Photo by: Charlie Martin
Netflix’s hit show You just released the first part of their fourth season. While each season has followed a new version of “Joe Goldberg” (Penn Badgley), this time around it just feels like the producers were looking to ride out the past success of the show which resulted in a lacklustre start to the new episodes.
This season’s focus is on Joe’s impersonation of a professor, “Johnathan Moore,” at a prestigious school in England. The main plot follows Joe’s inevitable intrusion into a friend group that consists of a strange mix of academics, influencers and artists who all have one thing in common: being rich. Joe struggles to be accepted into this group – and really, he doesn’t even seem to want to be accepted by them, yet he continues to push his way in after being intrigued by a series of messages that suggested that one of the group’s members knew of his past American life, the one where he was a serial stalker-killer.
From the first episode, Joe struggles with a few subplots that manifest as his “inner demons,” like his past love affair from season three with “Marienne” (Tati Gabrielle), who he inevitably follows around Europe. He also became entangled with the murder of “Malcolm” (Stephen Hagan), and for the majority of the part one episodes, it’s unclear whether or not Joe is the murderer. Regardless, he falls into the same old habits of becoming overly interested in certain individuals and somehow connected to ruthless loss of life.
The plot of this season is actually set up to succeed. There are a number of twists and turns that make it unique enough to be unpredictable and interesting to watch. The socialite, high academia esthetic of the season isn’t necessarily refreshing – especially considering it’s recent overuse in shows like the re-make of Gossip Girl – but it’s done in a way that makes all of the stereotypical, self-obsessed millionaire characters hateable, which is fun.
But the season very clearly struggles to bring excitement into the typical routine of Joe. Think: eat, sleep, stalk and murder, repeat and you basically have the plot structure down. They try to amp up the anticipation of viewers by adding in a lot of gore and kinky sex scenes but all this does is ramp up the obviousness of their fear of being overly-repetitive by adding in a low-value shock factor. For example, Joe cuts up a body early on in the released episodes, where the camera angles, lighting, and sound effects make it almost unbearable to watch. They also try to create humour out of these over-the-top moments but, at most, it just elicits a snigger.
The casting of the new characters is just so-so, none of them really stand out as being particularly great, but the show has most of the aforementioned eclectic group either doing drugs or drinking alcohol for the majority of the runtime which makes for a more difficult assessment of their acting capabilities. The one character that is overwhelmingly disappointing is “Kate Galvin” who is played by English actor, Charlotte Ritchie. Kate plays a role akin to that of Marienne from season three, Candace from seasons one and two, Beck from season one, and Love from seasons two and three – all of which are Joe’s love interests turned obsessions. Kate, who is Malcolm’s (the murdered man) partner, is portrayed as someone with some sort of brewing internal conflict which is initially intriguing because it makes it seem as though one of the group members has depth to them.
As the series progresses, this internal conflict ends up just developing out to be about family drama that has no real significance to the series and comes across as shallow. This is especially disappointing considering Charlotte Ritchie is an established actor, known for various British television/movie roles like those in Call the Midwife, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Ghosts.
The love-obsessed, stalker boyfriend narrative is that shows like these portray is tiring. Intimate partner violence – especially from a young cis white male who keeps getting away with it – isn’t funny, or intriguing, or interesting to watch, and above all: it’s not a form of entertainment. Now, this isn’t to say that You is trying to portray domestic violence as something that’s fun and it’s certainly not trying to motivate people to go out and try it, but it is playing into the overarching media trend of sensationalizing violence against women. I, for one, don’t find that to be inherently entertaining.
There’s much to say about season four of You, and it’s only half released at the time of writing. The second part comes to Netflix on March 9th, and if it’s anything like the first part, viewers don’t have much to look forward to.