You Season 4 Ending Explained: Know Thyself

This article contains spoilers for season 4 of "You."

Knowledge is power and in prior seasons of "You," it's also half the fun of the show. The audience has always been afforded a front-row seat to the inner workings of Joe Goldberg's (Penn Badgley) twisted mind. While everyone else is fooled by his charm, tricked by his lies, and blind to the red flags that he barely manages to hide, we get to revel in every word of his chilling narration. From start to finish, we've watched Joe formulate his fantasies and stalk his way into the hearts of unsuspecting women. We know that he haunts corners, peers through windows, and strangles enemies. We literally know where all the bodies are buried. Or so we thought.

In the second half of season 4, we learn that something has changed. Since coming to London, Joe hasn't always been honest with himself — which means we don't know nearly as much as we thought. 

Breaking the cycle

Joe is a man of habit and unfortunately for the rest of the world, his routine involves latching onto random women and oops, eventually murdering them. We've seen him do this time and time again, falling into a fantasy, falling out of love, and burning everything to the ground. And on the cycle goes. Because of that, I've long maintained that Joe can no longer surprise us — which is why I was so delighted by the addition of Love Quinn, a woman of passion and impulse who always manages to catch us off-guard. But Joe? How could he possibly surprise us when we know all of his tricks? A baseball cap for stalking; the box where he collects tokens from his latest obsession; the soundproof cage where he hides his enemies in the hopes that he won't have to kill them (spoiler alert — they always end up dead).

But without thinking, we put our trust in his perspective. This was horribly foolish of us: Joe is a serial liar and a damn good one, so it was only a matter of time before he figured out a way to lie to himself too. That time has come, and it's the greatest twist this show has pulled off in a very long time.

The monster inside

The conceit of the season was a clever bit of trickery from showrunner Sera Gamble: Joe Goldberg trapped in a whodunit with a mysterious serial killer hot on his trail? That's karma at its finest! Joe is completely thrown off when he realizes he has a stalker of his own. And the idea of bodies dropping and Joe not being the killer was pretty damn hilarious. The twist? Of course, he's the killer! He just doesn't know it.

Thinking that he's uncovered the identity of the Eat The Rich Killer, Joe sets his sights on Rhys Montrose (Ed Speleers) at the end of season 4 part 1 — just in time for the author to launch his mayoral campaign, making him a difficult figure to touch. Rhys, meanwhile, sees no problem at all: as far as he's concerned, he and Joe will make great friends. After all, they share the same hobby! But that's not enough for Joe, a walking serial killer magnet who absolutely loathes his new companion. Alas, outright killing his tormentor isn't really an option, because Rhys reveals that he has captured Marienne (Tati Gabrielle), and won't release her unless Joe does his bidding. Tired of being manipulated, Joe tries to torture the truth out of him anyway, to no avail. In fact, while being tortured, Rhys maintains that he has no idea what's going on or even who Joe is. Huh.

In the end, Joe ends up killing Rhys, only for someone to walk up beside him. Rhys! Because it turns out that what Joe has been speaking to ALL SEASON LONG was a figment of his imagination. The real Rhys Montrose, an author, and politician, had never met Joe. Ours Rhys (aka Fantasy Rhys) is nothing more than the part of Joe's brain that knows his phone passcode and desperately aches to bludgeon people to death.

Oops, Joe did it again

In typical "You" fashion, what follows is an extremely convoluted series of events. Joe freaks out about the hallucination but has no time to act because Kate (Charlotte Ritchie) — his newest girlfriend aka obsession — needs help. Her sociopathic and obscenely rich father is trying to take over her life, so Joe decides to team up with his dark side to come to her rescue. "I can accept you as part of me," he tells Fake Rhys. "[But] I decide if the line gets crossed, when and why."

Outside of the plot to murder Kate's father, Joe also comes to the realization that he's been holding Marienne hostage all along. He never let her escape at the train station, he merely blacked out when his worst impulses acted to lock her away. On the bright side, he has no idea that his student, Nadia (Amy-Leigh Hickman), has discovered his secret basement (the one where he's keeping a woman locked up in a cage), giving her just enough time to concoct a plan with Marienne. They convince Joe that he's driven his captive to suicide, so when he leaves her "corpse" in a park, she's free to go home without any fear of being pursued.

