You languished practically unnoticed on Lifetime throughout its first season run, and few would have suspected that this dark little show would ever be binged by the masses. However, the first season streamed on Netflix over a holiday season, and the rest was Stalker Joe history with Netflix grabbing the reins and greenlighting more mayhem. For three seasons, the show retained momentum, given its soap operatic treatment of Joe killing (mostly) insufferable people who got in the way of him growing close to his real targets. You turned out to be a dangerously addictive series, full of absurdist humor when Joe’s taste for bad behavior went off the rails.
A favorite moment of mine happens to be the below Season 1 moment, which shows the fallout after Joe killed Peach Salinger (Guinevere Beck’s good friend). In addition to being an obstacle, Peach committed the grave offense of being related to J.D. and still not really giving a sh*t about first-edition books. Joe only disguised himself with a baseball cap, and no one even noticed him committing a Central Park murder in broad daylight. (There are a lot of layers there!) The kicker: Joe’s face in this scene as he sprinted away from her lifeless body while his inner monologue went wild.
Little gems like this quickly boosted You into an ultimate guilty pleasure, emphasis on the “guilty.” Here’s the thing: we’re not supposed to enjoy watching Joe stalk his love interests. The full effect is that one should fully realize how unsettling it is to watch a stalker pleasure himself on the street while staring into his obsession’s apartment. Still, this show is as much of a trainwreck-bingewatch as, say, Pam & Tommy, which managed to entertain despite involving a world of hurt caused by the theft and sale of a private home video. Likewise, You was genuinely funny, and it dragged Joe hard rather than (as some might interpret without watching) glorifying him.
Also, feelings are weird. When You took off, part of the audience became obsessive, too. Even Penn Badgley was freaked out about people tweeting that he’s their Daddy and that, as Joe, his sexiness reached a “whole new level.” That was messed up, but I got into the appeal of the show itself. You never forgave Joe, even as he got away with murder after murder. Yet as Season 3 closed, I remembered that I’ve unscientifically witnessed how Seasons 3-4 can be the make-or-break time for a show’s central conceit. Sadly, You does not gracefully nail the transition into Season 4.
There’s more, though. I was alternatively prepared for Season 4 to be, you know, too much, and I’m about to hint at real talk but only because it’s relevant to why I’m so surprised that this season didn’t meet the bar of the others. [Deep breath] Let’s just say that a lot of women have experienced at least part of what Beck went through in Season 1, and man, it is not a real-life guilty pleasure. Yet still, the first three seasons of this show worked because this is not a show about Joe, per se, but about how easy it is for anyone to be able to stalk others in the Internet age. In fact, this show is somewhat educational in that regard. Paranoia-inducing as well? Perhaps, but deservedly so.
You more than achieved its goals, and the show lit society’s collective obsessive tendencies on fire in a satisfying way. As well, it’s actually a testament to You‘s sleight of hand that it’s been so entertaining despite carting along a ton of triggers. Leading up to Season 4, I imagined that the show could go bigger and better, as one does. Joe could be a lone wolf again, and up the ante with his revolting and disturbing behavior laced with pitch-black humor. As it turns out, any worry about being triggered was for naught, and I’d have preferred the triggers compared to what actually materialized.
There’s a monster in Season 4, oh yes, but unfortunately, his name is Ennui.
The gimmick this season is that the “tables turn” on Joe. Sure, he’s still got some targets, including the one that got away, Marianne (Tati Gabrielle), and there’s something about his mysterious neighbor, Kate (Charlotte Ritchie). He’s now a London-based “professor” named Jonathan Moore, who is surrounded by a crop of wealthy a-holes (one played by Lukas Gage) linked to the university crowd for some reason. Joe soon learns that someone knows who he really is, and they’re stalking him. It’s supposed to feel fresh and novel, but the thing is, this show has kind-of gone there already with Love. When she showed up in Season 2, Joe figured her as a mark, but she proved to be equally as capable of homicide and raging jealousy (even more so, since she wasn’t as methodical about bloodshed) as Joe.
Joe ended up killing Love in the Season 3 finale and saving himself. Now, there’s really not much left for him to accomplish other than existing and flying under the radar. He’s yearning for Marianne but listless with no outlet, and the show suffers for it. And I’m actually flummoxed at how You has hit a wall. Joe went from being Grade A, smarty-pants-who-does-idiot-things stalker to finding “Love” literally turn on him. He also endured suburban hell with a Mr. And Ms. Smith vibe, and that worked. Yet Joe in the wind is, strangely, not fun. He’s essentially a sentient bearded lump.
It’s a nice beard, mind you, but that’s the sole highlight of this season.
The show thusly falls into a languid sense of treading water while stretching out like the longest serial novel that one could imagine but as a binge. And tellingly, binging was not how much 19th-century British literature, which litters this season, was intended. Nope, those puppies arrived chapter by chapter. People awaited developments, but with the first half of You Season 4, we receive a glob of episodes that basically stares at Joe facing the greatest antagonist that he’s ever known: boredom. There’s apparently no way to make that exciting. Further, Joe gleans little insight from the experience of being stalked, which would at least make a point. Nor does he do much about the situation.
Joe Goldberg is now a caged animal whose stripes now seem less vivid behind bars. There’s nothing else to his personality but his bad acts, and there’s no more joy to be found here, like when we could watch him getting stuck in a shower after a woman came home too early. It’s sad, really, because the best part of this show was watching Joe Goldberg sh*t his pants. Penn Badgley is adept at going from controlled to panicked in the blink of an eye, but now, there’s no chance for him to do so. He can’t do much about his stalker because, hey, he’s not really Jonathan Moore and can’t raise authorities’ flags. So he waits. And we watch him wait. And You turns into a completely different show.
(This brings me to a diversion while thinking about shows that do successfully achieve longevity: for all the criticism lobbed at The Walking Dead franchise, it has generally kept its conceits, gimmicks, and momentum going in a convincing way. We can talk about that more when those spinoffs arrive, so I’ll drop the subject for now.)
Back to You: I’m gonna level with you here. You‘s fourth season contains 10 episodes. Five arrive this week. I’ve watched 8 so far, and unless something drastically changes in those final two rounds, I will remain bummed out by this season. Even that luscious beard can’t save Season 4, although it does remind me of John Stamos’ Dr. Nicky. You are missed, my dude.
just an album of Dr. Nicky giving you 100% of his attention. pic.twitter.com/qGfigu36DD
— YOU (@YouNetflix) January 28, 2019
Netfilx’s ‘You’ starts streaming Season 4 on February 9.