With You’s fourth season, the stalker has become the stalked. The season has begun with a lot of the hallmarks of the previous three seasons — Joe Goldberg assuming a new identity and trying to hide in plain sight, while insisting he has left his murderous ways behind him — but this time, it feels like the target is on his back from the very start. And part of this is because this is one social group he can’t blend into…
With You’s fourth season, the stalker has become the stalked. The season has begun with a lot of the hallmarks of the previous three seasons — Joe Goldberg assuming a new identity and trying to hide in plain sight, while insisting he has left his murderous ways behind him — but this time, it feels like the target is on his back from the very start. And part of this is because this is one social group he can’t blend into. It’s one thing trying to be a Brooklyn hipster, or a clean living L.A type, or a suburban Dad. But with the English upper class, if you’re not born into it, you’ll soon get found out.
Roald Walker-Burton: Oh come on, if he can’t take it he really is a worthless bag of mush. -You
Here’s our take on You’s fourth season, how Joe’s new European surroundings becomes its sharpest-ever critique of class, and how the show keeps getting us to empathize with this serial killer.
(Spoilers for the first half of Season 4 ahead).
So where does the mid-season finale leave off? After Joe plays Sherlock for the first four episodes, the Eat the Rich Killer unveils himself to be Rhys Montrose. It’s an attempt to bring Joe onto his side, and pin the murders on the masochistic Roald, who for a minute did look like he was about to murder Joe. Of course, because Joe doesn’t take the bait, and does escape from the burning building, now he’s in a bigger bind than ever, with the real killer about to run for the Mayor of London, while simultaneously framing him. The choice of Rhys as the killer is significant because he has experience of both elite privilege and a hardscrabble upbringing.
At its core, You has always been about class. Joe Goldberg is the poor kid who’s able to use his obvious intellect as a way to blend in with people whose lives are very different to his. And for the most part, it’s worked. But here, the gap is so wide that it’s impossible for him to even attempt such a transformation.
Adam Pratt: Loving the whole off the rack vibe. - You
And this dividing line is played out in reactions to the season’s murders themselves. The “eat the rich” killer moniker is, coupled with the scenes of young students holding placards and marching through the streets. All of a sudden there’s a spirit of vigilantism being stirred up, with scenes evoking films like V For Vendetta. All of which is buoyed by the fact that each of the rich elites Joe finds himself mixed up with is uniquely awful, completely divorced from reality and, in the case of American expat Adam Pratt, deriving fetishistic pleasure from the gulf in class.
With Season 4’s focus on the rich elite, it carries on from where the previous seasons left off, and it also builds on a bigger discussion we’re seeing in much of today’s most thought-provoking film and TV, from “eat the rich” satires like The Menu and Triangle of Sadness, to shows that give us a glimpse into rich people’s dirty business like Succession and White Lotus, to mysteries that turn the tables on the rich like Glass Onion and the first Knives Out.
In the middle of You’s take on this anti-elite discussion is Kate Galvin, and really it’s through her that you get one of the biggest indictments of that class. Where all the other rich characters are pretty unlikable — with perhaps the exception of Lady Phoebe, who just seems kinda naive — Kate is presented as more complex. She is the only one we see who feels uncomfortable with her privilege, and scathing of the place it’s come from. And through her, we also see the (sometimes damaging) effect that being born into this class can have on who you become.
Kate Galvin: My father is the worst man alive, and I’m his favourite daughter… - You
Everyone else’s empathy deficit manifests in spoiled entitlement, and the belittlement of anyone around them who isn’t at their social level. For Kate, it manifests in a deep disconnect from herself, and not a belittlement of others, but an innate suspicion of them, and of their motives. It’s an important trick, because not only does it support the show’s central critique of the upper class, but it also shows how even its own members can be victims. Kate is steely, stoic, and tough, but ironically this is what makes her vulnerable. Because she’s aware of it. Her upbringing may have been privileged, but it was also traumatic. And she’s still working that through.
So, how does the killer Rhys Montrose fit into all of this? Is his grab for power at the end of the fifth episode signal that he’s going to try and upend society and take the rich down once and for all, or has that power already begun to corrupt him? And now that Joe knows who the killer is, does that put an even bigger target on his back?
