You Season 4 Review: The Pulpy Thriller Has Become A Killer Whodunnit

Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) didn't just walk away from his happily ever after with fellow psychopath Love Quinn — he burned it to the ground. He poisoned his wife, framed her for his murder, abandoned his son, and fled the country to pursue another woman. While all of that definitely accomplished the goal of a jaw-dropping finale, this was still a tricky sendoff for the third season of "You."

Though his specific brand of chaos has always been entertaining, Joe's cycle is a tad repetitive: boy meets girl, boy stalks girl, boy invades girl's life and commits horrendous murders in the name of love, and eventually, boy murders girl because she sees who he truly is. Love Quinn was the first hiccup in the pattern. In her, Joe accidentally found a kindred spirit — a passionate killer, so ready to bury bodies with him that it was like staring into a mirror. It was too much for the deluded serial killer to bear, so of course their relationship had an expiration date. Their marriage was basically just a race to see who would snap and murder the other first (Joe just barely scraped by with the lead).

So with Love out of the picture, how does "You" keep its premise from going stale? By flipping the script entirely. In season 4, Joe goes from predator to prey. Far beyond the show's usual routine of hitting the partial-reset button, this time it goes the route of a full-fledged reinvention. Sharp as ever, the fourth season leans into the show's pulpy, psychological thriller roots and ends up a raging success.

(Almost) everyone is capable of change

What do you get when you plug Joe Goldberg into London, give him a fake identity, a new group of despicable people, and a mysterious stalker of his own? A whodunnit version of "You," apparently, where Joe is hunting down a killer rather than a crush. Though his journey abroad begins as a way to reconnect with Marienne (Tati Gabrielle), Part 1 makes her a footnote in his story. Joe tracks her to Europe, but their time together (doled out in flashbacks across the season) is limited, ending with Joe nursing his broken heart in London. He slowly comes to accept that his life with Marienne was not meant to be. So why not begin anew?

Realizing that Marienne is only part of Joe's story for those short interjections is quite a letdown; when he ended last season with her as his new target, I was rooting for 10 episodes fronted by Gabrielle. But on the bright side, with Marienne and the rest of the Madre Linda plotline (mostly) in the rearview, we get to fully embrace the show's new direction: Joe Goldberg trapped in the middle of a "Knives Out" rip-off.

Posing as English professor Jonathan Moore, Joe relishes the opportunity for a European vacation — which is to say, he's resisting the urge to commit any more murder. He opts instead for a quiet life in London, where he can kick back, relax and teach Edgar Allen Poe to argumentative undergrads like Nadia (Amy-Leigh Hickman), a student who quickly becomes his favorite. But before the first episode is out, Joe's already got fresh blood on his hands, a new body to hide in a foreign country, and — surprise, surprise — a woman whose window he can't stop peering directly into. Try as he might, Joe Goldberg just can't escape the monster that he is.

A tale of two killers

Speaking of things Joe can't escape, the man has an uncanny ability to stumble upon people who absolutely suck: irritating, wealthy elites who radiate snobbery and drive him absolutely mad. This time, he happens across a friend group of uber-wealthy old-money socialites, who are a special kind of poison for poor ol' Joe. Though he too has an air of pretension, he had a rough upbringing and holds onto a deep-seated resentment for those who go through life without a care. Good news though — out of nowhere, his upper-echelon frenemies start dying off. Which would probably be a sweet deal for Joe if he wasn't himself a target.

It doesn't take long for the so-called Eat The Rich Killer to realize that Jonathan Moore isn't all he appears and thus we have our premise: Joe is being hunted by a seasoned killer. With no other option, the resident serial killer must solve a murder mystery.

All of this makes for a delicious cocktail of "You" staples, wrapped up in a refreshing new package. Joe is back up to his old tricks — trying to stalk his way to success, hide his past, and change for the better — but he also can't stay away from his neighbor Kate (Charlotte Ritchie), a museum curator with more of a heart than her snobby friends. And try as he might, there's always a body to hide, a crime to cover up, or a person to stare at from afar. The success of the season is both finding new ways for all of this to play out and cleverly twisting the whodunnit tropes that we've come to know so well.

Just putting Joe in this position makes for one hell of a season: a bunch of stuffy rich people are being murdered and instead of having Benoit Blanc on the case, "You" has semi-reformed murderous stalker Joe Goldberg, whose main superpower is becoming invisible when he puts on a nondescript baseball cap (a trick that feels extra absurd in the city of London). That's the kind of excitement just begging to be devoured in a single sitting!

Trashy TV at its finest

The exciting tension of "You" has always been two-fold. On one hand, this show is absolutely bonkers and there's no way to guess the wild twists and turns coming down the line. Just when you think you've mapped it out, Sera Gamble and co are wholly willing to blow everything up and pull something new from the rubble. That very much remains true in the new season. The second part is a matter of Joe's perspective: even when no one around him understands who he is, Badgley's gravelly inner monologue gives us the inside scoop on Joe's warped POV. But for once, Joe doesn't have all the answers. There's a new killer on the loose, whose mind he has no access to — leaving viewers out in the cold with him, scrambling to solve the mystery.

"You," ever the pinnacle of trashy TV, is firing on all fronts when it comes to explosive developments and unexpected turns. But even with all that change, the series stays tied to its roots with scathing commentary. Season 4 feels particularly precise, skewing the insular elites and the excuses that the privileged come up with to justify their selfish actions. To put it bluntly, the English aristocrats suck, and so does Joe. His socioeconomic background aside, Joe does exactly as they do — takes advantage of the people around him, and brushes his destructive behavior off with weak excuses. The season is at its best when making those connections, but at its weakest when it veers too far from our anti-hero.

The price of change

It's a little hard to attach ourselves to the young aristocrats being murdered off — murder bad, I know, but after hearing a drunken rant about how their old money families "built this country," it's hard to feel bad when the bodies start turning up. Tilly Keeper's Lady Phoebe might be the exception, a sweet but chaotic socialite who makes the mistake of dating an American playboy played by Lukas Gage. Their messy romance is a soapy thrill and offers some color to their characters that other members of the friend group don't get the pleasure of enjoying. Outside of them, Kate (who harbors suspicions about Joe) and Ed Speleers' Rhys Montrose (a dry politician who befriends Joe), there are many other characters but none who get much investment. Time spent on them doesn't reveal much depth and puts the epic tragedy of Joe Goldberg on pause.

Maybe this is just the price of change. The first five episodes are a refreshing change of pace from the prior three seasons, and the sprawling cast whodunnit setup is a huge part of that. At times, it feels as though Joe has wandered into another show, belonging to another killer. But if nothing else, that's an extremely intriguing position to put him in.

Every season, it seems like "You" is on the verge of running out of steam. How much longer can this sociopathic nice guy barely avoid getting caught in his lies? How long can he remain blind to reality? But every few episodes, there's another inventive curveball being thrown, another reason to stay glued to the screen to see how things play out. And so far, that's more than enough to keep the show going.

"You" season 4, part 1 hits Netflix on February 9, 2023. Part 2 will arrive on March 9, 2023.