Spoiler alert: The following article discusses major plot points from “You” Season 4 Part 2.
“He can’t keep getting away with it,” one might think (à la “Breaking Bad’s” Jesse) when watching each new season of Netflix’s “You.” The soapy thriller, which follows its ever-murderous, ever-weaseling antagonist Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley) as he terrorizes and kills person after person, underwent a format change in Season 4 before pulling the rug out from viewers once again in Part 2. With a twist so delirious and ripped directly from Goldberg’s deranged psyche (moonlighting as Professor Jonathan Moore), showrunner Sera Gamble and star Badgley were well aware of the pressures to keep audiences on their toes as they look ahead to new dynamics in a potential fifth season.
“From the beginning, Penn’s burning question was, ‘Are you going to try to redeem this man?’ This season is about the difference between a romanticized idea of redemption and the truth of what you have to dig into to change a bad man,” Gamble, who said there’s already an “idea” for Season 5 in place, told TheWrap in an interview. “So we’re all on the same page there, but whoever is feeling particularly righteous in the moment is advocating for justice. But I am of the opinion that people like Joe frequently never see justice. That part of the story is up in the air for us. I don’t think there’s any reason to assume that Joe will ever receive the punishment that he deserves, but we want to give it to him.”
As Gamble and Badgley point out, a running joke is the show’s title, which is flipped on its head more prominently in Season 4 Part 2, as Joe discovers that he has largely been projecting Ed Speleers’ character of Rhys Montrose. A real-life author, acquaintance of Kate’s (Charlotte Ritchie) social circle and London mayoral candidate, one thing Montrose is not is the Eat the Rich killer, with the latter half of the senior installment exploring the physical manifestation of Joe’s split consciousness and broken moral compass.
“If this whole show was like this exploration [of] love — what we think about love as modern people — I think it’s gotten to the point in that story, where it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s not about the other person, I’m really struggling with myself,’” Badgley explained. “I think that’s where we’re at with Joe, where he’s realizing it’s not you, it’s me. Ironically, of course, but that is the joke like, he thinks it’s all about you, but then he has to realize, ‘No, it’s about me, it’s about him.’ And I think it’s a very fitting evolution. It’s sort of the only evolution it could have, that it should have.”
Part 1 ends with the bombshell that Rhys is behind the killings, only for Part 2 to establish Joe as the sole murderer all along. Throughout the season, Joe has been dissociating as he kidnaps Marienne (Tati Gabrielle), goes on a murder rampage, imagines fake text messages and hides all the evidence — it’s a progression of the justification he’s been employing throughout installments past to convince himself of his own goodness. Not only was the setup challenging narratively, but Gamble outlined the painstaking filming issues of making the payoff track.
“There was constructing this author with the outsider political aspirations; the real mindf— [was] basically every beat that you see this season, we were tracking it all these different ways, like ‘Rhys is a real person, here is what he’s like and why is he doing these things in this scene? OK, now, let’s go back to the beginning of the conversation, let’s figure out the painful logistics of making sure Joe would have been there at that moment, and then let’s talk about Rhys as the part of Joe that Joe has rejected so much that he is now autonomous, essentially, and in what ways is Rhys protecting Joe and helping Joe,’” the writer-executive producer explained.
That leads to Season 4’s conclusion, in which Kate and Joe end up together — backed by her savvy PR machinations that are able to shield both from controversy, as well as reintroduce the latter into the public eye with a planted story about Love’s (Victoria Pedretti) demise. This is despite his ambiguous confessions to parts of his past and his killing of her father (Greg Kinnear’s Tom Lockwood).
“I think it’s fair to assume he hasn’t told her everything,” Gamble said of how much Kate has pieced together of Joe’s true origins. “I don’t think they have all day, first of all. To me, there’s a really strong dividing line in the kind of bad things that Joe has done. He justifies all of them to himself and that’s what the season is about. If my husband walked into this room right now and sat down and told me the story of Paco’s abusive stepfather and how he stabbed him, I don’t know that that would 100% be a deal breaker. That’s an easy thing to wrap your head around.”