The biggest shift in this season of You is its move into whodunnit territory. And given the location, this kinda makes sense. All of a sudden Joe is boltholed in a bougie London apartment, not too dissimilar (or too far away) from 221b Baker Street. He’s grown his hair to a Benedict Cumberbatch-esque level, and is studying the works of Agatha Christie to try and give himself an edge on who the killer is, and why he wants to frame him
Nadia Farran: It is a formula but the formula is fun, it draws you in, it hides a social commentary under the puzzle. - You
So beyond class, what is the other social commentary that You is hiding? The show has always engaged with the contemporary explosion of the true crime genre. When it first came out, Penn Badgley was all over Twitter insisting people stop thirsting over his psychopathic stalker. But that in itself acted as a commentary on the fascination people had, and still have, with serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy, who are often presented by true crime as these brooding, tortured, charismatic individuals.
But here You is coming at the genre from a different angle and offering an important critique. True crime has turned us all into amateur sleuths, and arguably is one of the contributing factors in the revival of the murder mystery genre. Films like Knives Out and Glass Onion, remakes of Christie classics like Death On The Nile and Murder On The Orient Express, as well as series’ like The Afterparty and Search Party all follow a formula that Joe is trying to get underneath the hood of here. But despite him having all the tools, he keeps going down blind alleys, and taking us with him as he fails.
So the season is performing a delicate, skilful balancing act. On the one hand it’s playing with all the conventions of the whodunnit genre — even sending all the suspects off to a big secluded mansion in the woods where you know something bad is going to happen. On the other, it’s showing the problem of trying to apply these literary tropes to real life situations – as we are so often guilty of doing when watching unsolved murder documentaries. Joe doesn’t figure out that Rhys is the killer; Rhys reveals it himself.
Rhys Montrose: Hello Joe. - You
And since Rhys is made into an ally of sorts for Joe – a fellow outsider, fellow literary enthusiast, and potentially a fellow psychopath – for the first time in the show we aren’t sure who is controlling the narrative. Joe might be the one telling the story, but whose story is it he’s telling?
One thing that maybe goes unmentioned about Joe’s serial killer tendencies in You is the fact that…well, he’s not that good at it. He’s sloppy. He leaves trails behind him. And for all his talk about his skills as someone who watches, and observes, he’s not a great planner. And here, all those loose ends are still hanging over him.
The biggest one is the reason he’s in Europe in the first place — Marienne. It was Marienne who took him first to Paris, and then to London, as he tried to find her and carry on the relationship they had begun in Madre Linde. He talks about wanting to leave that version of himself behind, but at the same time when Marienne backs him into a corner, he’s quick to lash out against her
Joe Goldberg: I’m not gonna hurt you.
Marienne Ballamy: That’s right, you’re not, I will use this. - You
Of course, he’s put in a difficult position in regard to her. The Quinn family’s hitman is the one who gives him his new identity and allows him to start a new life in London, but it’s on the condition that Marienne, the only one who still knows Joe is alive, is taken care of. Still, Joe can’t. He lets her back on the train to Paris in what he imagines to be a final act of love.
Joe Goldberg: I let you go to show you I’m not who you think, I’m not a killer. - You
But for us watching, it all seems too…neat. Surely Marienne is going to return at some point in the second half of the series, and surely the trick Joe tried to play on the man sent to kill him will come back to haunt him?
And maybe this theme is one that will be revisited with Rhys too. Because like Joe, the only thing we know about him is his own self-narrative, which he’s already admitted to not being 100% accurate. He’s sold himself to the public as a poor boy done good, who had an epiphany in prison, but we know he’s violent, cunning, and psychopathic. So how much else from his origin story is he leaving out? His relationship to a Duke is an off-hand aside, but could he be the real power behind the throne?
As far as cliffhangers go, the first half of Season 4’s feels pretty treacherous. As we go into the second half, there is no character who isn’t under threat. Joe could have his identity revealed at any minute, Marienne could be found out by an American hitman, Kate and her remaining rich friends are still targets for Rhys, and Rhys is surely a target for Joe. So even though the murder mystery has been solved, there remains a lot of mess, and no real way of knowing how it’s all going to be cleaned up.