Where to go next after you fake your own death, chop off two of your own toes and leave your wife’s body to burn in a house fire? According to You, the answer is London. Silky-voiced serial killer Joe (Penn Badgley) is back for a fourth run of the psychological thriller series, having escaped the woes of his unfulfilling life in the Californian suburbs. Again, with a new season comes a new home and a new identity for our problematic protagonist: Joe Quinn-Goldberg is now Jonathan Moore, an American professor at an illustrious London university, replete with thick beard, scruffy hair and a brown suede blazer. This change of scenery is one of a few big swings made in this series. For the most part, the British interventions feel fun and fresh. But as the body count continues to rocket upwards without much consequence, credulity is again stretched to breaking point.
In this new life, Joe is making an active decision to stay away from romance in an attempt to avoid more heartbreak and bloodshed. Of course, his desire for an undramatic life quickly goes unfulfilled as his colleague Malcolm (Stephen Hagan) ushers him into his hyper-privileged friendship group. There are references to “council estate plebians”. Waving-away of “servants”. And, at one point, we see country estate staff put to use as goalposts in a game of croquet. Nuance has never really been in You‘s vocabulary, but the writers go to great lengths to let us know that these people are, frankly, the worst. Among this crowd is Kate (Fresh Meat’s Charlotte Ritchie), an icy art gallerist who is less than appreciative of Joe’s presence in her circle. Though just as rich as her peers, Kate has more of a social conscience; Joe notices that she’s “different” to the others. Uh-oh.
Fans will know that being the object of Joe’s affections rarely ends well. But this time, Joe doesn’t have to slaughter others in the pursuit of a woman; the dead bodies mysteriously pile up without him doing much at all. With intentional nods to Agatha Christie, You season four steps boldly into whodunit territory. Plus, Joe finds himself as the prey of a stalker who threatens to expose the truth of who he really is.
You succeeds in giving the audience the shocks and gore that we’ve come to crave, while Badgley is as compellingly sardonic as ever as the sullen leader of this ensemble cast. But there are only so many times we can accept that one man can so consistently land on his feet. How often can a person dismember a corpse with an electric saw and never get caught? It has always been far-fetched, but You’s narrative gaps were easier to wave off in its earlier days. Yes, Joe’s inner monologue is sharp and witty, and yes, the writing does succeed in making us absolutely loathe Joe’s rich London crowd. But that’s not enough when so many of the characters feel like ciphers floating around a hilariously unrealistic depiction of London.
Ultimately, the audience won’t feel satisfied unless Joe’s luck finally runs out.
‘You’ season four, part one is on Netflix now. Part two of season four will be available on Thursday 9 March