Gamble continued, “It’s very specifically those things he’s done to women. That was a long conversation among the writers and also between Mike Foley and I, when we were writing Episode 10, and so we did that thing where we cut away before you see the conversation. In an ideal world, that will be a major story for Kate: ‘What does she know, what does she not know and also how curious is she willing to be?’”
Here’s What’s New on Netflix in March 2023
Naturally, the less Kate knows, from a practical standpoint, the easier it would be to mold Season 5, playing with and mining rich dramatic ironies for the audience.
“Every time [the writers have] set a very difficult task for themselves, which is like, ‘Where are we gonna go from here?’” Badgley echoed. “In order for Season 5, should it happen, if that’s where it’s headed, watching her discover more, is probably more interesting and gives Joe room to squirm and hate and plot to kill.”
Both the actor and creative contend that Season 4 has explored one of Joe’s seemingly healthiest relationships yet (which isn’t saying much, really), given its whodunit qualities and the character’s pre-existing obsession with another, adversarial “you” (whom he also ends up killing).
“They come out of the season looking like a fairly healthy, happy couple on top of the world, but part of that is because she didn’t even become the ‘you’ until very late in the season. And the ‘you’ that he has been contending with is, on one level, this famous author that he is obsessed with and then on another level, it’s himself. Finally, it’s about time for ‘You’ to be Joe,” Gamble said.
Badgley added, “With Kate, you have Joe asking himself some new questions and learning some actually pretty valuable lessons about genuine love and friendship, even though he’s an unreliable narrator and it’s never really happening the way that he’s showing it to us. Nonetheless, it is true. I think Joe was saying some of the most emotionally mature things ever.” He added, laughing. “He’s at least having a somewhat appropriate response to the people he is conscious of killing.”
In the season’s final moments, Joe — now cleanly shaven, back to his “real” identity — embodies the power previously wielded by Tom Lockwood, looking out onto the cityscape as he takes in the status he has absorbed and stolen. If Joe was able to get away with everything before having access to inordinate wealth, who’s to say what he can do now?
“When you see the kind of access and privilege and resources that Joe now is going to be able to touch, you really are in the same situation that Tom was when he was Joe’s age,” Gamble explained. “Anytime we put a character in the show, who checks all the same surface boxes as Joe does, in terms of where he would slot in in our society, we’re looking at the ways that Joe thinks he’s different, but he’s not.”
Then there’s the other loose ends: Marienne is still alive and well, thanks to her and Nadia’s timely-executed plan, and Nadia is framed and imprisoned for the death of her boyfriend. In Part 2, Pedretti and Elizabeth Lail’s Beck also return as Joe struggles to piece together his identity and actions, hallucinating a courtroom scene in which he is excoriated for his crimes.
Gamble noted that “You” is open to featuring more character reprisals “for many reasons, because Joe has a very active imagination and also we have left a lot of intentionally dangling dangerous threads for him.” (There’s also a running joke in the writers room about resurrecting Peach’s distant cousin, aka the late author J.D. Salinger.)
However, she’s understandably cautious about bringing Marienne back: “I would look at her and say, ‘Please just raise your daughter, you’ve suffered more than enough, and I hope to never ever see you again because you’re so happy and Joe has no idea you’re alive.’”
Ultimately, Badgley knows how “You” will end. That is, if what executive producer Greg Berlanti and Gamble pitched to him years ago comes to fruition.
“I can’t tell you what it is because it’s a very good ending, but it does have, I think, a very elegant and surprisingly good answer to this question [of justice],” he said. “Because, really, if this show is a meditation on toxic misconceptions about love and all of those things — and maybe masculinity, but I think mostly love — then the B story under there is what is justice? Because the whole time everybody’s like ‘Oh, I like watching this dude, but he’s got to get what’s coming to him.’”