You season three review: Joe and Love yearn to be the perfect couple in amazingly fresh new instalment

Third series stays true to the expectations it has set in the previous seasons and moves at a delightfully breathless pace

Clémence Michallon
Friday 15 October 2021 06:31
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Joe Goldberg is back, and he’s got his hands full. The creepy, obsessive, sly serial killer portrayed by Penn Badgley returns in the third season of You not only as a married man but also as the father to a newborn son. He and his wife Love are ready – or so they tell themselves – to bend their twisted natures into the sanitised mould of an upscale California suburb. But, of course, given that both Joe and Love have literal skeletons in their closets, this happily ever after is over before it can begin.

You, which became a roaring success after Netflix picked up its first season (acquiring it from Lifetime) in 2018, could have run out of steam by now. But this third season deftly navigates the challenge of reinvention, throwing a series of new curveballs at Joe and Love while staying true to the premise that has made the series a hit. (It’s worth noting that the books the show is based on, by author Caroline Kepnes, have also risen to the occasion. You Love Me, the third instalment in the novel series, was an instant New York Times bestseller and earned enthusiastic reviews.)

Last time we saw Joe was on the heels of the dizzying season two finale, which opened with a five-minute plot twist revealing that Love (a brilliantly nuanced Victoria Pedretti) was also a killer, and that she had stalked Joe much like he had stalked his own victims. Just as Joe was about to kill her, Love revealed to him that she was pregnant with their child. Cue the pair’s move to the fictional town of Madre Linda, where Joe put down his copy of Crime and Punishment just long enough to start obsessing over their new female neighbour.

From the onset, season three of You does a solid, often darkly funny job at meshing the troubles of Joe and Love, new parents, with the troubles of Joe and Love, seasoned killers. Are they fighting because they’re sleep-deprived or because they each can’t resist slipping back into the old habits they had sworn to abandon? We know it’s the latter, but they badly want to believe it’s the former. Their denial drives the plot forward, landing them in the office of an oblivious marriage counsellor who promises them they’ll be fine since they’re “not murderers”. This is one instance of many in which the series successfully builds up Love and Joe’s deranged brand of domesticity.

It helps, too, that Madre Linda brings with it a brand new cast of characters. Without them, Joe and Love’s antics might have become tiresome. But as it is, there is something electrifying in the contrast between this couple – the literary snob and committed misanthrope Joe, and his equally cynical wife – and their California-bred, athleisure-wearing, biohacking neighbours. Sherry Conrad (Shalita Grant) is an amazingly grating “momfluencer”, rarely seen without her loyal posse. You isn’t the first show to satirise influencer culture, but thanks to savvy character development and snappy writing, this particular contribution to the genre is biting rather than shallow. A subplot involving Joe and Love’s younger neighbour Theo Engler (Dylan Arnold) provides welcome depth, and Tati Gabrielle is a hypnotic presence as local librarian Marienne.

It’s hard to imagine You being a better version of itself than in this third season. It stays true to the expectations it has set in the previous seasons and moves at a delightfully breathless pace. There are a lot of moving parts, but they are dealt with in a clear, energetic way that never allows the plot to meander. Pedretti and Badgley have each perfected the art of embodying their mercurial characters. The possibility of a disastrous bombshell lurks behind every raised eyebrow, every tilt of the head.

Shalita Grant, Victoria Pedretti, and Penn Badgley in season three of ‘You'

Of course, You becomes a bit more unbelievable each time there’s a new victim. In the real world, Joe and Love’s combined body count would likely have attracted more than a little attention by now. But the show gets us to suspend our disbelief, because, well – it’s so fun, so messed-up, and the characters are in such a world of trouble, we desperately want it to go on.

With such an established fanbase, You could be resting on its laurels by now, endlessly recycling its initial premise without recreating the excitement of the beginning. Kudos, then, to the writers who have succeeded, exquisitely so, in taking it to new heights. Not every show would have risen to the challenge, but You has – which is just as well, since Netflix has now renewed it for a fourth season.

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