Review: 'You' is way too good for goodbyes

Hello, "You."

February 10, 2023, 4:09 AM
Penn Badgley in a scene from the Netflix series "You."
Penn Badgley in a scene from the Netflix series "You."

Hello, "You." The deliciously decadent series that began its run in 2018 enters its fourth and final season on Netflix, available in five binge-able episodes this week and five more on March 9. Dinged as "trash" by the unknowing, "You" is a pleasure you'll never feel guilty about.

Has there ever been a character like Joe Goldberg? As played with subtle brilliance by Penn Badgley, best known as a romcom lead with a hidden agenda on the original "Gossip Girl," Joe is a world-class charmer, who's only dangerous when he falls in love. Then he's a stalker, a kidnapper and a murderer with the instincts of a serial killer.

What's his problem? Badgley recently posted on TikTok in character as Joe, using Taylor Swift's "Anti-Hero" as explanation: "It's me, hi. I'm the problem, it's me." Swift's only comment on the video was "OMG!!!!" and that's an understatement. Look, if "You" is your kink then just be out about it. An army of Swifties can't be wrong.

A scene from the Netflix series "You."

A skilled liar on the surface, Joe expresses his dark inner thoughts through voiceover narration that Badgley delivers with sinister yet captivating skill, drawing us into Joe's point of view and depraved humor, often against our will. It's "Dexter" meets "American Psycho."

Based on the books by Caroline Kepnes and developed by showrunners Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble, "You" introduces Joe as a mild-mannered Manhattan bookstore manager who falls in love too easily. C'mon, what's wrong with a guy who values smarts as much as sex appeal?

Plenty. Joe is a romantic obsessive who has a beastly way of dealing with beauties who don't reciprocate. He locks them in a cage he keeps in the bookstore basement, trying to talk sense into them and resorting to violence when he fails. No wonder he's always on the run.

The risky idea of siding with a psychopath may be why the first season of "You" failed to deliver an audience when it debuted on Lifetime. It wasn't until Netflix picked up the series that "You" began to connect and even go viral with audiences more open to subversive intent.

Here was a series about a killer who relied on social media to track his prey. The digital invasion of privacy has found its anti-hero in Joe, an abused child (seen in flashbacks) who has developed an evil alter-ego to deal with his rage.

In season 2, "You" moved to Los Angeles where Joe reforms by marrying Love Quinn (Victoria Pedretti), an aspiring chef with whom he has a child. Domestic bliss is cut short in Season 3 when Love reveals her own dark secrets that make her and Joe seem like a match made in psycho hell. When Love goes up in flames, Joe leaves their son with a friend and takes off.

Cut to season 4, with Joe -- now bearded and using the name Jonathan Moore -- as literature professor who claims to like living alone. Then he meets you, Kate (Charlotte Ritchie), a sharp-tongued art dealer who seems to like nothing about him. Of course, he's madly attracted.

An obstacle is Kate's lover, Malcolm (Stephen Hagan), and his appalling circle of rich friends They include social media darling Lady Phoebe (a delightful Tilly Keeper) and Adam Pratt, her sleazy hunk of a boyfriend played with winking wickedness by Lukas Gage of "Euphoria."

Penn Badgley in a scene from the Netflix series "You."

The less said the better about Rhys Montrose (Ed Speleers), an author-turned-politician who finds a kindred spirit in Joe/Jonathan. Uh-oh, that can't be good. And it isn't, except in the tension-filled way it sets up a conclusion that you won't see coming.

"You" is known for its secrets and we won't be spoiling any of them here, except to say that Badgley and Ritchie have a sinful chemistry that won't quit even when Kate's controlling tycoon daddy, played by Greg Kinnear, of all people, enters the picture.

What with the Emmy-winning "White Lotus" and the Oscar-nominated "Triangle of Sadness," the monied class has been taking a beating from pop culture. The finale of "You" suggests that there's still a plushy vein of cutting humor to be mined from sticking it to one-percenters, who often rival poor-boy joe for toxic psychosis. At least Joe, even at his worst, seems redeemable.

Or is he? "You" keeps you guessing right up to its teasingly open-ended conclusion. Even the finale doesn't close the door on our boy Joe. Does that mean he might return in a movie or a series on another network? We can only hope. "You" is way too good for goodbyes.