Joe is as toxic as ever in ‘You’ season four

Netflix show reverses its own patterns, returns to the beginning

Image by: Amna Rafiq
In this season

Netflix dropped season four of You this month, giving us the latest of rare-book-collector-turned-serial-killer Joe Goldberg’s exploits.

This season is as intense, engaging, and clever as the past three. It succeeds by flipping the show’s patterns on their heads then, somehow, ending right back where we started. Ultimately, it depicts Joe’s toxic cycles in their extremes. Spoilers ahead (duh).

As the season opens, Joe’s moved to jolly old London. He’s ready to leave behind his past and the corpses in his trunk and live the good life teaching American literature to studious teenagers—until a stabbed corpse ends up on his kitchen island.

The first part of the season is like a twisted game of Clue as Joe tries to find the perpetrator responsible for the kitchen island corpse who’s also trying to frame him. As his new friends become increasingly suspicious, it seems Joe might finally get his comeuppance—ironically, for murders he didn’t commit. This new detective story is the first of the season’s many clever, deceptive reversals.

Later, Joe encounters several stalkers he must ‘save’ the female characters from: Dawn, an erotomaniac—it was a new word for me, too—and Tom Lockwood, the confusingly American-accent-wielding father of the poshest character I’ve ever seen, Kate.

As I watched, I desperately wanted Joe to realize the villains he battles are mirror-images of his own tendencies. All the tools are there for him to have an ‘oh crap, I’m just as bad as this crazy dude’ epiphany, but it never comes.

The biggest reversal comes in the form of Rhys Montrose (my nemesis, Jimmy from Downton Abbey), the big, bad mayoral candidate. While in the previous seasons, the ‘you’ Joe’s obsessed with is his latest female lover, now, it’s the man killing everyone. This switch is imbued with homoerotic subtext—again, reversal.

The show tricks you into thinking Montrose is worse than Joe and positions you on Joe’s team. Later, in an insane plot twist, we learn he’s the ‘dark side’ of Joe’s personality, physically manifested in the image of some poor fellow because Joe is losing his mind. 

I thought I was playing Clue, but it turns out I was watching Fight Club.

Where Dawn and Lockwood fail, Montrose (almost) succeeds. As Joe fights through his own mind—and each remembered, murdered girlfriend—to find the ‘key’ to open Marienne’s cage, he figures it out: ‘you’ is really me. It’s a genius rhetorical move.

Joe realizes if he stays with Kate, she’ll meet the same fate as Beck and Love: a corpse in the trunk. When he tries to end his toxic tendencies for good, however, he regrets it and ends up in the hospital, alive. Despite the season’s hardworking reversals, he’s right back where he started.

In the season’s final moments, Joe looks in a glass window, and the reflection looking back at him is not Montrose—for he’s tossed him over a bridge into the river. Instead, he sees himself with a haircut and a shaved face. While his grooming deteriorates throughout the season to parallel his general unravelling, now, he’s back to season three.

This image symbolizes the season’s thesis in one frame. No matter how hard the show tries to force Joe to face himself—no matter how many pattern reversals or acts of parallelism they throw at him—he won’t do it. He’ll end up back at the beginning, with a new ‘you’ to obsess over. It’s a fiercer depiction of his toxic cycles than ever.

Of course, this is You’s genius. No one wants to watch the same plot over and over again, but if Joe goes to jail, it’s all over. By switching it up yet magically ending up right back at the beginning, the show keeps both your attention and the possibility of another season. We keep watching because Joe’s white enough, hot enough, and likeable enough.

This season, the show has won. It’s saying: Joe will never be redeemed—he’ll never take ownership for what he’s done and go packing—and you want to watch this anyway.


Netflix, Plot Twist, Television, You

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