Arts, Television

Joe Goldberg’s Tired Plotlines Disappoint in ‘You’ Season Four, Part 1


Part one of the fourth and final season of Netflix’s original show You revived Penn Badgley as Joe Goldberg, a moody hopeless romantic with a penchant for murder, on Feb. 9. You is the perfect Valentine’s Day watch, so our antihero protagonist Joe would hope.

Having killed his equally murderous wife, Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti), and set his suburban California home aflame in a staged murder-suicide in season three, Joe finds himself on the other side of the pond in London, chasing yet another unattainable damsel in distress at the start of season four. Originally arriving in Paris, Joe is determined to find Marienne (Tati Gabrielle), an artist and former coworker of his at the Madre Linda Public Library, and who he believes is the love of his life.

His search for Marienne is cut short when a hitman sent by his late wife’s affluent father reveals that Joe’s former father-in-law has discovered the truth about and will stop at no end to avenge his daughter’s death. Fortunately for Joe, the hitman in question offers him another chance with all of the proper documents needed to reenter life as a Columbia-graduated English professor at a British university. 

Despite having none of the proper education to pursue such a field, Joe takes a liking to life as a professor, falling into a crowd of Soho’s elite. That is until Joe discovers that he is being stalked by a stranger and once again tied to a series of murders, which leads him back into a life of secrecy, foul play, and manipulation. 

Throughout Joe’s life on the screen, viewers have gotten to know the Brooklyn native as a deluded man-child with serious childhood trauma and an intense savior complex. Paired with his license to kill any and all who get in between him and his plans—which more often than not includes preying on any woman Joe deems different from the restJoe has somehow landed a spot in the hearts of the Netflix masses. 

Upon its initial release in 2018, You quickly skyrocketed to popularity among Netflix viewers. Harping on a cultural obsession with serial killers and true crime, Badgley as Joe represents an antihero archetype—a protagonist who is convinced that he is good while simultaneously enacting destruction wherever he goes. Joe’s small redeeming qualities and good deeds prevent the character from total derision from the show’s viewers.  

Despite this, Joe continues to throw himself at whatever unexpecting woman he can get his hands on, only to later victimize himself when she turns out to be human rather than the romanticized image he forced upon her. Joe’s antics have grown rather repetitive since the show’s release in 2018, in addition to the blatant laziness that has plagued the You writing room for too long. Each of the show’s season’s individual plots reveals itself to be purely aesthetic, changing the setting and side characters rather than the central conflict, which continues to be Joe’s search for a soulmate and his past that attempts to get in the way. 

Looking back on each season, Joe, a working-class white man, seems to be constantly finding himself among affluency. Whether New York socialite Peach Salinger, Madre Linda “mom-fluencer” Sherry Conrad, or this season’s London gallery director Kate Galvin, Joe somehow only befriends the wealthiest and most stuck-up individuals, to which he claims to rise above, embellishing his persona as a well-read humble orphan looking for his soulmate. With each passing season—and lover—Joe’s position as a multi-layered and complex character has grown weaker and weaker.

The constant redirection of Joe’s setting and background characters only adds to the lack of connection between the audience and plot, as new victims and chess pieces to Joe’s idiotic whims are added and discarded every season. 

While easily adapted through the first three seasons, the loss of the equally sociopathic yet fan-adored Love has caused a rift among viewers, as Joe disregards their marriage as a fatal mistake and sets off after the mousy Marienne, who carries little to no substance as a character.

Joe’s constant inner retaliation against his identity as a murderer has too become repetitive and substanceless. For someone who has killed as many people as Joe, one would think he could at the very least admit his own faults rather than place the blame on his conquest for whatever woman he seems to believe is incapable of taking care of herself without him. After several seasons, his moves have become predictable and boring, as he pines after any woman who gives him the slightest bit of affection and then proceeds to murder someone because of it. This season is no different. 

As for the reversal of Joe’s position from stalker to stalkee, it is hardly worth mentioning as a major plot point, as the mysterious stalker messages on his British phone added little to no excitement to an already monotonous season.

Having been one of Netflix’s most critically acclaimed shows in recent years, one would expect more from Joe as he enters his final hurrah in the final season of You. Nonetheless, it seems Joe has flown too close to the sun. Hopefully by the end of the season, his facade will come crashing down.

February 19, 2023