(Photo courtesy of Vogue) Penn Badgley returns for another season as Joe Goldberg in “You” season 4.
For its first three seasons, “You” has held a certain charm for its nuanced portrayal of Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley), a deranged, obsessive serial killer with self-delusions of his perceived righteousness. After the fallout of the notably violent and combative season finale, it was clear that a change was needed to the formula of “You.” This change, however, is overcompensated at the start of the fourth season, making “You” a less entertaining show.
The first three seasons of “You” have followed Joe, who perceives his acts of murder to be justified in protecting his current romantic figure of obsession. The third season wrapped up a pivotal arc of his in this regard, and the show’s future direction seemed to promise more of the same concept. However, in the fourth season, Joe has mostly given up on love. This is an interesting idea, but it quickly turns “You” into a fundamentally different show as a result.
In the fourth season, Joe finds himself in London as a literature professor, surrounded by the British upper class. As he joins their friend group, people soon after start dying, though seemingly not at Joe’s hands. An unknown killer, soon dubbed the “Eat the Rich Killer,” is killing members of the group and framing Joe for the crimes.
“You” has always indulged itself in frequent implausibility, though the group’s lack of doubt against Joe for much of this first part of the season is the most unbelievable of all things. Thankfully, this new cast of characters is painted as self-centered, callous and often dumb, so it is not entirely outside the realm of reality, though it still makes much of the season feel low stakes.
However, portraying most of the new characters as such caricatures fails to create a character for the audience to become attached to. Joe does not fully commit to any relationship, though he nearly does with Kate Galvin (Charlotte Ritchie), who does not live up to his past love interests in any regard, but is still the best new character, as she is at least attached to reality. The rest of the cast of characters are so unconcerned with everything going on around them that they do not even particularly care about any revelations of murder.
It feels as though this season is supposed to be yet another entry into the “rich people are bad” thematic genre, which has been curiously taking over Hollywood lately, rather than these unengaging characters simply being written poorly. While many films of this genre often end with great results (e.g., “Glass Onion,” “Infinity Pool”), it is a baffling and random direction for “You” to take. Joe still shows occasional glimpses of his past self, but is much more often painted as an innocent survivor of a traumatic event who is now being wrongfully framed. Much of the season plays out closer to “Gossip Girl” than any of the past installments of “You.”
With the season only being halfway over, there is still much more time for “You” to redeem itself. There is still a strong core here: Badgley’s performance of Joe’s internal monologue remains one of the most gripping things on television, making “You” an entertaining show in that regard. If the plot plays it straight from here, doing exactly what it seems like it is about to do, then the fourth season will be a wildly disappointing conclusion. However, there is still time for “You” to take an interesting left turn and do something inventive, and one can only hope they will go with the latter.
Overall Grade: C