Haunted by his actions — killing Kate's father and Marienne — Joe has a heart-to-heart with ... himself. The part of Joe that's pro-murder speaks through Fake Rhys, telling him to embrace all their worst traits, but Joe has made up his mind: he jumps off a bridge, hoping to plummet to his death. Unfortunately, some random passerby with no idea of Joe's tremendous pulls him out of the water. He wakes up in the hospital with Kate at his side.

Joe embraces his villain era

Having committed her fair share of atrocities, Kate decides to accept Joe in all his psychopathic glory. They agree to help each other through the hard times, to make sure they don't lose themselves ever again. She also asks Joe to tell her everything and according to his narration, he does. But haven't we learned better than to take his word at face value?

"We keep each other good," is the promise that Kate and Joe make, and given their extremely skewed moral compass, it's absolutely no surprise when the season ends with them committing one more horrifying crime. Finally catching up with Nadia's suspicions, Joe kills the friend who was helping her snoop through his apartment (RIP Edward, we barely knew ye), dubs him the Eat The Rich Killer, and frames her for that final murder.

Usually, Joe sees it as his personal duty to protect the plucky young unfortunate that gets wrapped up in his drama. It always goes terribly wrong, of course — Paco had to live with the death of Beck, Ellie is alone in the world and Henry was abandoned by his only living parent — but Joe at least tried to do good by them, because despite everything, he truly saw himself as a good guy. But those days are gone. Now, he's at his most menacing, staring Nadia down, putting the bloody knife in her hand, and offering only a thinly veiled threat.

This puts the horror of season 4's resolution on full display: Joe is acting without the hesitation, regret, or frantic moralizing that usually characterizes his crimes. He isn't hiding behind his idealized version of himself. Joe has fully embraced his inner-monster

It's me, hi, I'm the problem, it's me

To the tune of Taylor Swift's "Anti-Hero" (an inspired choice that Badgley lampshaded via TikTok), we learn that Joe has snagged yet another happily ever. First, we get a quick wrap-up of the situation with the Oxford Circle — who we never really cared about anyway, so why bother rehashing it? Their rich and hollow lives will continue on as usual, except for Lady Phoebe (the only likable person of the bunch) who has left everything behind to teach children in Thailand. Weird, but good for her, I guess.

Elsewhere, Joe is playing the supportive boyfriend to Kate's corporate GirlBoss. Their focus? Saving the world, whatever that means. There's mention that Joe bought a bookstore (which I pray will bring us back to our roots at Mooney's, Zach Cherry included). He may have the attitude of a happy househusband, but we've seen Joe try a long-term relationship before, and that one didn't end so well. The difference is that Kate and her billion-dollar security team would be a lot harder to take down if Joe was so inclined.

As for Kate, she's escaped her abusive, cyclical relationship with her overbearing father only to begin anew with the love of her life: Joe, a man with a bad habit of putting women in LITERAL cages. So do with that what you will.

Happily ever after

Our most important takeaway from the season is that Joe and Rhys are now one, putting us back where the series began but with a new status quo.

Joe is back in his element, in New York City, but he's a brand new person. Presumably, he has his son back, he's reclaimed his identity, and bought back his bookstore. His days of being at war with himself might finally be over because he accepts who he truly is. Kate, the worst kind of enabler, has given him access to "substantial resources." In other words, he's never been more dangerous.

Joe happily accepts killing as part of his arsenal, minus the moral dilemma of it all. There's no part of him fighting back against the damage he can do so hopefully, this is where the loose ends will start catching up with him: Nadia, Ellie, and Paco are all out there somewhere, and they know the truth. Kate's cleanup squad may be elite, but they can't erase memories.

Unless the past really does come back to haunt him, I'd wager that season 5 (which has yet to be confirmed but feels inevitable) will bring Joe into the world of tech billionaires, giving him yet another set of upper-echelon a-holes to murder. He'll also have to try his hand at parenting in another long-term relationship, which leaves one last question to be answered: Does Kate have what it takes to survive a relationship with Joe Goldberg? The odds aren't exactly in her favor but someone has to do it eventually!