YOU season two, review: A riveting exploration of female suffering that does justice to the original

The show manages to make a viscerally unlikable protagonist interesting and never comes close to romanticising his behaviour

Clémence Michallon
New York
Tuesday 24 December 2019 15:23 GMT
YOU season 2 - trailer

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Joe Goldberg is back – and no, the serial killer, hipster bookstore employee portrayed by Penn Badgley in the first season of Netflix’s​ YOU hasn’t grown any less creepy with time. At the beginning of season two, we find him living in Los Angeles under the alias Will. Joe, as it turns out, left New York City not only to bounce back after murdering his girlfriend Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail) but also to hide from his mysterious ex Candace (Ambyr Childers), who returned in a twist ending at the end of the first run.

What follows is a dark psychological thriller that manages to be in every way as enthralling as its predecessor – a rare feat in a world where too many TV shows fail to quit while they’re ahead. Joe has a new girlfriend, unironically named Love (Victoria Pedretti). He also has a teenage neighbour (Jenna Ortega), whom he befriends because he feels compelled to protect her – a paradoxical trait for Joe, a murderer who spent a significant part of season one caring for a young boy in his building named Paco.

As Joe tries to be “better” (ie, stop stalking, obsessing over and/or murdering anyone), he continues to rationalise his own toxic behaviour under the guise of social commentary, delivering one misanthropic take after the other. This is an avenue for the show to offer a biting satire of LA’s culture, from its fascination with wellness to its worship of fame. The #MeToo movement gets more than a passing nod; rather, it’s afforded an entire subplot that acknowledges female suffering in a respectful, profound way.

Badgley continues to deliver a strong performance as Joe. His face never stops working, expressing the control Joe so desperately seeks while letting some of his most unscripted emotions (joy, love, despair when confronted with his darkest deeds) shine through. Throughout the series, his portrayal of Joe is unforgiving, highlighting his character’s true nature and shying away from any romanticising.

The show does ask us to suspend our disbelief from time to time (the authorities, in particular, seem especially inept, and one hopes that in real life, Joe would have been linked to at least one of his murders and abductions a long time ago), but we happily do so in the face of unwavering suspense.

There are flashbacks to Joe’s unhappy childhood, which remain somewhat of a question mark: certainly, it’s easy to empathise with any child growing up in a toxic household, but it would be unfair to ask us to extend the same feeling to the person Joe has become.

The series shines the brightest whenever Candace confronts Joe about their past, the trauma of which she’s still processing. Rivetingly told and well acted, YOU manages to make a viscerally unlikable protagonist endlessly interesting. That is no small achievement.

YOU season two airs on Netflix on 26 December

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