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‘You’ Season 4 Part 1 Review: A Disappointing Chapter

That's *Professor* Joe Goldberg to You.

You. Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg in episode 401 of You. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Following the runaway success of its humbling beginnings as a Lifetime original, romance-thriller You is now an undeniable hit. The Penn Badgley-starring series is heading into a fourth season on Netflix, where it boasts a large and loyal following. Where the first three seasons saw Badgley’s Joe infatuated with a particular woman and the ever-complicated ways in which he involved himself in her life, You season 4 breaks from tradition and makes Joe the stalk-ee, placing him at the center of a new London-based mystery.

For season 4, Netflix has opted to split the season for a two-part release, and though Penn Badgley is stellar as always, the first part of You season 4 is the show’s weakest writing yet, thanks to a gaggle of irredeemable caricatures and a repetitive, circular mystery.

In the wake of his tumultuous separation from Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti) at the end of season 3, You’s fourth season picks up with Joe heading to Europe in the hopes of finding and reuniting with Marianne, the librarian he fell head-over-heels for in season 3. But (as always), things don’t quite go according to plan, and a brokenhearted Joe finds himself with one last chance to start over (for real, this time) in London. Try as he might to live a normal, by-the-book life, trouble can’t help but find Joe—he soon finds himself the target of an increasingly disturbing stalker, who’s picking off people around him one-by-one and setting him up to take the fall.

Credit where credit is due: Part 1 of season 4 is a pretty gutsy departure for You, especially when they’ve got a formula they know already works. This season, the tables are finally turned on the ever-charming and ever-devious Joe Goldberg, as he becomes the victim of stalking and has to race to uncover the killer’s identity before he finds himself on the chopping block. But the mystery You season 4 sets up is a fundamentally uninteresting one, thanks in large part to the fact that every non-Joe character is insufferable.

It’s not as if unlikable characters are a rarity in the You-niverse—quite the opposite. Seasons 1-3 all featured a satirical take on a certain breed of American millennials: New York hipsters/academics in season 1, LA filmmakers in season 2, and yuppie suburbanites in season 3. This time around, You sets its sights on satirizing the wealthy young London aristocracy—a significant departure not only in nationality but in tax bracket for the ensemble cast this season. Though I love digs at the English as much as the next girl, the way these vapid, uber-wealthy Londoners are written is entirely charmless—not particularly clever with its characterization, nor original.

Instead of love-to-hate them characters like season three’s Sherry & Cary, season two’s Forty, or season one’s Peach, there’s hardly anyone worth rooting for (or even affectionately judging) in this ensemble cast, which is even more frustrating considering season four boasts the largest ensemble yet. Charlotte Ritchie’s Kate, Stephen Hagan’s Malcolm, Lukas Gage’s Adam, Tilly Keeper’s Lady Phoebe, Ben Wiggins’ Roald, Aidan Cheng’s Simon, Niccy Lin’s Sophie, Amy Leigh-Hickman’s Nadia, Ed Speelers’ Rhys, Eve Austin’s Gemma, Ozioma Whenu’s Blessing, and Dario Coates’ Connie make up the dizzying ensemble cast—and virtually every member is interchangeable with the others.

Charmless, painfully uninteresting, and overwritten to nearly cartoonish levels of parody, this is one of the most uninspired sets of characters the show has cooked up yet, and though there are a few bright points—Lady Phoebe is genuinely endearing, and Nadia brings a youthful wit reminiscent of Ellie from season 2—the sheer banality of this ensemble (and the frequency with which they dominate the runtime) makes the first five episodes of You season 4 a slog to get through.

Thankfully, we don’t spend all our time watching the ensemble give us more and more reasons to hate them. Joe also has the requisite blossoming romance, this time with self-proclaimed “frigid bitch” Kate. Though Charlotte Ritchie tries her damndest to bring this character dimension, the way Kate is written makes it incredibly difficult to root for or even pity her—even after we’ve had revelations about her past that make her icy exterior more understandable.

Conventionally, a You love interest is a key part of the season’s personality—but when Kate is such a lacking secondary lead to Joe, the series not only loses variety of perspective, but also a compelling romance to propel the season forward in its weaker moments. Joe Goldberg may be an iconic character, and Penn Badgley will never not be stellar, but the character only truly works when he has a well-written female lead to play against—and Kate just doesn’t fill that role.

Admittedly, the first half of You season four does pick up as it nears the mid-season mark, but the time it takes to get there is long, arduous, and predictable. A mystery that feels like it’s touching on the same beats over and over, a cast of lazily written suspects, and an uninteresting female lead leave You season four the show’s weakest entry yet, even with the might of Penn Badgley’s Joe.

(featured image: Courtesy of Netflix © 2022)

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Lauren Coates is a Chicago-based film & television critic and freelance journalist who works as a contributing writer for The Mary Sue. You can find her on Twitter @laurenjcoates and read more of her work on Culturess.