Netflix’s You opens its new chapter of love and murder opens with Joe (Penn Badgley) in London, working as a professor of all things. After renouncing love again, viewers know what to expect. Outside his apartment window, he spies fellow professor Malcolm (Stephen Hagan) with his partner Kate (Charlotte Ritchie).
Cue the iconic harmonious music that swells as Joe finds his new fixation. You almost hear Mortal Kombat’s Shang Tsung yell, “it has begun!” It’s comical at this point that Joe justifies stalking to help him avoid the person he’s stalking. Despite Joe’s sharp wit and observational skills regarding people and his environment, he still lacks the self-awareness to turn that critical lens on himself. So after playing savior to Kate, Joe enters Malcolm and Kate’s circle of shallow, idle rich friends.
Joe is so damn likable, aside from his murderous tendencies and white man rationalizations, that you must remind yourself that he is a bad guy. You has a knack for making Joe the most relatable character amid a cluster of unsavory ones. The exception is Joe’s mystery-savvy student Nadia (Amy-Leigh Hickman), a fascinating character. Nadia is the intelligent Brown woman version of Joe sans homicidal tendencies, and we do not see her nearly enough.
Rian Johnson’s rejuvenation of the murder mystery genre ensures more films and series will dabble in the classic detective tropes, for better or worse. In You, it is the former. Like Johnson’s Knives Out and Glass Onion, Joe winds up embroiled in a murder mystery with a group of wealthy snobs. You delves into class conflict with gusto as bodies start piling up thanks to the Eat The Rich Killer.
There are next to no redeeming qualities in this wealthy, murderous circle – but their shallow, cruel demeanors do serve to shove audiences further to Joe’s side. Ben Wiggins as Roald and Eve Austin as Gemma portray snobbish, callous elitism that’s more obnoxious than unsavory characters from previous seasons.
You wants someone to take them out. Kate is the only one you don’t want to throttle outright. But she is a white version of Delilah (Carmela Zumbado) from the second season since both eye Joe with distrust at the outset. In murder mysteries, characters lack range yet are memorable to varying degrees because they lean into their role, be it flighty, cagey, etc. And Delilah succeeds at that.
Each season You changes its setting giving viewers a unique look at Joe in different habitats – and the chance to critique the status quo of those environments. It started, of course, in New York, with Joe surrounded by rich pseudo-woke hipster-style folks – artists with no art. The second season found Joe in L.A., home to fakeness swathed in physical and mental wellness trends. Its third outing showed the deadly teeth and pretensions of suburban life. Now the fourth season brings Joe and viewers to old-money British elitism. Drastically different locales also prevent You from stagnating – each season gives us a new cast and a new set of problems. Throughout You remains a thriller, yet more, a romance, yet not.
With little to no revelatory clues, You is less a mystery and more of a guessing game based on the judgments we make about the characters. Would Joe kill this person? If not them, then who? And isn’t this game, this belief that he can tell a person’s worth, Joe’s fundament fall? And we are playing the same game, Joe’s game, You.
Season four powers its action by punishing the spoiled elite. And perhaps the clues will come in the season’s latter half to be released in March. For now, we have You’s season four, part one and its frantically increasing pace as Joe finds himself entangled and at home in the haughty, pompous crowd, drowning in drugs, alcohol, and money.