root for Joe and root for his downfall that makes for such an addicting watch. But You season 4 tosses this delicate balance out the window, using the Rhys twist as a vehicle to give Joe (and his wealthy, equally murderous love interest) everything they finally want—and not only that, but at the expense of the women of color whose lives he’s ruined on the way.
Of the numerous love interests over the course of You’s run, Kate Galvin is without question the least sympathetic—born into extraordinary wealth, Kate’s season-long arc is dealing with her feelings of resentment towards her father, who has paid her way for everything in her life to go exactly as she wants it to. Yes, the romantic lead of You is a woman so wealthy she gave dozens of children cancer as a teenager and her dad paid to have it covered up—but this, the show tells us, is the broken, misunderstood woman we’re meant to feel for.
Following in the footsteps of Guinevere Beck and Love Quinn (whose appearances are teased in the season 4 trailer but who are relegated to seconds-long cameos as figments of Joe’s imagination) is a tall order, but the fact that it’s Kate—the most uninteresting, utterly unsympathetic love interest of the bunch—that actually gets her happy ending is incredibly empty, to say the least. And a happy ending she certainly gets. Despite the fact that Joe initially attempts to commit suicide by throwing himself off a bridge, he’s found and rescued by Kate in the nick of time. After coming clean about his past as a killer, Kate’s similar history with covered-up murder apparently endears her to him, and the series ends with Joe and Kate using her daddy’s money to make Joe a beloved public figure.
That’s how You season 4 ends—Joe and Kate, the pair of filthy rich murderers, hands covered in blood, getting off Scott-free and seemingly riding off into the sunset together. To give the show some credit, a cynical attitude towards the wealthy and the powerful has always been in You‘s DNA. There’s certainly something to be said for an ending that’s willing to make a bold statement about how the rich get richer and the marginalized are stepped on along the way—but that’s not what’s happening here. Instead of feeling like the devastating but natural progression of a slow burn about wealth and corruption, this is a romantic thriller series that fundamentally misunderstands the draw for viewers—watching Joe Goldberg get his licks.
If the first three seasons of You instill anything the viewer, it’s that Joe is a passionate, charismatic guy, yes, but he’s not the one you want to root for, and he never will be. He may scrape out from a sticky situation like a cockroach, but that’s all he is—not a wily, clever hero, but a stalker who gets lucky in a fun, campy way a few too many times to be truly believable. Joe getting himself out of seemingly inescapable scrapes isn’t new, but it hasn’t always been delivered with a tone as absolute as You season 4’s finale, which leaves no room for interpretation. When the curtain closes, Joe and Kate are at the top looking down, while we watch on in horror.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that our heroes—Marienne and season 4 newcomer Nadia (Amy-Leigh Hickman)—are left broken and suffering, cast aside and forced to go down for Joe’s crimes. Again, the way that the two “good guys” of the story (both, notably, women of color) end up suffering at Joe’s hand isn’t a break from tradition—we’ve seen season 2’s Ellie and Delilah go down a similar way. But while Joe at least set Ellie up with a trust fund after Delilah’s death at Love’s hand, Nadia and Marienne are extended no such mercy.
Though (thanks to Nadia’s quick thinking) Marienne is thankfully alive and still out there to (hopefully) seek revenge, the cruelty with which Joe murders Nadia’s boyfriend and frames her for his murder is one of the most shocking, upsetting developments in a 5-episode run full of record lows.
It’s difficult to fathom that a series finale so bleak and joyless could come from the once witty, self-aware genre bend of a series, but if the second half of You season 4 is any indication, this romantic thriller has finally passed its expiry date. Even if Marienne is somehow able to take revenge next season, the combined efforts of the Jekyll and Hyde plot twist, the fairytale ending for Kate & Joe, and the horror of Nadia’s fate do more than enough to dash any interest I might have in a fifth installment of this Netflix original.
(feature images: Netflix)
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